The Early Church Is the Catholic Church


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the sacred mysteries of the Catholic faith.

The church is catholic

“Wherefore the most holy and blessed Leo, archbishop of the great and elder Rome, through us,
and through this present most holy synod together with the thrice blessed and all-glorious Peter the
Apostle, who is the rock and foundation of the Catholic Church, and the foundation of the
orthodox faith, hath stripped him of the episcopate, and hath alienated from him all hieratic
worthiness. Therefore let this most holy and great synod sentence the before mentioned
Dioscorus to the canonical penalties.”
 Council of Chalcedon, Session III
(A.D. 451)

“See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Christ Jesus does the Father, and the presbytery as ye
would the apostles. Do ye also reverence the deacons, as those that carry out the appointment of
God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed
a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has
entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude also be; by the bishop, or by
one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude also be;
even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”
St. Ignatius of Antioch,
Epistle to the Smyrneans, 8:2
(c. A.D. 110)

“But [it has, on the other hand, been shown], that the preaching of the Church is everywhere
consistent, and continues in an even course, and receives testimony from the prophets, the apostles,
and all the disciples…For in the Church,” it is said, “God hath set apostles, prophets, teachers,’ and
all the other means through which the Spirit works; of which all those are not partakers who do not
join themselves to the Church, but defraud themselves of life through their perverse opinions and
infamous behaviour. For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of
God is, there is the Church, and every kind of grace; but the Spirit is truth.”
St. Irenaeus,
Against Heresies, 3:24
(A.D. 180)

“The spouse of Christ cannot be adulterous; she is uncorrupted and pure. She knows one home;
she guards with chaste modesty the sanctity of one couch. She keeps us for God. She appoints
the sons whom she has born for the kingdom. Whoever is separated from the Church and is joined
to an adulteress, is separated from the promises of the Church; nor can he who forsakes the
Church of Christ attain to the rewards of Christ. He is a stranger; he is profane; he is an enemy.
He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother. If anyone could
escape who was outside the ark of Noah, then he also may escape who shall be outside of the
Church. The Lord warns, saying, ‘He who is not with me is against me, and he who gathereth not
with me scattereth.’
St. Cyprian of Carthage, On Unity, 6
(A.D. 251)

“But in learning the Faith and in professing it, acquire and keep that only, which is now delivered to
thee by the Church, and which has been built up strongly out of all the Scriptures….Take heed
then, brethren, and hold fast the traditions which ye now receive, and write them and the table of
your heart.”
St. Cyril of Jerusalem,
Catechetical Lectures, 5:12
(A.D. 350)

“But beyond these [Scriptural] sayings, let us look at the very tradition,
teaching and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning,
which the Lord gave, the Apostles preached, and the Fathers kept.”
St. Athanasius,
Four Letters to Serapion of Thmuis, 1:28
(A.D. 360)

“Inasmuch, I repeat, as this is the case, we believe also in the Holy Church, [intending thereby]
assuredly the Catholic. For both heretics and schismatics style their congregations churches. But
heretics, in holding false opinions regarding God, do injury to the faith itself; while schismatics, on
the other hand, in wicked separations break off from brotherly charity, although they may believe
just what we believe. Wherefore neither do the heretics belong to the Church catholic, which loves
God; nor do the schismatics form a part of the same.”
St. Augustine, On Faith and Creed, 10:21
(A.D. 393)

“Philip the presbyter and legate of the Apostolic See said: There is no doubt, and in fact it has
been known in all ages, that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince and head of the Apostles, pillar
of the faith, and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our
Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of the human race, and that to him was given the
power of loosing and binding sins: who down even to to-day and forever both lives and judges in his
Council of Ephesus, Session III (A.D. 431)

But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You
are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon
son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in
heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the
gates of Hades will not overcome it."
Matthew 16, 15-18

Pax vobiscum

All Have Sinned

 Original Sin

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.
Romans 3, 23

In Catholic teaching, original sin is a sin contracted rather than a sin committed. To say that all people are "guilty of original sin" is inaccurate. This idea implies that everyone is born guilty in a morally responsible sense and is blameworthy for having contracted this stain of sin. But the only sins we are morally responsible for are our own personal sins. The guilt of original sin should be understood in a legal sense, meaning that in our fallen state we are all liable to punishment for our sins which we are naturally inclined to commit. And because we normally do sin and freely choose to sin against God, we are morally liable to Him. Adam's personal sin is not imputed to us as if we are morally responsible for his actions. Original sin does stain our souls when we are conceived and born but through no fault of ours.

