An Explanation of the Apostle’s Creed – Seventh Article of the Creed

detail from a painting of the 12 Apostles with their traditional lines from the Apostle's Creed, 1424; Lower Saxony State Museum, Hanover, Germany; photographed by Jean Louis Mazieres 24 December 2015; swiped from Wikimedia Commons“From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.”


Christ the Lord is Our Saviour. He has done for us everything that divine love could do. Those who were the children of the Father, but by sin had become slaves of the devil, were redeemed by Him. Hence they again belong to Him and to the Father. He has become Our Lord and Master for the second time, having purchased with His blood a dominion over us and thus acquired the right to be our judge. This judgment He will exercise over every man. No one shall escape it, for no man is beyond the reach of God’s arm. Every man shall be judged not once only, but he must appear before his Judge twice, the second time in the company of all his fellow-men. This truth we are taught in the seventh article of the Apostles’ Creed, which teaches us that Jesus Christ will come in great power and glory at the end of the world to judge all men, the wicked as well as the good. This second coming of the Son of man will be very different from His first coming. Then He came as a Saviour, now He will come as Judge. Then He came as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world, now He will come as the Lion of the tribe of Juda, who has conquered and trodden under foot His enemies, who will demand a reckoning from all men, and hold them to a strict accountability. Then He came poor, now He will come in power and glory. He will come clothed in His inherent majesty, whose splendor no man can stand, for it will cause fear and trembling. He will be accompanied by hosts of angels, who will call all men to judgment, while before Him will stand the visible sign of the cross, the standard of the Son of man (Matthew 24:30), who will appear in the heavens. This judgment to take place at the end of the world is called the General Judgment, but at it all the men who ever lived in the world will be judged at one and the same time. It is also called the Last Judgment to distinguish it from the first, to which each man will be subjected at the moment of his death. It is called also the Last Day, after which eternity only will exist. It is well to keep a clear knowledge and remembrance of this Last Judgment before our minds, in order that, in our self-deception and wilful blindness, we may not be eternally lost.

For as our whole destiny depends upon this day – and it is an eternal destiny – it behooves us most solemnly never to let it out of our mind. We are like a man involved in a lawsuit, on the result of which his whole existence depends. With what deep and unceasing anxiety such a man looks forward to the decision of the court 1 How eagerly he consults every friend who he thinks can advise him I What pains and labor he will expend that his case may be presented in the strongest and most favorable light before the jury I Even if the case drags through a number of years his assiduity and zeal never flag for a day. Now, the case that is to be tried and decided on the Last Day is a most formidable one, for the question is about our immortal souls and to whom they shall belong for all eternity.

The result of this process depends altogether on the condition in which the soul shall be at the moment of its departure from this life. This moment itself depends upon the life that is now going out and is flown forever, for as the life itself has been, so, in most cases, will be its ending. ” As the man lives so he dies,” is an old saying too often, alas, verified. Hence it is the whole life of the man that will be investigated and adjudged. All men will be judged, the living and the dead; that is to say, all those who will be living in the world at the time that the Son of man will come, as well as the dead, who will be summoned from their graves to judgment. All will be judged, both those who have lived in the grace of God and those who have been dead in sin; the living and the dead will be judged on all their thoughts, words, and works, and on their omission of the good and right.

Our thoughts, then, will be judged. They are an exact expression of our souls, for a man often acts against his will, while the thought does not appear and is unknown to his fellow-men. Evil thought is the root of the wicked act, as the good thought is the seed of a virtuous action. Whatever is most profoundly hidden in man, though it is never concealed from God, will be first judged. Thus will be made known how many a Christian, who outwardly was apparently blameless, was permeated with evil and covered with sin. Much of the pretended virtue, so well and carefully acted that no eye can detect its hollowness, will on that day be exposed in its true light.

Then will come the judgment of words. By words very often more harm is done than even by deeds, for they are busy messengers, scattering either good or evil. Words are nearly always more powerful and more speedy in inflaming a man’s passions, arousing his desires, and deadening his conscience, than they are in inciting and prompting him to virtuous actions.

Words are nearly always a fruitful seed of evil, sending their poisonous effects through several generations. Many a man, because of an evil word, finds himself burdened with a chain of sins that he does not even think of, that he will never suspect till Judgment Day, when his soul will be startled and horrified to find itself not only laden with its own sins, but borne down to the very earth by the sins of others.

Then our works will be judged. Both good and bad deeds will be judged. But how different the judgment of God from the judgment of men I Many a seemingly good work will lose its pretended value, for God knows the motives that have actuated the doer of the deed – such as an easy natural disposition, a desire to please, hope of honor and recognition before men, expectation of a reward or a return of the benefit, getting rid of a troublesome petitioner, or some one or other of the ignoble motives that often result in a good work. On the other hand, many a bad deed will appear worse, for all those delusions with which men deceive themselves will fall to the ground.

And, again, what a difference between the reckoning of good works and the reckoning of evil ones 1 Good works will not be reckoned so fully and exactly, for we have accomplished them with the aid of divine grace; whereas the evil works will be scrutinized severely, for we have been guilty of them, although sustained by the grace of God, warned by the voice of conscience and advised by good, sound instruction. We have acted in the light of our knowledge of the maxims of the Church, even of the Holy Ghost Himself.

