Web-Editor Note! The following excerpt is from the "Life After Death" book by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos. It is, in many Orthodox circles, the most complete work regarding Orthodox beliefs and teachings regarding Life after Death. Orthodox teachings are quite different from western Church concepts and Metropolitan Hierotheos addresses those differences. The book is highly recommended and available from Archangel Press, Light-N-Life Publishing and Holy Cross Seminary in Brookline, MA to name a few. The following excerpt is based on a dialogue between Metropolital Mark of Ephesus and Cardinal Julian at the Council of Florence-Ferrara in the 15th century.
Chapter 5, THE PURIFYING FIRE
The separation of the soul from the body is truly a great mystery. We have seen what happens when this time is approaching, just what is happening when the soul finds itself at the border point, that is, when it is preparing to go out of the body, and what follows after its departure. These are mysteries which Christ revealed to us and the saints of our Church attested. In the lives of saints we find many examples relating to these crucial questions.
The Latins developed the theory of the purifying fire, that the souls of all men, righteous and unrighteous, will pass through what they call purgatory after leaving their bodies. The patristic tradition speaks of purifying the heart, but that has a different meaning. The Latins' theory of purgatory is a misinterpretation and distortion of the relative passages in Holy Scripture and the Fathers of the Church and has been used for other purposes.
We would do well to look at the difference between the Orthodox and the Latins on the subject of purgatory. It is one of the topics which concern us in this book.
In the Council of Ferrrara-Florence (1438-1439), which took place for the purpose of `uniting' the Churches, among other topics the subject of the purifying fire was taken up, and the difference between the Orthodox and the Latins on this point came to the fore there. We shall now follow this discussion, as well as the views of St. Mark Eugenicus, for they are quite interesting.
I feel we need to make a few essential clarifying observations at the start.
First, the whole subject will be approached on the basis of the teaching of St. Mark Eugenicus, who was the protagonist on the Orthodox side at the Council, the final decisions of which were not accepted by the Orthodox Church.
Secondly, before we develop St. Mark's teaching in detail, we should look historically at how the Council began and how the subject was approached. Without this explanation it will be difficult to follow his teaching.
Thirdly, since we shall be looking particularly at the views of St. Mark Eugenicus on the subject of the purifying fire, in connection with Hell and Paradise, we shall not make many references to other Fathers of the Church. Furthermore, the related topics of Paradise, Hell, the Kingdom of God and eternal life will be analysed in other chapters of this book. It may be that repetitions on these subjects, as they are inescapable, will help us to consolidate our knowledge about these serious questions.
1. The discussions at Ferrara-Florence about the purifying fire
The question of purgatory was the first to be discussed between the Orthodox and the Latins at Ferrara. The festive assembly of this Council began on the 9th of April, 1438, but the discussions took place later, in June of the same year. We shall follow these discussions according to the official Greek records of the Council and with the information provided by Syropoulos, which is authentic.
Among the existing differences betwen the "Churches"it was preferred to begin with the question of purgatory. The representative of the Latins, Cardinal Julian Caesarini, said that they should begin by first examining the Pope's rule, that is to say, his primacy, but he considered it better to talk "about the purifying fire, so that we too might be purifed by the words about it". St. Mark Eugenicus agreed with this view but he wanted to find out where the Latins acquired these traditions, how long they had believed them and just what their view was on this subject.
Before beginning the discussions about the purifying fire, or `purgatory', St. Mark asked Emperor John Palaeologus how he would like the answers to the Latins to be given, "combatively and stubbornly or diplomatically?". The Emperor's reply was "say all our right things combatively". This is significant because, as we shall see in what follows, he preferred another method, the method of conciliation, for in the event St. Mark was compelled to be silent during the dialogue on the purifying fire.
In fact it was on the fourth of June that the two delegations met to examine this question. The views of the Latins were set forth by Cardinal Julian. Concretely, he said: "There is a purifying fire, that is to say, in the present age the souls of sinners having pardonable sins are purified by fire, with the cooperation of the Church through the priests' prayers, and furthermore they are released from punishments through almsgivings and charities".
More analytically, he said that there are three places and categories. One is that of the saints, whose souls are in heaven after death, the second is that of the sinners and the unrepentant, who are in hades, like the soul of Judas, and there is another, intermediate place where the souls of those men are who have forgivable sins because they have confessed and received Communion, but who also "owe a debt of penance". The souls of these people pass through the purifying fire.
