Heaven, Hell, And . . . Anti-Purgatory?

by Jimmy Akin

in Eschatology

Catholic sci-fi/fantasy author Tim Powers (who gave permission to use his name) writes:

What if there’s a sort of Anti-Purgatory at the entry to Hell? I know I always reflexively feel that  I couldn’t ever really be in danger of damnation just because I’m … such a nice guy. In terms of Hell as Lewis fictionally described it in The Great Divorce, for instance, I wouldn’t fit into it. There’s just too much of good in me — amiability, mild generosity, occasional unstressful moral stands — for me to be able to picture myself damned. But –

Purgatory burns out all the last bits of sin and self-love and inclination-toward-evil in saved souls before they enter Heaven, so that what enters is a streamlined, sanctified soul that can sustain the Beatific Vision. What if there’s an Anti-Purgatory before entry into Hell, that strips away all the (never securely attached) bits of sanctity that might cling to a definitively lost soul? — so that what enters Hell is a strripped-down soul that simply no longer has the "nice guy" qualities which the living person had randomly and ad-hoc-ly accumulated?

This may already have been proposed by Origen or Augustine or somebody, or even be dogma, but it never occurred to me before, and I find it a usefully-scary idea!

It’s not a dogma, nor is it a speculation that I recall reading in a theologian’s writings before, but there may be something to this idea. Certainly there’s enough to it that one might want to base a scary story on it (and, apropos of that, I hereby grant Tim Powers license to use anything at all that he wants from this post or based on it, just to clear up any potential copyright concerns in advance).

Lemme talk about hell for a minute, since it’s the state that an anti-purgatory would configure you for.

Folks who haven’t read The Great Divorce should be aware that in this book C. S. Lewis depicts hell as a grey town in which the inhabitants view themselves as good people (certainly not damned people) who are better than the unpleasant environment in which they find themselves. Since they don’t really "fit in" with each other, they  keep moving farther apart.

Frankly, unlike Tim, that actually sounds a little appealling to me. I mean, who wouldn’t want a chance to get away from it all after the hustle and bustle of life and have a chance to really relax? Didn’t God say something about "entering into his rest"? Maybe that’s what he had in mind. It’s a hopeful thought, anyway. Perhaps the city might even have a bus line or something to help people get even further away. I’m sure that there would be demand for a public transit system. Every major metropolitan area needs one of those.

This depiction of hell by Lewis is notable for how different it is from the biblical and traditional images of hell. Those images go like this:

  • Hell is like being excluded from a party that you really wanted to go to and left outside in the darkness.
  • Hell is like being burned alive.
  • Hell is like being sentenced to torture by a king or judge.

These images have been developed in different ways by subsequent Catholic thought.

The first of them, in conjunction with other passages that talk about what heaven is like, has been understood as the mirror image of the Beatific Vision. Those who get into heaven get to be with and behold God (the Beatific Vision), being transformed to be like him. Those who go to hell are deprived of this vision, which is like being shut out of a party that you really, really wanted to go to bad. Theologians have called this the poena damni or "pain of loss."

The second two images (burning and torturing) correspond to what theologians have called the poena sensus or "pain of sense." The precise nature of the poena sensus has been disputed, with many theologians (especially in former days) holding that hell contained fire that was in some sense literal and somehow able to afflict the immaterial souls of the damned even before they reacquire their bodies at the Resurrection.

One thing that all of these images have in common is that they depict the punishments–both the poena damni and the poena sensus–as being inflicted on a person against his will by God, who is represented in parabolic form as a powerful person (a king, a judge, the rich head of a household) with the right to do these things.

Something else that they all have in common is that there is a tension between them and the idea that Deus caritas est. I mean, how do you square the idea that God is love with the idea that he’s going to torture people forever against their will? Many of the sins we commit on earth don’t seem to us to deserve eternal punishment, and many people have such an impoverished knowledge of God through no fault of their own that it seems really hard to imagine that it would be just to burn them alive for all eternity.

Corresponding to this, some have speculated that perhaps only a very tiny, tiny number of people go to hell, but then why are the biblical warnings against hell so strong?

Perhaps just to warn us against it in the strongest possible terms. But perhaps there is another possibility. After all, Jesus tells us that "many" go the road that leads to destruction, while "few" (adults, at least in his pre-Christian day) find the way to life. Maybe there’s another explanation.

Some have said, "Y’know: Scripture is a set of Middle Eastern documents that often use vivid imagery to gesture at spiritual realities. These images don’t necessarily correspond to the spiritual realities in a one-to-one manner. They contain elements that aren’t literal, and they correspond to the spiritual realities in a more general way that operates on a deeper-than-the-surface-of-the-imagery level."

This has led a lot of folks to try and offer an account of hell that retains the underlying principles of the biblical images but that makes it easier to square hell with the idea of a God who is infinitely loving.

The fulcrum of this new interpretation consists in saying that the image of God imposing hell on people against their will is non-literal.

The Middle Eastern environment in which Scripture was written was one in which justice was dispensed by kings and judges who imposed harsh penalties on offenders at the drop of a hat (or turban, as the case may be). In that context, it was natural when thinking of the divine administration of justice, to picture God in a similar manner.

But on some level–these theologians would argue–isn’t hell really a matter of our own choice? I mean, we chose to sin, right? God wouldn’t be sending us to hell if we hadn’t made that choice. So perhaps the images of God imposing punishments from without is really just part of the Middle Eastern framework in which these images were developed. The essential thing is that we have made a choice not to go to heaven, not to be with God–to reject him fundamentally.

Hell thus gets reconceptualized as just the natural outworking of our own choice. We have chosen not to be with God, and he lets us make that choice, though it is not a pleasant one for those who make it.

The poena damni, which everyone already regarded as the essential pain of hell, is thus further accentuated, and the poena sensus gets re-interpreted as the natural consequences of the choice to abandon God (perhaps as some kind of inner, psychic torment the damned impose on themselves)–as some in Church history have always interpreted it. (For example, some historically have interpreted the image of burning as being the torments of a guilty conscience, though this has not been the majority position.)

There is considerable room for speculation on hell and what it is like. The Church really hasn’t determined much in this area. But it has in recent times emphasized hell as self-exclusion from heaven. The Catechism states: "To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s
merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free
choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the
blessed is called ‘hell’" (CCC 1033).

Now let’s talk about anti-purgatory.

The Church has also determined that hell begins immediately upon death in mortal sin. The Catechism states: "Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin
descend into hell" (CCC 1035).

At first glance, this might seem to preclude the possibility of an anti-purgatory, but not necessarily. The point is that people who die in mortal sin begin suffering the consequences of separation from God immediately, not that they reach their final state of punishment in an instant. In other words, they don’t get a respite from suffering until the Last Day. They start experiencing the consequences of being excluded from God’s presence immediately, but there could be a process involved in what happens to them.

Those in purgatory are already linked to God by dying in his friendship, and many have held that they already experience tremendous joy through their union with God, even though there is a process that must take place for them to enter the full glory of heaven.

If this is true of those rising into heaven, it might be true of those sinking into hell: Though they already suffer from the loss of God’s presence, there is a process that must take place before they experience the full consequences of their sins.

And just as those who are heaven-bound are losing the last bits of evil clinging to their souls, those who are hell-bent may be losing the last bits of good clinging to them.

The difference might be that the Church–with its focus on heaven and how to get there–has devoted more attention to fleshing out the theology of the former rather than the latter.

In talks on purgatory, I’ve sometimes said that purgatory is the cloak room of heaven–the place where you get spiffed up before you’re ushered into the throne room. Anti-purgatory might then be conceived of as the cloak room of hell–the place where all that nasty good is brushed or scrubbed (or amputated) off of you before you’re brought in to meet the Lord of the Pit.

I’d like to mention another possibility here as well: Suppose that the re-conceptualization of hell in terms of self-exclusion isn’t the only way of looking at the matter. Suppose that there is an element by which God is active rather than passive in bringing about the state of damnation for those who have chosen it. It seems to me that an anti-purgatorial process could play a useful role here.

One of the things that we’re given to understand is that, when we get our just deserts, it will be obvious that the deserts are just (at least if we’re among the right-thinking at that point). This is something about which we might be confused in this life since everyone we meet seems to be a mixture of good and evil and it’s hard to tell under all that mixture what fundamental choice a person has made.

There are people who outwardly seem to have made a fundamental choice to sin, but they have really inwardly chosen redemption. (A number of such folks showed up at Jesus’ dinner parties.) Similarly, there are folks who outwardly seem to have chosen holiness but who are inwardly evil. (Jesus had a few things to say about them, too.)

Part of God’s judgment will be publicly clarifying where everyone stands, and purgatory and anti-purgatory may play a role in that. Purgatory burns away all the schmutz on a person who has a heart of gold, while anti-purgatory burns away all the glitter on a person with a heart of obsidian.

Once all the masks and all of the clutter have been cleared away from someone so that we can see what he really is on the inside–a being of gold or a being of obsidian–it will be a lot clearer why the person deserves the fate he does, and why it’s fair for the person to experience that fate permanently. Golden beings remain golden beings and so deserve eternal light. Obsidian beings remain obsidian beings and so deserve eternal darkness. These two kinds of beings deserve to experience what they fundamentally are (or, rather, what they fundamentally chose to make themselves), and the great purification has made that obvious.

A question that remains is, if there is an anti-purgatory, specifically what is the nature of the good that it removes from one?

There are two kinds of good: supernatural good and natural good. The first consists of good that is oriented toward God in some way–specifically things like faith, hope, and charity. The second consists of every other kind of good–not just justice, temperance, fortitude, and prudence,  but also things like being strong, being smart, and being beautiful.

The one thing that anti-purgatory can’t burn out of you is true charity (supernatural love of God). If you had that when you died then you would have died in a state of grace (charity is biconditional with the state of grace) and so you would have gone to heaven (or at least to true purgatory). Charity is the one thing that anti-purgatory couldn’t remove from you.

But any other form of good it could remove. If you died with faith (but not charity) then anti-purgatory could remove faith (belief in what God says because God says it) from you. If you died with hope (but not charity) then anti-purgatory could remove hope (trust in God for the means of salvation) from you. If you died with some measure of the cardinal virtues (justice, prudence, temperance, fortitude), then anti-purgatory could remove those from you. If you died with other good qualities (intelligence, strength, beauty) then anti-purgatory could remove them.

This is not to say that anti-purgatory might not perversely strengthen certain aspects of you. For example, suppose that you were intelligent and strong but also gentle and compassionate. If you die in mortal sin then anti-purgatory might strip you of the gentlenesss and compassion and leave you wicked smart and wicked strong–a better machine of evil than you ever were in life.

Or it might just strip you of the compassion, leaving you smart and strong and able to be gentle when the situation calls for it (so as better to hoodwink others). That’d make you an even better servant of evil.

The more good you have in you (the more virtues you have except charity) the more potentially destructive you can be.

You might even have a form of natural love that just isn’t the supernatural love of God. For example, in the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (which has classically been understood such that the Rich Man is in hell; and if I remember correctly the Catechism understands it this way also), the Rich Man has natural love for his brothers who are on earth and not yet in a state of damnation; he just doesn’t have the supernatural love of God that would have saved him. He wants his brothers on earth to be saved for some natural reason–because he doesn’t want them to suffer, for example.

St. Thomas also envisions a kind of preparatory love that proceeds true charity. One thus might have a kind of natural love for God that hasn’t been elevated by grace into the concern for pleasing God for his own sake (e.g. just a desire to please God to get goodies from him).

Any or all of these might hypothetically be present in the damned, and thus might be left in one experiencing anti-purgatory, leading to all kinds of dramatic possibilities for stories.

Perhaps under the right circumstances people at different stages in the loss-of-good process might be allowed to act externally, leading to interesting dramatic complications in situations involving people who have experienced different good-ectomy surgeries. Some might still have relatively high amounts of good in them, while others have been configured more closely to His Satanic Majesty’s image.

A person with relatively more good left in them might even betray–for a non-true-charity reason–someone with less good in them.

Fascinating stuff!

Incidentally, if you’re looking for a nice, Latin-sounding name for anti-purgatory, you might consider perditory or perditorium (from perditor = that which destroys or ruins), though if that’s too close to "perdition" (a standard reference to hell) then you might consider putresory or putresorium (from putor = rot) or putrefactory or putrefactorium (from putrefactor = that which causes rot/putresence).

BTW, for those not familiar with Tim Powers,

CHECK OUT THIS INTERVIEW WITH HIM ON IGNATIUS INSIGHT and

CHECK OUT HIS BOOKS.

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{ 165 comments }

Vince C January 30, 2006 at 7:11 am

Fascinating stuff indeed! Screwtape would be proud.
Seems like it might make sense. In fact, it tends to make hell are the more terrifying, in that, in undergoing an “anti-purgation,” one loses his last shred of pretense of not really being all that bad and deserving hell at all.

John G January 30, 2006 at 8:31 am

Tim Powers reads Jimmy Akin’s blog? Far freakin’ out!

Realist January 30, 2006 at 8:35 am

Jimmy,
Here is an added review of Purgatory and Hell from a good friend who teaches theology at a major Catholic university:
“The Roman Catholic Church teaches that after death, those guilty of sins that are not serious (venial rather than mortal) and of mortal sins for which persons have repented, must spend time being purified through “temporal punishment” or are given the opportunity to repent. The justice
of God requires some punishment for the sins we have committed, due to the harm they have caused. The Biblical basis for this teaching is 1 Cor 3:15.
“If any person’s work is burned up, he/she will suffer loss, though the
person will be saved, but only as through fire.” Purgatory is envisioned to
be a purification, as gold is purified “as through fire,” so is the soul of
the person who has committed sin. 2 Maccabees 12: 38-46 is also associated
with belief in purgatory, because it refers to praying for those who have died.
Some scholars trace purgatory as a teaching to the practice of third century Christians of praying for the dead. In the late 12th century
speculation emerged that depicted purgatory as a separate “place” or state of being existing somewhere between heaven and hell. At the Second Council of Lyons (1274) teaching about purgatory became an official doctrine of the
Catholic Church. It became fixed in the Catholic imagination due to Dante’s
Divine Comedy. During the Middle Ages (time of Crusades and Plagues,Purgatory became an important element in Christian ascetical practices.
Through such practices it was believed that the punishment due to sin could
be paid here or in purgatory. In the Middle Ages speculation about Purgatory
heightened and the practice of offering masses for deceased loved ones began
along with the system of indulgences. Offering prayers and Masses for the
dead was seen as a way to be spiritually connected (in communion) with loved
ones.
Protestants because of Luther’s “sola Scriptura” do not accept Purgatory as
a valid doctrine of Christianity. Luther argued that the term “Purgatory”
is not explicitly found in the Bible. Many scholars believe that he rejected
the notion because of its ties to the selling of writs of indulgence. People
viewed indulgences as a means for lessening the time of temporal punishment
in purgatory. Protestants also argue that Purgatory negates the satisfaction
of sin by Jesus’ death. God’s grace through the merits of Christ is the
only thing that saves. Religious services / prayers by loved ones and the
good works of repentance for deceased persons can do nothing to help a
person earn heaven. The rejection of purgatory, is part of a bigger tendency
in Protestantism toward individual relationship with God and away from a
sense of participation in a bigger “communion” of the faithful.
For Catholics the doctrine of Purgatory is closely connected with belief
in the Communion of Saints. This doctrine expresses the conviction that
there is a communion between life after death (Saints in heaven and people
making reparation for their sins in purgatory) and earthly life. Emphasis
on the community of all persons living and dead is stronger in the Roman
Catholic Church than in Protestant Churches. Because of the belief in the
Communion of Saints, Catholics pray for loved ones who have died, and pray
not only to God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – but also to Mary and the
Saints, witnesses to and models of the Christian life. [Orthodox Christians
also have the practice of honoring and praying to the Saints.] Devotion to
the saints is viewed as an expression of love for those who have faithfully
loved the God who is love itself.”
( Hell does not exist as per Schillebeeckx and persons who die in mortal sin simply no longer exist since God would not tolerate such an eternal spirit state of uncleanliness- from his book “Church, the Human Story of God”, p.137, paperback edition-
The professor’s answer to this statement:
“Theologians do not have a consensus about this one; many speak of hell as
the state of being deprived of relationship with God, which could be total non-existence.”
Satan and devils do not exist (based on the above) -The professor’s answer:
“Devils, including Satan, are wed to a pre-scientific interpretation of
reality and may simply symbolize temptation to commit sin; however the “rite
of exorcism” is still found in Catholic Church prayers and is part of the rite of Baptism.”

Anonymous January 30, 2006 at 8:36 am

This reminded me of a Chesterton quote:
“The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.”
I bring it up because it would seem to me that your image of putrefactory (my vote for a name) would essentially have a similar effect on the sinful man passing through: Once all good ‘impediments to hell’ had been removed, would such a person be capable of experiencing the poena damni, or simply suffer poena sensus and no longer understand (or possibly care) why?
Frankly, I could see how this might simultaneously be a final act of love by God and a final punishment. The peona sensus that I suffer here on earth is always tempered when I understand how I brought it upon myself; in such cases, the pain of loss is usually greater than the suffering itself.
This is also why I have a little trouble with this theory: Like Chesterton’s madman, if one had no trouble with wrong actions, the consequences are merely necesary and therefore acceptable. I am a divorced Catholic whose life is in most ways better for the divorce; yet the pain of loss and separation I feel is often excruciating. If I knew Hell freed me from the desire for what is right, I would be sorely tempted to go there now. (So far, I’ve resisted the temtation of Job’s wife: ‘Curse God and die!’)
PS: I certainly would appreciate any prayers anyone could send my way, but must point out that I don’t always despair like this. My own pain of loss was really aggravated this weekend & I haven’t quite recovered from that.

Tim J. January 30, 2006 at 8:41 am

I see Realist is back, and up to his old cut-and-paste heresy.
The one-note symphony plays on…

Inocencio January 30, 2006 at 8:49 am

Hello Realist,
You need to understand theologians have no authority whatsoever. So your friend can think what he wants but Catholics must hold to the teachings of the Church. Which can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
I. THE ANGELS
The existence of angels – a truth of faith
328 The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls “angels” is a truth of faith. The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition.
414 Satan or the devil and the other demons are fallen angels who have freely refused to serve God and his plan. Their choice against God is definitive. They try to associate man in their revolt against God.
Take care and God bless.
J+M+J

Inocencio January 30, 2006 at 8:51 am

Anonymous,
You are in my prayers.
Take care and God bless.
J+M+J

Maureen January 30, 2006 at 9:10 am

Mine, too! May God console you and dry your tears.

martin January 30, 2006 at 9:24 am

Ok. Let me dive into the deep end of the pool without my life vest: If evil is the absence of good and things like intelligence and substance are inherently good then how can these things exist in Hell, a place were nothing good can exist?

Anonymous January 30, 2006 at 9:44 am

this anti-purgatory talk (my vote is for putrefactorium, btw) will give me some things to think about during my mindless work today.
fascinating, jimmy.

Tim J. January 30, 2006 at 10:14 am

Man, what is with the cut-and-paste weirdness today?
Mr. Granger-
If you want to include some thoughts about heaven, hell and purgatory here, fine. Please have the grace to boil it down and put it in your own words.
This is a Catholic blog. Pasting large amounts of text into the combox is rude, particularly when this material is contradictory to the Catholic tradition.

Realist January 30, 2006 at 11:02 am

Tim J et al,
My professor friend, I thought, was very Orthodox IMHO so what are you complaining about? The comments about Hell not existing and its “corollary” are from Schillebeeckx and not the professor in case my reply was not clear. Commentary from professors of Catholic theology, I assumed, would be of interest. Maybe not.

DJ January 30, 2006 at 11:18 am

My thoughts (all two of them:)
Purgatory is the removal of the stain of sin (correct me if I’m using the wrong term here.) What about viewing the stain as something that blocks the light of God? Therefore, anti-purgatory (I have no vote, though I like the shortness of ‘perditory’) could be an encasing and protection of the soul instead of the removal of good things, which would simply disappear at that point.
The soul could be covered so as to protect it. I remember reading somewhere about the pains of Hell not being infinite, and that being a sign of Gods mercy, maybe the dressing up of anti-purgatory aids in that. Instead of taking a bath before going into heaven, you’re getting into really hot and claustrophobic body armor.

Kevin Jones January 30, 2006 at 11:18 am

Didn’t CS Lewis sometimes tend towards the Anglican view of hell as the complete destruction of the soul? There’s something unorthodox taught about hell in the 39 Articles.

Tim J. January 30, 2006 at 11:21 am

Realist-
Again, if you have comments to make, go ahead. But don’t start pasting in large amounts of text. Please put things into your own words.
If you have anything worth considering, this should not be too difficult.
The first large chunk was orthodox enough, but I don’t see what it added to the discussion. The remainder was mere wild (and hopeful) speculation, justified by some foggy notion that Science has proved that there is no hell, which I find funny.
I thought you were in self-imposed exile.
Couldn’t stay away, eh?

Puzzled January 30, 2006 at 12:15 pm

I’m hoping that city means polis means political order, not the asphalt wastes.
That there will be no mountains, means no struggles, not no hikes or skiing, that no more sea, means no more need for ceremonial washings (the big baptismal tank for the cohanism at the Tent of Meeting was called a ‘sea’, not that there will be no sailing.

Pontifications January 30, 2006 at 12:17 pm

God save us from Perditory

Could it be that there is actually a process in which the damned are stripped of all of their natural goodness and prepared for eternal damnation. So wonders sci-fi/fantasy author Tim Powers:
What if there’s a sort of Anti-Purgatory at the entry to…

derringdo January 30, 2006 at 12:34 pm

Wow. Having that long discussion about Tim Powers’s books a few months back certainly paid off, huh? :D
On the subject of the main question: The Great Divorce basically implies that Hell and Purgatory are metaphysically the same place-the difference is in the souls themselves-if you visit the Good Country and find/are given the courage to stay, the Grey Town has been Purgatory. If not, it’s Hell. Maybe this concept that Jimmy and Tim speculating about is both Purgatory *and* anti-purgatory: the presence of Supernatural Goods that cannot be burned out of your soul is what makes it Purgatory.
PS: Read Drawing of the Dark and Stress of Her Regard since the last Powers thread we had here. Drawing is a great romp, which gave me some neat ideas for insinuating monotheism into Fantasy Universes Where It Ought Not To Belong :) . Stress of Her Regard is a great book-I had been reluctant to read it after all the hype from goth/vampire/Byron-Shelley fetishists, but it is a very fun and creepy read. Declare’s older and less austere brother in many regards.

Realist January 30, 2006 at 1:36 pm

Tim J.,
I went to lurking with respect to the historical approach to evaluating the NT. Purgatory and Hell via the thinking of my professor friend is outside this box. In case you missed it, I also made recent commentary about scorpion paperweights.
Please note that there is no science in Schillebeeckx conclusion about there being no Hell. His rationale comes from his conclusion that God would not tolerate any unclean spirit state. You might want to read Schillebeeck’s book, “Church, the Human Story of God”. Ceasing to exist or destruction of the soul, IMHO, would definitely be a good definition of Hell.
Is not copying paragraphs from the CC a violation of this blog’s rules?