Alas, then will come the accounting for the good we have omitted, the graces offered and rejected, or even abused, for the time that we have frittered away or used for evil purposes, the talents that we have neglected, the money that we have squandered. All such will form subjects for divine investigation.

God will reveal the good and the evil, even the most secret thoughts, of every man, as well as the graces granted to him in life. How little avail to the sinner to have kept his misdeeds from the eyes of men, since the Day of Judgment will reveal them all, and to all! “The Lord will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts.” (1 Corinthians 4:5). All will come to light. So great will be the sinners’ shame and terror that they will cry out to the mountains to “fall upon us, and to the hills to cover us.” (Luke 23:30)

With the Psalmist we find ourselves compelled to say to the Lord, “If Thou, O Lord, wilt mark iniquities: Lord, who shall stand?” (Psalms 129:3). After the conscience of every man shall have been laid open to the whole world and everything secret shall have been unveiled, then the sentence will be pronounced, a sentence of love and consolation for the good, of frightful disaster for the wicked. To the good the Lord will say, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, possess the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world.” Thus the good, receiving the fulness of God’s blessings and graces, will enter into those many mansions that are in the heavenly Father’s house. But to the wicked the Lord will say, “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:34-41). Thus the good will enter into heaven, to the beatific vision of God, to the company of the saints, to the dwelling-place which the Lord has prepared for the throne of His majesty. The wicked will enter into hell (Matthew 25:46), to the devil, to the worst enemy of mankind, to the angels of the devil, to all those who have been led astray by him and who willingly followed him in his wickedness. Into this place of horrors they will be all thrown together, where the pains of the soul will be augmented by the pains of the body, for, according to the words of Christ, hell is an unquenchable fire, where for all eternity there shall be an unceasing weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:30). There the worm never dies that gnaws the wicked, there the fire that burns them never goes out (Mark 9:43), there undying anguish awaits them, and everlasting torment.

Meanwhile the good will be in heaven, a place of never-ending happiness, a happiness that is as unbroken as is the misery of the damned, a perfect happiness, exceeding all that we can conceive, satisfying every wish and every longing, and which can never be interrupted. Between these two places there is such a vast, yawning gulf, that the saints in heaven, even if they sought it, could no more come to the relief of the damned souls in hell than could the poor Lazarus go to the relief of the rich glutton, Dives, who only asked that Lazarus would dip the tip of his finger in water and place it upon his burning tongue. (Luke 16:24)


God in His justice does not wait till the end of time to judge men. He judges each one immediately after he leaves this world. At the very moment of the soul’s departure from this life it stands before the judgment-seat of God to receive its sentence. “For,” says Ecclesiasticus 11:28-29, “it is easy before God in the day of death to reward every one according to his ways…in the end of a man is the disclosing of his works.”

Even then and there the soul will receive not indeed the mere promise of future happiness or unhappiness; it will be consigned at once to one or the other, according to the judgment rendered and the sentence pro- nounced. But its happiness or unhappiness, as the case may be, will not be full and perfect till after the resurrection of the body, which will then become a sharer of the destiny of the soul This judgment is called the Particular Judgment


The question may be asked, “Why should there be a General Judgment, when the soul is already judged at death, when its fate is decided and it has been committed to the lot assigned to it?” Let us bear in mind that the General Judgment will be held chiefly for three reasons: (i) on account of God, (2) on account of Jesus Christ, and (3) on account of man himself.

This General Judgment is to be held on account of God, that His wisdom and justice may be made manifest to all men. To us, as long as we are in the flesh, the ways of the Lord are unfathomable. But when all those things shall be accomplished which the Lord in His mercy decreed from the beginning, we shall see and understand how all that He does in our regard is good, and how we ourselves, having misunderstood and withstood His wisest counsels, are responsible for all that is evil. We shall then see and understand why one man is born rich and another poor, why one is healthy and another feeble all through life, why one is snatched early from life, and anotheB lives to reach an advanced age, why one enjoys prosperity and another suffers adversity. Then will it be shown that right was done to all; that he who had to suffer for Jesus’ sake will be compensated, and that he who prospered wickedly will be punished. Thus the words of the wise Sirach will be verified: “The affliction of an hour maketh one forget great delights.” (Ecclesiasticus 11:29) Then will be understood the history of whole nations, as well as the fate of individuals, for the causes and motives of every thought, word, and deed, will be laid bare before the eyes of all.

The whole economy of salvation, down from the fall of Adam, will be made clear and manifest, compelling the sinner to strike his breast with fear and anguish, and to exclaim in the language of David, “The Lord is just, and hath loved justice.” (Psalms 10:8)

In the second place a General Judgment is necessary for the sake of Jesus Christ, that He may be glorified before the eyes of the whole world, for He is the Judge, who with His angels and apostles will sit in judgment. Those persons who will not now be sharers in His mercy and goodness, who are the enemies of His holy cross, must be compelled to see Him in His awful majesty. All those who blasphemed Him, struck Him, calumniated Him, who put Him to death and derided His cross, rejecting it instead of carrying it; those who permitted themselves to be shipwrecked in their faith, who despised His Church, persecuted His priests, and ridiculed sacred things, all these will see the Lord for a moment, in order that they may recognize Him whom they have despised. But it will be a moment of horror for them. They will fall prostrate and, like the devil, they will believe, but they will shudder. “The devils also believe and tremble.” (James 2:19)

