Good Old Garrigou-Lagrange: Purgatory and the Meaning of Life

Purgatory tells us that iniquity is punished, that there is retributive justice, that one cannot simply stop sinning and everything is alright but that offenses must be expiated and forgiven.

Purgatory also tells us that our life gains great meaning from the seemingly senseless suffering we endure. Note that if we lack a rational explanation of our suffering, but we still suffer anyway, that we will grow very angry at the apparently meaningless suffering.

How many young people are very angry today! Why? Obviously for various reasons. I suggest that underlying the anger of many is a failure to understand the meaning of pain, the possibilities of suffering, the value of a redemptive acceptance of suffering.

And since our life is under the Cross — no matter what the trans-humanists hope for — we inevitably will have our share of suffering. Hence, everyone will be angry, unless he has an account.

Many ancient religions assigned an account: You have done the gods wrong! This is a good starting point, as JHNewman tells us (Grammar, chap. 10). It is a good start because it is correct. The gods do care, and we have done wrong. Recognizing that puts into wildly different perspective all the pain and suffering people endure. Imagine these race riots today illuminated by the insight: Each of us has done wrong, we have all gone astray.

Now, the classical Jewish and Christian approach to this is balanced. First, each approach is anchored in the Truth and in Right Moral Laws. Second, each holds out hope. Third, each offers concrete ways, given us by God, to achieve that hope.

What the angry person needs is a way forward. Fight the evil that can be justly fought and conquered; accept the evil that cannot be justly fought and conquered; hope one’s way forward with regard to both evils. This is the recipe for a brighter future, a future that uplifts.

Now, many will be the evils that must be endured, esp. as our society devolves into the most unnatural of evils. Hence, great must be our endurance. We can pick up the mantel of Christ, that is, his Cross. Our life does have meaning. Its meaning is largely, or to a large extent, acceptance of suffering. If you strip that from me, you really do reduce my meaning. Also, you tell me a lie. Because I cannot be having pleasure all the time. There is repetition, and sometimes that really does “drag one down” … unless one can see the point.

Where does Garrigou-Lagrange fit into all this? He stresses the importance, the meaningfulness, of a life of redemptive suffering. He also notes how sad, how tragic indeed, is the heretical doctrine that denies that meaning. He notes one Lutheran who saw through just how awful was Luther’s own idea:

“To deny the necessity of satisfaction in this world and and of satispassion in purgatory amounts to denying the value of a life of reparation. Such denial involves the Lutheran negation of the necessity of good works, as if faith without works could suffice for justification and salvation.

At the end of a conference which I gave in Geneva, a Protestant, intelligent and well-instructed, came to see me. I said to him, ‘How could Luther come to the conclusion that faith alone and the merits of Christ suffice for salvation: that it is not necessary to observe the precepts, not even the precepts of the love of God and neighbor?’ He answered me, ‘It is very simple.’ ‘How very simple?’ ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘it is diabolical.’ ‘I would not dare say that to you,’ I answered, ‘but how is it that you are a Lutheran?’ ‘My family,’ he answered, ‘has been Lutheran for generations, but in the near future I shall enter the Catholic Church.’

Father Monsabré wrote the following words: ‘Its principles regarding justification led Protestantism to deny the dogma of purgatory. Man, saved by faith alone, by the merits of Christ, without relation to his own deeds, need fear nothing from divine justice. Divine justice must acknowledge his audacious and imperturbable conscience in the redemptive virtue of Him whose merits he exploits, even though he himself may have violated all the commandments. The negation which follows from these principles, invented to shield the wicked, is as odious as it is absurd. It is unintelligent and barbarous, for nothing is more conformable to reason than the doctrine of the Church on purgatory, and nothing is more consoling for the heart. Protestant, at the last hour, faces the terrible perspective: everything or nothing. How count on heaven when a man looks back on a life of sin, sees that he is offering to God only a late repentance, without reparation for so many offenses? Hence there remains only the perspective of malediction” (Garrigou-Lagrange, Life Everlasting, pp. 161f).

Now, GL indeed notes that death bed conversions are possible. They even happen. But they are not frequent. Indeed, they are very difficult. Devotion to sin, devotion to neglect, failure to repent, repeated sin, etc…. All this hardens the heart and makes it less likely that one will achieve salvation. Conversion at the last second is possible, but let us not presume on God’s mercy, while he is right now calling us to conversion.