Inocencio January 30, 2006 at 1:42 pm

haha Realist you crack me up.
Take care and God bless.
J+M+J

bill912 January 30, 2006 at 1:56 pm

Evil is not the absence of good; evil is the perversion of good.

Anonymous January 30, 2006 at 2:05 pm

“You might want to read Schillebeeck’s book, “Church, the Human Story of God”.”.
Then again, I might not.
“I went to lurking with respect to the historical approach to evaluating the NT. Purgatory and Hell via the thinking of my professor friend is outside this box.”.
C’mon, Realist. Try thinking outside the box.
But, back on the topic…
An anti-purgatory strikes me as maybe a little redundant. Purgatory without the hope of Heaven would BE hell. With the hope of heaven, even the worst pains of purgatory would have a kind of sweetness.
Lewis’ “Great Divorce” doesn’t constitute his thoughts on what heaven and hell are really like (Lewis made it plain that he did not want people to think he was speculating about “the furniture of heaven”), but throws light on the spiritual choices that people make, and how some rebellious souls might rather choose hell on their own terms than enter heaven on God’s terms.
Kind of an exploration of the different flavors of pride.

Tim J. January 30, 2006 at 2:47 pm

Realist-
You are correct that cutting and pasting any LARGE amount of text would be rude.
Managably brief passages from the CC or the Bible, or from any source, would be welcome I’m sure.
Hysterical Criticism aside, I don’t find one brand of modernism superior to others. They are all inadequate.

Brent Brown January 30, 2006 at 3:06 pm

What a fascinating post!
I would imagine that those suffering in such a perditory might not have a very objective view of their suffering. Someone who was having their faith burned away might view themselves as being freed from superstition. Those having their hope destroyed might see themselves as finally becoming a realist. They could view their approaching damnation as a liberation from weakness and emotionalism.
I wonder then what how the poena damni suffering would come into play. Perhaps they would be filled with envy and lust for the saints. The damned may see the saints as foolish and illogical, yet inexplicably powerful. They would envy that power and feel that saints to be unworthy and wasteful of it. Thus the burning sense of loss.

Graham Darling January 30, 2006 at 3:08 pm

(As also posted in the mailist of Christian Fandom, that has been discussing the above)
The speculation in question is that there’s a state of “anti-Purgatory” (by analogy – or rather, contrast – to the traditionally postulated Doorstep of Heaven; also “Perditory”), where all of good that’s left in a person is progressively lost (presumably starting with Hope, as Dante famously illustrates in his own poetic vision of the Inferno) as that person enters into full and final damnation.
C.S. Lewis, in the chapter on Hell in his “Problem of Pain”, writes that what is finally thrown into Hell is no longer human, but ashes.
Jesus, Who can be very scary at times, warns us “but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath” (Matt 25:29).
In his novel “Descent Into Hell” y1937 and short story “Et in Sempiternum Pereant” (“… and may they perish forever”? source?) y1935, Charles Williams (not a Catholic) speaks of progression to deeper and deeper Hell, as C.S. Lewis (also not a Catholic) in “The Last Battle” y1956 does of a Deeper Heaven.
I think we can all agree that any Purgatory/anti-Purgatory would be, like This World, only a temporary state of affairs, and that in the Utter End there will only be (as far as we’re concerned) either the New Jerusalem, or the Lake of Fire.
And that perfect justice, as well as the completion of God’s creation of each of us as a free creature (if our actions did not have ultimate consequences, then would they be meaningful?), demand that we each have a real and effective choice between the two – between God, and nothing.
-GD

Inocencio January 30, 2006 at 4:08 pm

Those having their hope destroyed might see themselves as finally becoming a realist.
A perfect definition…

Jonathan Prejean January 30, 2006 at 4:15 pm

I think this line of reasoning follows an extraordinarily dangerous road.
First, it seems to misconceive evil as a thing rather than a no-thing. To become more evil is to become less of what you are, not more of it. The entire reason that evil can be “burnt off” is that the substrate is purified and strengthened; it is a positive augmentation of an already-good thing. DJ’s image of being somehow “encased” in a good-blocking armor (some sort of positive evil substance created around the person) illustrates exactly the problem in this sort of thinking; the person is shielded from the glory of God because the person’s own glory is covered up. There is no such thing as good-blocking armor; that would be a positive existence of evil, which has no existence except as a parasite on something else.
Second, if any mutable good can be annihilated, so can being itself, making the idea that good can be removed nothing other than annihilationism.
Third, and this seems to be the worst of it, the two-tier system regarding mutable goods seems to treat lesser goods as not good or not divine in origin. That type of distinction between nature and supernature seems quite close to dualism. I’d bear in mind Trent’s canon VII on justification as a guideline: “If any one saith, that all works done before Justification, in whatsoever way they be done, are truly sins, or merit the hatred of God; or that the more earnestly one strives to dispose himself for grace, the more grievously he sins: let him be anathema.” It is important to affirm that even goods directed to a wrong end are nonetheless goods, and good cannot be opposed to itself. God would no more consent to the destruction of these moral goods that He would to the destruction of His own creation; in both instances, it would be God repudiating God’s own act of mercy.
ISTM that the far better answer to the question of why good must be preserved in the damned is that, far from serving as a source of pain for the damned, the good in those souls provides some consolation that they were not as bad as they could have been, which eases their torment to some degree. Unlike those in Purgatory, the pride of the damned is too great to allow them to see the ultimate lesson in this (else they would themselves be saved), but they have the small gift of knowing that their futile quest for self-sufficiency apart from God did not entirely foreclose them from having accomplished good things. It is a small consolation for a life of failure, and the saints, having something better, would spurn it because of a self-abnegating view to the higher Good. But it is, nonetheless, something.

John January 30, 2006 at 4:16 pm

I don’t see the point of an anti-purgatory.
God doesn’t will evil, but merely permits it, so the evil-enriching or good-lessening effects of a hypothetical anti-purgatory would have to be due to our will. If separation from God in Hell causes us pain or angst, it doesn’t seem like we’d will ourselves more and more pain by progressively withdrawing from God’s goodness of our own accord.
Perhaps I’m not seeing the incentive a damned soul would have for this.

Nihil January 30, 2006 at 4:21 pm

Fascinating post indeed. I remember some mythologies where the souls of the departed actually have to be trained after death, in order to become proper servants of their respective otherworldly powers. Perfect symmetries are always appealing to our taste for elegance, it seems. I guess that’s where Manichaeism came from.
I would imagine that those suffering in such a perditory might not have a very objective view of their suffering. Someone who was having their faith burned away might view themselves as being freed from superstition. Those having their hope destroyed might see themselves as finally becoming a realist. They could view their approaching damnation as a liberation from weakness and emotionalism.
That was one of the funniest paragraphs I’ve read on this blog! Though of course, you have to share my point of view to find it ironic…

Inocencio January 30, 2006 at 4:31 pm

Interesting thought from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica:
[Pope] “Gregory says [The quotation is from St. Augustine (De Civ. Dei i, 8)]: “Even as in the same fire gold glistens and straw smokes, so in the same fire the sinner burns and the elect is cleansed.” Therefore the fire of Purgatory is the same as the fire of hell: and hence they are in the same place.”
http://www.newadvent.org/summa/700102.htm

Tim Powers January 30, 2006 at 4:43 pm

Well, John, I wouldn’t see it as “of their own accord”! Just as no unclean thing can enter Heaven, though, this idea would be that no clean thing can enter Hell. So as a damned soul falls, gaining momentum, the bits of good still attached to him are yanked off as their mooring-lines-to-Heaven come taut. He chose damnation, but doesn’t choose every iindividual consequence of it. Adam and Eve didn’t knowingly choose all the consequences of the Fall.
The bit in _The Great Divorce_ that I was thinking of is when Lewis’s guide shows him a tiny crack in the ground and tells him that this crack, or one like it, is where the Gray City is; he says something like, “The trouble with discussing Hell is that you’re discussing so nearly nothing.” And most of the souls in the Gray City have deteriorated to consisting of one complaint, endlessly repeated. The average person who dies consists of vastly more, and so I wondered if damned souls must lose all that extra, on the way to Hell.
And Jonathan, evil is a non-thing, I agree! It makes us less-than-before. A soul with all the good bits pried off would be “full of” lacks, as a thing might be said to be “full of” holes. And this idea doesn’t say the good stuff is annihilated, just yanked off of the damned soul. Maybe th good stuff is reeled back in and becomes part of the account we can tap in indulgences!
But I doubt the damned have any consolations. Whatever consolation precisely is, it would probably be one of the things tethered to God, and would have got yanked off in the fall.
Brent, I love your speculations! Right, the damned would see their state as realism, purged of emotional blurring. The characters Frost and Wither felt that way, in Lewis’s _That Hideous Strenth._
One of the scariest lines I ever read was in Lewis’s _The Problem of Pain,_ where he said that the gates of Hell are bolted from the inside.

Jonathan Prejean January 30, 2006 at 5:41 pm

“And this idea doesn’t say the good stuff is annihilated, just yanked off of the damned soul.”
I daresay that from the perspective of the soul having its objective being reduced or destroyed, it looks a lot like annihilation. Or to put it another way, a thing that is literally “full of holes” is no thing at all! If one wants to “recycle” a soul in this way, I’d see no sense in leaving anything (and indeed, if all of the good were taken, that is precisely what would happen).
I think if one is to preserve personal integrity, then it makes sense for the exercise of virtue in suffering evil (e.g., offering up suffering for those in purgatory) to be a net good, while the reverse case would simply be subjecting the soul to evil (destruction of its personal being). Don’t mean to be too hard on what seems like a pretty cool idea, but I worry quite a bit about the implications re: the goodness of creation and what good (and its converse evil) really are.

John Granger January 30, 2006 at 5:54 pm

My apologies for violating weblog courtesies and posting too much text from another authority rather than putting it into my own words. That you find the Orthodox position that heaven and hell are the same non-local place (God’s Glory) to be contrary to the Catholic tradition (sic) – and then another post below it where the same thing is said via Thomas D’Aquino citing St. Benedict is cause for your reflection.
Again, I am not schooled in the courtesies here and won’t bother you again. Please overlook my bringing the Orthodox position into the conversation without injecting my own spin on such things (which would be laughable in comparison). That Orthodoxy is contrary to Catholicism is my position, too, Jimmy, but I’m surprised that you have taken the Vatican I stance rather than the Pole star’s.
John, bemused

Sean S. January 30, 2006 at 6:01 pm

Hey, Mr. Powers! Great to see you here. You might recall meeting me at OddCon 2005…I was the young guy.
See, this is why I like Jimmy’s blog. He’s willing to go in for this sort of interesting speculation while remaining completely orthodox.

Jimmy Akin January 30, 2006 at 7:07 pm

Again, I am not schooled in the courtesies here and won’t bother you again. Please overlook my bringing the Orthodox position into the conversation without injecting my own spin on such things (which would be laughable in comparison).
You’re welcome to participate here. The rule is just don’t write excessively long comments, such as by pasting large amounts of info from another source. The comment I removed filled five screens in length. That kind of super-lengthy comment drags down the combox experience for everyone.
That Orthodoxy is contrary to Catholicism is my position, too, Jimmy, but I’m surprised that you have taken the Vatican I stance rather than the Pole star’s.
I’m sorry, but I don’t know what you’re referring to here.

Kosh January 30, 2006 at 7:10 pm

Tim Powers wrote “Anubis Gates” sooo…I’m not surprised that HE came up with this. Good idea tho’.
Realist………..
I have no words for you.

derringdo January 30, 2006 at 7:41 pm

Hi, Tim! Like the books, glad to have you with us :)

Ed Peters January 31, 2006 at 9:25 am

Tsk, tsk, tsk. Jimmy, how could you? 2,900 words on a blog entry. 2,900! You should be ashamed of yourself. For a penance, re-write this in 1,400 words. Have it on my desk by the end of the day.

Shoeless Mark January 31, 2006 at 10:18 am

I have a question to pose: the main blog entry mentions the story of Lazarus and the rich man, commenting that the rich man, while damned, still experiences a “natural love” for his realtives. I don’t disagree with this interpretation, as it could be that the motives for his plea are selfish. My question is, is it selfish to pray for the salvation of others, prompted by the disturbance at the thought of their damnation? I understand that the most noble thing to do is to pray for another’s salvation for their own sake, but is praying that someone be saved so that they don’t suffer the pains of hell in the same vein, or is it to be understood as simply a “natural love?” Any help out there? Thank you much.

Anonymous February 1, 2006 at 6:59 am

RE: “… is it selfish to pray for the salvation of others, prompted by the disturbance at the thought of their damnation?”
I’m not the most qualified to answer this; but since the thread is going cold, I may be the last one to stop by. So, I’ll leave my 2 cents.
I would suggest that the very fact that you find the damnation of another disturbing is a logical extension of ‘natural love.’ If one of my children falls & gets a concussion, on top of my concern for their well-being, I have all kinds of selfish reasons to be concerned: trip to emergency room, medical bills, etc. But, the absence of those selfish concerns doesn’t mean I’m not troubled when I witness someone else’s child fall on the playground. In the same way, I’d suggest that the damnation of anyone other than yourself troubles you mainly to the extent that you have a natural love for your fellow man.
The only selfish way I can think to parse this would be if you were so convinced that you could only be saved from damnation by the prayers of others that you needed to pray for others to convince yourself that someone was praying for your salvation. In that case, I’d say your selfishness is a smaller personal crisis than your lack of faith & hope.
Hope that’s all correct.

Mary February 1, 2006 at 6:03 pm

I’d see no sense in leaving anything (and indeed, if all of the good were taken, that is precisely what would happen).
Everything that exists is good, but virtues are not the only good thing. Intelligence is good, strength is good, health is good, but none of them make their possessor morally good.

Anonymous June 17, 2006 at 4:12 pm

Karl Rahner, at least by analogy, compares reincarnation to Purgatory. What is fascinating and could challenge many “orthodox” Christian presumtions is that Judaism has a widespread belief in reincarnation. If Judaism accept(s)(ed) reincarnation than the New Testament verses must take on new perspective and meaning such as “was he born this way because of sin he committed” how could one commit sin before birth (or his parents sin they go on) also it seems implicit the belief in reincarnation when Jesus asks “Who do you say that I am?” and Simon Peter responds “Some say….Elijah” and there are ways to literally read these verses and interpret John the Baptist as the reincarnation of Elijah.
The justification of Jesus and Mary as perpetual virgins as cited to the Essenes as being celibate (to disprove that celibate Jews would of been unknown) would or at least could also create an assumption that there was an influence of reincarnation with the Essenes and possibly with Jesus. Most Orthodox Jews (although not all) but especially Sefardim and Hassidim believe explicitly in reincarnation. If Christianity is the fruit from the foundation of Judaism, than the foundational religion has a fundamental difference in eschatology.
The greatest allegory on Hell with all sorts of spiritual, psychological and sociological implications is DANTE’s Inferno. The best in the Romance/Latin based languges, but perhaps one of the best in the world.
The Orthodox, Oriental Christian (Nicean but not Chalcedon alleged Monoshpytes mostly Copts, Ethiopians, Assyrians, Armenians), and Eastern Catholic(s) can be very informative to Heaven and Hell. Eastern Orthodox (specifically but not limited to Greek and Serbians) state that Jesus descended into Hell. It seems to be to liberate souls from Hell. Also, even the creeds have a He descended into (or to) the dead clause.
Human Nature, Heaven, Hell–from the Eastern perspective can be very instructive even to/from a Orthodox “conservative” Catholic.

bill912 June 17, 2006 at 4:23 pm

1)The apostles didn’t see John the Baptist on the Mount of Tranfiguration; they saw Elijah.
2)Elijah didn’t die. Therefore, he could not have reincarnated.
3) As Jimmy has pointed out on Catholic Answers Live, the Greek word usually translated as Hell is “Hades”, which means “The Place of the Dead”; it does not mean “The Place of the Damned.”
4)I fail to see how a false perspective can be “instructive”.

Alex June 17, 2006 at 7:21 pm

The Eastern Christian perspective is not a false perspective.

Arizal June 17, 2006 at 10:19 pm

An interesting part of history and theological history that I did not know until recently is the fact that most Orthodox Jews today believe in reincarnation and believe it is integral to Jewish teaching. They would contend that reincarnation has always been part of Jewish teaching (although it is certainly not explicit in the Torah nor mentioned in the Talmud). This is certainly true for the high profile Chabad organization, and those who practice real and traditional Kabbalah (that some argue is a Babylonian and/or Gnostic and/or neo-Platonist corruption). The Essenes and some gnostics certainly believed in reincarnation. There are profound implications because the beliefs in heaven and hell and life after death in Christianity are predicated on Judaism and certain theological assumptions.
The Kabbalah seems to not have been mentioned until the 10th or 13th century first in Spain. The Ladino and Sephardic Jews practice Kabbalah and the Chabad Lubavictcher but all Hassidic Jews seem to have it as an integral part of their belief. The Ashkenazi folk belief has many examples of reincarnation and Kabbalah is integral and not just esoteric or reserved as in other branches of Orthodox Judaism. The Book of Zohar (illumination?) in Aramaic is dated to the 13th Century although some try to date it to the 1st Century and the tradition by it’s internal belief was given from either Abraham or Moses.
Rabbi Yitzak Loria (the founder of Lurianiac Kabbalah) wrote the book (in Hebrew I believe but I have read the difficult English translation with appropriate approbation(s) similiar to Catholic nihil obstat and imprimatur)called the Shaar Hagigilgulum (the Gateways of Reincarnation in Hebrew) with complicated formulas of Nefesh and Ruach. Rabbi Oved the chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel made a public statement that Jews killed in the Holocaust were being punished for sins in their past life(s). The surprising part of this was not for me the insenstitivity to Holocaust victims but to the notion that Jews had reincarnation in their belief system. It is not part of the 13 lists of Maimomonedes. Certainly also the Bal Shem Tov, Zalman, the Alter Rebbe and all of the Jewish thought (primarily Hassidic but not exclusively)from Poland, Lithuania, the Ukraine all support intrinsic Kabbalah as part of Judaism and belief in reincarnation.

Saad June 17, 2006 at 10:30 pm

There is also Jewish opposition to reincarnation. However, I will agree that if Jews at the time of Jesus or Jews generally if there is a truth to their religion and an objective claim of belief, if they do believe in reincarnation that it radically affects Christian belief and the underlying presumptions and assumptions about the afterlife and the interpretations of the words of Jesus. Again, not from a New Age point nor some Hindu reinterpration of texts taken out of context but from a Judeo Christian or more specifically Jewish point of view.
Certainly, on Hassidic/Chabad official teachings and from a google search or from their websites there is a belief, perhaps intrinsic and important of reincarnation. One only needs to go to:
http://www.chabad.org
http://www.inner.org
http://www.meaningfullife.com
http://www.askmoses.com
http://www.kabbalahonline.org
Some in Orthodox Judaism who do not reject reincarnation (but do not believe it is essential and allow diversity of opinion on the topic) and recognize Kabbalah but study it more discretely and do not believe it is for the masses and do not believe that reincarnation is essential to Kabbalah study. There is an esoteric and mystical side to Judaism. Ostensibly Orthodox Judaism would be more authentic than Reform or even Conservative Judaism. Certainly a more literal reading of the Torah, a belief in a Creator who is involved in his creation and created the world ex nilhio etc. Also a moral code, and a traditional in both religions and literal interpretation of Moses and the 10 Commandments. However, clearly Hassidic thought has some panetheisitic if not pantheistic (a difference of an e), believe in reincarnation and have some heterodox views from the rest of Judaism at least vis a vis how Christianity has interpreted them. Certainly Chabad also some issues of Messianism, and even incarnational theology or “self nullification” and concepts that seem very Eastern and certainly different that do not use Hellenic syllogism to explain spiritual concepts the way Catholicism uses Aristotles concepts to explain Christian spirituality.
There is some opposition to reincarnation in Judaism (outside the Reform and Conservative shame of Kabbalah or a modernistic more secular approach and actual lack of knowledge) specifically:
Rabbis who rejected the idea of reincarnation include Saadia Gaon, Hasdai Crescas, Yedayah Bedershi (early 14th century), Joseph Albo, Abraham ibn Daud and Leon de Modena. Saddia, in Emunoth ve-Deoth, concludes Section vi with a refutation of the doctrine of metempsychosis. Crescas writes that if reincarnation was real, people should remember details of their previous lives. Bedershi offers three reasons why the entire concept is dangerous: (a) There is no reason for people to try and do good in this life, if they fear that they will nonetheless be punished for some unknown sin committed in a past life. (b) Some people may assume that they did not sin in their past life, and so can coast on their success; thus there is no need to try hard to live a good life. In Bedershi’s view, the only psychologically tenable worldview for a healthy life is to deal with the here-and-now. (c) The idea presents a conundrum for those who believe that at the end of days, God will resurrect the souls and physical bodies of the dead. If a person has lived multiple lives, which body will God resurrect? Joseph Albo writes that in theory the idea of gilgulim is compatible with Jewish theology. However, Albo argues that there is a purpose for a soul to enter the body, creating a being with free will. However, a return of the soul to another body, again and again, has no point. Leon De Moden thinks that the idea of reincarnation make a mockery of God’s plans for humans; why does God need to send the soul back over and over? If God requires an individual to achieve some perfection or atone for some sin, then God can just extend that person’s life until they have time to do what is necessary. de Modena’s second argument against reincarnation is that the entire concept is absent from the entire Bible and corpus of classical rabbinic literature.