These sinners will bend their knees at the very name of their Judge, but His sentence of condemnation will lift them up and hurl them into hell. Then will the just souls intone a canticle of praise in honor of the Saviour who died on the cross, and with joyful hearts they will follow the lead of their Good Shepherd into the realms of eternal bliss. (Apocalypse 14:4)

In the third place a General Judgment is necessary in order that the good may obtain their well-merited honors, and the impious receive their richly-deserved humiliation. During life the wicked deride and despise the virtuous. Poor, patient Job, like his suffering Redeemer, was mocked; the just Lazarus lay like a hungry dog at the door of the rich glutton; the poor blind man, who, regaining his sight, professed his faith in Jesus, was expelled from the synagogue; Saint Stephen was stoned to death; the disciples of Our Lord were hunted from town to town, persecuted, and finally put to death. Crime and impiety were honored and flattered in the person of Caiphas, the high priest, while injustice was enthroned in the person of Pilate, and the homage of the people was laid before the royal insignia of a cruel Herod (Acts of the Apostles 12:21). On the Day of Judgment God will esteem what men disregarded. Those before whom men in their folly bowed down in reverence while on earth, will themselves be trodden in the dust. Then will the wicked discover with horror that what they doubted is the real truth. Their much-boasted wisdom they will then recognize to be the merest folly, and worse. Those whom they hated and ridiculed they will see now beaming with splendor and happiness.

Then will be fulfilled in their regard the words of the Book of Wisdom, “Then shall the just stand with great constancy against those that have afflicted them, and taken away their labors.

“These, seeing it, shall be troubled with terrible fear, and shall be amazed at the suddenness of their unexpected salvation.

“Saying within themselves, repenting, and groaning for anguish of spirit: These are they, whom we had sometime in derision, and for a parable of reproach.

“We fools esteemed their life madness, and their end without honor:

“Behold, how they are numbered among the children of God, and their lot is among the saints.

“Therefore we have erred from the way of truth, and the light of justice hath not shined unto us, and ‘the sun of understanding hath not risen upon us.” (Wisdom 5:1-6)

Thus shall the good be justified before the wicked, – another reason why there should be a public judgment as well as a private one at the hour of death. But there is another circumstance to be added. Good works continue to have their vahie after death. Evil works are not less restricted, for their dreadful consequences extend, as we see every day, far and wide; and evil is constantly begetting evil. Hence full retribution can come upon the evildoer only when time is at an end. Although sinners go to hell immediately after their Particular Judgment, although the perfectly just souls go to heaven after death, their works live after them, and their guilt and their merit can be fully measured only on the Last Day, when, at length, full penalty on one side and complete reward on the other will be meted out.

What will Precede the Last Judgment

Although we do not know the time or place of the General Judgment, we find in the Holy Scriptures several indications of what will precede that dreadful day. Indeed the times just previous to the end of the world will be so awful that no man could be saved, “but for the sake of the elect those days shall be shortened.” (Matthew 24:22)

About that time, toward the end of the world, a general separation of the good from the bad will take place, and the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the devil will stand arrayed against each other. All temporizing and half-way conduct will disappear; evil will be unmasked and will attack the good.

At first false prophets will arise (Matthew 24:4-6) who, with the aid of Satan, will work such wonders that even the elect would be deceived and led astray (Matthew 24:24), if their faith did not teach them to detect the devil, who will clothe himself like an angel of light. These false prophets will be antichrists, that is to say, they will deny the divinity of Christ (1 John 2:22). Among these deniers of Christ one man especially will put himself forward; he will gather about him all the other false prophets and all those that have fallen away from the faith; being the king of all the enemies of Christ, he will on that account be called especially the Antichrist This person will unite within himself all the vices, as the true Christ united within Himself all the virtues.

According to the general opinion of the Fathers he will be born in Babylon, be of Jewish descent, and of the tribe of Dan. This Antichrist, who will be born out of wedlock from an impious and cursed mother possessed of the devil, will, when he grows to manhood, establish himself in Jerusalem, where he will rebuild the Temple, deceive the Jews who will be expecting Christ, and will induce them to adore himself as the true Messias. These things Christ Himself foretold when He said, “I am come in the name of My Father, and you receive Me not: if another shall come in his own name, him you will receive.” (John 5:43)

The Gentiles will unite with him and the Jews. According to the Apocalypse 11:2, he will reign forty-two months, surpassing all the other princes of the earth in power, conquering ten kings, three of whom he will slay; and he will give liberty to the other seven. Then there will be a great falling away from the faith (Luke 18:8), and a triumph for the impious (Matthew 24:12). There will be civil and political disturbances over all the earth, “for nation shall rise against nation, kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be pestilences and famines and earthquakes in places.” (Matthew 24:7) Then God will send His two witnesses, Henoch and Elias, who are yet living, for Henoch was only taken away (Genesis 5:24) in order, as Saint Paul says, that he might not see death (Hebrews 11:5). Elias was carried alive up to heaven (4 Kings 2:11). These two men will preach for twelve hundred and sixty days, Elias to the Jews (Matthew 17:11), and Henoch to the Christians who have fallen away (Ecclesiasticus 44:16).

