Monday, August 30, 2010

Joseph Ratzinger's theology of the purgatory vis-a-vis Christology

Roman Catholic theologians draw their support for their theology of purgatory by reference to 2 Maccabees 12:43-46. Since the Roman Catholics recognize the Maccabean text as canonical, their theology is legitimized by such reference. They can claim their concept of purgatory as scriptural.

Protestants do not acknowledge the Maccabean text as canonical. Hence our rejection of the theology of purgatory is valid simply because there is no such reference in our canon. However, some Protestants do acknowledge the Maccabean text, along with other inter-testamental books, as canonical.

The question I want to explore is this: Do this latter group of Protestants need to accept the theology of purgatory by virtue of their acknowledgment of the inter-testemental literature as canonical?

My attempt to answer this question came from the following extract from my essay submitted for Theology II class. Following the 16th century Reformers, I find current pope's theology on purgatory with reference to the effectiveness of the work of Christ problematic:
As stated in the Council of Trent, “[T]here is a purgatory […] and that the souls therein are aided by the suffrages of the faithful and chiefly by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar.”[1] In this view “’Hades’ applies to everyone in the period between death and resurrection. But this state contains “various levels of happiness and unhappiness,” which correspond to the different levels of justification and sanctification of the faithful on earth.”[2]

The Reformers reject purgatory because of the confidence in the efficacy and sufficiency of Christ’s atoning work that eliminate any intermediate state cleansing of those who are already in him (Gal. 3.1-14, Eph. 2.8-9, Heb. 9.11-15). So even if Protestants affirm the reference to the Maccabean literature as canonical, our Christology—following that of the authors of Galatians, Ephesians and Hebrews—is enough to fulfil the Maccabean’s rites, making it irrelevant under the new covenant. However, Roman Catholic theologians like Joseph Ratzinger fail to grasp the overwhelming-ness of the Reformers’ Christology. And often they do that with a bit of irony.[3]

[1] As quoted in Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology (USA: Catholic University of America Press, 1988), p.220.
[2] Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology (USA: Catholic University of America Press, 1988), p.228. Emphasis added.
[3] Ironically, Ratzinger thought that the Reformers’ Christology is weak because Christ’s atoning work cannot be extended into the after life. He wrote, “Given [the Reformers’] doctrine of justification, they were unable to concede that there might be atonement in the life to come.” (Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology [USA: Catholic University of America Press, 1988], p.219). Yet if Christ’s atoning measure is effective not through gradualness or repetition but “once for all” (Hebrew 9.26-28), who needs to extend it to the after life?
Ratzinger perceived as a fact that Protestant's Christology cannot accommodate the Roman Catholic's theology of purgatory as an unable-ness. Yet it is precisely the able-ness of Protestant's Christology that there is no exigent for a purgatory.

So what is the extent of able-ness of Christ's work on the cross and his resurrection? This is quite clear to the Reformers: The accomplishment of Christ has enabled the disabling of other means of redemption such as through suffrages.

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