S June 17, 2006 at 10:39 pm

There is also support for reincarnation in Judaism cited above and more below. However, I cannot find explicit Torah mentions nor can I find any mention (possibly outside Gnostics who were Jews or possibly the Essenes) before the 12th Century. Certainly from the 12 Century on there are a lot and reincarnation has become part of Jewish thought. Maimonodes did not believe in it and it is not part of his 13 principles. Most reform and conservative Jews before this recent Kabbalah boom did not believe in it either and most were not even aware of it but that could be from an ignorance of history and an attempt to distance themselves from the Hassidic Jews and to assimiliate into American and modern life. The focus certainly is from the Kabbalah and Hassidic thought. Some other Orthodox Jews believe that reincarnation is possible but don’t teach it as dogma. Aish.com a popular Jewish (non Hassidic) website has answers that support the possibility of reincarnation but also mention in archived answers that reincarnation is not part of or at least not essential to Judaism and the 10th Century Goan Saad rejected it as heretical and it is not one of the principles of Maimonodes which has taken a creedal type form.
However there is also a lot of support for reincarnation in Judaism. It seems to not want to face reality that this does not radically challenge the assumed Judeo Christian belief system. How can one explain the questions that are asked to Jesus about sin BEFORE the disabled are born. NOT just the sins of the parents are asked BUT before birth. There is an assumption of a belief of at least possible reincarnation in asking about the identity of Jesus and John the Baptist among others.
The support is but not limited to:
Classic works of the Kabbalah, Shaar ha Gilgulim (“Gate of Reincarnations”) of Arizal or Isaac Luria, describes complex laws of reincarnation gilgul and impregnation ibbur of 5 different parts of the soul. It shows many references of reincarnation in the Hebrew Bible (the Tanach).
The notion of reincarnation is not openly mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. The classical rabbinic works (midrash, Mishna and Talmud) also are silent on this topic.
The concept was elucidated in an influential mystical work called the Bahir (Illumination) (one of the most ancient books of Jewish mysticism) which was composed by the first century mystic Nehunia ben haKana, and gained widespread recognition around 1150. After the publication of the Zohar in the late 13th century, the idea of reincarnation spread to most of the general Jewish community.
While ancient Greek philosophers like Plato and Socrates attempted to prove the existence of reincarnation through philosophical proofs, Jewish mystics who accepted this idea did not. Rather, they offered explanations of why reincarnation would solve otherwise intractable problems of theodicy (how to reconcile the existence of evil with the premise of a good God.)
Rabbis who accepted the idea of reincarnation include the founder of Chassidism, the Baal Shem Tov, Levi ibn Habib (the Ralbah), Nahmanides (the Ramban), Rabbenu Bahya ben Asher, Rabbi Shelomoh Alkabez and Rabbi Hayyim Vital. The argument made was that even the most righteous of Jews sometimes would suffer or be murdered unjustly. Further, children would sometimes suffer or be murdered, yet they were obviously too young for them to have committed sins that God would presumably punish them for. Jewish supporters of reincarnation said that this idea would remove the theodicy: Good people were not suffering; rather, they were reincarnations of people who had sinned in previous lifetimes. Therefore any suffering which was observed could be assumed to be from a just God. Yitzchak Blua writes “Unlike some other areas of philosophy where the philosophic battleground revolves around the truth or falsehood of a given assertion, the gilgul debate at points focuses on the psychological needs of the people.” (p.6)
Martin Buber’s collection of Legend of the Baal-Shem (Die Chassidischen Bücher) includes several of the Baal Shem Tov’s stories that explicitly discuss concrete cases of reincarnating souls.

Rick June 17, 2006 at 10:57 pm

While it is intersting to note what the Jewish belief on the afterlife is, the implications can be debated.
Reincarnation does not seem to be a possibility in traditional or so called “orthodox” (not in the Eastern sense) Christianity. It is certainly rejected in the Catholic Catechism, by most Protestant sects, and Eastern Orthodox or other Eastern Oriental Christian bodies in their formal declarations, their subscribing to the Councils (in all or part), and their internal Catechisms.
There is some discussion, I think erroneous, that Origen, Tertullian, St. Jerome all believed in reincarnation. Not an expert in the Early Church fathers nor Augustine nor Jerome, I do not see any textual, explicit or literal acceptance of reincarnation even if there is some implications in the writings of pre-existence of souls (so do your Mormon friends) and knowledge of the concept of reincarnation probably through Plato’s transmigration of souls concepts (although not as expansive as a Hindu or Buddhist interpretation of this) although is seems Aristotle rejects reincarnation. Certainly intelligent and even good men like Plato and Pythagoras believed in reincarnation. One intelligent albeit emotionally disturbed Jesuit told me Plato only meant it allegorically, I do not read the text that way.
There is some talk in New Age circles, that also seems false that St. Francis of Assisi believed in reincarnation. Leslie Weatherhead in his book the Agnostic Christian had some interesting points about reincarnation and reconciling with Christianity. Karl Rahner was noted earlier as linking purgatory and/to reincarnation. However, Rahner only does this by conceptual analogy for Western Christians to understand it in a different way or for these Eastern non Christian religions to understand purgatory from their own historical and theological language.
There was a Fordham Professor (not sure if a Jesuit) who wrote a book called the Psychic and the Sacred, that was from certainly a heterodox perspective but not necessarily modernist as it allowed for the supernatural. The Catholic modernists in so many High Schools and Universities seem to push people to the East and the New Age in their rejection of the Supernatural and other explanations for what people seem to intrinsically see as something mystical or beyond themselves. There are two other good books on the Occult (and some links to life after death and reincarnation) and Spiritism that provide a different Catholic perspective beyond just reiterated doctrine and allegations of hucksterism or secular materialistic claims. The books are available at Traditional Roman Catholic Books the one associated with the Latin Mass Magazine. I think the one on Spiritualism was by a good Orthodox Jesuit (all appropriate nihil obstats and imprimaturs) and a Cisterian on the Occult. The Catholic Faith magazine produced by CUF also had an article some time ago on the dead and the West (Protestant influenced)obsession with death in popular culture and a lack of continuity. Because many Catholics including conservatives have the materialist secular assumptions on the supernatural (consciously or uncousciously) there is a lack of unity of thought and a disconnect and a lack of ability to explain in a deeper way (even through Aristotle/Aquinas especially Aquinas specifically) phenomena or possibilities including the after life.
Here is an interesting synopsis (certainly challengeable and debatable) on reincarnation in the Christian tradition (not dealing fully with the Gnostic issue or those implications) The heretic Marcion believed in reincarnation and at least some Manicheans, Albigensians, Cathars (although not all and that was not all dogmatized as in the way the Catholic magisterium does):
Almost all present official Christian denominations reject reincarnation: exceptions include the Liberal Catholic Church and the Rosicrucian Fellowship. Doctrines of reincarnation were known to the early Church (before the 6th century A.D.), and believers in reincarnation claim that these doctrines were embraced or at least tolerated within the Church at that time. Two Church Fathers, Origen and Clement of Alexandria are frequently cited as supporting this. However, this cannot be confirmed from the existent writings of Origen. He was cognizant of the concept of reincarnation (metensomatosis “re-embodiment” in his words) from Greek philosophy, but he repeatedly states that this concept is no part of the Christian teaching or scripture. He writes in his Comment on the Gospel of Matthew: “In this place [when Jesus said Elijah was come and referred to John the Baptist] it does not appear to me that by Elijah the soul is spoken of, lest I fall into the doctrine of transmigration, which is foreign to the Church of God, and not handed down by the apostles, nor anywhere set forth in the scriptures” (ibid., 13:1:46–53).
Some reincarnation followers state that Origen’s writings have only come down to us heavily edited ‘to conform to Church doctrine’, and some Origen’s writings were later declared heretical by the Church (though Origen himself was not). However, Gregory of Nyssa cites Origen: By some inclination toward evil, certain souls … come into bodies, first of men; then through their association with the irrational passions, after the allotted span of human life, they are changed into beasts, from which they sink to the level of plants. From this condition they rise again through the same stages and are restored to their heavenly place. (B.W. Butterworth, On First Principles, Book I, Chapter VIII (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), p. 73).
They also state that before the Church expurged what it considered his heretical ideas from editions of his works, other quotes of Origen were also recorded by early Church fathers that make it clear that he did indeed teach reincarnation. A discussion of Origen’s relationship to reincarnation, including many more quotes, can be found at Kevin Williams’ Near Death Experiences website.
Kurt Eggenstein claims that “Jerome wrote in a letter to Demetrius that among the early Christians, the doctrine of reincarnation had been passed on to the elect, as an occult tradition.” He also gives a quote from Gregory of Nyssa, saying “It is a necessity of nature that the soul becomes purified in repeated lives”, though the source and the translation are uncited. His book claims many more Christian authorities supported a belief in reincarnation.
In the New Testament, there are several passages that some people demonstrate that a belief in reincarnation was prevalent amongst those of Jesus’ inner circle. He is asked if he is Elias, for example, in John 1:21; in ‹The template Bibleref has been proposed for deletion here.› Matthew 16:13-14 Jesus asks his disciples, ‘Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?’ And they said, ‘Some say that you are John the Baptist; some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the other prophets.’ Such statements are only comprehensible if Jesus’ disciples believed in reincarnation. Finally, in ‹The template Bibleref has been proposed for deletion here.› Matthew 11:13-14, Jesus says: For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come. This can be understood in the light of the traditional Jewish prophecy that Elijah (Elias) would return one day, bringing on the Messianic age. However, Elijah was transfigured and taken up into heaven (2 Kings 2:11). Since he did not die, he would have no need of reincarnation to return again as prophesied by Malachi.
‹The template Bibleref has been proposed for deletion here.› Matthew 19:28 states: “Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me, in the regeneration (Greek — pale-genesia literally, rebirth) when the Son of Man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” A more well-known passage from John 3:3 reads, “…Except a man be born again (Greek — ano-then), he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” The quote from John is sometimes translated as “born from above”, and is the inspiration for the modern evangelical movement. Some readers interpret these passages to indicate reincarnation; however, Christian churches read them to refer to baptism or conversion.
In John 9:1, the discples put the question to Jesus, regarding a man who was blind from birth, “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” The disciples appear to be citing two of the most plausible theories of the time: reincarnation, and sins of the parents (or, effects of parenting). This suggests that reincarnation was known to the disciples. Jesus’s answer, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him” is open to interpretation, but it is apparent that he did not rebuke the disciples for suggesting the idea of reincarnation itself. In fact, one could interpret that he tacitly affirmed both hypotheses, while pointing to a third explanation in this particular case.
The Gnostic gospels include clear references to reincarnation, and it is clear that this early Christian (heretical) sect believed in this (see above). In the Gospel of Thomas, Nag Hammadi documents, passage #109 (Thomas O. Lambdin translation), we read: “The kingdom is like a man who had a hidden treasure in his field without knowing it. And after he died, he left it to his son. The son did not know (about the treasure). He inherited the field and sold it. And the one who bought it went plowing and found the treasure. He began to lend money at interest to whomever he wished.” The “field” can be interpreted as our phenomenal world of sense experience; the “treasure” the essential Self; “inheriting” as reincarnating; and “plowing” as spiritual search and spiritual discipline.
A number of Evangelical and (in the USA) Fundamentalist Christian groups denounce any belief in reincarnation as heretical, and explain any phenomena suggestive of it as deceptions of the devil.
There are various contemporary attempts to reconcile Christianity and reincarnation. See:
Geddes Macgregor, Reincarnation in Christianity : A New Vision of Rebirth in Christian Thought
Rudolf Steiner, Christianity and Mystical Fact.
These books are not traditional, orthodox, nor certainly not Catholic books.

Tim J. June 17, 2006 at 11:10 pm

Not to be rude or anything, but this is a Catholic blog, and the presence or absence of a debate within Judaism concerning reincarnation is not really relevant.
At all.
I’m not doubting what you say, but… so what?
A lot of Christians make the mistake of believing in horoscopes and similar nonsense, but that doesn’t make it part of the Christian faith.
The fact that a number of religious Jews (historic or modern) have a belief in reincarnation does not make it part of the Jewish faith. Still less does it obligate Christians to give reincarnation any credence at all.
I think the only relevant fact you stated is that “The notion of reincarnation is not openly mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. The classical rabbinic works (midrash, Mishna and Talmud) also are silent on this topic.”.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

bill912 June 18, 2006 at 3:16 am

My bad above. I took Eastern perspective to mean Hindu/Buddhist, probably due to the mention of reincarnation.

Anonymous June 18, 2006 at 9:53 am

This is a Catholic Blog, and Judaism is the foundational religion of Catholicism. To not explore or understand the roots of Judaism is to not fully understand Catholic Christianity. Pope John Paul II said that the Jews were are Elder Spiritual cousins. And Pope Benedict the XVI said that we are Spiritual semites.
This is a thread on eschatology, and especially in light of the Davinci code (which is ridiculous and fradualent however certain aspects of it are worth discussing). Moreover there are threads on Non Chrisitan religions, Mormons, Islam etc. So a discussion on Christian afterlife which includes Jewish belief and how it affects Catholicism and the implications are very profound. So this is right on point for a Catholic website. Moreover, this Catholic website has a lot of non Catholic posters, discussions and explicit blog parts dedicated to Non Catholic themes (Buddhism, Islam, Mormonism, Non Catholic religions etc.)
The afterlife is a Mystery and something very confusing and the faithful are mislead and there are a lot of seemingly contradicting information out there.
If Judaism, at the time of Jesus, believed in reincarnation it does give us a different interpretation of certain biblical passages. It would be interesting, if this were true, why Jesus did not explicitly condemn or discuss such a belief. Certainly, reincarnation or the more limited transmigration of souls (a la Plato) would of been present in Jewish thought through the Greeks.

Tim J. June 18, 2006 at 10:27 am

“If Judaism, at the time of Jesus, believed in reincarnation it does give us a different interpretation of certain biblical passages.”
Not really. It might give YOU a different interpretation, but Christianity is not in the least obligated to endorse such poorly attested beliefs, even if they were present among our spiritual forebears to some degree.
If certain first century Jews interpreted Jesus teachings in the light of reincarnation (and I am not nearly convinced that they did), they were simply mistaken.
“It would be interesting, if this were true, why Jesus did not explicitly condemn or discuss such a belief.”
You can’t hope to offer any kind of evidence for reincarnation based on what Jesus (or anyone else) DIDN’T say about it.
That’s DaVinci Code thinkin’.
Maybe Jesus (along with the Hebrew Bible and the classical rabbinic works) never once mentioned it because it was of absolutely no importance.

Robert June 18, 2006 at 10:30 am

Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote in a book on the Tarot who was a convert to Catholicism who practiced the occult. This is an exert from a blog. There is a blog solely dedicated to Hans Urs von Balthasar regarding this topic. 2 different blogs. This book was given to Pope John Paul II, photos confirm this, Balthasar wrote the foreword or afterword. Is there a legitimate esoteric tradition in Catholicism?
What is exactly wrong with a deck of cards? Sure, the Tarot has been abused by people for divinational purposes, but that is not what it was meant for. It’s like getting worked up over tea leaves because some people have used them for divination. The normal 52 deck of cards is really a modified Tarot deck without the greater trumps.
If you study its history, the reason why it was originally condemned was not for divination (because, again, it wasn’t used for divination) but because people used them for gambling. That’s right, the problem with Tarot cards was the fact people gambled too much with them — and that problem continues today with poker decks.
However, the trumps were indeed inspired by spiritual images. They can still be used for good spiritual meditations. I would highly suggest a read-through of “Meditations on the Tarot.” If you do not know it, it is an incredible work, Hans Urs Von Balthasar not only found it to be inspirational (and an edition has his notes on it in the back), but he gave a copy to his friend, Pope John Paul II.

Arizal June 18, 2006 at 10:52 am

While there is not explicit teaching of reincarnation in the Torah, there are verses that could be interpreted that way. Moreover, there is an oral tradition, similiar to how Catholics can extrapolate dogma that are not explicitly in New Testament text(s) but can be legitmately taught if you can have a perspective beyond a strict sola scriptura and you can interpret certain scripture, which the Catholic and other churches do. To with; the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (never mentioned in the Bible)but can be interpreted in Revelation and mentions to the physical ressurrection, the Perpetual Virginity of Mary (although not a dogma declared infallible) which can be interpreted in the beautiful Magnificat, the Immaculate Conception NEVER mentioned in the Gospel stories and disagreed with by Thomas Aquinas (in contrast to Scotus) and even some supposed mystics, even the Trinity and divinity of the Holy Spirit are done by interpretation.
The point being that just because the Old Testament, Torah and extra scriptural traditions such as the Talmud etc do not have explicit mentions of reincarnation and other topics does not mean they are not legitimately Jewish. There are plenty of Old and New Testament passages that could infer reincarnation.
There is an oral tradition in Judaism, and an appeal to tradition–which by the way would support a Catholic interpretation of sola scriptura/korban etc—that there are interpretations and legitimate extrapolations of doctrine, ethics and practices. The Protestants which have an over-emphasis on the Old Testament at least vis a vis Eastern Orthodox Christian or Roman Catholic perspectives, actually do not really have true Jewish traditions (which do vary) Jews honor saints and go to graves (at least some for example in the town of Safed in Israel) pray for the dead (read Maccabees and the story of Hannakauh), and have concepts (not discussing reincarnation) which may be the equivalent of purgatory (which can only be explained by allegory or analogy) Jews also have oral tradition and do not just have the explicit text of the Old Testament. The Puritanical approach to Protestantism is not a true Jewish approach even though that is their appeal. Luther and Calvinists did not truly understand the Old Testament or Judaism. Luther may have even been an anti-semite (there was some interesting Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox dialogue contemporaneously with Luther although not by Luther)
This oral tradition in Judaism definitely includes reincarnation as at least a possibility.
Some orthodox believe that not everyone should believe in or “practice” (to remember past lives or to meditate on the importance) because it has not impact and that people cannot handle that information. There is opposition also but the Reform and Conservative opposition to both Kabbalah and reincarnation are from a secular and materialistic point of view that is far removed from a theistic supernatural Judeo Christian point of view. Maimonodes did not believe in reincarnation. Reincarnation is not part of any of the creeds or points of Judaism. Some of the great Torah scholars rejected it.
However, there is an incredible corpus of support for reincarnation in Judaism. The strongest is with the Hassidic sect(s) but also with the Sephardic groups.
If Jews believed in reincarnation, either as essential or possible, did Jesus believe in reincarnation? Was he taught reincarnation? Did the Essenes believe in reincarnation (which may or may not have had influence on Jesus or early Christians)?
The normal assumption, especially in Protestantism, is our philosophical beliefs and assumptions in Christianity come from Judaism, our thoughts on the afterlife are “new” but are also a continuation of Jewish belief (Sheol, Gehenna, Greek Hades–death land not hell necessarily as pointed out above) If Judaism can have reincarnation, and New Testament biblical verses demonstrate an implicit possible belief in reincarnation than it affects the current belief in the afterlife, has implications and can affect current belief.
I agree that Dante’s inferno is a beautiful and scary allegory (if allegory is the word) of Hell and Purgatory. It is profound sociologically, historically, literature wise–and from all reading and commentary that is still orthodox Catholicsm. It really deals with the issues of lust, greed, punishment, perspective, and integration of Greek philosophy with Christianity.
Perhaps Karl Rahner in linking reincarnation with purgatory is not talking about analogy but something more actual, real and profound.

Anonymous June 18, 2006 at 11:02 am

Are you claiming that Hans urs von Baltasar is an occultist or practicing the Tarot? I think not.
Von Baltasar may be too generous and forgiving and wrong on who is in Hell (and that is sometimes perceived as wrong interpretation)but he is Orthodox. He along with Father Hardon has some profound discussions of analogia entis (the analogy of being) From Mozart, to the Early Church Fathers–Hans urs von Baltasar is an expert and a true Christian. Although, he was critical of the Way by Escriva, his approach to the laity and his secular institute of St. John along with Adrienne von Speyr is very similiar to universal sainthood and sanctity of ordinary life. Baltasar is a great man.

Tim J. June 18, 2006 at 11:23 am

“…especially in light of the Davinci code (which is ridiculous and fradualent however certain aspects of it are worth discussing)…”
Really? Which ones?
I can’t think of ANY aspect of the DVC that is worthy of entertaining even for the time it takes to brush ones teeth. The idea that it is worth discussing is the biggest lie of all. It is 100%, unadulterated brain rot.

Tim J. June 18, 2006 at 11:29 am

Arizal -
Here’s the problem; what’s to keep me from saying,
“While there is not explicit teaching of ALIEN ABDUCTION in the Torah, there are verses that could be interpreted that way… There are plenty of Old and New Testament passages that could infer ALIEN ABDUCTION.”
Substitute any wacked-out belief you like.

Tim J. June 18, 2006 at 11:31 am

“Perhaps Karl Rahner in linking reincarnation with purgatory is not talking about analogy but something more actual, real and profound.”
And perhaps not.

Anonymous June 18, 2006 at 12:25 pm

Discussions of life after death, and legitimate issues (even if false) like reincarnation that are accepted by Jews (the basis of Christianity) as well as Plato (who has had a lot of influence on Judaism and Christianity and all of Western civilization)
Alien abduction is an interesting topic does not seem to have a lot of support. Alien life generally is interesting and is on some of the posts on this website. But to discuss, when many people believe it, topics such as if Jesus had brothers and sisters (inside or outside the Davinci context) or what happens after death (the most mysterious question of all human existence) are essential.
To a priori dismiss these questions when they have been discussed in Catholicism and in Western thought (let alone Eastern non Christian thought)is to not engage legitimate questions and discussions.
Jimmy Akin and the people on this discussion board (at least some) can engage Christians, agnostics, and non Christians in discussion of what this post and topic are about Eschatology and Purgatory.
The Davinci code, if Catholicism is right and true, can be a blessing in disguise because it can serve to reveal the truth and have discussions about Christology (WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?) and history.
These discussions are not only legitimate they are important. Engage them and discuss, distill your own beliefs, and make conversions.

Arizal June 18, 2006 at 12:31 pm

The discussion between ALIEN ABDUCTION and LIFE AFTER DEATH and specifically reincarnation is that
1. Reincarnation can be specifically implied while alien abduction cannot. One cannot put alien abduction in an interpretation one John 9 of why one was born with illness. Alien abduction cannot be used to explain any of the verses nor can they be replaced reincarnation/alien abduction.
2. Reincarnation is specifically believed in historic and modern Judaism especially certain Orthodox parts such as Hassidim, Sephardim, and those who practice Kabbalah. Alien abduction is not part of any Jewish belief.
3. Reincarnation is specifically dealing with life after death and alien abduction does not.
4. Alien abduction was not a belief of Socrates, Plato, Pythagoras (among others but apparently not Aristotle) in Western Heritage but reincarnation is.
THERE IS NO COMPARISON LOGICAL NOR REASONABLE WITH ALIEN ABDUCTION AND REINCARNATION ESPECIALLY NOT WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF THIS DISCUSSION.

Anonymous June 18, 2006 at 12:38 pm

Is Karl Rahner considered an Orthodox theologian?
What does Karl Rahner say about reincarnation? I am not understanding how reincarnation and purgatory are the same or what the comparison is.