While they will be preaching no one will have power to hurt them, but they will have power to hurt and to chastise, in order, like Moses of old, to show their authority and to prove the right of their mission. But when those days shall have elapsed the Lord will suffer them to be killed by Antichrist, and their bodies will lie in the streets of Jerusalem during three days and a half when, at last, the Lord will recall them to life, to the terror of thousands of witnesses, and will take them to Himself in heaven (Apocalypse 11:3-12).

Then will open the battle between the archangel Gabriel and the dragon, in other words, Antichrist will be conquered and slain by the heavenly armies, for human power must yield to divine authority.

Then the plagues of Egypt will be repeated all over the earth. There will be pestilences, famines, earthquakes; the sun will be darkened, the firmament will be agitated, the sea will overflow its boundaries, threatening to deluge the land, and men will wither away with fear (Luke 21:25). Finally, the cross, the sign of the Son of man, will make its appearance in the heavens, and the Saviour will come surrounded by His Father’s angels, who will sound the trumpets and gather together all the nations of the earth into the valley of Josaphat Our Saviour Himself will plant His cross on Mount Calvary, and to those who have not been His followers He will show the places where He has suffered and will give testimony against their unfaithfulness.

Then will follow the Judgment, where He will judge and sentence those who judged and sentenced Him.

Means of Acquiring Courage to Meet Our Judgment

If, Christian reader, you would be able to contemplate the Day of Judgment without fear and trembling you have many means thereto. The first means is the contemplation of the Passion and death of Christ, which will give you confidence and preserve you from pusillanimity, for the Passion of Christ is the source of our salvation. When Saint Eleazarius was receiving Extreme Unction he prayed, “Through Thy cross and sufferings save me, O Lord,” adding, “This is my only hope, in this will I die.” When now and then a fear tormented him, he would exclaim, “Great is the power of the evil spirits, but the death of Jesus Christ and His power are far mightier; they have broken the power of the Evil One and put him to confusion and flight.”

The second means is a pure and upright life. Saint Hilary says, “Happy is he who so manages his affairs in life that he can always think of judgment.”

The third means is to judge yourself, and then you will anticipate God’s judgment, and discover in yourself the defects you ought to remedy. Examine your conscience, therefore, every day, that the wants of your soul may be relieved. Saint Augustine says, “God does not condemn him who condemns himself.”

The fourth method is a sincere repentance. David was forgiven because of his penance. Manasses, on the same account, recovered his kingdom, and the inhabitants of Ninive were pardoned. “Unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish,” saith the Lord in Saint Luke’s gospel, chapter thirteenth, verse third.

The fifth method is the frequent reception of the sacraments. That is the judgment which effects for us the forgiveness of God. For in it God judges us already on earth, and, Saint Bernard tells us, “God will not judge us twice on the same cause,” and Sirach says, “before sickness take a medicine, and before judgment examine thyself, and thou shalt find mercy in the sight of God.” (Ecclesiasticus 18:20)

The sixth method is to practice mercy toward others. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

The seventh method is to invoke the saints of God. They are our patrons, first of all the glorious Virgin Mother of God, Mary. Of her Saint Chrysostom says, “God chose her to save, by her compassion, those whom the justice of God could not save.”

Beside heaven and hell, there is another place assigned for the reception of departed souls, namely, purgatory, or the place of purgation. This is a place which the mercy of God has set apart and destined for such souls as leave this world in a state of grace, though not perfectly purified from defects and weaknesses. To this place are sent, not indeed the souls of impious men, but the souls of the just who have departed, tainted perhaps with venial sins, or who have not sufficiently atoned for mortal sins that have been forgiven them. For we must remember that although a soul may leave this earth perfectly free from mortal sin, it may happen that it has not done sufficient penance for former sins. For as God in His wisdom has decreed that man must be punished in order to be purged and improved, He allows some to tread the path of penance in this world, while others do atonement in the next

There is, therefore, a place in which it is possible that a complete purification is gradually attained, and where imperfectly atoned for sins may be completely burned out. This doctrine is so clearly taught by the Scriptures that to deny it would be to contradict the Holy Ghost. Our Saviour says emphatically that every man should become reconciled with his brother in order that he may not fare like the man who, owing the money to his fellow-man, was brought before the judge and cast into prison where he was to remain until he had paid his debt.

Now, the debt we owe is charity toward our fellowmen, a debt we must discharge. He who does not discharge it in this life will be cast into the prison of divine judgment, for Our Lord says, “Verily thou shall not go out from thence till thou repay the last farthing” (Matthew 5:26), that is to say, till you shall have atoned fully for your slightest deficiency.

The Apostle says with equal distinctness, “If any man’s work abide, which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work burn,” that is, can not stand the test because there remains something to be purified, “he shall suffer loss.” Yet he shall not perish, “but he himself shall be saved: yet so as by fire.”

