Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
Of Purgatory, and Prayer for the Dead
By James Ussher (15811656)
From Religion of the Ancient Irish
THE NEXT point that offereth itself unto our consideration is that of purgatory. Whereof if any man do doubt, Cæsarius, a German monk of the Cistercian order, adviseth him for his resolution to make a journey into Scotland (the greater Scotland1 he meaneth) and there to enter into St. Patricks purgatory, and then he giveth him his word, that he shall no more doubt of the pains of purgatory. If Dr. Terry, who commendeth this unto us as the testimony of a most famous author, should chance to have a doubtful thought hereafter of the pains of purgatory, I would wish his ghostly father to enjoin him no other penance but the undertaking of a pilgrimage unto St. Patricks purgatory; to see whether he would prove any wiser when he came from thence, than when he went thither. In the meantime, until he hath made some further experiment of the matter, he shall give me leave to believe him that hath been there, and hath cause to know the place as well as any (the island wherein it is seated, being held by him as part of the inheritance descended unto him from his ancestors) and yet professeth, that he found nothing therein, which might afford him any argument to think there was a purgatory. I pass by that Nennius and Probus and all the elder writers of the life of St. Patrick that I have met withal, speak not one word of any such place; and that Henry the monk of Saltrey, in the days of king Stephen, is the first in whom I could find any mention thereof; this only would I know of the doctor, what the reason might be, that where he bringeth in the words of Giraldus Cambrensis touching this place, as an authentical authority; he passeth over that part of his relation, wherein he affirmeth, that St. Patrick intended by this means to bring the rude people to a persuasion of the certainty of the infernal pains of the reprobate, and of the true and everlasting life of the elect after death?
The Grecians allege this for one of their arguments against purgatory: that whereas their fathers had delivered unto them many visions and dreams, and other wonders concerning the everlasting punishment, wherewith the wicked should be tormented in hell; yet none of them had declared anything concerning a purgatory temporary fire. Belike the doctor was afraid that we would conclude, upon the same ground, that St. Patrick was careful to plant in mens minds the belief of a heaven and hell, but of purgatory taught them never a word. And sure I am, that in the book ascribed unto him, De Tribus Habitaculis, which is to be seen in his Majestys library, there is no mention of any other place after this life, but of these two only. I will lay down here the beginning of that treatise, and leave it to the judgment of any indifferent man, whether it can well stand with that which the Romanists teach concerning purgatory at this day. There be three habitations under the power of Almighty God: the first, the lowermost, and the middle. The highest whereof is called the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven, the lowermost is termed hell, the middle is named the present world, or the circuit of the earth. The extremes whereof are altogether contrary one to another: for what fellowship can there be betwixt light and darkness, betwixt Christ and Belial? but the middle hath some similitude with the extremes. For in this world there is a mixture of the bad and of the good together, whereas in the kingdom of God there are none bad, but all good: but in hell there are none good but all bad. And both these places are supplied out of the middle. For of the men of this world some are lifted up to heaven, others are drawn down to hell. Namely, like are joined unto like, that is to say, good to good, and bad to bad: just men to just angels, wicked men to wicked angels; the servants of God to God, the servants of the devil to the devil. The blessed are called to the kingdom prepared for them from the beginning of the world: the cursed are driven into the everlasting fire that is prepared for the devil and his angels. Thus far there.
Hitherto also may be referred that ancient canon of one of our Irish synods, wherein it is affirmed that the soul being separated from the body is presented before the judgment seat of Christ, who rendereth its own unto it, according as it hath done: and that neither the archangel can lead it into life, until the Lord hath judged it, nor the devil transport it unto pain, unless the Lord do damn it; as the writings of Sedulius likewise, that after the end of this life either death or life succeedeth, and that death is the gate by which we enter into our kingdom: together with that of Claudius; that Christ did take upon him our punishment without the guilt, that thereby he might loose our guilt, and finish also our punishment. Cardinal Bellarmine, indeed allegeth here against us the vision of Furseus, who rising from the dead, told many things which he saw concerning the pains of purgatory, as Bede, he saith, doth write. But, by his good leave, we will be better advised, before we build articles of faith upon such visions and dreams as these, many whereof deserved to have a place among the strange narrations of souls appearing after death, collected by Damasius the heathen idolater, rather than among the histories and discourses of sober Christians.
As for this vision of Furseus: all that Bede relateth of it to this purpose, is concerning great fires above the air, appointed to examine every one according to the merits of his works, which peradventure may make something for Damasius his purgatory in circulo lacteo (for in that circle made he a way for the souls that went to the hades in heaven; and would not have us wonder, that there they should be purged by the way); but nothing for the papists purgatory, which Bellarmine by the common consent of the schoolmen determineth to be in the bowels of the earth. Neither is there anything else in the whole book of the life of Furseus, whence Bede borrowed these things, that looketh toward purgatory, unless peradventure that speech of the devil may be thought to give some advantage unto it. This man hath not purged his sins upon earth; neither doth he receive punishment for them here. Where is therefore the justice of God? as if Gods justice were not sufficiently satisfied by the sufferings of Christ: but man also must needs give further satisfaction thereunto by penal works or sufferings, either here, or in the other world, which is the ground upon which our Romanists do lay the rotten frame of their devised purgatory.
The latter visions of Malachias, Tundal, Owen, and others that lived within these last five hundred years, come not within the compass of our present enquiry: nor yet the fables that have been framed in those times, touching the lives and actions of elder saints, whereof no wise man will make any reckoning. Such, for example, is that which we read in the life of St. Brendan: that the question being moved in his hearing whether the sins of the dead could be redeemed by the prayers or almsdeeds of their friends remaining in this life, for that was still a question in the church, he is said to have told them, that on a certain night, as he sailed on the great ocean, the soul of one Colman, who had been an angry monk, and a sower of discord betwixt brethren, appeared unto him, who complaining of his grievous torments, entreated that prayers might be made to God for him, and after six days thankfully acknowledged that by means thereof he had gotten into heaven. Whereupon it is concluded, that the prayer of the living doth profit much the dead. But of St. Brendans sea pilgrimage, we have the censure of Molanus, a learned Romanist, that there be many apocryphal fooleries in it; and whosoever readeth the same with any judgment, cannot choose but pronounce of it, as Photius doth of the strange narrations of Damasius, formerly mentioned; that it containeth not only apocryphal, but also impossible, incredible, ill-composed, and monstrous fooleries. Whereof though the old legend itself were not free as by the heads thereof, touched by Glaber Rodulphus and Giraldus Cambrensis, may appear, yet for the tale that I recited out of the new legend of England, I can say, that in the manuscript books which I have met withal here, in St. Brendans own country (one whereof was transcribed for the use of the friars minors of Kilkenny, about the year of our Lord one thousand three hundred and fifty), there is not the least footstep thereof to be seen.