Jerry June 18, 2006 at 12:46 pm

The problem with Catholicism is that they were corrupted by Greek philosophy. Many Protestants recognize that they carry a more pure approach through their primary reliance on the Bible. The Aquinas approach of relying on “logic” and borrowing and folded into Christianity concepts borrowed from Greek philosophy. This is one of the reasons that Catholics are so confused about evolution and recent Vatican pronouncements on evolution even if through a media prism. Modern Catholicism has given in to modern concepts, terms and philosophy of secular science and social science. So the debate between whether or not reincarnation should be in a Catholic website is because the Catholics borrow so much from Greek philosophy and Roman law.
Some ancient Greek philosophers believed in reincarnation; see for example Plato’s Phaedo and The Republic. Pythagoras was probably the first Greek philosopher to advance the idea. Catholics study these ideas with reverence even if they don’t understand the bottom line conclusions. Socrates is even called a saint by some and Catholic apologist Peter Kreeft writes books on Socrates in Heaven with adulterer John F. Kennedy.
We do not know exactly how the doctrine of metempsychosis arose in Greece; most scholars do not believe it was borrowed from Egypt or that it somehow was transmitted from ancient Hindu thinkers of India. It is easiest to assume that earlier ideas which had never been extinguished were utilized for religious and philosophic purposes. The Orphic religion, which held it, first appeared in Thrace upon the semi-barbarous north-eastern frontier. Orpheus, its legendary founder, is said to have taught that soul and body are united by a compact unequally binding on either; the soul is divine, immortal and aspires to freedom, while the body holds it in fetters as a prisoner. Death dissolves this compact, but only to re-imprison the liberated soul after a short time: for the wheel of birth revolves inexorably. Thus the soul continues its journey, alternating between a separate unrestrained existence and fresh reincarnation, round the wide circle of necessity, as the companion of many bodies of men and animals.” To these unfortunate prisoners Orpheus proclaims the message of liberation, that they stand in need of the grace of redeeming gods and of Dionysus in particular, and calls them to turn to God by ascetic piety of life and self-purification: the purer their lives the higher will be their next reincarnation, until the soul has completed the spiral ascent of destiny to live for ever as God from whom it comes. Such was the teaching of Orphism which appeared in Greece about the 6th century BC, organized itself into private and public mysteries at Eleusis and elsewhere, and produced a copious literature.
The earliest Greek thinker with whom metempsychosis is connected is Pherecydes; but Pythagoras, who is said to have been his pupil, is its first famous philosophic exponent. Pythagoras probably neither invented the doctrine nor imported it from Egypt, but made his reputation by bringing Orphic doctrine from North-Eastern Hellas to Magna Graecia and by instituting societies for its diffusion.
The real weight and importance of metempsychosis in Western tradition is due to its adoption by Plato. Had he not embodied it in some of his greatest works it would be merely a matter of curious investigation for the Western anthropologist and student of folk-lore. In the eschatological myth which closes the Republic he tells the story how Er, the son of Armenius, miraculously returned to life on the twelfth day after death and recounted the secrets of the other world. After death, he said, he went with others to the place of Judgment and saw the souls returning from heaven and from purgatory, and proceeded with them to a place where they chose new lives, human and animal. He saw the soul of Orpheus changing into a swan, Thamyras becoming a nightingale, musical birds choosing to be men, the soul of Atalanta choosing the honours of an athlete. Men were seen passing into animals and wild and tame animals changing into each other. After their choice the souls drank of Lethe and then shot away like stars to their birth. There are myths and theories to the same effect in other dialogues, the Phaedrus, Meno, Phaedo, Timaeus and Laws. In Plato’s view the number of souls was fixed; birth therefore is never the creation of a soul, but only a transmigration from one body to another. Plato’s acceptance of the doctrine is characteristic of his sympathy with popular beliefs and desire to incorporate them in a purified form into his system. Aristotle, a far less emotional and sympathetic mind, has a doctrine of immortality totally inconsistent with it.
In later Greek literature the doctrine appears from time to time; it is mentioned in a fragment of Menander (the Inspired Woman) and satirized by Lucian (Gallus 18 seq.). In Roman literature it is found as early as Ennius, who in his Calabrian home must have been familiar with the Greek teachings which had descended to his times from the cities of Magna Graecia. In a lost passage of his Annals, a Roman history in verse, Ennius told how he had seen Homer in a dream, who had assured him that the same soul which had animated both the poets had once belonged to a peacock. Persius in one of his satires (vi. 9) laughs at Ennius for this: it is referred to also by Lucretius (i. 124) and by Horace (Epist. II. i. 52). Virgil works the idea into his account of, the Underworld in the sixth book of the Aeneid (vv. 724 sqq.). It persists in antiquity down to the latest classic thinkers, Plotinus and the other Neoplatonists.

bill912 June 18, 2006 at 2:08 pm

The Bible says that Elijah was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot (2Kings 2:11). Some could look upon that as an alien abduction.

bill912 June 18, 2006 at 2:12 pm

“Protestants recognize that they carry a more pure approach through their primary reliance on the Bible.”
1) Do you believe that the Bible is Divinely inspired? If so, why?
2) Do you believe that all the books which are in the Bible–and no others–belong in the Bible? If so, why?

Anonymous June 18, 2006 at 5:08 pm

While being taken up in a fiery chariot could be viewed as alien abduction, and books have been written on it including the famous (although fairly disproven) book CHARIOT OF THE GODS by Erich von Daniken, no Jewish group believes in it and it cannot be taken as an implicit interpretation if the scripture is true or divinely inspired. However with reincarnation, Jewish groups DO believe in it (and not alien abduction) Reincarnation can be used as an explantion of these scripture while still retaining their truth and divine inspiration while alien abduction cannot.
The Divine inspiration of the Bible does not necessarily mean that other books or traditions are not similiarly or even less so divinely inspired. The Bible being inspired does not mean that other texts are not inspired although it could mean some are not and some are incorrect.
The canon of the Bible was created by the Church although were accepted by most for some time, and that Church at that time was a unifed church Latin West and Greek East (along with other Oriental bodies).
If the Old Testament canon is correct than similiarly there should be a method to interpret and an oral tradition and some type of “magisterium”–by analogy. If the Jews interpret the scripture as to allow reincarnation as at least a possibility there are implications to the New Testament verses at least John 9 and also some credence to the Gnostic scriptures.

bill912 June 18, 2006 at 5:46 pm

Paragraph 1) No Jewish group believes it, therefore it cannot be a valid interpretation of scripture? I’d like to see your evidence for that.
Paragraph 2) Other books, not in the Bible, may be inspired? How could one ever know, and on what basis would one judge?
Paragraph 4) “The Jews” do not interpret scripture so as to allow for the possibility of reincarnation. Some Jews may. That weakens your argument as to the implications to John 9. As for the gnostics books, what authority can you cite as to what is inspired scripture and what is not?

Steve June 18, 2006 at 7:16 pm

Bill your number 1 is not logical. You use the claim to see evidence in an innacurate way. I have seen you do that on other posts. What evidence do you want to see? That Jewish groups believe in reincarnation? There is plenty of evidence in the above posts. That Jewish groups do not believe that the fiery chariot (Merkebah) is a alien abduction? There is also plenty of commentary on the chariot and Elijah that preclude an alien abduction.
Your paragraph 2 is interesting. That is the problem with belief in anything it becomes circular if not from a specific point. Certainly in Catholic circles, certain books are inspired and given an imprimatur or nihil obstat. In Judaism there is approbation and approval of groups and specific rabbis although perhaps not the specific group of let’s say the Curia or the Magisterium.
On point 4, Most Orthodox Jews do interpret scripture that way. Jewish interpretation of scripture IS important for Catholics as they are called the Elder Spiritual cousins by Pope John Paul the II and Pope Benedict has called Catholics spiritual semites. The proof of purgatory comes from appeal from Jewish sources as is prayer from the dead to intellectually combat Protestant critiques and beliefs (specifically from Maccabbees). So Jewish belief in the afterlife at the time of Jesus and generally is important. Jews do seem to believe in reincarnation more often than not.

Anonymous June 18, 2006 at 7:18 pm

Bill, your not claiming that any Jewish group claims that the Fiery Chariot that took Elijah away is an alien abduction????? That would be absurd. The evidence you are looking for is what?—That Jewish groups explicitly condemn the possibility that the fiery Chariot is a alien spaceship?????

Frank June 18, 2006 at 7:31 pm

If you are from Chicago, I would highly recommend the commentary on Dante from a Fransiscan priest in the newsletter from St. Peters Church in Downtown Chicago.
CS Lewis (although not Catholic) in Screwtape Letters has good insight into the Devil, demons, evil and hell.

Anonymous June 18, 2006 at 8:35 pm

Purgatory sounds like a very logical, reasonable, and merciful concept.
Reincarnation does not seem compatible with Orthodox Christianity Catholic, Eastern or Protestant. The reincarnation concept in Judaism is new to us. The implications are not clear. What is clear is that eternal life is through Jesus and there is a physical ressurrection of the body in Chrisitanity. Jesus would of made the need for reincarnation not necessary. The Physical resurrection seems to obviously refute reincarnation as the physical body is intimately and inherently interconnected with the soul. The body and soul are one.

Tim J. June 18, 2006 at 8:39 pm

For the sake of argument, let’s say that half of all first century Jews believed in reincarnation (though in reality, I do not accept this).
Again, so what? What’s to keep them from being WRONG on that?
Jews can interpret their scriptures any way they like and it need not have any bearing at all on how the Catholic Church AUTHORITATIVELY interprets the same scripture. The Old Testament can not be wholly understood except through the lens of Christ, the Messiah come in the flesh.
We are simply not bound in any way to look at the Old Testament in the same way as first century Jews, regardless of how many believed what.

Rick June 18, 2006 at 8:54 pm

Tim,
While there is disagreement between Jews and you are right that what they believed is not “authoritative”–that is true only to an extent. The Sanhedrin was authoritative. There is an oral tradition that Jews had and tradition.
There was a consensus on many aspects of Torah and other scripture. There is a large body of commentary Talmud, Midrash etc. on the Old Testament and there is a lot of agreement.
To say that Jews can interpret their scripture anyway they like and it doesn’t affect the Catholic Church is not correct. The Catholic Church does not interpret Scripture especially the Old Testament in a vacuum but of course looks to what was meant at the time (by the Jews) and how it was interpreted over time (by the Jews) Christ may complete the Scripture but he does not interpret every aspect of it independent from what Jews believed as Jews.
The Catholic Church can teach authoritatively but it does not contradict what Jews believe (vis a vis the New Testament obviously there is a contradiction as to how Jews currently define who Jesus is) We may not be bound to believe what Jews believed in the 1st Century but to better understand scripture and the context and assumptions these statements were made, it is importance to understand the Old Testament and Jews, so understanding what Jews believed about their own Scripture(s) is important if not essential to understanding our own faith.

bill912 June 19, 2006 at 4:31 am

“What evidence do you want to see?” The premise that, because no Jewish group believes it, it cannot be a valid interpretation of scripture. If that were the case, any Old Testament prophecy regarding the Messiah could not apply to Jesus because no Jewish group accepts Jesus as the Messiah.

bill912 June 19, 2006 at 4:35 am

Anonymous, you are right: to claim that a Jewish group believed that the taking of Elijah to Heaven in a fiery chariot could be a valid interpretation is absurd. I was “demonstating absurdity by being absurd.”

Anonymous June 19, 2006 at 5:33 am

Bill,
Modern Jews may not believe that Jesus is the Messiah BUT they do believe in the concept of the Mosiach. In fact the Lubavitchers believe that Schneerson is the Mosiach at least some.
Many Jews at the time of Jesus believed he was the Messiah that is why Christianity started.
But there was a Messiah concept.
It is absurd to compare reincarnation to alien abduction. Many if not most Jews believe in reincarnation. No Jews (as a group) believe in alien abduction (in fact it would be a transgression because it would say that the stories are not about God) Alien abduction is absurd (while speculation about alien life is not necessarily) Reincarnation is not absurd and is believed by many intelligent people and is even if wrong it is logical.
Bill needs to take some logic courses.

bill912 June 19, 2006 at 9:47 am

The above was bravely and anonymously posted by someone who either did not read my post directly above his, or has trouble with reading comprehension.

Anonymous June 19, 2006 at 1:29 pm

I read your posts and do not have a problem with reading comprehension. You need to take logic courses.
To Bill

Steve June 19, 2006 at 6:23 pm

I would like/request a Jimmy Akin commentary intervention. All this Jewish stuff is new to me. Purgatory is a fascinating topic.

Nick June 21, 2006 at 5:44 pm

Bill666 will probably be in purgatory because of IGNORANCE.

Mr. Bill June 25, 2006 at 9:49 pm

1. Is a belief in reincarnation incompatible with Christianity?
2. If reincarnation were true, provable, or probable (like Ian Stevensons studies), what does that mean for Christianity?
3. What does Karl Rahner mean by comparing purgatory and Christianity?
4. Could someone, has someone, write/written a comparable allegory to Hell and Purgatory as Dante did? Did Peter Kreeft do something similiar (did not read but somewhow remeber from this life not a past one)

Hans June 26, 2006 at 8:51 am

I think Karl Rahner is making an analogy/comparison/contrast NOT a literal belief. (to purgatory)
Only for CONCEPTUAL reasons of the eastern thought NOT support or agreement.

Dante June 26, 2006 at 7:27 pm

Is it worth going to Purgatory to get a little extra earthly pleasure in?
Is it worth exploring Hans Urs Von Balthasar possibility that no one is in hell?

Cordoba June 26, 2006 at 7:43 pm

The concept of reincarnation in Judaism is fascinating. It certainly has implications for Christianity.
The Catholic (and Orthodox?) concept of purgatory seems merciful and logical. It also seems to be a continuation of Jewish belief from the time of the Syrian/Greek occupation.

Anonymous June 26, 2006 at 7:48 pm

I don’t understand the connection between purgatory and reincarnation.

Tim J. June 26, 2006 at 8:28 pm

“The concept of reincarnation in Judaism is fascinating. It certainly has implications for Christianity.”
Not really.

Peter June 26, 2006 at 9:59 pm

Tim J,
Why do you not say “not really”?
The above discussion is interesting and unique. If for nothing else it is interesting from a comparative religion stand point. There are certainly things I did not know about.
Moreover, they are things that make a thinking man (or woman I guess) speculate about.
Unless you are saying their are no implications for Christianity. To me the implications are potential but not actual until I learn more about this topic.

Saul July 3, 2006 at 12:41 pm

The implications of Jewish belief are very powerful to Catholicism, in the book APOLOGETICS (very Aristotlean) by Prof Peter Kreeft and Fr Tacelli SJ–there is a strong appeal to Judaism (Orthodox) without understanding it as proof that Jesus is G-D, and regardin the Afterlife including refutations of reincarnation AND “proof” of the permanancy of Hell (one of the proofs of the permanancy of Hell by Kreeft et. al. is Orthodox Jewish belief–which he cites erroneously)
The Apologetics book is an excellent book, well written, logical, true to Catholic form of Aristotle and Aquinas. HOWEVER, the above posters who do not see the implication and impact of Jewish thought are wrong. They are wrong because the Catholic worldview, assumptions and in the case of this book APOLOGETICS (in the orthodox Catholic traditional sense) are contingent on Orthodox Judaism.

Maimonodes July 3, 2006 at 12:55 pm

OF COURSE, Jewish belief at the time of Jesus has implications on how to interpret scripture and “define” Jesus and his words. The best support against Protestant demagogues on the issue of Purgatory is from Maccabees and prayer for the dead, as well as obviously the issue of praying for the dead. Most Protestants a priori reject a) praying for the dead and b) Purgatory even though the idea of “saints” (tzadiks), visiting gravesites, prayer for and even “to” the dead and a purgatory or purgatory like concept is common in Judaism at the time of Jesus and now. It is integral to so called apologetics and can bring us closer to the truth.

Maimonodes July 3, 2006 at 12:55 pm

OF COURSE, Jewish belief at the time of Jesus has implications on how to interpret scripture and “define” Jesus and his words. The best support against Protestant demagogues on the issue of Purgatory is from Maccabees and prayer for the dead, as well as obviously the issue of praying for the dead. Most Protestants a priori reject a) praying for the dead and b) Purgatory even though the idea of “saints” (tzadiks), visiting gravesites, prayer for and even “to” the dead and a purgatory or purgatory like concept is common in Judaism at the time of Jesus and now. It is integral to so called apologetics and can bring us closer to the truth.

Anonymous July 3, 2006 at 1:24 pm

There has been no real knowledge of Judaism on the Catholic side, no real logic nor any engaging of any of the information and wisdom of the above 20 posts or so. I thought Jimmy Akin knew Hebrew and history.

Anonymous July 5, 2006 at 7:54 am

Ian Stevenson has some fascinating “scientific study” into the afterlife.

Saad July 10, 2006 at 10:55 am

The purgatory discussion here should be cross referenced to the current purgatory discussion.

Cyril July 10, 2006 at 2:01 pm

To read more about Purgatory from a CATHOLIC (Eastern NOT ROMan) and it being looked at positively, as has Mother Angelica on EWTN
check out:
http://www.east2west.org

Fisheater July 23, 2006 at 10:40 pm

Reincarnation in Judaism is ONLY in POST TEMPLE BABYLONIAN TALMUD Judaism and the Kabbalah influenced by the same.
1. Reincarnation is not explicitly in the TORAH.
2. Reincarnation is not explicitly even in the TALMUD.
3. Reincarnation is not implicitly in the TORAH and it is a far stretch to say it is.
4. Reincarnation is not in the 13 principles of Maimonodes.
5. Maimonodes explicitly denies reincarnation in Judaism and did not practice Kabbalah.
5. Reincarnation contradicts the pre-Christian belief in the Ressurrection of the Body.
6. Many post 10th Century Rabbi’s deny reincarnation and before the 10th Century there is a denial or no discussion:
Rabbis who rejected the idea of reincarnation include Saadia Gaon, Hasdai Crescas, Yedayah Bedershi (early 14th century), Joseph Albo, Abraham ibn Daud and Leon de Modena. Saddia, in Emunoth ve-Deoth, concludes Section vi with a refutation of the doctrine of metempsychosis. Crescas writes that if reincarnation was real, people should remember details of their previous lives. Bedershi offers three reasons why the entire concept is dangerous: (a) There is no reason for people to try and do good in this life, if they fear that they will nonetheless be punished for some unknown sin committed in a past life. (b) Some people may assume that they did not sin in their past life, and so can coast on their success; thus there is no need to try hard to live a good life. In Bedershi’s view, the only psychologically tenable worldview for a healthy life is to deal with the here-and-now. (c) The idea presents a conundrum for those who believe that at the end of days, God will resurrect the souls and physical bodies of the dead. If a person has lived multiple lives, which body will God resurrect? Joseph Albo writes that in theory the idea of gilgulim is compatible with Jewish theology. However, Albo argues that there is a purpose for a soul to enter the body, creating a being with free will. However, a return of the soul to another body, again and again, has no point. Leon De Moden thinks that the idea of reincarnation make a mockery of God’s plans for humans; why does God need to send the soul back over and over? If God requires an individual to achieve some perfection or atone for some sin, then God can just extend that person’s life until they have time to do what is necessary. de Modena’s second argument against reincarnation is that the entire concept is absent from the entire Bible and corpus of classical rabbinic literature.
7. Even modern Jewish websites sympathetic to Kabbala but not Haredi like aish.com have contradictory information and if queried will say NO that Judaism does not believe in reincarnation it is not a principle of Maimonodes and is certainly not required.
8. Karl Rahner (who I do not personally care for as very dense and prolific but warmed over Kant but he is cited by some Orthodox theologians positively, cites German Eucharistic devotion mystically and positively, and certainly has never been censored) only talks about reincarnation (I believe in Theological Investigations or is it Speculations) as an analogy as a way to explain a concept to people in an Eastern religious philosophical mindset. Reincarnation is not at all possible in an Orthodox Christian setting and Karl Rahner does not believe or support reincarnation. He mentions reincarnation only as a way to explain and analogize purgatory.
9. Beyond Rahner and a brief mention/analogy which has been misconstrued, Orthodox Christianity does not and cannot allow for reincarnation belief, Origen, heretics, heterodox, Jerome, Augustine may all cite to pre-existence and belief in reincarnation by some and the great Plato did believe in it (although some Jesuits argue it was an allegory, this does not seem to be the case) they reject it, all of them including Origen. Moreover, they were clearly educated and aware of mystical and Greek beliefs like reincarnation but clearly condemned them. Aristotle did not believe in reincarnation.
HOWEVER,
1. There is a strong Jewish tradition of reincarnation in Sephardic Kabbala, Kabbala generally, and Hassidic (from the time of the Baal Shem Tov on) in Ashkenazi folklore.
This is not from the Torah and does not date back very early. It does date back to the time of the Babylonian captivity (the 2nd one) and also interaction with the Persian court high society Sassenian empire and corrupted Zoarastian religion (Orthodox Zoarastiansim also rejects reincarnation but is dualist but had many heterodox strains to their own orthodoxy through Hinduism, Buddhsim, Mithraic, and mystery religions from the area including Christian gnosticism and pre Sassenian Babylonian thought)
2. Kabbala and Hassidic thought are not Torah Judaism but post Temple Temple and Qabbalah oral tradition that is corrupted with Babylonian, Gnostic, etc.
During the Babylonian Captivity, the Old Testament religion became further corrupted by pagan Babylonian-Chaldean practices — by magic, astrology, numerology, ideas of reincarnation, and ritual designed to draw on preternatural forces (commonly, but mistakenly, referred to as “supernatural forces”). I say “further corrupted” because the Old Testament religion was constantly tested by apostasy — even by Solomon who built temples to pagan gods. These corruptions gave rise to Pharisaism and its oral Talmud (Mishnah) and oral Kabbalah, which were written down ca A.D. 450 and the 14th c. respectively 3. Luke, in Acts 7:43 writes:
Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, figures which ye made to worship them: and I will carry you away beyond Babylon.
These occultic dabblings were spoken of as far back as Amos, too, who wrote of the apostasy in verse 5:26:
But ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves. [Remphan = Rephan or Raephan in the LLX = Moloch = Saturn]
3. Hassidic practices include numerology that they through sophistry justify as something different (Gematria), sorcerory, prophecy, divinination (all without the Red Heifer), amulets, altered states of consciousness, new age hypnotic memories of past lives etc.
Even the rabbis at the time of the Baal Shem Tov and Alter Rebbe considered them heretical and not real jews and dabbling in magic. Reincarnation came through this corruption.
4. There are purgatory like beliefs in the diversity of Jewish afterlife, which does include Heaven and Hell (Hell is not always permanent) in later 10, 13th and 17th century Kabbala and Hassidic belief in reincarnation, the Sheol and sleep concepts etc.
5. Even great leaders like David and Solomon of the Jewish nation fell into witchcraft and polytheism. Reincarnation is a foreign belief to true temple Judaism and the Torah. Reincarnation certainly is alien to Christianity.
Instead of looking, except for the purposes of comparative religious study, Kabbala and Hassidic afterlife concepts (Kabbala and less so Hassidim are pantheistic, if not panetheistic, and while Hassidic thought also has positive reliances on Divine Providence and sense of Presence of G-d(written that way in respect to the traditional concept of the Essential Tetragamatton) it is an impersonal “god”, even on the Chabad/Lubavitcher website askmoses.com it calls God the Force from Star Wars as the best description, not the personal God of the Old Testament, also through specific exercises that assume knowledge of both Hebrew and somewhat advanced mathematics–one can learn the secrets of the Universe including changing reality–a la Madonna, Lohan etc.)
The god of Kabbala, while Jewish in exteriors, is Babylonian sorcerory with an impersonal god force, with many good stories, some very good psychology, and exterior Torah, some ethics, and Biblical readings (sometimes with much “deeper” alternative interpretations–some of them good some of them very bad)not the Personal G-d of the Old Testament, not a G-d who meets people through grace on H-s terms but a force that can be accessed through knowledge and exercises.
Modern Judaism, even under it’s “Orthodox” forms is a corrupted religion. It is much distance from Torah Judaism or the Judaism of the 1st Century. This does not mean it is all bad or all wrong, but that there is a lot of corruption and error even absent knowledge or a belief in Jesus as the Messiah, or the possibility that the Essential Tetragammaton could become incarnate as man.
I don’t want to speak for the late Catholic theologian Karl Rahner, and there are some websites explaining his thoughts (He does have some interesting thoughts on analogia entis)
He does mention reincarnation and purgaotry together but he does not equate them and he does not believe in reincarnation.
I always liked to believe the school nuns explanation (theology accuracy and debates aside) that Hell is locked from the inside, and that Purgatory is Gods mercy being slightly greater than his justice. From the above I LOVE Dante and CS Lewis the ScrewTape letters.
I think that I would be accurate (there is an EWTN Eastern Catholic website, I don’t have the link) that the Eastern and “Orthodox” view of purgatory is not contradictory to “Catholicism” (I put in qoutes as Eastern Catholic is Catholic) and there are different interpretations of purgatory by East and West. There is a tradition of a positive view of purgatory and supposedly Mother Angelica cited that positively.
The Eastern Orthodox view of purgatory is not necessarily disallowed or contradicted by the “Roman” Catholic Latin Rite view–there is room for speculation and even disagreement.
Dante by allegory and possibility through beautiful clearly spiritual writing is what I prefer to imagine. Purgatory as a scholastic defined theological “concept”, “location”, etc is both logical, merciful and just. However, reincarnation, Karl Rahner and Jewish Kabbala notwithstanding, has nothing to do with it.