Thus it is plain that there is a fire which, although not earthly nor material, nevertheless burns and is capable of purifying the soul. Where this place is is a matter of indifference. That it is a place of torment is a truth not only maintained by the Church, who has said in the Council of Trent, ” There is a purgatory,” but it is a truth founded on the teachings of the most ancient Church Fathers. Most of these teach that the pains of purgatory differ from the pains of hell only in duration, for while the pains of hell are eternal, those of purgatory come to an end. (This is not an article of faith, however.) But we must not confound hell and purgatory, and fancy that they are one and the same place, out of which some are saved and others never. The society of the utterly wicked is incompatible with the society of the imperfectly just. Those who die in the grace of God are not delivered over to the devil, like the souls who are eternally damned.

It is important that we observe two things regarding purgatory, in order that we may have no false ideas about it.

In the first place purgatory, although a place of punishment, is at the same time a proof of the divine goodness and mercy, being instituted not alone for punishment but also for atonement. Protestants reproach the Church with making God a cruel jailer. But whoever rejects purgatory does do so, while those who accept it do not. Who could lie down on his death-bed and be sure of reaching heaven in an hour. If, as Job says, “In His angels He found wickedness,” what will He not find in each one of us?

Now, we know that nothing defiled can enter heaven. It would, then, be making of God a pitiless tyrant to hold that there are but a heaven and a hell, and to accuse Him of damning all those souls who depart this life with a few defects of human weakness- upon them, although free from all mortal sin. Again, it would be impugning God’s holiness to charge Him with taking unholy persons to Himself.

But, although the just suffer pains in purgatory, their prospect is far different from that of the damned souls in hell. We find among them not the despair of damnation, but an inward submission to the will of God. Near to heaven, they are filled with the longings of the patriarchs in Limbo, and, according as their purgation and purification advance, their love for God becomes more intense. They thank God who has not rejected them, but even given them means of coming to Him. They are children of God and children of the Church, full of faith, hope and charity.

In the second place, we must remember that the purification of the suffering souls is such that it is only by suffering they can help themselves. They can only suffer the penalties patiently, but they can not make any step forward. They can not recover anything that they have lost. They can not of themselves make themselves better in purgatory; they must have been good at the moment of their death, for, as the preacher in Ecclesiastes saith, “If the tree fall to the south, or to the north, in what place soever it shall fall, there shall it be.” (Ecclesiastes 11:3)

On the other hand, we can help them, for, as they belong to the communion of saints, we can do for them what the saints in heaven do for us. We can pray for them. We can apply to them, through the sacrifice of the Holy Mass, the fruits of the atoning death of Jesus Christ. This we can do either by assisting at Mass or having it offered up for them, or by offering up our communions for that intention. Again, we can perform good works to their aid and benefit, for inasmuch as they are members of the Church of God they have a share in the good works of the other members, the Church of God being the new Jerusalem, “which is built as a city which is compact together.” (Psalms 121:3)

Such was the belief in the Old Testament, as we read plainly in the second book of Machabees. A great number of Jews had been slain in battle. “Judas Machabaeus making a gathering, he sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem, for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection.

“(For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead.)

“And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness had great grace laid up for them.

“It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins.” (2 Machabees 12:43-46)

When at last the time of purgation shall have expired, our suffering brethren shall enter into heaven. After the General Judgment there will be but heaven and hell. Purgatory will cease to exist. God’s Church triumphs, hell groans, and this triumph and this groaning shall be for all eternity witnesses to God’s eternal justice.

Let every man make whatever application he chooses of the doctrine of divine judgment, he can not escape such judgment, for God is omnipotent. He need not imagine that no one sees him doing evil, for God is omniscient, God’s eye is all-seeing. Live, then, in such a way that you may be ready to die at any moment. “He is a poor Christian,” says Saint Augustine, “who lives differently from whatever way he would like to appear at judgment. The best means of securing in future a favorable judgment is to fear God.” “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Ecclesiasticus 1:16) “The fear of the Lord driveth out sin.” (Ecclesiasticus 1:27) Hence the preacher in Ecclesiastes concludes his warning with the words, “Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is all man: and all things that are done, God will bring into judgment for every error, whether it be good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Various Methods of Helping the Poor Souls in Purgatory

1. Holy Mass. Once, when Father John Alverera, a priest of the Franciscan Order, was celebrating Mass with great fervor and piety, on All Souls’ day, and during the Memento was imploring the heavenly Father, by the blood of His divine Son poured out on the cross, to help the poor suffering souls, he saw at the same moment a great number of rescued souls in the form of sparks of fire leaping from purgatory and ascending toward heaven.

Once, during his midnight meditation, Saint Nicholas of Tolentino heard the voice of a poor soul who cried out to him, “I am the soul of a poor pilgrim who in life often served thee, and I am now suffering grievously in purgatory. I beg thee to offer up a Mass for me.” The saint excused himself, saying that on the following day it was his turn to officiate at the solemn Mass in the monastery chapel, and he could not, therefore, celebrate a requiem. Then the soul replied piteously, “Behold, I am sent by a number of poor souls who join in begging a Mass from you. That you may not doubt me, come and see.” Then the soul showed to the saint a great number of souls in the place, who besought his compassion and mercy. This spectacle touched the heart of Saint Nicholas so forcibly that he wept bitterly, and straightway hurrying to his Superior, told him all. He received permission to celebrate Mass for the poor suffering souls, not only on the following morning, but every morning for the ensuing week. He added, moreover, many works of penance and mortification for the same intention. Eight days afterward the poor soul again appeared to him, and gratefully informed him that, not only itself, but all the other souls whom he had seen, had been delivered from their place of imprisonment and suffering.