However, since we all are inclined to sin because of our innate selfishness, we can say that we are implicated in the sin of Adam. None of us is born more innocent than the other. We are equally born under the condemnation or curse of the law, for each of us will certainly violate it at some point in our lives (even at least once if it were possible) on account of our inbred selfishness, weaknesses, and disordered desires which constitute the state of original sin.

Adam’s personal sin demonstrates what it means for each human being to offend God of their free will. Through temptation we lose our trust in God’s will for our true well-being and happiness; we aspire to be like God, but apart from God and against God’s will. And so, we abuse our free will by disobeying God, preferring that which we feel, or judge, is better and more personally beneficial to ourselves, thereby acting on our errant inclinations.  Thus, original sin is a state of guilt insofar as all human beings are “deprived of the original holiness and justice.” And, according to Catholic teaching, “it does not have the character of a personal fault” in any of us who have descended from Adam. [Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 405].

With the view that all humanity is implicated in the sin of Adam by being biological descendants of his, the Council of Trent declares that the “guilt of original sin” contains the “whole of that which belongs to the essence of sin,” viz., the deprivation of justice and sanctity. Baptism does not merely legally “remit” or “cancel” this contraction of sin, but fully “takes it away.” With respect to our personal sins, we read in Isaiah 1, 18: ‘Though my sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though red like crimson, they shall be like wool.’ And in Isaiah 43, 25: ‘I am He who blots out your transgressions and forgets your sins.’ In other words, God is so powerful that He brings about a genuine change in us through his efficacious grace through the redeeming merits of Jesus Christ.

God blots out (exalipho/ἐξαλείφω) our sins by the healing power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Col 2:14). Sin is eliminated, albeit its remnants, and not merely covered up ( See Rom 4:3 elogisthe). God does not simply declare us to be righteous but makes us personally righteous no less than Jesus is righteous in his humanity, though not absolutely because of his divinity, by His sanctifying and justifying grace ( 2 Cor 3:18; 5:17). This same principle applies to the stain of original sin. The sacrament of baptism completely blots this stain out from our souls by God’s sanctifying and justifying grace, though the penalties of original sin – suffering and death – remain part of our natural condition along with our faults and weaknesses. Although the moral ill-effects of original sin remain, viz., the concupiscence of the eyes and of the flesh, and the pride of life, the grace of baptism sanctifies the soul rendering it justified before God. We forfeit the sanctification of our souls by the commission of mortal sins.

God reveals what He has decreed to accomplish in us through the prophet: I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud, and your sin like mist (Isa 44:22). We mustn’t deny that God has the power to “create a clean heart” and “put a pure and right spirit” within any of us. With the forgiveness of sin and the removal of guilt comes cleansing and washing which we initially receive when we are baptized (Ps 51: 7-10; cf. Ezek 36: 26-27; Acts 22:16; 1 Cor 6:11; Eph 4:22-24). The remission of sin is coupled with inner cleansing and healing. Our justification and regeneration form two sides of a single coin.

If we aren’t simply declared righteous, though still dead to sin, it’s because the soul is sanctified and thereby justified. According to the Council of Trent, sanctification is the formal cause of justification. Paul uses the two terms interchangeably. Prenatal and infants have no past personal sins that need to be remitted, so morally they aren’t culpable for any actual sins of their own. But they are deprived of the original justice and holiness which is forfeited by our human condition. Given the chance to develop morally, they will most likely sin by having been conceived and born as a child of Adam. Anyway, there is a distinction between original sin and actual sin. Essentially the former is a primeval state of moral corruption which by nature we are imbued with but by no fault of our own.