Some Day July 24, 2006 at 12:44 am

Hell is full nice intentions.
See those “nice-guy” stuff is like when you smile at someone you don’t like, cover-up.
There exists only two loves. Love of God and love of oneself. When you love your wife, mother, children, brother, whoever, it is either because you truly love God, and love the creature as something of God. Now if you lie to yourself and have some cheap sentimental attachment to another creature, because it satisfies me and my cheap passions, there is no love of God or anyone but yourself. A simple cover-up. So either you love God enough to deserve to go to Heaven directly, or go to a VERY LONG time in Purgatory. Or Hell. Purgatory is no waiting room. It Hell withour devils pretty much and you still love God. And to get an idea, two priests once promised they would celebrate a mass for who ever died first. One died and the other celebrated Mass later.
Later the dead one appeared to the other. And asked why did he wait a thousand years to celebrate the mass, but that he was saved.
The other responded he only took 10 minutes after he died to celebrate. In Fatima, Our Lady was asked if a TWELVE YEAR OLD COUNTRY GIRL WAS SAVED, SHE SAID YES,BUT SHE’LL BE IN PURGATORY TILL THE END OF THE WORLD. Uh, and in that time women dressed from the neck to the ankles. And she was 12. Meo Deus!
So no nice-guy ok. Saint guy only.

Ricardo July 24, 2006 at 6:36 am

A consecrated lay friend of mine, in a friendly but chastizing way said that I should not expect purgatory as the fires were painful. That I should try to be a saint and go straight to heaven. I wandered a little and he was trying to get me right.

Anonymous July 24, 2006 at 9:39 pm

So is purgatory good or bad?

Jimmy Akin July 24, 2006 at 11:04 pm

If you go there, it’s a good thing on balance.
It means you’re going to heaven!
WOO-HOO!

Tim July 27, 2006 at 9:57 am

Jimmy,
I need your intervention here.
OK, on balance that going to purgatory is CERTAINLY better than going to Hell.
It seems there is debate between Eastern (Catholic and Orthodox?) and Latin Rite/Roman Catholic about purgatory that Purgatory is real purgation and painful according Latin Rite Catholics but not necessarily so in Eastern interpretations.
Also, I am not an expert in Jewish theology nor history but do have an interest. This thread was of particular interest as it does (a la the more debauched D’Avinci code)
I know Jimmy you are a Hebrew reader can you shed some light on the Jewish views of the main topic Eschatology.

Anonymous July 27, 2006 at 11:02 am

Jimmy, how do we know much about the afterlife.
The Church seems to give broad latitude for beliefs and not require specifics (eg purgatory, fire etc) There is room with parameters for diversity and a sense of arrogance regarding this.

J.R. Stoodley July 27, 2006 at 11:43 am

This idea of an “anti-purgatory” makes sense and seems to square with sayings of Jesus like “to him who has, more shall be given, but to him who has not, even what he has shall be taken away” and all the times where the damned first plead with God to let them into heaven and are puzzled about why they are damned, and only subsequently are cast (an active, progressive thing) into the darkness.
On the other hand I thought I learned somewhere that more evil people would be suffer in hell more than less evil people. This “anti-purgatory” process would seem to make everyone in hell as evil as possible. Perhaps it is more complicated, with the soul degressing into worse and worse states while still there is an element of evil (maybe the sins commited in life) that remains constant and determines some of the suffering.
I’ll also add that I can not see God actively taking good away from the soul, making it more evil. I think the anti-purgatory process would have to be initiated by the damned soul, by its cursing of God, self-loathing, etc., or by the activity of demons. One (like Jesus) would talk about the good being taken away in the sense that this is happening in God’s Universe so ultimately everything that happens has its source in him, even evil in the sense of its being permitted.

J.R. Stoodley July 27, 2006 at 11:51 am

Anon, There is indeed room for diversity in ideas regarding the afterlife in the Church, which is why we can have these discussions.
One inaccuracy in your statement regarded purgatory. According to an Eastern Catholic priest, we are required to believe in purgatory, but not necessarily to call it by that name, or to believe details about it beyond that it is a process of being perfected after death. I’m not sure if that applies only to Eastern Catholics and Latin Rite Catholics are required to believe more. Certainly it would seem things like the Catechism should be believed, though its section on Purgatory if I recall correctly did not boil down to much more than the above statement.

from aish.com July 27, 2006 at 9:29 pm

REINCARNATION
From: Murdo Mackay – murdomackay@hotmail.com – 6/2/2000
I was quite astonished by your explanation of suffering in little children as being due to their souls being ‘old’ and having experienced past lives. I have always understood this notion as being a component of Buddhism and as being central to Hinduism. I have never heard of this in connection with Judaism. What is the scriptural basis for such a belief?
I am also puzzled by the reasoning. The child would presumably have no recollection of its past life. So how can it make the connection between its past misdeeds and present sufferings? If all this is supposed to happen at some other undetectable, subliminal ‘soul’ level, why involve a body at all?
THE AISH RABBI REPLIES:
There are many Jewish sources dealing with what is popularly called “reincarnation.” In Hebrew, it is called “gilgul ha’ne’shamot,” literally the recycling or transmigration of souls.
This concept can be compared to a flame of one candle lighting another candle. While the essence of the second flame comes from the first one, the second flame is an independent entity.
Still, the new flame contains imperfections inherited from the initial flame, and it is these imperfections that are to be corrected.
Most of the written material is very esoteric, often written in Aramaic. Some of the prominent works dealing with this subject are the “Zohar” (1st century) and the Arizal’s “Shaar HaGilgulim” (16th century). In the Bible itself, the idea is intimated in Deut. 25:5-10.
Many sources say that a soul has a maximum of three chances in this world. One example given is that the great Talmudic sage Hillel was a reincarnation of the Biblical figure Aaron.
The soul only comes into this world in the first place in order to make a spiritual repair. If that is not fulfilled by the end of one’s lifetime, then the soul will be sent down once again. The return trip may only be needed for a short time or in a limited way. This in part explains why people are born with handicaps or may live a brief life.
It is not necessary that there be a conscious awareness in order for the correction to take place. Conscious awareness is only one level of understanding.
This idea is explored in an interesting book called “Psychic Phenomena,” by Dorothy Bemar Bradley, M.D., and Robert A. Bradley M.D.:
“Mentally retarded children have been known to burst out with unexpected abilities under altered awareness, manifesting the contents of the undamaged and theoretically undamageable unconscious mind.”
In other words, there are levels of understanding that transcend the conscious level, even in children.
Re: your second question. Why does this have to involve the body in the first place?
Truly, some “corrections” do not have to take place through the body, but rather take place in the soul world, in the afterlife.
However, sometimes the correction must occur in the physical world. For example, it may involve a certain challenge of choosing the “right thing” over choosing the “comfortable thing.” Or other people may have to be involved. And the soul cannot interact with the physical world in any other way expect through a body.
The bottom line in all this is that a person’s life situation provides everything necessary to achieve ideal growth. Our task is simply to employ our free will — i.e. to properly and effectively use the opportunities that we have.
All the best to you in this and future lives.

Anonymous July 27, 2006 at 10:10 pm

Jimmy, what do you think about this Jewish afterlife stuff?

Honora July 27, 2006 at 10:41 pm

Perhaps we’ve had a peek at “anti-Purgatory” today: Fallen natures beating the bejabbers out of other fallen natures “while we wait in joyful hope..”!
For a decent and orthodox look at it, try Jesuit Michael Taylor’s “Purgatory.” Very edifying.
Also, is it me, or is there Jewish proselytizing going on here lately?

Anonymous July 28, 2006 at 5:22 am

Do Jews believe in reincarnation?

TS July 28, 2006 at 6:16 am

The reincarnation concept in Judaism is a corruption of the Babylonian exile and post Temple gnostic influences. It is not in the Torah. It is not in the Babylonian Talmud. It did explicitly come on the scene until at earliest the 10th century and really a lot later.
It is a concept in Kabbala and Hassidic thought and some Sefardim. The Kabbala is heavily influenced by platonist and pythagorian as well as more ominous occultic and babylonian sorcerory. Judaism after the fall of the Temple (70 AD) became very corrupted with some of the concepts and demonic mystical practices that last until this day including heterodox beliefs on the afterlife.

Howard HH July 31, 2006 at 10:38 am

To check out some good websites to learn more about Judaism and thus real Monotheism check out:
http://www.chabad.org
http://www.meaningfullife.com
http://www.inner.org
http://www.kabbalahonline.org
for a non Chabad decent website try
http://www.aish.com

Anonymous July 31, 2006 at 3:19 pm

This is not actual Judaism. Certainly not pre-Temple Judaism. It is not even more traditional post Temple Babylonian exile Talmud Khazar Judaism but an occultic versin originally condemned by the Vilna Goan the head Lithuanian rabbi. It is Kabbalah from neoplatonic and gnostic sources mixed in with Khazar shamanism.
It is a pantheism and quasi polytheism with the Kabbalah and a worship of emanations and other entities or what they perceive as entities including Marconism and Lillith and androgynous Adam and Eve and dualism from the Persian Zoarastian influence. It is very corrupted and very occultic and very dangerous from an Orthodox Jewish point of view or Chrisitianity.

Anonymous August 9, 2006 at 8:17 pm

Is there a purgatory concept in Judaism?

Arizal August 10, 2006 at 6:57 am
Some Day August 10, 2006 at 7:46 am

That better be a link to the Bible online.

Howard August 19, 2006 at 8:36 pm

Who would have a better understanding of the Bible online than THE JEWS?????!!!!!!
Kabbalahonline.org and Ascents of Safed (Safed or Safet Israel)
has the Parsha readings online THE BIBLE as you call it
Genesis, Exodus, Psalms
on inner.org you can learn about questions such as HELL, REINCARNATION and other concepts
The more psychological books (and there is some history that indicates Jewish influences including possibly Kabbalah on your St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, that may have been Sephardic Jews especially the language of fire, flame, darkness, and comparisons of ruach and nefresh–souls and metaphysical concepts that are more common to Judaism than Christianity at that time which is primitive generally but more primitive in Europe during these dark times) of the “Bible” are:
JOB, PSALMS, PROVERBS, also some of the Genesis stories such as Creation, and Lech Locha
to a lesser extent the SONG OF SOLOMON
and some of the erotic symbolism
also non or extra reading (nor from the Bible per se) of the TANYA and other writings of the Rebbes
Read Maccabees for ideas of an intermediary world between life and death. Also, read different commentaries on Greek and Hebrew words for death, Hell etc. Hades, Sheol, and other words for Purgatory as were as Gilgul, transmigration of souls and other concepts.

Anonymous August 19, 2006 at 8:48 pm

The Therapeutic Effect of Belief in Creation Ex-Nihilo
The foundational work of Chabad Chassidut – the Tanya – has been described as a ‘book of suggestions for remedying maladies of the soul’. In the section entitled Igeret Hakodesh Chapter 11, its author – the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi – addresses the effect of inadequate or misplaced emunah, faith, on one’s psychological state of being. Specifically concerned with he who invests excessive faith in material security and well-being, and as a result despairs when he cannot achieve it, the Tanya opines:
“This matter can only be remedied by true faith in He who formed the beginning of all things; through the belief that creation ex-nihilo…takes place at every interval and at every moment, that all created things come into being ex-nihilo out of His blessed Wisdom which enlivens all. And when man contemplates with the depth of his understanding, and sketches in his mind, the idea of his own being emerging out of nothingness at each and every moment – how can he entertain the thought that his life is baneful or beset with affliction (be it with regard to children, health, livelihood or any other area)?
Behold, the realm of Nothingness – synonymous with His blessed Wisdom – is the source of life, goodness, and delight; it is the Eden that exists beyond even the World to Come. Only because [this realm] cannot be comprehended, does it appear to one that there is evil and affliction. In truth, however, evil does not descend from Above; everything is really goodness – only it is not conceived as such due to the enormity and grandness of His beneficence.
This is the essence of faith for which man was created – to believe that there is no place empty of Him, that we all dwell in the aura of the King’s countenance, and that fortitude and rapture come in His wake since He is only goodness all the day.
Therefore, it is of utmost importance that man be happy and rejoice at every interval and hour, and that he truly live with faith in G-d who enlivens him and bestows him with goodness at every moment. And he who brings himself to sadness and grief, showing himself to be possessed of misery and affliction and lacking in some quality of goodness, behold he is likened to a heretic, G-d forbid, and that is why the trait of melancholy is so reviled in the esoteric tradition.
The believer, however, will not despair at the apparent affliction in the world; all matters of this world – good and bad – are received by him with absolute equanimity. He who does not possess such equanimity shows himself to be of the “mixed multitude” who worship only themselves…and it would be better for him had he not been born.
For man’s creation in this world is essentially for the purpose of testing him with these ordeals, and to discover that which is in his heart: if it turns toward other gods, i.e cravings of the body that derive from the “other side”, or if his true will and desire is to live the authentic life that derives from the “living G-d”…
And if he believes that he genuinely lives by these Divine forces, and that all his needs and affairs do truly emanate in all their detail – not from the “other side” – but from “the Lord who plans man’s every step”; if so – it follows that everything is essentially for the good, albeit not always apprehended that way.
And by virtue of this faith, everything indeed does achieve goodness – even outwardly; for by acknowledging that apparent evil derives its existence entirely from the Supreme Good that is His blessed and unfathomable Wisdom – the Eden above the World to Come – behold, through such faith, the apparent evil does truly become elevated and subsumed within the hidden Supreme Good.”
In short, the Tanya suggests that the emunah achievable through contemplation of creation ex-nihilo attaches man to his source in “Divine Nothingness.” Prior to attaining this level of emunah, man dwells in the shadow of the cosmic “shattering” of reality that resulted in our attributing autonomy to the material realm and to the forces of evil which are often associated with it. By perfecting his emunah, however, man can begin to see the blind tyranny of evil and suffering as a distortion of consciousness produced when one is insufficiently infused with faith in the Divine origins of physical existence.
Emunah leads one to the realization that the Divine Nothingness existing beyond our fractured reality represents the ultimate source of all things in absolute goodness. This universal point- of-origin, also known as the ‘source of all delight’, is what the Ba’al HaTanya refers to as the “Eden above the World-to-Come”. So beyond our present reality is this dimension, that the only way it can be conceptually described is as “Nothingness”. When experienced, however, the Divine Nothingness reflects the existence of a wholly unqualified standard of virtue in the universe – an essential and absolute quality of goodness at the core of all being.

Isaac August 19, 2006 at 8:54 pm

The ability to taste or discover truth develops in stages, represented by the permutations or mirror images of the Hebrew word chech, which is comprised of the Hebrew consonants het and kaf. When the order of these consonants is reversed, the word koach, meaning “power/strength,” is produced.
First, the educator must sensitize his students to truth, cultivating in them a desire (or “sweet tooth”) for authenticity. He proceeds by choosing the healthiest and most digestible lesson and serving it attractively, so the students will want to taste it and thus open themselves to that new dimension of reality. The educator’s influence here is circumstantial, he brings his students into contact with an idea but does not yet attempt to modify their personalities. His next step, however, is to actually infiltrate into the students’ psyche and begin to refine their characters–to strengthen their sensitivity to truth.
Sensitivity to truth requires devotion to truth. The educator needs to impress upon his students that they must be willing to pay any price for that most precious, vital and indispensable commodity, and not to tolerate the seeming convenience of lies and unreality. In order to convey this lesson, the educator encourages his students’ sensitivity to essence and to the needs of others while dulling their sensitivity to superficialities and to their own needs for physical comfort. In this way the students detach from things that lure people into complacency and tolerance for deceit. When they express their commitment to truth through concrete actions and sacrifices, they can receive ever more subtle and potent revelations of truth and light–that is, “the goodness (and sweetness) of God” [see footnote below] that King David mentions in his Psalms.
As a compass seeks north, so a person with refined tastes will orient toward that inner source in God that lies beneath the surface of all experience. This ability is the foundation of wisdom.
——————————————————————————–
[Footnote]
The Talmud describes the World to Come as the time when God will “remove the sun from its container.” This refers to an era when God’s truth and spiritual light will irradiate the world with an unrestrained intensity, equivalent to the experience of physical light at the surface of the sun. The growth in our lives prepares us for this experience. The Talmud says that those who have achieved a level of holiness in life will be given the power to endure this searing blast of revelation. Their strengthened and refined sensitivities will allow them to bask in this experience of God that would otherwise be a consuming fire.
While the sages of the Talmud tell us that we will all reach that level of holiness someday, there remains the problem of how? After all, we are obviously far from it now.
Of course, those who have devoted their lives to good, seekers of truth and God are already at a level of holiness and need no final adjustments. They have spent their lives preparing for this unrestrained revelation of Godliness, and when it arrives, they will make the transition smoothly, rejoicing and embracing it with ultimate pleasure. They have, in their lives, only desired God, and now they are able to experience Him without the frustrating barrier of gross physicality.
Others who have pursued material and temporary pleasures, abandoning a relationship with good as defined by Torah, will not have done the work of refining themselves and cultivating a taste for Godliness. Since these souls have rejected or neglected truth in their lives, they will be unable to enjoy the pleasures of the World to Come (where there only exists the Light of Divine Truth) until their coarseness and impurity are purged from them through suffering the ordeal of “embarrassment.” This is what is popularly called “hell”–the burning shame that a person feels when “his deeds and utterances march before him and make proclamation concerning him.”
This is the consequence we face after death for not having devoted ourselves in life to the truth as it is now revealed. This purgation, though momentarily painful, is in fact a great blessing for it transforms all who pass through it, rendering them capable of appreciating the spiritual pleasures of the World to Come. It works something like the process of refining gold. In both instances the raw ore is placed in an oven, at extremely high temperatures until the impurity turns to ash, and all that remains is a pure golden nugget.
Lest we err in thinking that it makes no difference whether we indulge ourselves in this world and pays our dues in the next, or whether we suffer by restraining our passions here, in order to collect our pleasure in the World to Come, a word from the great 12th century Kabbalist Nachmanides should serve as caution. He writes that God has done human beings a great kindness by allowing us to work off our debt in the physical world where all pain and discomfort are only temporary (at most for a lifetime), are of bearable proportions, and there is always joy and pleasure interspersed. All of Job’s seventy years of suffering (which include the loss of all his property and children as well as a permanent plague of boils and physical disease) do not compare to even one instant of the soul’s suffering in the afterlife. This is because the body acts as an insulating barrier that protects the soul from too much discomfort. The body or mind goes into shock if the pain becomes too intense. In the afterlife, the soul is totally exposed and there is no protection and no place to hide. Therefore, the opportunity to face the consequences of our transgressions in this world, rather than the next, is a gift of love that God has built into the system for our benefit

Sarah August 19, 2006 at 8:56 pm

Judaism does have a concept of reward and punishment in the afterlife. However, since words we use bring to mind certain images, particularly “Heaven” and “Hell,” it is better to use the Jewish terminology which comes without the baggage.
When someone dies, the disembodied soul leaves this sensory world and enters “Gan Eden,” the spiritual Garden of Eden (a.k.a. “Heaven”). In the Garden of Eden, the soul enjoys the “rays of the Divine Presence,” a purely spiritual enjoyment dependent on the Torah learning and good deeds done while in a body. Every year on the yahrtzeit, the day of passing, the soul ascends to another level closer to G-d. This gives it tremendous pleasure.
In order to restore the level of purity the soul had possessed before entering the physical world, it must undergo a degree of refinement commensurate to the degree which the body may have indulged itself
Before entering the Garden of Eden, though, every soul must be refined, for it cannot enjoy the Divine Presence to the fullest degree with the pleasures and coarseness of our physical world still engraved on it. These would give the soul poor “reception” of divine radiance, and must be removed.
In order to restore the level of purity the soul had possessed before entering the physical world, it must undergo a degree of refinement commensurate to the degree which the body may have indulged itself. If a person sinned in this lifetime, as most of us do, then, to continue the radio analogy, we have serious interference. This means there is even more cleaning to be done. This cleaning process hurts, but is a spiritual and mental process designed not for retribution, but to allow one to truly enjoy his/her reward in Gan Eden. This cleaning process is called “Gehinom,” or, in the vernacular, “Hell.”

Naphtali August 19, 2006 at 8:57 pm

Although the Kaddish itself makes no mention of death or mourning, it has become the accepted practice for mourners to recite the Kaddish Yatom in order to elevate the soul of the departed.
The Midrash relates a story about a deceased wicked person who was suffering tremendously because of all his sins. Rabbi Akiba located this man’s young ignorant son and taught him to say the kaddish, and thus brought peace to the soul of his departed father.
Kaddish is recited for the first eleven months after a parent’s death (because “the souls of the wicked suffer Purgatory for [no more than] 12 months, and one should not treat one’s parents as if they were wicked”), and on every yahrtzeit of the deceased. On a person’s yahrtzeit, the soul makes a quantum leap to a completely new level of Paradise. The kaddish (and recitation of Mishna in honor of the deceased) greatly assists the soul in this transition process.