2. Prayers for the dead. Saint Francis Xavier entertained such sentiments of charity for the poor souls in purgatory, and was so eager to assist them, that he often traversed the streets of the town ringing a bell and calling on the people to pray for the dead.

Animated with the same sentiments, he appointed a man in Malacca, who was to go about at midnight with a lantern and a bell, and cry out, “Pray for the Christian souls that are suffering in purgatory.”

3. Works of penance; indulgences. Saint Ursula, of the Order of Theatines, had great compassion on a dying sister religious, named Christina, in anticipation of the pains that might be then awaiting her in purgatory. But as she knew, from the case of Saint Catharine of Sienna, that a person still living in the world can alleviate immensely the sufferings of departed souls, she prayed fervently to her heavenly Spouse for grace to enable her to assist her fellow-religious. Her prayer was heard. For while the nun was dying, Ursula fell into a trance, and when she came to she broke forth in the joyful words, “I thank Thee, my Lord and God, for the great mercy Thou hast shown to my sister Christina, by hearkening to my prayers in her behalf, and granting her speedy relief.” Then she had the Te Deum sung, and soon afterward was afflicted with great sufferings, which continued till her death.

4. Almsgiving and other good works. To Saint Bridget, of Sweden, her deceased husband, Alfo, once appeared, and ordered her to sell the silverware and costly horses which he had left behind, and in which he had taken too much pleasure when on earth, and to bestow the proceeds of the sale on the poor for the benefit of his soul. He also ordered his silver cup to be given to the Church for the service of the altar, for such alms are pleasing to God.


The doctrine of everlasting punishment in hell is frequently assailed as one not consonant with reason, and as repugnant to the feelings of the human heart. Now, it is remarkable that during the three hundred years since the time this article of faith was first assailed, the attacks have invariably been made by persons who are hostile to all the fundamental teachings of religion, while Christians of all denominations are agreed on this point. Yes, like the belief in the existence of God, the belief in hell is general. The Jew, the Mohammedan, the pagan, the savage, all believe in a place of punishment, like the Christian. If you ask where it is, every one of these will point down to the ground, as believing it to be under the earth, as he points toward the sky when asked where is heaven.

The ancient Greeks believed in their Tartarus. Plato says, “The wicked will be precipitated into Tartarus, never more to come out.” Xenocrates taught that the souls of the wicked wander about in dark places under the earth, which are enclosed with iron bars on all sides. Plutarch held that the wicked after death are confined in a place that no man can open. The Latin poet, Virgil, in his AEneid, portrays to us the never-ending sufferings of the damned souls. The Jews term the dwelling-place of lost souls Gehenna, that is to say, the place of burning, in the valley of the sons of Ennom, near Jerusalem, in which human beings were sacrificed to the god of fire; for which purpose a fire was kept perpetually burning.

The Hellheim of the ancient Druids, whence our Saxon word hell, was a place of unceasing misery, full of unrest and pain, and corresponding to the “land of misery and darkness, where the shadows of death, and no order, but everlasting horror dwelleth.” (Job 10:22)

Thus speaketh and expresseth itself the universal belief that this is a revealed doctrine, while Plato declares in his Phaedon: “After having maturely weighed all things and tested them severely, I have found nothing that is more compatible with wisdom, reason and truth.”

Yet excessive sentimentalism objects that (1) God would be unjust if He were to punish a finite sin with an infinite penalty; (2) God cannot have created men to permit them to fail in reaching their last end, and so be eternally lost; and (3) that if God foresaw that some souls would be eternally damned, His love should not have permitted them to be created.

But we answer (1) that sin is finite only in regard to man, while with regard to an infinite God it is infinite; (2) that man is not hindered by God from reaching his last end, but rather deprives himself, by his own free will, of the crown that constitutes his end and purpose; and (3) that if God had not created men because He foresaw that some of them would be eternally lost, though of course it is through their own fault, He would be unjust toward those whose merits entitled them to heaven.

It was necessary that God should stimulate human slothfulness by promises of reward and threats of punishment. What would become of society if there were no belief in eternal retribution? The reward of the good should be eternal; how, then, can the everlasting punishment of the wicked be unjust? Threats of eternal sufferings are more clearly stated in the Sacred Scriptures than any other doctrine. If they are not to be understood literally, if they are to be taken in any other sense, then no true idea of doctrine can be gathered from the Bible.

Man is undoubtedly created for eternity. When his end comes, there is not another world in which he can fit himself for heaven, for in the next life there are not the same duties to be fulfilled as in this. If he have squandered time, money, and talents, how will he regain his loss? Can he discharge acts of charity toward his neighbor? If he have not fulfilled his duty toward his parents, his fellow-men, or his country, can he repair the harm in the next life? If he die unfit for heaven he will remain unfit. In the next world a man may suffer, and thus satisfy for the punishment due to forgiven sin, but he can not retrieve in eternity what, on account of his worthlessness, he has never earned, or yet make good what he has omitted.