Thus, we are not personally guilty of original sin. The sin of Adam is no more imputed to our account than the righteousness of Christ is when the stain of sin is blotted out in our souls. Actual sin is a deliberate rejection of God by which we personally do incur moral guilt upon ourselves by abusing our free will. The stain of original sin renders us guilty by association. The Psalmist laments our fallen condition and implicitly appeals to God to consider our common wounded state in His mercy, but he takes full credit or moral responsibility for his own transgressions in his act of contrition:  Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight, so that thou art justified in thy sentence and blameless in thy judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me (Ps 51:4-5).

Therefore, just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all,
so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.
For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners,
so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
Romans 5, 18-19

As a result of original sin, our desires can become insubordinate to the dictates of reason since there is a tendency in our human nature to sin. This condition of ours is what the Catholic Church calls concupiscence in the strict negative sense of the word. Because of original sin, our sensitive appetites are often spontaneously directed to what our imagination portrays as pleasant and away from whatever it deems as painful or unpleasant against God’s will for our wellbeing. This natural condition of ours includes pride and the unruly inclinations of the will such as envy, greed, and lust: sins of the flesh. There are two basic forms of concupiscence in Catholic theology: of the eyes and of the flesh.

Concupiscence and the guilt of original sin, however, are distinct from each other. Original sin doesn’t mean original guilt since original sin is a sin contracted and not a sin committed. Baptism cures us of original sin but not concupiscence which is a lasting effect of original sin. Despite the lasting effects of original sin, which also include physical suffering and death, despite our being baptized since we are inclined to commit sin and shall sin, we still receive the initial grace of justification and forgiveness when we are baptized by no just merit of our own (Eph 2:8-10). On account of what Christ has merited for us by his blood, spiritual death is no longer an absolute certainty for all eternity. This is because we have been initially justified and sanctified by our baptism notwithstanding our inbred sinful inclinations and tendency to sin because of Adam, or the Adam in us who have ever been conceived in the womb, and born, except the Blessed Virgin Mary by the intervening grace of her Immaculate Conception.

We might ask how original sin is a sin though not something we have personally committed and are morally responsible for. Original sin may be taken to mean in a Catholic sense the consequence of the first sin ever committed by Adam and the hereditary stain or trait we have all received from our primordial parent. St. Augustine writes: “The deliberate sin of the first man is the cause of original sin” (De nupt. et concup., II, xxvi, 43). When we personally commit a mortal sin, the result is spiritual death. And since we are born with a tendency to sin and do, in fact, sin without exception because of the effects of original sin, as descendants of Adam, we enter this world spiritually dead. His sin isn’t imputed to us, but he has “transmitted sin to us with which we are all born afflicted, a sin which is the death of the soul” (CCC. n.403).

For this reason, infant baptism is imperative in the Catholic faith, as well as in mainstream Protestantism. Again, original sin is a sin contracted but not committed. We are not the “cause” of original sin but are affected by it in our standing with God. By our nature, we fall short of His glory inasmuch that we all have sinned through our indeliberate contraction of original sin. Meanwhile, we mustn’t hold God morally responsible for having created this state of affairs. God has given each one of us sufficient grace and strength to direct our will toward what is good and to resist evil temptations. When we sin against God, our selfishness or inordinate love of self is to blame. St. Paul assures us: No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it (1 Cor 10:13). St. James concurs: But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death (Jas 1:14-15).

God asked Adam, “Who told you that you were naked?” (Gen 3:11). The answer is what his conscience told him. Adam and Eve knew of the existence of good and evil and that they were not to experience and judge for themselves what was good and evil for them. Yet they did. They should have simply put their faith in God’s judgment and obeyed His command rather than making themselves out to be like God. The couple felt ashamed of themselves all of a sudden knowing that they had done wrong. Their conscience condemned them, for they acted against God of their own free will.

“Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Ps 119:11). David knew the difference between right and wrong and understood that he should abide by God’s word. But not unlike our primordial father Adam, he succumbed to temptation and fell from God’s grace by committing two mortal sins: adultery and murder (2 Sam 11:1-26). He was just as much personally responsible for his sins as Adam and Eve were for theirs, all because of a selfish desire and putting himself before God. God could certainly be faulted if He left us all alone in our natural state without instructing us on what we should or should not do and then punishing us for doing what we shouldn’t. But God has written His law in every human heart and has given us a conscience to warn us when we contemplate a sinful act and condemn us when we choose to violate His law. David lamented over what he had done and implored God’s forgiveness with a humble and contrite heart that rendered his sin offering pleasing and acceptable to God (See Psalm 51.).