Riverdale August 19, 2006 at 8:58 pm

The ikkar (essence) of Kaddish is Yehay Shmay… When an adult Jewish male says Kaddish, which may only be said with a minyan, he causes that minyan (quorum of 10 adult Jews) to respond “Yehay Shmay…” (May His Great Name be blessed forever and ever)- a public sanctification of the Name of G-d. This is “Kiddush Ha Shem” in its most fundamental aspect, and is brought about specifically in the merit of the departed for whom it is being said. As the Mishnah in Ethics of the Fathers teaches: “One who causes another to do a mitzvah is greater than the doer of the mitzvah himself” . Thus the saying of Kaddish accrues to the benefit of the soul of the departed, and is of great spiritual benefit to that soul in the World to Come.

Sarah August 19, 2006 at 9:00 pm

Although these issues may not be spoken of in an overt manner, the Oral Tradition, the part of the Torah that goes hand in hand with the Written Torah, speaks clearly of these issues and sheds light on those passages in the Torah that allude to these concepts.
We have to understand that both these parts are interconnected. Each of them needs and feeds off the other. If there would be only the Written Torah, the Torah would be a closed book. We would not understand many of the allusive Mitzvot.
The rewards one will receive in the future, after the life one has led on this world, should not be a pertinent factor in one’s behavior in the present life
One of the questions continuously asked in medieval Jewish thought is: “Why is there no explicit mention in the Torah regarding the afterlife?” Indeed, there is not one unequivocal verse or phrase in the entire Torah that indicates that a World to Come exists. The concept of heaven and hell is not clearly referred to in the Torah. This anomaly has vexed the greatest minds throughout the ages.
One of the great Jewish thinkers of 15th-century Spain, Don Yitzchak Abarbanel, offers that the answer is quite simple: the Torah does not mention the World to Come because that’s not what the Torah is all about. The rewards one will receive in the future, after the life one has led on this world, should not be a pertinent factor in one’s behavior in the present life. What is relevant to the discourse of life is life as it is now, life at the very moment.
Though the World to Come is not explicitly mentioned in the Torah, it remains a critical part of the Torah belief system

Grossman August 19, 2006 at 9:01 pm

Certainly. However, Judaism’s idea of the afterlife is very different then that of other Western traditions. For one, Judaism does not believe that Hell is a punishment, rather a process of refinement for the soul to rinse free of its collected “dirt” so that it can enter a state of paradise.
A Chassidic master once explained to his disciples the difference between Heaven and Hell. In the afterlife, he said, all souls’ hands are bound by splints and heavy ropes. This is done so that they cannot bend their arms. Then each soul is given a ridiculously long utensil and told that it is theirs to attain what ever they desire. Above the souls hang great quantities of food and delights, but they cannot bring the food to their mouths for their hands cannot bend. In hell, the souls are emaciated and starving, breakfast is served, but since their hands cannot bend, and their utensils are too long to feed themselves, they starve. In heaven, however, it is paradise. Souls are smiling and enjoying the delights. In heaven each soul uses his or her own fork to feed the soul siting across the room.
When a person is able to love and extend themselves for another human being, then that person has tasted what heaven is on this earth
The existentialist Sartre once said, that hell is other people. The truth is that he is quite right. If a person feels that other people are others then sharing life with them is a living hell. However, when a person is able to love and extend themselves for another human being, then that person has tasted what heaven is on this earth.

Dov August 19, 2006 at 9:02 pm

The Jewish concept of hell is quite different from what’s commonly believed to be a dead end—an eternally painful consequence of a spiritually bankrupt life. The Hebrew word “Gehinom” doesn’t really have an English equivalent, but is loosely translated as “hell.” Gehinom is actually a process of restoration and recovery, not a permanent condition. The soul entering Gehinom can be compared to a person entering therapy, purging herself of negativity and preparing to face her true self.
As the 17th century Kabbalist, Rabbi Naphtali Bacharach explained, “Gehinom is like a sponge; it sucks up the negativity that attached itself during the soul’s journey on earth, allowing the soul to return to her original state.” So Gehinom is a learning station—a process through which a soul ultimately advances—that enables the soul to be one with her Source.
What is a soul? The dictionary defines it as the “spiritual part of a human being that is believed to continue to exist after the body dies.” In Judaism, the soul is regarded as a “piece of the Infinite,” which, through life, gathers experiences, emotions and thoughts that remain in her memory.
Life is lived to its fullest when the body and soul are in harmony. Judaism views basic needs as manifestations of the soul. Desires for meaning, intimacy and comfort are not ignored or repressed, but expressed in a soulful context and with balance. This is one reason the Torah, G-d’s blueprint for living, focuses on physical actions. It is not a penal code; rather it is a formula for the soul to harness the powers of the body to fulfill her mission on earth.
Gehinom is actually a process of restoration and recovery, not a permanent conditionHumans are born pure. “Very good” is the way the Torah describes the creation of humanity (Genesis 1:31). The soul was, is and always will be a Divine property. Though at times we may obscure this purity, we all eventually return to that state. At death, the physical elements of the body return to their source, while the soul returns to her Source. “The dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to G-d Who bestowed it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). Jewish mysticism explains where, when and how this reunion takes place.
The harmony between body and soul during life determines the soul’s experiences after life. If a soul is balanced and fulfilled, it enters a state of Gan Eden (paradise), where the soul is reunited with her Source, devoid of ego, hurt and resentment. For people who are in touch with their soul, death is not at all painful. The Zohar teaches that when a soul leaves her body, the Shechinah (feminine Divine Presence) appears, and the soul goes out in joy and love to greet Her. Perhaps this explains why nearly everyone who claims to have near-death experiences sees a bright light and describes great happiness. If, during her stay on earth, the soul has become entrenched and immersed in materialism, the Shechinah departs, and the soul begins the process alone. Part of this process is the realization that the body has been fooling the soul all along.
“A person is measured,” the Talmud says, “by his own reckoning.” The body and soul are in a relationship and a person chooses which one will guide the decisions of life. Ultimately, all souls will experience a reunion, both with their loved ones, and with the Source from which every soul came. The only difference is how each soul will arrive.
A soul may return to earth for a second round, depending on whether her unique talents and attributes will be needed by a new generation, but that’s another subject for another time.

Mendy August 19, 2006 at 9:03 pm

A. Firstly, Man has free will–like no other creature has. No dog, dolphin or gorilla has the ability to weigh good and evil and choose one over the other. No dog, dolphin or gorilla understands the concepts of good and evil, for that matter. None except Man. So, the Jewish understanding of reward and punishment begins with the Jewish understandings of free choice, and good and evil.
B. Man has Free Choice. You can choose to do good. You can choose to do evil. You can choose. You can. You. G-d doesn’t make you go one way or the other. He doesn’t force you to the straight and narrow. He does not pre-program you to be a certain way. Man may do whatever he wants. Man can change whatever he is to become whoever he wants to be. Total freedom.
C. Now, G-d won’t rain manna from Heaven on you if you do something He deems good, or zap you with lightning bolts if you do something He deems evil–would you have Free Choice if He did? Not at all–you wouldn’t be able to walk down the street for greed of manna, or fear of lightning bolts. You’d become a vegetable. And G-d doesn’t want vegetables–He wants Free Choice. So, what’s going to happen to you if you eat non-Kosher? Nothing. No lightning bolts. Because if G-d zapped you every time you ate non-kosher, you’d have no choice but to eat kosher. You’d be forced to–unless you like lightning bolts. Now let’s take a look at what Judaism does say about reward and punishment.
G-d won’t… zap you with lightning bolts if you do something He deems evil–would you have Free Choice if He did?
1. Defining Good, Evil, Reward and Punishment
The Torah is mankind’s morality manual. The Torah defines what is good and what is evil. When you do what the Torah says, you’re doing good. When you don’t do what the Torah says–or when you do what the Torah says not to–you’re doing evil. (But that’s only if you’re familiar with the Torah, and act spitefully against it–more on that later.) When you do good, you’re rewarded, and when you do evil, you’re punished. Sounds simple? It’s anything but. There’s no Reward and Punishment Catalog in Judaism, listing specific sins or good deeds and their specific consequences, and therefore, we don’t know which actions elicit which reactions from G-d. Unless you are a prophet–and prophets don’t exist today–you cannot conclude that Mr. A’s son died because Goldberg ate non-Kosher or that Mrs. B got Lou Gehrig’s Disease because she’s a crook. Conversely, you cannot conclude that Bill Gates is rich because he’s a good person (which is not to say he’s evil!): untold variables known only to G-d come into play in every instance of reward and punishment. Only G-d can truly discern and decide matters of good and evil, and the rewards/punishments attached. We simply just don’t know. For starters, we don’t know what’s truly good, what’s truly bad, or who’s truly good or bad, for that matter. Thus, suffering is not always punishment, punishment is not always suffering, good is not always a reward, and evil is not always punishment. Only G-d can tell.
2. Isn’t the Torah All About Reward and Punishment?

Shlomo August 19, 2006 at 9:20 pm

One of the fundamental beliefs of Judaism is that life does not begin with birth nor end with death. This is articulated in the verse in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), “And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to G-d, who gave it.”1
The Lubavitcher Rebbe would often point out that a basic law of physics (known as the First Law of Thermodynamics) is that no energy is ever “lost” or destroyed; it only assumes another form. If such is the case with physical energy, how much more so a spiritual entity such as the soul, whose existence is not limited by time and space nor any of the other delineators of the physical state. Certainly, the spiritual energy that in the human being is the source of sight and hearing, emotion and intellect, will and consciousness does not cease to exist merely because the physical body has ceased to function; rather, it passes from one form of existence (physical life as expressed and acted via the body) to a higher, exclusively spiritual form of existence.
While there are numerous stations in a soul’s journey, these can generally be grouped into four general phases:
i) the wholly spiritual existence of the soul before it enters the body;
ii) physical life;
iii) post-physical life in Gan Eden (the “Garden of Eden,” also called “Heaven” and “Paradise”);
iv) the “World to Come” (Olam HaBa) that follows the resurrection of the dead.
What are these four phases and why are all four necessary?
To See or Not to See: The Free Choice Paradox
As discussed at length in Chassidic teaching,2 the ultimate purpose of the soul is fulfilled during the time it spends in this physical world making this world “a dwelling place for G-d” by finding and expressing G-dliness in everyday life through its fulfillment of the mitzvot.
But for our actions in this world to have true significance, they must be the product of our free choice. If we were to experience the power and beauty of the Divine presence we bring into the world with our mitzvot, we would always choose what is right and thereby lose our autonomy. The obvious becomes robotic. Our accomplishments would not be ours, any more than it is an “accomplishment” that we eat three meals a day and avoid jumping into fire.
Hence, this crucial stage of our lives is enacted under the conditions of almost total spiritual blackout: in a world in which the Divine reality is hidden, in which our purpose in life is not obvious; a world in which “all its affairs are severe and evil and wicked men prevail.”3 In such a world, our positive and G-dly actions would be truly our own choice and achievement.
On the other hand, however, how would it be possible to discover, and act upon, goodness and truth under such conditions at all? If the soul is plunged into such a G-dless world and cut off from all knowledge of the Divine, by what means could it ever discover the path of truth?
This is why the soul exists in a purely spiritual state before it descends in to this world. In its pre-physical existence, the soul is fortified with the Divine wisdom, knowledge and vision that will empower it in its struggles to transcend and transform the physical reality.
In the words of the Talmud: “The fetus in its mother’s womb is taught the entire Torah… When its time comes to emerge into the atmosphere of the world, an angel comes and slaps it on its mouth, making it forget everything.”4
An obvious question: If we’re made to forget it all, why teach it to us in the first place? But herein lies the entire paradox of knowledge and choice: we can’t see the truth, we can’t even manifestly know it, but at the same time we do know it, deep inside us. Deep enough that we can choose to ignore it, but also deep enough that wherever we are and whatever we become we can always choose to unearth it. This, in the final analysis, is choice: our choice to pursue the knowledge implanted in our soul or to suppress it.
The Mutual Exclusivity of Achievement and Reward
Thus the stage is set for Phase II: the tests, trials and tribulations of physical life. The characteristics of the physical–its finiteness, its opaqueness, its self-centeredness, its tendency to conceal what lies behind it–form a heavy veil that obscures virtually all knowledge and memory of our Divine source. And yet, deep down we know right from wrong. Somehow, we know that life is meaningful, that we are here to fulfill a Divine purpose; somehow, when confronted with a choice between a G-dly action and an unG-dly one, we know the difference. The knowledge is faint–a dim, subconscious memory from a prior, spiritual state. We can silence it or amplify it–the choice is ours.
Everything physical is, by definition, finite; indeed, that is what makes it a concealment of the infinitude of the Divine. Intrinsic to physical life is that it is finite in time: it ends. Once it ends–once our soul is freed from its physical embodiment–we can no longer achieve and accomplish. But now, finally, we can behold and derive satisfaction from what we have accomplished.
The two are mutually exclusive: achievement precludes satisfaction; satisfaction precludes achievement. Achievement can only take place in the spiritual blindness of the physical world; satisfaction can only take place in the choice-less environment of the spiritual reality.
The Talmud quotes the verse: “You shall keep the mitzvah, the decrees and the laws which I command you today to do them.”5 “Today to do them,” explains the Talmud, “but not to do them tomorrow. Today to do them, and tomorrow to receive their reward.”6 The Ethics expresses it thus: “A single moment of repentance and good deeds in this world is greater than all of the world to come. And a single moment of bliss in the world to come is greater than all of this world.”7
It’s as if we spent a hundred years watching an orchestra performing a symphony on television–with the sound turned off. We watched the hand-movements of the conductor and the musicians. Sometimes we asked: why are the people on the screen making all these strange motions to no purpose? Sometimes we understood that a great piece of music was being played, but didn’t hear a single note. After a hundred years of watching in silence, we watch it again–this time with the sound turned on.
The orchestra is ourselves, and the music–played well or poorly–are the deeds of our lives.
What is Heaven and Hell?
Heaven and hell is where the soul receives its punishment and reward after death. Yes, Judaism believes in, and Jewish traditional sources extensively discuss, punishment and reward in the afterlife (indeed, it is one of the “Thirteen Principles” of Judaism enumerated by Maimonides). But these are a very different “heaven” and “hell” than what one finds described in medieval Christian texts or New Yorker cartoons. Heaven is not a place of halos and harps, nor is hell populated by those red creatures with pitchforks depicted on the label of non-kosher canned meat.
After death, the soul returns to its Divine Source, together with all the G-dliness it has “extracted” from the physical world by using it for meaningful purposes. The soul now relives its experiences on another plane, and experiences the good it accomplished during its physical lifetime as incredible happiness and pleasure, and the negative as incredibly painful.
This pleasure and pain are not reward and punishment in the conventional sense–in the sense that we might punish a criminal by sending him to jail or reward a dedicated employee with a raise. It is rather that we experience our own life in its reality–a reality from which we were sheltered during our physical lifetimes. We experience the true import and effect of our actions. Turning up the volume on that TV set with that symphony orchestra can be intensely pleasurable or intensely painful,8–depending on how we played the music of our lives.
When the soul departs from the body, it stands before the Heavenly Court to give a “judgment and accounting” of its earthly life.9 But the Heavenly Court only does the “accounting” part; the “judgment” part–that only the soul itself can do.10 Only the soul can pass judgment on itself–only it can know and sense the true extent of what it accomplished, or neglected to accomplish, in the course of its physical life. Freed from the limitations and concealments of the physical state, it can now see G-dliness; it can now look back at its own life and experience what it truly was. The soul’s experience of the G-dliness it brought into the world with its mitzvot and positive actions is the exquisite pleasure of Gan Eden (the “Garden of Eden”–i.e., Paradise); its experience of the destructiveness it wrought through its lapses and transgressions is the excruciating pain of Gehinom (“Gehenna” or “Purgatory”).
The truth hurts. The truth also cleanses and heals. The spiritual pain of gehinom–the soul’s pain in facing the truth of its life–cleanses and heals the soul of the spiritual stains and blemishes that its failings and misdeeds have attached to it. Freed of this husk of negativity, the soul is now able to fully enjoy the immeasurable good that its life engendered and “bask in the Divine radiance” emitted by the G-dliness it brought into the world.
For a G-dly soul spawns far more good in its lifetime than evil. The core of the soul is unadulterated goodness; the good we accomplish is infinite, the evil but shallow and superficial. So even the most wicked of souls, say our sages, experiences, at most, twelve months of gehinom, followed by an eternity of heaven. Furthermore, a soul’s experience of gehinom can be mitigated by the action of his or her children and loved ones, here on earth. Reciting Kaddish and engaging in other good deeds “in merit of” and “for the elevation of” the departed soul means that the soul, in effect, is continuing to act positively upon the physical world, thereby adding to the goodness of its physical lifetime.11
The soul, on its part, remains involved in the lives of those it leaves behind when it departs physical life. The soul of a parent continues to watch over the lives of his/her children and grandchildren, to derive pride (or pain) from their deeds and accomplishments, and to intercede on their behalf before the Heavenly Throne; the same applies to those to whom a soul was connected with bonds of love, friendship and community. In fact, because the soul is no longer constricted by the limitations of the physical state, its relationship with its loved ones is, in many ways, even deeper and more meaningful than before.
However, while the departed soul is aware and cognizant of all that transpires in the lives of its loved ones, the souls remaining in the physical word are limited to what they can perceive via the five senses as facilitated by their physical bodies. We can impact the soul of a departed loved one through our positive actions, but we cannot communicate with it through conventional means (speech, sight, physical contact, etc.) that, prior to its passing, defined the way that we related to each other. (Indeed, the Torah expressly forbids the idolatrous practices of necromancy, mediumism and similar attempts to “make contact” with the world of the dead.) Hence the occurrence of death, while signifying an elevation for the soul of the departed, is experienced as a tragic loss for those it leaves behind.
Reincarnation: A Second Go
Each individual soul is dispatched to the physical world with its own individualized mission to accomplish. As Jews, we all have the same Torah with the same 613 mitzvot; but each of us has his or her own set of challenges, distinct talents and capabilities, and particular mitzvot which form the crux of his or her mission in life.
At times, a soul may not conclude its mission in a single lifetime. In such cases, it returns to earth for a “second go” to complete the job. This is the concept of gilgul neshamot–commonly referred to as “reincarnation”–extensively discussed in the teachings of Kabbalah.12 This is why we often find ourselves powerfully drawn to a particular mitzvah or cause and make it the focus of our lives, dedicating to it a seemingly disproportionate part of our time and energy: it is our soul gravitating to the “missing pieces” of its Divinely-ordained purpose.13
The World to Come
Just as the individual soul passes through three stages–preparation for its mission, the mission itself, and the subsequent phase of satisfaction and reward–so, too, does Creation as a whole. A chain of spiritual “worlds” precede the physical reality, to serve it as a source of Divine vitality and empowerment. Then comes the era of Olam HaZeh (“This World”) in which the Divine purpose of creation is played out. Finally, once humanity as a whole has completed its mission of making the physical world a “dwelling place for G-d,” comes the era of universal reward–the World to Come (Olam HaBa).
There is a major difference between a soul’s individual “world of reward” in Gan Eden and the universal reward of the World to Come. Gan Eden is a spiritual world, inhabited by souls without physical bodies; the World to Come is a physical world, inhabited by souls with physical bodies14 (though the very nature of the physical will undergo a fundamental transformation, as per below).
In the World to Come, the physical reality will so perfectly “house” and reflect the Divine reality that it will transcend the finitude and temporality which define it today. Thus, while in today’s imperfect world the soul can only experience “reward” after it departs from the body and physical life, in the World to Come, the soul and body will be reunited, and will together enjoy the fruits of their labor. Thus the prophets of Israel spoke of a time when all who died will be restored to life: their bodies will be regenerated15 and their souls restored to their bodies. “Death will be eradicated forever”16 and ‘the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the water covers the sea.”17
This, of course, will spell the end of the “Era of Achievement.”18 The veil of physicality, rarified to complete transparency, will no longer conceal the truth of G-d, but will rather express it and reveal it in an even more profound way than the most lofty spiritual reality. Goodness and G-dliness will cease to be something we do and achieve, for it will be what we are. Yet our experience of goodness will be absolute. Body and soul both, reunited as they were before they were separated by death, will inhabit all the good that we accomplished with our freely chosen actions in the challenges and concealments of physical life.

Gabriel August 19, 2006 at 9:28 pm

Karl Rahner, the eminent 20th century Catholic Christian theologian, expressed his opinion that Buddhists and Christians could gain deeper insights into both reincarnation and purgatory by comparing their teachings in this field of speculation. (My reply to your question has been delayed by my efforts to find the essay on purgatory in which Karl Rahner made this statement. I’m sorry, but i have misfiled the reference.) Unfortunately, Karl Rahner died before he could explore this matter further. I suppose he knows more about it by now, but this still leaves us guessing.