The stubborn, persistent sinner has offended God knowingly and willingly. He would not amend his life, and was suddenly overtaken by death in the midst of his disobedience. He died in unmistakable hostility to God. He had thwarted all the views of a merciful Providence. He despised all that Christ had done for him, all the lessons He had taught him through His priests, all the graces He had given him through His Church. Had he lived longer he would have lived only to sin again and again, and without any contrition. Hence, in eternity, there is no forgiveness for him, because there can be no conversion. His punishment never ceases, because his stubbornness is unbroken.

Saint Gregory, with truth and justice, concludes that “the impious would, if they could, live forever, in order to be able to sin forever. They thereby show that they wish to live in sin, for as long as they do live, they do not cease sinning. Moreover, the exalted wisdom of the Judge demands that they be never without punishment, because, when in this life, they would never be without sinning. The almighty God, who is merciful, does not rejoice at the sufferings of the damned, but, as He is just, He never shirks the office of punishing the wicked.”

Concerning hell the Catholic Church teaches three things: (1) that there is a hell; (2) that its pains are everlasting; and (3) that the pains are different in degree and measure in proportion to the enormity of the sin. Although she has nowhere spoken explicitly on the mode and method of hell’s punishments, Saint Athanasius says, in his Creed: “Those who have done evil will go to hell.”

Other Church Fathers also hold strictly to the words of the Bible, and enumerate the penalties as (1) darkness; (2) howling and weeping; (3) hunger and thirst, according to the words of Isaias, ” Behold, My servants shall eat, and you shall be hungry: behold, My servants shall drink and you shall be thirsty;” (Isaias 65:13) (4) stench, for “their lot will be cast in a stinking pool of fire;” (5) fire; (6) the worm; (7) the horrors and disgust of the place itself; (8) the company of the damned; (9) despair; and (10) the eternity of suffering.


Passages from the Scriptures

1. There is a place of reward after death. “Where is thy hope, for which thou gavest alms, and buriedst the dead? But Tobias rebuked them, saying, Speak not so. For we are the children of saints, and look for that life which God will give to them, that never change their faith from Him.” (Tobias 2:16-18)

“They that trust in Him shall understand the truth: and they that are faithful in love shall rest in Him: for grace and peace is to His elect.” (Wisdom 3:9)

“And I dispose to you, as My Father hath disposed to Me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and may sit upon thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:29)

“Making commemoration of you in my prayers, that . . . the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what the hope is of His calling, and what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.” (Ephesians 1:16,18; Colossians 1:4-5, and 3:24; 2 Timothy 2:11-12)

2. The reward is everlasting. “Thy kingdom is a kingdom of all ages, and Thy dominion endureth throughout all generations.” (Psalms 144:13)

“This is the will of My Father…that every one who seeth the Son, and believeth in Him may have life everlasting.” (John 6:40)

“Every one that liveth, and believeth in Me, shall not die forever.” (John 11:26)

“Blessed be the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy hath regenerated us unto a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that can not fade, preserved in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:3-4)

“That which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory.” (2 Corinthians 4:17; 1 John 2:25)

3. The reward is exceeding glorious. “The just shall shine, and shall run to and fro like sparks among the reeds. They shall judge nations, and shall rule over peoples.” (Wisdom 3:7,8; Matthew 19:28)

“The just shall live for evermore, and their reward is with the Lord…. They shall receive a kingdom of glory, and a crown of beauty at the hand of the Lord.” (Wisdom 5:16)

“You shall have a song as in the night of the sanctified solemnity, and joy of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe, to come into the mountain of the Lord.” (Isaias 30:29)

“Then shall the just shine as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father.” (Matthew 13:43)

“Father, I will that, where I am, they also whom Thou hast given Me may be with Me, that they may see My glory, which Thou hast given Me.” (John 17:24)

“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard,… what things God hath prepared for them that love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

“You also shall appear with Christ in glory.” (Colossians 3:4)

“When the Prince of pastors shall appear, you shall receive a never-fading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:4)

4. Reward in proportion to merit. “In My Father’s house there are many mansions.” (John 14:2)

“There are bodies celestial, and bodies terrestrial, but one is the glory of the celestial, and another of the terrestrial; one is the glory of the sun, another the glory of the moon, and another the glory of the stars. For star differeth from star in glory, so also is the resurrection of the dead.” (1 Corinthians 15:40-42)

“We must all be manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the proper things of the body, according as he hath done, whether it be good or evil.” (2 Corinthians 5:10)

“He who soweth sparingly, shall also reap sparingly; and he who soweth in blessings, shall also reap of blessings.” (2 Corinthians 9:6)

Who Shall Go to Heaven?

This question was asked by King David in his fourteenth psalm. “Lord, who shall dwell in Thy tabernacle? or who shall rest in Thy holy hill?” The same Psalmist answers, saying, “He that walketh without blemish, and worketh justice.” Therefore not only the man who does not steal, nor murder, nor commit adultery, nor yet he who is simply unconscious of having committed any mortal sin, having nothing to accuse’ himself of when in the confessional, but the man who uses all his powers in an effort to become perfect, as Our Father in heaven is perfect, and who therefore strives zealously to do good and to appropriate to himself all Christian virtues.