The following excerpt is taken from the Council of Trent, Session V,5:

“If anyone denies, that, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is conferred in baptism, the reatum of original sin is remitted; or even asserts that the whole of that which has the true and proper nature of sin is not taken away; but says that it is only razed, or not imputed; let him be anathema.”

Dr. Taylor Marshall tells us that many English translations of this anathema inaccurately read “the guilt of original sin is remitted”, which obviously may confuse people. The original Latin of the Council reads “reatum originalis peccati remiti.” This is important for us to note since the term reatus does not mean “guilt” in the strict sense. In Roman law, reatus means liable to or indicted, or a penal sentence. Alternatively, the Latin word culpa means an actual act of wrongdoing. Reatus refers to the state that accrues because of a culpa. The following two terms have been adopted by the Catholic Church: Reatus culpa is guilt associated with the sentence (that is, culpability). Reatus poena is the penalty of the sentence (the word penalty comes from poena). Receiving only the penalty of sin (reatus poena) by definition of the Church is the loss of sanctifying or justifying grace and the preternatural gifts, suffering, and death because of original sin.

If a person commits armed robbery, the reatus culpa would be his intentional, personal act of robbing someone. He could be declared guilty of committing a felony. The reatus poena would be the penalty or sentence passed by the judge associated with the gravity of the crime. In this case, he might end up serving ten or more years in prison. Regarding Adam and Eve, they incurred both the personal guilt (reatus culpa) of original sin and the penalty (reatus poena). All their descendants from the time they are conceived in the womb are not guilty of eating the forbidden fruit that Adam and Eve consumed, but they do receive the penalty (reatus poena) of this sin. Human beings are not penalized for the personal sins of Adam and Eve. But once they attain reason and are morally responsible for their actions, they universally do in fact commit sins and incur personal guilt (reatus culpa) by being descendants of Adam with his hereditary traits.

Now, there are Catholic theologians who use the word culpa when referring to original sin. But the word is usually qualified as culpa contracta which does not mean personal guilt, but guilt by association. All babies who are born are naturally capable of committing their first sin and countless other personal sins once they have attained the age of reason and moral responsibility. It is this state of nature that we have inherited from Adam and Eve that alienates us from God and incurs divine justice. This is the middle ground between total innocence and total depravity. Infants and young children under the age of moral reason do suffer the penalties of original sin, including premature death, though they aren’t mature enough to deliberately sin and be held liable for it.

However paradoxical it may sound at first, there is a subtle distinction between being personally guilty of having committed a grave sin with full knowledge and consent and being guilty by implication. Yet original sin is a state of guilt insofar as the soul is deprived of the original justice and holiness forfeited by Adam, and thus it cannot ever see God unless this stain (not act) of sin is remitted and removed by the cleansing and regenerating water of baptism by the power of the Holy Spirit in and through the saving merits of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who ransomed us from sin and death by the outpouring of his most precious blood.

Early Sacred Tradition

“He stood in need of baptism, or of the descent of the Spirit like a dove; even as He submitted to
be born and to be crucified, not because He needed such things, but because of the human race,
which from Adam had fallen under the power of death and the guile of the serpent, and each one of
which had committed personal transgression. For God, wishing both angels and men, who were
endowed with freewill, and at their own disposal, to do whatever He had strengthened each to do,
made them so, that if they chose the things acceptable to Himself, He would keep them free from
death and from punishment; but that if they did evil, He would punish each as He sees fit.”
Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 88:4
(A.D. 155)

“Everyone in the world falls prostrate under sin. And it is the Lord who sets up those
who are cast down and who sustains all who are falling. In Adam all die, and thus the world
prostrate and requires to be set up again, so that in Christ all may be made to live.”
Origen, Homilies on Jeremias, 8:1
(post A.D. 244)