Rahner fan August 19, 2006 at 9:29 pm
Peter August 19, 2006 at 9:30 pm

The Jesuit priest Karl Rahner is widely regarded to have been one of the leading Catholic theologians of the twentieth century. Rahner’s early writings on death were published at a time when academic theology gave little serious consideration to the topic. Less sophisticated believers generally assumed that they knew what death was, and quickly moved on to mythological conjectures about the afterlife. Rahner sought to illuminate death’s religious and theological significance. These initial publications and later writings are typical of his pioneering investigations, which creatively appropriate diverse theological and philosophical sources (e.g., Ignatian spirituality, Thomas Aquinas, Catholic neoscholasticism, Kant, Hegel, and Heidegger). Notwithstanding their uncompromising rigor, most of his articles had a broadly pastoral concern to explore ways of recovering the meaning of Catholic doctrine in an intellectually plausible and contemporary idiom.
The density of Rahner’s work is rooted in the subject matter itself. God, Rahner insisted, is not— and cannot—be an object for thought the way the things of our world are. But a person can know God by attending to the movement of knowing itself toward its objects, which reveals that human thinking always reaches beyond its immediate objects toward a further horizon. The movement of knowing, and the ultimate “goal” toward which it reaches, can be grasped only indirectly (or “transcendentally”) as one’s thinking turns back on itself reflexively. Rahner identified the elusive and final “term” of this dynamism of knowing with God, and argued that the same kind of movement toward God as “unobjectifiable” horizon is entailed in freedom and love.
By conceiving God, who always exceeds human reach, as the horizon of the movement of knowing, freedom, and love, Rahner emphasized that God is a mystery—a reality who is known and loved, but only reflexively and indirectly, as the ever-receding horizon of the human spirit. God remains a mystery in this sense even in self-communication to humanity through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. With this participation of God in an earthly history of human interconnectedness, something of God is anticipated—known reflexively and indirectly—at least implicitly whenever we know, choose, or love a specific being, particularly a neighbor in need. Conversely, God is implicitly rejected in every refusal of truth, freedom, and love.
Because it is often the good of a neighbor or the world, rather than God or Jesus which is directly affirmed or refused, it is quite possible that the one deciding will be unconscious or even deny that the act is a response to God. In either case, however, one turns toward or away from God and Jesus in turning one’s mind and heart freely toward or away from the realities of the world.
Death is a universal and definitive manifestation of this free acceptance or rejection of God’s self-communication (“grace”). In that sense, death is the culmination and fulfillment of a person’s freedom, the final and definitive establishment of personal identity. It is not simply a transition to a new or continued temporal life. If there were no
Karl Rahner’s wide-ranging concerns encompassed questions about the nature of God, Christ, and the relation of the Christian belief to modern understandings of the world. BETTMANN/CORBISsuch culmination, no ability to make a permanent and final commitment of self, then freedom would be an illusion. Genuine self-determination would be denied because every choice could be reversed. If everything is reversible, no act or succession of acts could definitively express an individual’s identity. The Christian conviction that this life is the arena in which human fate is worked out, requires the freedom for such definitive acceptance or rejection of God’s self-communication. But any anthropology that takes seriously the human capacity for free self-determination would also be required to see death as a kind of culmination and definitive expression of personal identity. Hence death is not something that happens only to the physical body. Death involves and affects the person as a whole. It involves consciousness, freedom, and love. It is not endured passively.
Hence, death as a personal and spiritual phenomenon is not identical with the cessation of biological processes. For example, illness or medication can limit personal freedom well before the onset of clinically defined death. Moreover, insofar as all the engagements of one’s life anticipate death, Rahner maintained that every moment of life participates in death. Hence he disputed the notion of death as a final decision if this is understood to be an occurrence only at the last moment.
The Christian tradition has emphasized the definitive and perduring character of personal existence by affirming the soul’s survival after death. Rahner warned that this way of conceiving of death can be misleading if one imagines that the separation of soul and body, entails a denial of their intrinsic unity. The contemporary appreciation of the bodily constitution of human reality was anticipated by the scholastic doctrine of the soul as the “form” of the body and thus intrinsically, not merely accidentally, related to it. Personal identity is shaped by one’s embodied and historical engagement with the material world. So the culmination of freedom in death must entail some sort of connection with that embodiment. Rahner’s notion of God as mystery, beyond objectification in space and time, provides a framework for affirming a definitive unity with God that does not imagine the unity as a place or as a continuation of temporal existence. In the early essays, Rahner addressed the problem of conceiving the connection to embodiment, particularly in the “intermediate state” before the resurrection of the dead on judgment day, with the hypothesis that death initiates a deeper and more comprehensive “pancosmic” relationship to the material universe. In later essays, he recognized that it was not necessary to postulate an intermediate state with notions such as purgatory if one adopts Gisbert Greshake’s conception of “resurrection in death,” through which bodily reality is interiorized and transformed into an abiding perfection of the person’s unity with God and with a transformed creation.
The Christian doctrine of death as the consequence and punishment of sin underscores its ambiguous duality and obscurity. If the integrity of human life were not wounded by sinfulness, perhaps death would be experienced as a peaceful culmination of each person’s acceptance of God’s self-communication in historical existence. But death can be a manifestation of a definitive “no” to truth and love, and so to God, the fullness of truth and love. Ironically, this results in a loss of self as well because it is unity with God’s self-communication that makes definitive human fulfillment possible. In the “no,” death becomes a manifestation of futile self-absorption and emptiness, and as such punishment of sin. Moreover, everyone experiences death as the manifestation of that possibility. As a consequence of sin, people experience death as a threat, loss, and limit, which impacts every moment of life. Because of this duality and ambiguity, even a “yes” to God involves surrender. Just as God’s self-communication to humanity entailed fleshing out the divine in the humanity of Jesus, including surrender in death on the cross, so death-to-self is paradoxically intrinsic to each person’s confrontation with biological death.

Kathleen August 19, 2006 at 9:32 pm

“But if we turn around in our prison so that we can see what a pitiable state we are in, then we encounter Christ who has entered into our loneliness and embraces us there with the outstretched arms of the crucified.” (The Content of Faith, Karl Rahner, 306)
In the movie What Dreams May Come people are in control of everything: love, redemption, and salvation. They barely acknowledge God, and there is no mention of Christ in the movie.
How are they redeemed, from what are they redeemed, and by whom they are saved? Are the answers to these questions found in this movie representative of late twentieth century popular theology? Can people be saved if they don’t acknowledge/recognize their redeemer? How does Christ move in people’s lives in this self-deterministic, post-Christian society? I will reflect upon these questions and offer some conclusions.
Christianity proposes that people, in order to be redeemed, need salvation through Christ and that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. Karl Rahner presents this view of Jesus:
Jesus is truly human. He worships, is obedient, experiences his own mortal finitude, falls mute before the incomprehensible mystery we call God…To understand what we confess of Christ is to recognize that it cannot be affirmed of everybody (Rahner, 274).
This passage asserts that only Jesus could have been or could be the Christ. Theologians throughout the history of Christianity have supported this traditional view of Christ. “The New Testament itself…affirms that Jesus Christ not only makes that life (the redeemed life) possible, he also determines its shape (Christian Theology, McGrath, 324).”
I define ‘traditional view’ as the theology that most practicing Christians demonstrate in their spiritual lives and in worship in America today. Most Christians oriented into this traditional perspective believe that only through salvation offered by Jesus Christ can one have eternal life. People holding this view either see something happening in Christ which makes possible and available a new way of life, see that Christ is an expression and demonstration of God’s saving will, or see that Salvation is shaped or modeled by Christ (McGrath, 388-389). In any case, there is a constant: Salvation needs Christ.
Even Paul Tillich, who represents a less traditional understanding of Christianity, says that humankind needs to be saved through the New Being. “Whatever his name, the New Being was and is active in this man (Jesus of Nazareth)…Christ, the New Being, saves mankind from the old being, that is from existential estrangement and its destructive consequences (McGrath, 346).” Existential is a way to describe the non-temporal, historical nature of human existence (A Handbook of Theological Terms, Van A. Harvey, pp.92-93). Tillich also explores the idea that the influence of the New Being doesn’t necessarily have to be through Jesus of Nazareth.
For Tillich “Jesus is one symbol among many of a universal human possibility relating to the transcendent or achieving salvation-others can be found elsewhere in the world’s religions (McGrath, 346).” Does this mean that there could be more than one Christ, perhaps many at various times? Tillich poses the questions:
What if mankind destroyed itself tomorrow? Even if human beings were left who were cut off from the historical tradition in which Jesus as the Christ has appeared, then
what do the biblical assertions mean in view of such a development? The structure of the universe clearly indicates that the conditions of life on earth are limited in time, and the conditions of human life even more so. (Systematic Theology Vol. II, Paul Tillich, p. 100).
So, there are alternatives to the ‘traditional view’.
In any case, it would be the end of that development of which Jesus as the Christ is the center. This existential limitation does not qualitatively limit his significance, but it leaves open other ways of divine self-manifestations before and after our historical continuum (p. 101). And salvation can be derived only from him who fully participated in man’s existential predicament…whose being was the New Being (p. 146).
Consequently, under different circumstances, Jesus of Nazareth would not have to be the Christ, the New Being, but, nevertheless, there could be only one New Being. This doesn’t indicate the notion of self-redemption or multi-saviors that we see in What Dreams May Come.
The movie models the idea of many human redeemers operative both in life and after life. The concept of one Redeemer is not present. In a Pelagianistic manner, if people even ponder God at all, humankind redeems itself from loneliness, isolation, mistakes, and separation from love. In What Dreams May Come the main character, Christy, saves his wife, both in life when she is suicidal and institutionalized, and in death from Hell. He doesn’t need Christ who “entered into the heart of this finite world and of our cruelly sinful history and took on and suffered its finitude, tragedy, and guilt (Rahner, 275).” He does Christ’s work.
Christy takes on his wife’s pain, guilt, sin and human suffering before death and after death. He is in turn guided and led by other people to his salvation in the afterlife. He heals the relationships with his children while in heaven. The character of Christy illustrates the mindset of a large segment of late 20th century society that feels at home in the role of Christ.
Popular theology looks for redemption in psychology, psychiatry, human institutions, work, and human love. In Hebrews 2:10 Christ is named as the captain of salvation (NKJ), but in the world depicted by What Dreams May Come the individual is the captain of his or her own ship.
This cliché elicits an understanding of modern society’s self-image: save yourself through self-help, self-analysis, self-love, self-medication, self-respect, self-awareness, self-direction, self-determination and self-meditation. Take care of yourself.
“Self” does have an importance in a Christ centered religion. According to Rahner self-will is not entirely incompatible with Christianity. It is our responsibility to do God’s will.
It is not done for us. Redemption through Christ does not imply a denial by God of our duty but rather the gift that enables us to fulfill it. Redemption through the Son and our own responsible action do not thus contradict one another (275-76).
However, free will should not turn us away from God and into ourselves. ” Jesus warns us not to receive our glory from ourselves (291).”
The self-determinism exemplified in the movie extends into the realm of being after death. In What Dreams May Come the characters determine the shape of their own personal heavens. They can decide if they will stay or if they will be reincarnated. They don’t need Christ to guide them towards heaven in life or in death. Other movies from the same general time period reinforce the idea of self-willed choices after death.
In The Sixth Sense the dead can bother people until things concerning their death are resolved. In Ghost, Beetlejuice and the Poltergeist movies people after death have a lot of latitude to interact with the living, become solid, be seen, stay, or leave. The afterlife depicted in the Bible doesn’t offer choices.
Death is one of the two strongest forces at work in our lives and has been throughout history. People do not easily give themselves over to God, a death of self-will, or relinquish their fear of death to the promise of eternal life. The characters in the movie are driven by a need to control what happens after their deaths. Most hadn’t done a very good job of controlling their lives before they died.
They are faced with continuous decisions: change the vistas of their heaven, stay there or be reincarnated. They even defy the ‘rules’ when Christy goes to hell to redeem his wife. “Suffering and dying are the destruction of what is human (Rahner, 297).” People desperately cling to what is human.
Love is the second of the two strongest forces at work in our lives. In Luke 10:27 Jesus teaches us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself (NRSV).” The Bible teaches us that God loves us so much he sends his son and Jesus loves us so much he dies for us. Through their love the characters in What Dreams May Come try to save each other in life, search for each other after death, move from heaven to hell and back, and find each other in their next reincarnation.
Rahner warns us that idols such as “the enjoyment of life or the experience of the person’s own emptiness and absurdity…are worthless idols that must never become our masters (Rahner, 59).” In our self-absorbed society it is too easy to let our love for each other and our love of life become our idols.
The questions must be asked how we can love our neighbor unreservedly, committing our own lives in a radical sense on his behalf, how such a love is not rendered invalid even by death, and whether we can hope in death to discover not the end but the consummation in that absolute future which is called God. And anyone who does ask these questions is seeking thereby, whether he recognizes it or not, for Jesus. (282). By our love for others we experience Jesus (279).
Therefore, Jesus is inherent in the extreme love that the characters in the movie have for each other. Christ is in their lives in spite of themselves. However, if people don’t recognize this fact, will it not reinforce the belief that humankind is sufficient for its own salvation?
Is a person like Christy, who acts as savior of himself and others, a tribute or an insult to the Christ? In the movie Christy ultimately gives up his self-determinism. He chooses the permanency and inevitability of Hell to be with his wife. In this way he finally gives himself over to a power greater than himself and is saved.
But such active renunciation of one’s own happiness as is contained in surrender to pain and sorrow is still the clearest practical confession of the fact that the person, conscious of his own powerlessness in the face of the God of forgiveness and elevating grace, expects his salvation from above and not from himself, and hence can and will sacrifice his ego and its values, those values which are powerless to procure his salvation (297).
By giving up control we give ourselves over to Christ.
Christianity offers a response to the desperate struggle revolving around love and death. “He who is the Christ has to die for his acceptance of the title ‘Christ’ (Tillich, Vol. II, 97).” Through the resurrection of Jesus “death is reversed by life. The public defeat of death on the cross is refuted by the power of resurrection (God, Christ, Church, Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, 112).”
Death is reversed by life. People in the movie have the choice in death to choose life again. Christ is asking us to choose eternal life before we die. We have to believe in the resurrection. “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; then if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain (1 Corinthians 15:13-14, NRSV).”
How does the populace of the late 20th century, personified by the characters in What Dreams May Come, precede from self-obsession to hope through Christ? By the actuality that God’s grace and salvation through Christ is part of their lives whether they want to recognize it or not.
Tillich says that the New Being has universal significance (Vol. II, 151).
And salvation can be derived only from him who fully participated in man’s existential predicament…whose being was the New Being (146). We must ask in what sense and in what way Jesus as the Christ is the Savior, or more precisely, in what way the unique event of Jesus as the Christ has universal significance for every human being and, directly, for the universe as well (151).
Thus, the Christ emerges as a presence in our lives, even for those who self-determinedly turn away from the idea.
In some degree all (people) participate in the healing (salvific) power of the New Being. Otherwise, they would have no being (167). Jesus as the Christ is the Savior through the universal significance of his being as the New Being (169).
Rahner also sets forth a concept of the anonymous or implicit Christian. This salvation which the person has found must also be the salvation of Christ because there is no other (Rahner, 54).” Hence, humankind is saved.
Jesus in his human lot is the address of God to humanity. Jesus is from the outset seen within the context of the individual person’s quest for salvation in the concrete human conditions of his life (340).
We see Christ in the movie, and in contemporary society, hidden in each person’s quest for salvation.
Augustine and various writers throughout history, including most writers in the Middle Ages, maintained that only believers in Jesus would be saved. However, the universal saving will of God found an early proponent in Origen along with other theologians up through Karl Barth in the 20th century (McGrath, 417-18). Rahner, CS Lewis, and John Wesley also postulated that faith in God will lead to belonging to Christ “without knowing it”, even if one has no knowledge of Christ or does not accept that knowledge (420).
Therefore, people will be saved even if they don’t acknowledge or recognize their Redeemer, Jesus as the Christ, in this self-deterministic, post-Christian society. Also, perhaps their being will lead to their believing.

Sources August 19, 2006 at 9:33 pm

1 “FAZ” September 28, 1974
2 “The Word” 11/1969, p. 336
3 Mussard, J. GOD AND THE ACCIDENT, Vol. III, Zuerich 1965, p. 139
4 Nigg, Walter: THE BOOK ON HERETICS, Zuerich 1949, p. 56 & 57
5 Quotation by H.U. Balthasar: ORIGINES-SPIRIT AND FIRE, Salzburg 1938, p. 107
6 H.U. Balthasar: ORIGEN. ibid note 5, p. 23
7 H.U. Balthasar: ORIGEN. ibid note 5, p. 12
8 Dacqué, Edgar: THE ORIGINAL FORM, Leipzig 1940, p. 74
9 “Badische Public Newspaper”, November 11, 1964
10 See the booklet: THE THING WITH THE APPLE, A Knowledge about the Fall. Published by Joachim Illies, Freiburg, i.B. 1973
11 Mager, Alois: MYSTICISM AS TEACHING AND LIFE, Innsbruck 1934, p. 180 & 186
12 Material-Service of the Evangelic Center for: “Questions on Philosophy of Life” Stuttgart, December 1, 1971
13 Wachsmuth, Guenther: THE REINCARNATION OF MAN AS A PHENOMENON OF METAMORPHOSIS, Berlin 1935, p. 57
14 Ohlig, Karl Heinz & Schuster, Heinz: DOES THE CATHOLIC DOGMA BLOCK THE UNITY OF THE CHURCHES? Duesseldorf 1971, p. 9
15 “The Word” 1955, p. 336
16 Augustinus: “HANDBOOKLET” in: Text of the Church Patriarchs, Vol. 4, Munich 1964, p. 563
17 Staudinger, Josef. THE BEYOND AS A DESTINY-QUESTION, Einsiedeln 1950, p. 246
18 Staudinger, Josef- THE BEYOND AS A DESTINY-QUESTION, Einsiedeln 1950, p. 246
19 Staudinger, Josef.- THE BEYOND AS A DESTINY-QUESTION, Einsiedeln 1950, p. 243
20 Quotation by Sartory: FIRE DOESN’T BURN IN HELL, Munich 1968, p. 186
21 Staudinger, Josef. THE BEYOND. ibid note 17, p. 260 & 263
22 Staudinger, Josef. THE BEYOND. ibid note 17, p. 270
23 “Rhine-Mail” September 25, 1965. Quotation by Friedrich Heer: DEPARTURE FROM HELLS AND HEAVENS, Munich 1968, p. 305
24 Sartory, Th. & G.: Fire. ibid note 20, p. 96
25 Papini, Giovanni: THE DEVIL, Stuttgart 1955, p. 309
26 Papini, Giovanni: THE DEVIL, Stuttgart 1955, p. 310
27 Althaus, R: THE LAST THINGS, p. 194 following
28 Brunnen E.: THE ETERNAL AS FUTURE AND PRESENT, Vol. I, p. 193 & 198 following
29 Rahner/Vorgrimler: LITTLE THEOLOGICAL WORDBOOK, 6 Edition, Freiburg, i.B. 1967, p. 39
30 Schwarz, Gerhard: WHAT AUGUSTIN REALLY SAID, Munich 1969, p. 151
31 Quotation by Th. Sartory: FIRE. ibid note 20, p. 44
32 Ratzinger, Josef. INTRODUCTION TO CHRISTIANITY, Munich 1968, p. 219
33 Material-Service. ibid note 12, of March 1, 1972
34 Justin: TALKS WITH THE JEW TRYPHON
35 Schmidt, K.0.: REINCARNATION AND KARMA, Pfullingen 1962, p. 41
36 Osthagen, Karl: IS THERE A REBIRTH?, Feldkirchen 1958, p. 12
37 Andersen, Karl: THE TEACHING OF REBIRTH ON THE BASIS OF THEISM, Hamburg 1899, p. 187
38 Heer, Friedrich: DEPARTURE. ibid note 23, p. 245
39 Martin, Henri: LA VIE FUTURÉ, Histoire et apologie de la doctrine christienne sur l’aure vie, 2nd part, chapter III
40 Geyer: THE PATRISTIC HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY (238), in F. Ueberweg: BASIC-PLAN OF PHILOSOPHY, Vol. 2,12th Edition, Tuebingen 1951; see also: THE TRANSMIGRATION CAESARIUS HEISTERBACENSIS, 0. List: DIALOGUS MIRACULORUM, published by J. Stange, Koeln 1851, Vol. I, p. 301
41 Wachsmuth, Guenther: THE REINCARNATION. ibid note 13, p. 7
42 Schubert, Kurt: THE IMPORTANCE OF FINDING THE MANUSCRIPTS IN THE DEAD SEA FOR THE NEW TESTAMENT, in “Theology Today”, Munich 1959, p. 65
43 For example: Rudolf Augstein: JESUS SON OF MAN, Munich 1972
44 Bultmann, Rudolf. NEW TESTAMENT AND MYTHOLOGY, in “Kerygma” I (5), p. 20
45 Zahrnt, Heinz: IT STARTED WITH JESUS OF NAZARETH, Stuttgart 1960, p. 158, 160, 162
46 Zahrnt, Heinz: IT STARTED WITH JESUS OF NAZARETH, Stuttgart 1960, p. 162
47 Zahrnt, Heinz: IT STARTED WITH JESUS OF NAZARETH, Stuttgart 1960, p. 19
48 Hildebrand, Dietrich: THE TROJAN HORSE IN GOD’S CITY, Regensburg 1968, p. 163
49 Nigg, Walter: SECRET WISDOM, Zuerich 1959, p. 279
50 Hirsch, E.: PRE-HISTORY OF THE GOSPEL, 1941, p. 118
51 Nigg, Walter: SECRET. ibid note 49, p. 381
52 Wilder, A.N.: UNREALISTIC CHRISTIANITY?, Goettingen 1958, p. 37
53 Rahner/Vorgrimler: LITTLE THEOLOGICAL WORDBOOK, 1967, p. 310
54 Rahner/Vorgrimler: LITTLE THEOLOGICAL WORDBOOK, 1967, p. 310
55 Heer, Friedrich: DEPARTURE. ibid note 23, p. 66 following
56 Schweitzer, Albert: HISTORY OF JESUS LIFE-RESEARCH, Tuebingen 1913. Quotation by: WHO WAS JESUS OF NAZARETH? Research on an Historical Person. Published by S. Strube, Munich 1972, p. 154
57 FAITH-PUBLICATION FOR ADULTS, (German Issue of the Nederland-Catechism 1968, p. 509)
58 Kirsch, PA.: TO THE HISTORY OF THE CONFESSION, Wuerzburg 1902, p. 7
59 Kirsch, PA.: TO THE HISTORY OF THE CONFESSION, Wuerzburg 1902, p. 167
60 Kirsch, PA.: TO THE HISTORY OF THE CONFESSION, Wuerzburg 1902, p. 76
61 van der Meer: AUGUSTINUS, THE SPIRITUAL ADVISOR, 1946, p. 452
62 Weiss: CONFESSION COMMANDMENT AND CONFESSION MORAL, p. 30
63 Henne by Rhyn: GERMAN CULTURAL HISTORY, Vol. I, p. 118
64 “Catholicus”: About the Churches, Nuernberg 1967, p. 49
65 “Church Official Paper”, Trier, (Iss. 21/1970 #260), Explanation from Bishop Stein
66 Herder’s THEOLOGICAL POCKET-DICTIONARY, published by Karl Rahner, Freiburg i.B. 1972, p. 353
67 Nigg, Walter: SECRET. ibid note 49, p. 238
68 Kueng, Hans: VERACITY. The Future of the Church, Freiburg i.B. 1968, p. 57

Anonymous August 19, 2006 at 9:34 pm

53 Rahner/Vorgrimler: LITTLE THEOLOGICAL WORDBOOK, 1967, p. 310
54 Rahner/Vorgrimler: LITTLE THEOLOGICAL WORDBOOK, 1967, p. 310

Peter August 19, 2006 at 9:36 pm

Karl Rahner (1904-1984) – foremost Catholic theologian of the 20th century, founder of the journal Concilium, and a leading proponent of inclusivism. Rahner sought to recover the doctrine of God’s transcendence for liberalism, resulting in a theology similar to neo-orthodoxy. Rahner also believed the Holy Spirit worked salvation through “lawful religions” (Islam, Judaism, etc.) to produce “anonymous Christians.” Titles: The Content of Faith; Encyclopedia of Theology: The Concise Sacramentum Mundi (Ed.); Foundations of Christian Faith; Encounters with Silence; Hearers of the Word; The Need and the Blessing of Prayer; Theological Investigations; Watch and Pray with Me; Words of Faith.
The reference to reincarnation as an analogy to purgatory is in Theological Investigations

from First Things (Kreeft?) August 19, 2006 at 9:39 pm

4. People’s memories of their past lives prove that reincarnation is true…and that the Christian view of Heaven and Hell is not.
Reincarnation is a more comforting idea to some spiritual people than eternal heaven or eternal damnation because most of us have a strong sense that while our hearts are in the right place, we are not perfect. We sense that there is room for spiritual growth and it is frightening to consider we could die before the process is complete.
Unlike Protestants, Roman Catholics believe that Scripture and Sacred Tradition imply a state of purification called purgatory. Those who are responding to God’s grace and moving forward in the process of salvation by God’s grace are experiencing reality exactly as it is. If we die before the process seems complete, it does not entail eternal damnation.
Roman Catholics are often accused of close-mindedness for not giving reincarnation greater consideration. The notions of reincarnation and resurrection of the body in heaven or hell are mutually exclusive ideas, and Roman Catholics find those who adamantly defend reincarnation to be just as close-minded as we are accused of being.
Two points need to be made about memories of past lives.
First, the evidence that such memories exist without natural explanation is extremely weak to non-existent. More often than not, these cases have been demonstrated to be fraud, exaggeration, or distorted perceptions of reality.
Second, even if one could prove beyond doubt that a person has an accurate mental image of historical events and languages that occurred before the person was born, there is no way to prove that this occurred because of reincarnation.
Such a phenomenon would clearly have some sort of “supernatural” explanation, and reincarnation is not the only possible supernatural explanation. For example, it is at least theoretically conceivable that a demon is playing a trick on the person.
However, speculation of demonic tricks aside, the ultimate reason Roman Catholics reject the theory reincarnation is that we are a people who have encountered Jesus Christ risen from the dead.
We encounter the risen Christ in word and sacrament, in our interactions with others, and in prayer and small moments of grace throughout our lives. Christ is not reincarnated in specific human being. He is alive and revealing himself in our midst.
Once one encounters the risen Christ, it is impossible to believe in reincarnation because Jesus Christ is not reincarnated, but is alive and is the same person who walked the earth 2,000 years ago.
Furthermore, Christians believe that by the incarnation event, God has revealed that each and every individual human person – whole and entire – has a unique and incomparable dignity as the image of God.
Roman Catholics consider it an insult to the human person to see the body as a mere shell for some vague reality trapped inside the body. Roman Catholics believe in the resurrection of the body based on what happened to Christ and what is revealed about human dignity in Christ.
Though some people have taken a very small handful of Biblical verses out of their original context as indicative of the possibility of reincarnation, the Bible actually offers absolutely no evidence of reincarnation. Furthermore, such a notion was never widely believed by the Jewish people up to the time of Christ, if it was ever believed at all.
Reincarnation denies an essential doctrine of Christianity, is not supported by the Bible, and has no compelling rational evidence. The theory is ultimately an insult to the human person and the goodness of the body. The theory runs counter to our experience of the risen Christ. For all of these reasons, Roman Catholics soundly reject reincarnation as an erroneous conception of the afterlife.
All of this said, it is important to separate error from the person in error. A non-Christian who embraces the notion of reincarnation is beginning to grasp the basic truth that there is life after death, and that justice demands purification from sin. It may be a real response to divine grace that leads one to hope in the erroneous opinion that reincarnation is real.
Also, there is a very real sense that in the mind of God, a person existed before they were born, and sometimes, in mystical prayer, a Christian can gain a glimpse of this sort of “pre-existence” through a special gift of grace. Others may have a glimmer of such an experience as well.
Furthermore, even if a demon is playing a trick on a person to deceive one through false memories, such an experience will feel very real to the subject, and the subject is not in sin for having the experience. Sin is placing our trust in subjective experience when it is contrary to reason and objective truth.
Roman Catholics are morally bound by our Church’s own teaching to be respectful of people who believe in reincarnation. At the same time, we feel no compulsion to give credence to a doctrine that seems to be clearly erroneous.