Not to commit sin is simply our duty, while merit is a lifetime filled with good works. But David continues: ” He that speaketh the truth in his heart, who hath not used deceit in his tongue.” (Psalms 14:3) Hence it is not enough to be free from deceit. We must dare to speak the truth from our hearts. We must not be silent for fear of displeasing people, nor yet chime in with the advocates of indifference or unbelief. Again the Psalmist continues: “nor hath done evil to his neighbor, nor taken up a reproach against his neighbors,” for duty toward our neighbor consists in something more than in merely abstaining from harming him; beside that we must not even listen to any evil against him; we must defend him in his absence if he be attacked, restraining not only our tongues but our ears also. Again the Psalmist continues: “In his sight the malignant is brought to nothing: but he glorifieth them that fear the Lord.” Here he means that we should not offer our homage to the unworthy rich, while we pass over the virtuous poor, and perhaps despise them; but that we must honor those whom the Lord honors if they come begging their bread at our doors. And then the Psalmist concludes with the words, “he that sweareth to his neighbor, and deceiyeth not; he that hath not put out his money to usury, nor taken bribes against the innocent.” He would warn us here that many souls are lost who think themselves justified, and that the devil gains more souls by flattering their vanity than are lost through their own sins of lying and deception, perjury, usury, and robbery.

The Small Number of the Elect

Our blessed Lord has said, “God sent His Son into the world, that the world may be saved by Him.” (John 3:17) Not withstanding this fact, there are men to be found of whom it is true to say that “He came unto His own and His own received Him not.” (John 1:11) Nor are these the few; they are, sad to say, the greatest in number. This is, indeed, a truth that every instructor in religion would gladly exclude from his sermons, if he could, or dared to do so. But painful as it may be to preach it, this truth is vouched for plainly in the Sacred Scriptures. How clear are the words of Our Saviour Himself: “Many are called but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14). Again, He says, “Enter ye in at the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat. How narrow is the gate, and strait is the way that leadeth to life: and few there are that find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14). He then exhorts, “Strive to enter by the narrow gate: for many, I say to you, shall seek to enter, and shall not be able.” (Luke 13:24). Yes, indeed, many, even of those who are popularly supposed to be far advanced in virtue, will be lost, for Our Saviour says again, “Many will say to Me in that day: Lord, Lord, have not we prophesied in Thy name, and cast out devils in Thy name, and done many miracles in Thy name? And then will I profess unto them: I never knew you: depart from Me, you that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:22,23).

This dreadful fate, which most men will encounter through their own fault, is clearly foretold in the Old Testament. The covenant which God sealed by the Circumcision was a sign of election, but God limited it to Abraham and his descendants only. A figure of those who strive for heaven may be seen in Gedeon’s army of thirty thousand men, but three hundred of whom survived to enjoy the victory. The similes in the New Testament point out the same truth no less clearly. Of the seed sown by the husbandman only one-fourth part brings forth any fruit. Of the twelve virgins appointed to wait on the bridegroom – that is, who were called to heaven – only one-half were found prepared. Saint John the Evangelist saw the books opened, out of which men were judged; but still another book was opened, the book of life, thus showing that one book would contain the names of the survivors in the struggle for heaven.

Saint Peter, when contemplating the awful truth, exclaims: “If the just man shall scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (1 Peter 4:18). The same doctrine has been taught by the Fathers of the Church. Saint Chrysostom preached to the people of Antioch, “How many, do you suppose, in this populous city, will be saved? The truth is a shocking one to preach, yet I will say it: Out of this densely populated city, out of these thousands of inhabitants, perhaps hardly one hundred will be saved. Yes, even this number may be too high an estimate when we consider the slothfulness of the aged, the wickedness of the young, the unrighteousness of all.”

Massillon, the distinguished Bishop of Clermont, in France, was once preaching in Paris in presence of the king on this very subject. Among other things he said, “Let us suppose, dear brethren, that the present hour is the last of our lives. We see the heavens open above us. Time has passed forever, and eternity is upon us. Jesus Christ, Our Saviour, appears, and we are to be judged, every one according to his works; we here now assembled are to hear this moment, from His divine lips, our sentence of eternal life or of eternal death. And now, I ask you, my brethren, I, who am as deeply afraid as yourselves – for I do not separate my fate from yours in those tremendous circumstances amid which we must all appear before our stern judge – I ask you, if Jesus Christ were to appear now, and to separate the just from the sinners, who would be the most numerous? Do you think the numbers would be equal? Would there be ten on the side of the just? Aye, I ask you, would He find one just man among us?”

What ought we to do now that we may be enabled at least to look with confidence toward the judgments of God? Saint Anselm gives us the following advice, “If you wish to be surely counted among the elect, then labor to be among the few.” Our Lord led the blind man whom He cured away from the multitude. Do you also separate yourself from the crowd, from the habits and ways, conversations and strivings, of the thoughtless crowd of worldlings. First of all, and above all, use the powerful means of prayer. Approach the sacraments frequently, watch vigilantly over yourself; help the poor and destitute, for the alms you give to the poor is the price of heaven.

– text taken from An Explanation of the Apostle’s Creed: A Thorough Exposition of Catholic Faith, by Father H Rolfus, D.D., published by Benziger Brothers, 1907; it has the Imprimatur of +John M Farley, Auxiliary Bishop and Adminsitrator of New York, June 1902