“Through him our forefather Adam was cast out for disobedience, and exchanged a Paradise
bringing forth wondrous fruits of its own accord for the ground which bringeth forth thorns. What
then? Some one will say. We have been beguiled and are lost. Is there then no salvation left? We
have fallen: Is it not possible to rise again? We have been blinded: May we not recover our sight
We have become crippled: Can we never walk upright? In a word, we are dead: May we not rise
again? He that woke Lazarus who was four days dead and already stank, shall He not, O man,
much more easily raise thee who art alive? He who shed His precious blood for us, shall Himself
deliver us from sin.”
Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 2:4-5
(A.D. 350)

“Adam sinned and earned all sorrows; likewise the world after His example, all
guilt. And instead of considering how it should be restored, considered how its
fall should be pleasant for it. Glory to Him Who came and restored it!”
Ephraem of Syria, Hymns on the Epiphany, 10:1
(A.D. 350)

“And further, above this, we have in common reason, the Law, the Prophets, the
very Sufferings of Christ, by which we were all without exception created anew,
who partake of the same Adam, and were led astray by the serpent and slain by
sin, and are saved by the heavenly Adam and brought back by the tree of shame
to the tree of life from whence we had fallen.”
 Gregory of Nazianzen, Against the Arians, 33:9
(A.D. 380)

“How then did death come in and prevail? “Through the sin of one.” But what
means, “for that all have sinned?” This; he having once fallen, even they that
had not eaten of the tree did from him, all of them, become mortal…From
whence it is clear, that it was not this sin, the transgression, that is, of the Law,
but that of Adam’s disobedience, which marred all things. Now, what is the proof
of this? The fact that even before the Law all died: for ‘death reigned’ he says,
from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned.’ How did it reign?
‘After the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of Him that was to
come.’ Now this is why Adam is a type of Christ …[W]hen the Jew says to thee, How
came it, that by the well-doing of this one Person, Christ, the world was saved
thou mightest be able to say to him, How by the disobedience of this one person,
Adam, came it to be condemned?”
John Chrysostom, Homily on Romans, 10
 (A.D. 391)

“Evil was mixed with our nature from the beginning…through those who by their
disobedience introduced the disease. Just as in the natural propagation of the
species each animal engenders its like, so man is born from man, a being
subject to passions from a being subject to passions, a sinner from a sinner. Thus
sin takes its rise in us as we are born; it grows with us and keeps us company till
life’s term.”
 Gregory of Nyssa, The Beatitudes, 6
(ante A.D. 394)

“This grace, however, of Christ, without which neither infants nor adults can be
saved, is not rendered for any merits, but is given gratis, on account of which it
is also called grace. ‘Being justified,’ says the apostle, ‘freely through His blood.’
Whence they, who are not liberated through grace, either because they are not
yet able to hear, or because they are unwilling to obey; or again because they
did not receive, at the time when they were unable on account of youth to
hear, that bath of regeneration, which they might have received and through
which they might have been saved, are indeed justly condemned; because they
are not without sin, either that which they have derived from their birth, or that
which they have added from their own misconduct. ‘For all have sinned’
whether in Adam or in themselves–“and come short of the glory of God.’”
Augustine of Hippo, On Nature and Grace, 4
(A.D. 415)

“But the things that come out of a person's mouth come from the heart,
and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts-murder,
adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”

Matthew 15, 18-20

Pax vobiscum

Baptized for the Dead


When everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will
 also be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that
 God may be all in all. Otherwise, what will people accomplish by having
themselves baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, then why
are they having themselves baptized for them?
1 Corinthians 15, 28-29

When Paul writes that the Church is baptizing "for" or on behalf of the dead, he uses the Greek preposition hyper (πρ) which may be translated to mean "for the sake of" or "for the benefit of" the dead in Christ who await the redemption of their bodies on the last day. Paul isn't admonishing the Christian community at Corinth for this traditional practice, so he must have also believed that the celebration of the sacrament - perhaps the general prayers and penitential works involved - assisted the faithfully departed souls. If these souls were already in Heaven, they wouldn’t need to be benefited from their prayers, and if they were in Hell, they couldn't possibly gain any benefit from them. So, where might these departed souls who can benefit from the celebration of baptism among the living be? The Catholic answer is in an intermediate state between Heaven and Hell, namely Purgatory.

