Purgatory Explained, Part 1, Chapter 27

Saint Catherine of GenoaArticle

The Cause of Suffering – Matter of the Expiations of Purgatory – Doctrine of Suarez – Saint Catherine of Genoa

Why must souls thus suffer before being admitted to see the face of God? What is the matter, what is the subject of these expiations? What has the fire of Purgatory to purify, to consume in them? It is, say the doctors, the stains left by their sins.

But what is here understood by stains? According to most theologians, it is not the guilt of sin, but the pain or the debt of pain proceeding from sin. To understand this well, we must remember that sin produces a double effect on the soul, which we call the debt (reatus) of guilt and the debt of pain; it renders the soul not only guilty, but deserving of pain or chastisement. Now, after the guilt is pardoned, it generally happens that the pain remains to be undergone, either entirely or in part, and this must be endured either in the present life or in the life to come.

The souls in Purgatory retain not the slightest stain of guilt; the venial guilt which they had at the moment of their death has disappeared in the order of pure charity, with which they are inflamed in the other life, but they still bear the debt of suffering which they had not discharged before death.

This debt proceeds from all the faults committed during their life, especially from mortal sins remitted as to the guilt, but which they have neglected to expiate by worthy fruits of exterior penance.

Such is the common teaching of theologians, which Suarez sums up in his Treatise on the Sacrament of Penance. “We conclude then,” he says, “that all venial sins with which a just man dies are remitted as to the guilt, at the moment when the soul is separated from the body, by virtue of an act of love of God, and the perfect contrition which it then excites over all its past faults. In fact, the soul at this moment knows its condition perfectly, and the sins of which it has been guilty before God; at the same time, it is mistress of its faculties, to be able to act. On the other hand, on the part of God, the most efficacious helps are given to her, that she may act according to the measure of sanctifying grace which she possesses. It follows, then, that in this perfect disposition, the soul acts without the least hesitation. It turns directly towards its God, and finds itself freed from all its venial sins by an act of sovereign loathing of sin. This universal and efficacious act suffices for the remission of their guilt.

All stain of guilt has then disappeared; but the pain remains to be endured, in all its rigor and long duration, at least for those souls that are not assisted by the living. They cannot obtain the least relief for themselves, because the time of merit has passed; they can no longer merit, they can but suffer, and in that way pay to the terrible justice of God all that they owe, even to the last farthing. Usque ad novissimum quadrantem. (Matthew 5:26)

These debts of pain are the remains of sin, and a kind of stain, which intercepts the vision of God, and places an obstacle to the union of the soul with its last end. Since the souls in Purgatory are freed from the guilt of sin, writes Saint Catherine of Genoa, there is no other barrier between them and their union with God save the remains of sin, from which they must be purified. This hindrance which they feel within them causes them to suffer the torments of the damned, of which I have spoken elsewhere, and retards the moment when the instinct by which they are drawn towards God as to their Sovereign Beatitude will attain its full perfection. They see clearly how serious before God is even the slightest obstacle raised by the remains of sin, and that it is by necessity of justice that He delays the full gratification of their desire of everlasting bliss.

This sight enkindles within them a burning flame, like that of Hell, yet without the guilt of sin.

MLA Citation