Gerald (African Perspective) August 19, 2006 at 9:41 pm

Death is certain in human existence, though we do battle with its inevitability. Despite its ubiquity, it is a phenomenon conceived differently, depending on cultural, ideological, or idiosyncratic orientation. These differences are apparent because of my multicultural exposure of death in both the African context, the biblical Middle East, and the modern American view of death and dying.
Theologically, death is defined as the separation of soul and body. But as Professor Philip Keane pointed out in a lecture, no one has seen the soul depart the body. This definition, according to German theologian Karl Rahner, fails to indicate “the specifically human element of human death.” Philosophically, death is defined as the cessation of the integrated functioning of the human organism. This disintegration, of course, is like “the separation of body and soul” definition not an observable definition.
We are on more scientific ground with the physiological definition. Here, death is conceived as a cessation of breath and heartbeat. Medical advance, however, has made this definition somewhat obsolete. For we have observed in heart attack patients, the cessation of both breath and heartbeat. Yet these patients have been revived; thus we can say such patients have died at least once.
Seemingly, there is no perfect answer to the meaning of death. We have no eyewitness testimony: no one has died and come back to life and painted a clear picture of what death really is. From the Christian or religious perspective, death is not the end of life, but rather a transformation. For Paul in his letter to the Thesssalonians (4:13), death is a kind of sleep: “We want you to be quite certain, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep. To make sure that you do not grieve for them, as others do who have no hope.”
Despite the religious hope, the unpredictability and inevitability of death fascinate and frighten the broad range of humanity. This fear and fascination is quite evident in natural disasters and in acts of war and terror. Thus there continues an ingrained denial of the gruesomeness and finality of death. An African adage likens the dead body in procession to that of dried wood. The natural yearning to live on has generated such beliefs as the Greek immortality of the soul or the various Eastern notions of reincarnation, which appear frequently in African cultures.
But even in less violent and disastrous circumstances, death, especially in our techno-culture, is a challenging project. For many, the hard reality is that they die in a hospital, usually isolated and in pain – tethered to a frightening array of high-tech equipment. From some perspectives, this techno-environment is another denial of the naturalness of death. Many would prefer to die at home in familiar and beloved surroundings. In traditional cultures, the family comes together and children are involved in the conversation. The dying person is comforted and encouraged to embrace death with dignity.
Though death in inevitable, the African both denies and accepts death in daily life. This double perspective can be seen in a set of beliefs sometimes referred to as “ancestor worship” or “reincarnation.” Many Africans believes the spirit of the deceased remains in the world and that the dead person can come back embodied in another person.
It is in light of this belief that John S. Mbiti asserted, “For the Africans, death is a separation and not an annihilation; the dead person is suddenly cut off from the human society and yet the corporate group clings to him. This is shown through the elaborate funeral rites, as well as other methods of keeping in contact with the departed” (African Religion and Philosophy, 1970, p. 46). The relatives of the dead believe that even though the soul of their dead relative has gone up to the sky or near to God, it remains also near to them and can be approached through prayers, libations, and offerings.
The Igbo views death as a natural rhythm of life. In a popular tale, they pass down a story of the genesis of death. At one time there was no death. People were fascinated by the idea of living forever. They appealed to the gods to guarantee eternal life. The final decision was left to the outcome of a marathon race between the frog and the dog. If the frog won, death would come into the world; if the dog won man would gain eternal life.
The people were excited about their opportunity, believing the dog would easily win the race. Once the race started, the frog continued at a slow pace, non-stop. The dog ran fast, but stopped often to eat garbage from cans. The frog’s approach of slow and steady won the day, the dog losing the race and thus the genesis of death.
Africans, like others, resist the daily contemplation of death. Often people do not write their living wills. I recall the time when my father began writing his will, four years prior to his death. In some consternation, I walked about ten miles to discuss this matter with my mother. My mother attempted to console me by saying that my father’s death was not imminent – that a person can write his or her will twenty years prior to his death. Of course, my father’s death was much closer.
Unlike many Americans, Africans do not tend to set aside money for their funerals while still alive. They do not make preparations towards their dying. They prefer to leave the burden to their living relatives. I was quite shocked and frightened when my American pastor showed me where he will be buried when he dies. As an African, I found this pastor’s openness about death strange and unbelievable.
This death-denying attitude is observed in how Africans conceptualize death. The term “transition” is used to refer to dying. It is very rare to hear people say a person has died. Saying that the person has transitioned in the African context means that he or she has gone to the next life. The term also implies that the person has not left us, that the person has simply changed form into a spiritual existence. The term “passed on” is also used frequently to express transition.
At the Carmelite Monastery in Waterford, Ireland, an anonymous reflection clearly captures this African transitional view of death. It says, “Death is nothing at all – I have slipped away into the next room. Whatever we were to each other that we are still. Call me by own familiar name. Speak to me in the easy way, which you always used. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let it be spoken without effort. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was; there is absolutely unbroken continuity. Why should I be out of your mind because I am out of your sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near just around the corner. All is well. Nothing is past; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before – only better, infinitely happier and forever.”
This Irish view is an ancient and universal view; though still retained in African tribal life, it has been lost in our more modern, materialistic world. In our traditional cultural experience, man is born, he dies, and continues to exist in other realms. This circle of birth, death, and continued existence is commonly used symbolically in African art as cosmographic images. The dead is not in a distant heaven, but still remains among the living. In times of crisis and need, and sometimes, in times of joy, departed loved ones are viewed as smiling down on the living, looking out for them and assisting them. Thus even though it is a stressful time to have a loved one die, people find comfort in the belief that loved ones, though not physically present, are yet spiritually present.
Though there exists this consolation of an afterlife and its connection with present life, traditional Africans hold to the sanctity of life and fear death, for it is an enemy to life. Fear of death lead people to use charms and juju for self-defense; though death is invincible, it can be held at bay. Life is to be preserved at all costs. Thus, an average African would not be inclined to discontinue life-sustaining treatment once it was started. Likewise, Africans do not favor any artificial means of terminating life, such as assisted suicide, which is viewed as sacrilegious. In any event, such decisions would be arrived at through family consensus. It would be offensive to other family members and extended relatives if just one of them rushed into decision-making without at least considering what others thought and felt.
Even though statistics show many people prefer a quick and painless death, ideally while one is asleep, it is different in Africa. An African person prefers a slow and lingering death not through the aid of a machine but a natural prolongation of the dying process so that he or she could make their peace, say farewell to friends and relatives, and give final instructions to immediate relatives. Though it rarely occurs today in our modern cities with its sanitized hospitals, death is preferred in one’s home with the family providing comfort to the dying person.
The spiritual aspects of caring for the dying in medical settings have been neglected. So much emphasis is place on the physical care of the dying that spirituality is often overlooked. Often healthcare providers, untrained in the subject of spirituality, do not recognize special efforts are needed to respect the cultural traditions of the dying. A more satisfactory result in caring for African patients would be achieved if the African approach to decision-making is honored. The healthcare provider foremost must recognize the values of the African patient, who values highly the sanctity of life.
Man is a “being unto death,” Martin Heidegger pointed out. And this death is enigmatic, a mystery – a reality beyond full human comprehension. It is nevertheless, from the African perspective, the total negation of the sound health of human life – the height of all evils. Among the Igbo, the name of death is “Onwudinjo,” meaning “death is evil.” Because of this African frame of mind, decades are spent grieving over a lost one. People’s emotional makeup is often jarred for a long time after the death of a person dearly loved. I am still dealing with the loss of my father.
I have been going through a lot of pain since the death of my father six years ago. It is the greatest emotional trauma that I have ever had in my entire life. The pain is near indescribable. Life for me has not been the same. I struggle with this loss every day. Sometimes I try to let go of this sad memory but I have yet to succeed. It is a very hard blow one me, nay, on all of us – my mother, my siblings, and me.
My father’s death changed me forever. When he died, a part of me died with him. It is an indelible mark that can never be erased from my book of memory. The bottom line is that I love my father – he is my hero, my champion of courage. His words and examples yet remain a vade mecum (a go with me).
Still, a part of me knows, my father is not dead after all. He is in the other room. I can see him with the physical eye. That is the hard reality I have difficulty accepting. Yet he lives. He called me today and told me to trust and obey. He went farther and told me that this is the only way I can be happy in the Lord.
“Mpa” (Father) is dead; you are now fatherless,” my eldest brother spoke to me 17th of October, 1996, the day after my father died. These words have remained evergreen in my memory. I believe I shall see him yet again face to face in heaven, through the grace of God.

Montgomery August 19, 2006 at 9:49 pm

A drunken driver loses control of his car and careens headfirst into a van, killing a family. A mother dies of breast cancer, leaving confused children and a grieving husband. An infant boy succumbs to a birth defect. A gentle, elderly lady dies quietly in her sleep. A desperate, depressed teenager commits suicide.
Maybe death would be different if it were predictable or consistent. But death can be so capricious. It hardly seems fair.
To us life is precious. But death is everywhere! We don’t want to die. We don’t want to see our loved ones die.
Self-preservation is a powerful instinct. We design special diets and exercise programs to keep us young and fit. Through medical science we seek to isolate the gene that makes us age, hoping somehow to eliminate death. A few have even arranged for their bodies to be preserved cryogenically in the hope that they can be brought back to life when the cure for what killed them is finally discovered.
Yet, for all our efforts, hopes and wishes, death is the one thing in life that remains certain. Whether through old age, illness, accident or violence, whether we are rich, poor, male or female, no matter if we’re good or bad, all of us regardless of race or creed-die.
Scientists cannot tell us what happens after death. Too many aspects of life itself are intangible-too elusive to measure and record. Philosophers disagree on death and the afterlife.
Religions also disagree. Traditional Christian denominations generally teach that the souls of the dead live on in a place or condition of heaven or hell. Many non-Christians believe in the transmigration or reincarnation of souls at death. Still others believe the dead will never live again, that this life is all there is.
What really happens at death? Why do we even have to die? Can we know if there is life beyond the grave? Where can we go for meaningful, believable answers?
Only the Creator of life can reveal its purpose and the state of the dead. By looking into the Word of God for answers to our questions about death, we can learn a great deal about both life and death.

William August 19, 2006 at 10:01 pm

He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name” (Revelation 14:10-11).
At first glance this may seem to confirm the traditional idea of a seething, sulfurous hellfire, mercilessly and eternally tormenting helpless immortal souls. But, if we don’t already hold to a preconceived mental picture of hell, we can quickly grasp that this passage describes a quite different circumstance.
First, notice the setting for this passage. From the context we see that the events it describes aren’t in hell or the afterlife at all, but rather on earth amid the earth-shaking events and disasters immediately before Jesus Christ’s return. This warning describes the punishment that will befall all of earth’s inhabitants “who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”
The latter part of chapter 13 describes this “beast”—a dictator who rules over an end-time superpower—and his mark. Those who accept this mark show that their allegiance is to this dictator rather than God, and in chapter 14 God reveals the consequences of that choice—warning of the terrifying punishments that will precede Christ’s return (see verses 14-20 and the following two chapters).
Notice also in this passage that the smoke from these terrifying events ascends forever—it does not say that people’sactual torment continues forever. The smoke is no doubt associated with the God’s wrath poured out on earth as described in chapter 16—which includes widespread destruction, great heat, warfare and a massive earthquake. All these events will generate massive fires and a huge amount of smoke.
The properties of smoke are such that it “ascends forever”—meaning that nothing will prevent or stop it. Being primarily heated gas, it rises, expands and eventually dissipates. The Greek word translated “forever” does not always mean eternity or infinity. It can simply refer to something that will not be stopped, that will continue as long as conditions allow. This passage is simply describing fires associated with this devastation that burn as long as they have fuel to consume, after which they simply burn out.
The reference in Revelation 14:11 to the wicked receiving “no rest day or night” speaks of those who continue to worship the beast and his image during this time. They will be in constant terror and fear for their lives, and thus aren’t able to find a moment’s rest during this terrifying time of God’s anger.

Pedro August 20, 2006 at 12:38 am

Did post Temple Babylonian Talmud Jews take over the message board earlier today or last night dependind on your time zone???? Khazars???
and than modernist Catholics???
and than the born again fundie crowd?????
good reading though but too much
I can get a Masters in Theology just from reading the Jimmy Akin board

Anonymous August 20, 2006 at 7:53 am

How can any of you be sure?

Peter August 20, 2006 at 9:17 am

Certainty is by faith in revelation (I guess there is a question of which one or interpretation), but informed by reason

John Salageih August 20, 2006 at 7:06 pm

Jimmy Akin,
I have some questions which I would like a more authoritative answer to or at least an answer from you. I usually refer to the official Catholic Catechism, but it does seem the Church allows a lot of “room” for speculation, and freedom of diversity of opinions on certain topics.
Questions:
1. What does Karl Rahner say about reincarnation vis a vis purgatory?
2. Is there a “possibility” that no one is in Hell a la Hans Urs von Balthasar and others?
Not that it is prudent or you believe it but there is a theological possibility or that we (or I) am permitted to believe it as a Catholic?
3. Are there distinctions between the “Eastern” and “Western” Catholic (or even Orthodox or non-Chalcedon churches) rites in terms of purgatory?
(such as purgatory is a good thing etc–I did find some interesting comments on Anthony Dragani of EWTN’s east2west.com website and am assuming imprimatur and proper approbation)
4. Are there confusions between Hell and Purgatory? Could hell also have transient properties? Especially if Jesus went to Hell (or just Hades the place of death)
5. What do ancient or modern Jews believe as it is or could be instructive to what Catholics do or could believe. I learned a lot about Judaism on this site and I knew none of it before. There are certainly implications if not ramifications of Jewish views on the afterlife (Do they really believe in reincarnation!?) (and thus did Jesus at least know about this as a concept?!)(Is this really Torah or some neoplatonist or pre-Christian gnostic type of influence as others have suggested?)
It does not seem fully discussed and dismissed by some.
6. Does or can the Church authoritatively teach on this or is this veil a mystery not known in detail or specifically until after death?

Some Day August 20, 2006 at 7:26 pm

Are there confusions between Hell and Purgatory? Could hell also have transient properties? Especially if Jesus went to Hell (or just Hades the place of death)
Hell, as the word in its original sense is not HELL as we know it. It just is the place of the Dead. Not Hell the place of eternal damnation

Anonymous August 21, 2006 at 10:11 am

the permanancy of Hell (for Eternity!!!!!) does not seem merciful or even just
African vs. Protestant views on ancestors, spirits etc—like the first post
very interesting

fan of white August 21, 2006 at 10:19 am

RULE 1 VIOLATION

bill912 August 21, 2006 at 10:31 am

Fan of White: Please read “Da Rulz”.

Anonymous August 21, 2006 at 11:07 am

Bill might be reincarnated as a Lebanese child or maybe a Palestinian baby with no water.

Anonymous September 4, 2006 at 10:12 am

Did Origen believe in reincarnation?
Did Karl Rahner link purgatory and reincarnation?

George Panogeotopoulos September 4, 2006 at 2:04 pm

I visited a Byzantine Catholic Church with a Roman Catholic friend of mine (I am Greek Orthodox recently more practicing) and there was an icon of Jesus descending into hell and in the icon (large painted on the South wall–the altar was facing east)and Jesus was bringing John the Baptist and Old Testament prophets apparently into heaven but definitely out of hell.

Vince September 4, 2006 at 6:42 pm

Hades and hell are not the same thing

J.R. Stoodley September 4, 2006 at 10:51 pm

Hades and hell are pretty much equivalent words in their respective cultures, Greek and Germanic. In both cases they are the shady relm of the dead.
Both words tend to be applied to Christian concepts incosistantly.
The Hell of the damned is where those who die in mortal sin go. Jesus never went there.
The Hell (or Hades or Sheol or Abraham’s bosm) that Jesus went to is where those who died in original sin but not personal mortal sin went to, from which Jesus “ransomed the captives” bringing all there to heaven.

Anonymous September 23, 2006 at 5:04 pm

This is a GREAT discussion on purgatory (absent some idiots). I love Dante–really incredible stuff. Some of the saints and visions on purgatory, while not necessary for salvation, are fascinating.
The Jewish stuff about prayer for the dead and purification seem to indicate the same thing (absent the confusion of reincarnation which seems to be a gnostic, greek, neo-platonist, pythagorian borrowing of the Hassidics in Kabbalah)

Mark September 23, 2006 at 5:11 pm

Karl Rahner is heterodox at best. Warmed over Heidegger neo-Kantian nonsense.

Joe September 23, 2006 at 5:30 pm

Bavli or the “Babylonian Talmud”:
(compiled ca. 430-560 A.D.) Contains around half of the Mishnah and commentary called Gemara (the word “Gemara” is often used interchangeably with “Talmud”). It is the Babylonian Talmud that is most often referred to when one speaks of “the Talmud.” This is the most important literature in modern Judaism, even more important than Torah.
Kabbalah:
(codified ca early 14th c.) Claimed to be a part of Torah given to Adam, the Kabbalah (the word means “tradition”) is a mystical system that concerns itself with the process of creation. Because of its esoteric, gnostic elitist nature and its emphasis on magic, the conjuring of supernatural forces, numerology, astrology, reincarnation, etc., watered-down Kabbalah has become a trendy, New Age fashion.
True Kabbalah, however, is for initiates and is not supposed to be studied until one is firmly grounded in basic Judaic principles (usually around the age of 40 among the non-Hassidic). Parts of Kabbalah are in print (the Zohar –”Book of Splendor”– by Moses de Leon, for example), but other parts are a matter of orally transmitted, deeply secret tradition. Kabbalah has played a great role in the development of many diverse movements, including Masonry, Rosicrucianism, Renaissance-era secular and Christian thought, Aleister Crowley’s Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (and other Hermetic systems), and Mormonism.
Tosefta:
(12th c.) another compilation of Oral Law, like the Mishnah, but treated with less authority and as a supplement, a practical guide to the Mishnah
The rabbi is not the equivalent of the Israelite priest, for they offer no sacrifices and the Temple is no more. The equivalent of the Israelite priest is the Catholic priest who is ordained after the order of Melchizedek and who re-presents the once and for all Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary.
Jewish subcultures
Ashkenazi Jews:
the Central and Eastern European Jews. Most of the Eastern European Jews are descended from the Turkish Kingdom of Khazaria (an area of land known to the Greeks as “Scythia”; to the Church Fathers as “Magog”; and to moderns as various Eastern European and Southern Russian States) which converted to Judaism in the 8th and 9th centuries. The vast majority of modern Jews fall into this category. The Jewish historian, Josephus, writes that the people of this area descended genetically from Japheth, son of Noah and brother of Shem, the father of the Semites. Shem’s descendant, Eber, gave his name to the Hebrews.)

Remus September 23, 2006 at 5:33 pm

RULE 1 VIOLATION

Anonymous September 23, 2006 at 5:35 pm

There are actually two Talmuds, one being the Babylonian Talmud, also called the Bavli, which was compiled ca. A.D. 430-560, the other being the Palestianian Talmud, also called the Yerushalmi and codified ca. A.D. 400. When Jews speak of “the Talmud,” they refer to the Babylonian Talmud, and it is to this Talmud that I refer in this paper. “Kabbalah” means “tradition,” and it was to these “traditions of men” Christ and Paul were referring in verses such as Mark 7:8 and Colossians 2:8, not to priestly authority and Sacred Tradition which we are admonished to follow in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, 2 Thessalonians 3:6, etc.

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Rachel April 21, 2007 at 6:06 pm

I don’t want to get my info just from the media on the Purgatory issue.
Please comment Jimmy.

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