And after the exhibition, Tryphaena again receives her. For her daughter Falconilla had died, and
said to her in a dream: Mother, thou shalt have this stranger Thecla in my place, in order that she
may pray concerning me, and that I may be transferred to the place of the just.
Acts of Paul and Thecla
(A.D. 160)

They all therefore praised the ways of the Lord, the just judge who brings to light the things that are
hidden. Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out. The noble
Judas warned the soldiers to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what
had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. He then took up a collection among all his
soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an
expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the
resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been
useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that
awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought.
Second Book of Maccabees 12, 41-45

Both the Corinthians and Judas perform a ritual by taking the resurrection of the faithfully departed into account. The author of the OT text says that it would have been "useless and foolish" of Judas Maccabeus to perform the sacrificial sin offering on behalf of the godly dead if there were no hope in the resurrection. Following the same train of thought, Paul asks: "If the dead are not raised at all, then why are they having themselves baptized for them?" The apostle probably had this Maccabean passage in mind when he wrote his letter to the Corinthians. He is affirming that baptism on behalf of the dead would be superfluous only if there were no resurrection on the last day, notwithstanding Christ's eternal atonement for sin. Temporal atonement is left for the faithful to make. Moreover, we should note that in Maccabees 12, God is referred to as a judge. The context of the above passage is God's judgment and the remission of sin: the full blotting out of sinful deeds and freedom from all temporal debt of sin and its residual effects by appeasing divine justice.

“Without delay, on that very night, this was shown to me in a vision. I saw Dinocrates going out from
a gloomy place, where also there were several others, and he was parched and very thirsty, with a
filthy countenance and pallid colour, and the wound on his face which he had when he died. This
Dinocrates had been my brother after the flesh, seven years of age? Who died miserably with
disease…But I trusted that my prayer would bring help to his suffering; and I prayed for him every
day until we passed over into the prison of the camp, for we were to fight in the camp-show. Then
was the birth-day of Gets Caesar, and I made my prayer for my brother day and night, groaning
and weeping that he might be granted to me. Then, on the day on which we remained in fetters, this
was shown to me. I saw that that place which I had formerly observed to be in gloom was now bright;
and Dinocrates, with a clean body well clad, was finding refreshment. And where there had been a
wound, I saw a scar; and that pool which I had before seen, I saw now with its margin lowered even to
the boy’s navel. And one drew water from the pool incessantly, and upon its brink was a goblet filled
with water; and Dinocrates drew near and began to drink from it, and the goblet did not fail. And
when he was satisfied, he went away from the water to play joyously, after the manner of children,
and I awoke. Then I understood that he was translated from the place of punishment.”
The Passion of Perpetua and Felicitias, 2:3-4
(A.D. 202)

"Make friends quickly with your accuser while you are going with him
to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard,
and you be put in prison; truly I say to you, you will never get out till you
have paid the last penny."

Matthew 5, 25-26

Our Lord is teaching us about the particular judgment of sinners at the moment of death and the temporal consequence and penalty of sin: prison or a place of detainment until full restitution is made. This debtor's prison is a metaphor for purgatory. And by "accuser" Jesus means Satan. The Greek word for the accuser, or more literally “opponent”, is antidikos (ἀντίδικος), which is also used by Peter in his First Letter 5:8-9: "Your adversary (ἀντίδικος) the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him steadfast in the faith." Satan prowls around to ruin our souls with the added touch of accusing us of sin before God (Zech 3:1; Job 1:6-12). 

To restore the equity of justice between God and us, because of the times we have failed to resist the devil, we must personally atone for our sins and make temporal satisfaction to God by accepting and enduring temporal punishment for the cleansing of our tarnished souls. At our particular death we do go to court with our accuser, and so what Jesus means by saying we should make friends with him before we face our judge is that we should settle all scores we have with the devil by resisting him and renouncing all his empty promises in this life so that he can make no accusation against us as we stand before God.

Our time in the debtors' prison depends on all unsettled scores; sins that have been forgiven through our repentance and by acts of contrition but, nonetheless, still require temporal satisfaction to be made on our part by further acts of penance to remove the residual stain of sin on our souls. Indeed, the debt of sin can be remitted only by having to do penance for it. Doing acts of penance, whose pain and loss counterbalances the sinful pleasures one is heartily sorry for, completes the temporal redemptive process. Christ did not suffer and die so that we should no longer owe God what is His rightful due for having offended His sovereign dignity (Mt 5:17; Job 42:6; Lam 2:14; Ezek 18:21; Jer 31:19; Rom 2:4; Rev 2:5, etc.). If this were so, then there would be no need for us even to repent, besides doing penance. Our Lord and Saviour ultimately made eternal expiation for sin on behalf of all humanity. However, we cannot reap the fruit of his merits unless we make temporal expiation for our own personal sins in union with his temporal and thereby eternal satisfaction.

This is from Jesus himself: "No, I say to you: but unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish" (Lk 13:3); "Bring forth, therefore, fruit worthy of penance" (Mt 3:8). True repentance for the forgiveness of sin calls for fruit worthy of our act of contrition. For instance, our outward acts (alms-giving/fasting) must conform to our inner disposition or spiritual reality (charity/temperance) to off-set our vices and sins (greed/gluttony) which have been forgiven by the act of repentance pending full temporal restitution. We are temporally consigned to purgatory if we have any outstanding debts to pay when we die.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love;
according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight,
so that thou art justified in thy sentence and blameless in thy judgment.
Psalm 51, 1-4

Temporally, we are still indebted to God for our offenses against Him and are required to make restitution for the remittance of our debts. The purpose of satisfaction is to repair the offense offered to God and make Him favorable to us again. An act of reparation can be satisfactory to God only if there is something painful and sacrificial about it. This is what is meant by commutative justice, that virtue whose object is to render to every one what belongs to him. When we sin against God, we deny Him what He is supremely entitled to, viz., our love and obedience. So, saying sorry isn’t enough to restore a balance of equity in our relationship with God. This requires that we show our love for God which we have denied Him by making it up to God, so to speak. By accepting our sufferings or making personal sacrifices and offering them to God our "spiritual worship" as means of reparation for our offenses against Him, equity is restored, as the pain or loss counters the vain pleasure of selfish gain which is the object of our sins.

Pain and suffering have no spiritual and redemptive value if divorced from repentance. Repentance is incomplete if the temporal debt of sin remains in the balance. God forgave David for his mortal sins of murder and adultery after he sincerely repented with a contrite heart and broken spirit, which rendered his prescribed sin offering worthy. But to completely offset his transgressions and restore equity of justice, God took the life of the child David conceived in his act of adultery with Bathsheba for having murdered her husband Uriah: an innocent life for an innocent life, or an eye for an eye. And God also permitted the rape of David's wives for his act of adultery (2 Sam 12:9-10, 14, 18-19). Only then could David's broken relationship with God be fully amended, provided he accepted his pain and loss as a cleansing temporal punishment for his sins and purgation of them to restore the equity of justice in his relationship with God. This peace and reconciliation with God were achieved in view of the foreseen merits of Christ in his sacred humanity and in union with them.

Purgatory, therefore, isn't a medieval invention of the Catholic Church. The ancient Jews, Paul, and Jesus acknowledged its existence. Extant documents of the early Church Fathers provide testimony to the ancient Catholic belief in this transitional state after death for the faithful departed. Thus, it's very important for us to offer up sacrifices and prayers for the dead for the sake of releasing them from prison as soon as possible by helping them pay the last penny since they can no longer merit redeeming grace for themselves. 

Meanwhile, the poor souls in purgatory are offering up their sufferings and prayers for our spiritual benefit. They can thereby merit the actual graces we need to help maintain the equity of justice between us and God in our lives so that we might be judged worthy to go straight to heaven upon death.

Early Sacred Tradition

“Accordingly the believer, through great discipline, divesting himself of the passions, passes to the
mansion which is better than the former one, viz., to the greatest torment, taking with him the
characteristic of repentance from the sins he has committed after baptism. He is tortured then still
more–not yet or not quite attaining what he sees others to have acquired. Besides, he is also
ashamed of his transgressions. The greatest torments, indeed, are assigned to the believer. For
God’s righteousness is good, and His goodness is righteous. And though the punishments cease in
the course of the completion of the expiation and purification of each one, yet those have very
great and permanent grief who are found worthy of the other fold, on account of not being along
with those that have been glorified through righteousness.”
St. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, 6:14
(post A.D. 202)

“[T]hat allegory of the Lord which is extremely clear and simple in its meaning, and ought to be
from the first understood in its plain and natural sense…Then, again, should you be disposed to
apply the term ‘adversary’ to the devil, you are advised by the (Lord’s) injunction, while you are
in the way with him, ‘to make even with him such a compact as may be deemed compatible with the
requirements of your true faith. Now the compact you have made respecting him is to renounce
him, and his pomp, and his angels. Such is your agreement in this matter. Now the friendly
understanding you will have to carry out must arise from your observance of the compact: you
must never think of getting back any of the things which you have abjured, and have restored to
him, lest he should summon you as a fraudulent man, and a transgressor of your agreement, before
God the Judge (for in this light do we read of him, in another passage, as ‘the accuser of the
brethren,’ or saints, where reference is made to the actual practice of legal prosecution); and lest
this Judge deliver you over to the angel who is to execute the sentence, and he commit you to the
prison of hell, out of which there will be no dismissal until the smallest even of your delinquencies
be paid off in the period before the resurrection. What can be a more fitting sense than this? What
a truer interpretation?”
Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul, 35
(A.D. 210)

“For if on the foundation of Christ you have built not only gold and silver and precious stones (1
Cor.,3); but also wood and hay and stubble, what do you expect when the soul shall be separated
from the body? Would you enter into heaven with your wood and hay and stubble and thus defile
the kingdom of God; or on account of these hindrances would you remain without and receive no
reward for your gold and silver and precious stones; neither is this just. It remains then that you
be committed to the fire which will burn the light materials; for our God to those who can
comprehend heavenly things is called a cleansing fire. But this fire consumes not the creature, but
what the creature has himself built, wood, and hay and stubble. It is manifest that the fire destroys
the wood of our transgressions and then returns to us the reward of our great works.”
Origen, Homilies on Jeremias, PG 13:445, 448
( A.D. 244)

“For to adulterers even a time of repentance is granted by us, and peace is given. Yet virginity is
not therefore deficient in the Church, nor does the glorious design of continence languish through
the sins of others. The Church, crowned with so many virgins, flourishes; and chastity and
modesty preserve the tenor of their glory. Nor is the vigour of continence broken down because
repentance and pardon are facilitated to the adulterer. It is one thing to stand for pardon, another
thing to attain to glory: it is one thing, when cast into prison, not to go out thence until one has
paid the uttermost farthing; another thing at once to receive the wages of faith and courage. It is
one thing, tortured by long suffering for sins, to be cleansed and long purged by fire; another to
have purged all sins by suffering. It is one thing, in fine, to be in suspense till the sentence of God
at the day of judgment; another to be at once crowned by the Lord.”
St. Cyprian of Carthage
To Antonianus, Epistle 51 (55):20
(A.D. 253)

“Then we commemorate also those who have fallen asleep before us, first Patriarchs, Prophets,
Apostles, Martyrs, that at their prayers and intercessions God would receive our petition. Then
on behalf also of the Holy Fathers and Bishops who have fallen asleep before us, and in a word of
all who in past years have fallen asleep among us, believing that it will be a very great benefit to the
souls, for whom the supplication is put up, while that holy and most awful sacrifice is set forth.
And I wish to persuade you by an illustration. For I know that many say, what is a soul profited,
which departs from this world either with sins, or without sins, if it be commemorated in the
prayer? For if a king were to banish certain who had given him of-fence, and then those who
belong to them should weave a crown and offer it to him on behalf of those under punishment,
would he not grant a remission of their penalties? In the same way we, when we offer to Him our
supplications for those who have fallen asleep, though they be sinners, weave no crown, but offer
up Christ sacrificed for our sins, propitiating our merciful God for them as well as for ourselves.”
Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 23:9,10
(c. A.D. 350)

“The servant who knows the master's will and does not get ready
or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows.
But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment
will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much,
much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much,
much more will be asked.”

Luke 12, 47-48

Pax vobiscum