According to Syropoulos, Cardinal Julian said among other things that the souls of those who repented and confessed sincerely, but did not have time to fulfil the penance which their spiritual father set, and did not give fruits of repentance to atone for their sins, "are cleansed by the purifying fire, some more quickly, some more slowly, according to the sins which they committed, and after the cleansing they depart for spiritual enjoyment".
The Latins expressed these views, taking various passages from Scripture and the Fathers of the Church. From Holy Scripture they quoted the Apostle Paul's words that "each one's work will become manifest; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire" (1 Cor. 3, 13-15). Likewise he used many passages from the holy Fathers of the Church.
From these views three things are shown clearly. First, that in speaking of the purifying fire the Latins distinguished it clearly from the everlasting fire, because they spoke of a fire "in the present age", before the Second Coming of Christ. Secondly, that this fire is in reality created, it is not the uncreated energy of God, and thirdly, that the souls of men are purified by this fire. We shall look at the views of the Orthodox in the dialogue, but chiefly in the teaching of St. Mark Eugenicus which we shall present in another section of this chapter.
After Cardinal Julian set forth his views, St. Mark spoke. Sylvestre Syropoulos reports, among other things, that St. Mark said that until then they had thought that the Latins professed other things, but now different things were being heard. Indeed he said incisively: "For from the account by your reverence I find the difference between us in this summary to be slight, and I hope that even that will be corrected, please God. "Naturally, as Syropoulos says, he said this diplomatically in order to create a friendly atmosphere. In any case he asked for their views in writing in order that he might give his answer.
In the official records which Mansi presents, immediately after what was said in this first session is recorded all that was discussed in the following session, which took place on the fourteenth of June, when the Orthodox gave their response. Syropoulos preserves an event which shows the whole prevailing mentality, but also presents vividly why St. Mark refrained from giving an answer at these sessions, while Metropolitan Nikaias Vissarion undertook to state the Orthodox view.
Endless discussions were going on among the Orthodox about what reply they should give to the views of the Latins about the purifying fire. Finally St. Mark and Nikaias Vissarion each wrote a text, which were read in a meeting of the Orthodox. The Emperor made a choice between the two writings. He gave orders to take the preamble of Vissarion's writing and whatever else seemed useful from it, and to take the most and best from St. Mark's, and thus to put together the "writing to be offered". It was then that "the scandal between the Ephesian and Nikaias began".
Vissarion undertook to speak, but others also must have intervened because, it says in the records, "the Greeks were defending themselves in those matters". However, it seems from what Syropoulos informs us, that at the beginning Nikaias Vissarion gave the main speech. Syropoulos says that St. Mark wrote very good words refuting the views of the Latins. The Latins demanded that St. Mark should answer and give the view and teaching of the Orthodox Church concerning those who depart through death. But St. Mark "did not do it, having been forbidden to speak by the emperor". The Latins insisted on finding out why St. Mark said nothing, and called on him to speak. But the saint "was hard pressed by the imperial command, prevented as if by some bridle and was in difficulty". Then Vissarion undertook to speak, and in fact he moved away from the place where he was sitting with St. Mark "and sat in the same place where the aforesaid leading officials were sitting".
This incident too shows St. Mark's difficult position, since he was on the one hand required by the Emperor not to speak, and on the other hand he became the object of Vissarion's jealousy and hatred. Nevertheless St. Mark gave successful answers throughout the discussion that followed. Syropoulos writes: "We wondered how the Ephesian immediately gave the solutions with graphic descriptions, without knowing beforehand what John intended to propose".
But let us follow the interesting dialogue which took place at Ferrara between the Orthodox and the Latins about the purifying fire.
Vissarion received a command from the emperor to answer the views of the Latins. He began by analysing the apostolic passage: "If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire" (I Cor. 3, 13-15). The works which are going to be burned, he said, are the deeds and life of the people who have lived in this world. The fire spoken about in the apostolic passage is the eternal fire of the age to come and there is no question of any other fire. "That fire spoken of by the apostle is about the age to come, not about the present". Likewise the verb "will be saved"does not indicate salvation, restoration, but "will not be destroyed". This means that the sinner will not be destroyed, but he will remain "in torment in the fire eternally".
The Latins maintained that there is both a fire in the present age by which purification of the soul takes place, and fire in the age to come, which is not purifying but everlasting. Likewise they said that the fire in the present age is universal, that is to say, "all are purified by the fire". He who has many sins is purified for a long time, while he who has few sins "gets off with less, with the Church cooperating as well".
The answers of the Latins justify St. Mark, who, when he heard the initial introduction by Cardinal Julian, had said that the advice given for the teaching of the Latins about the purifying fire was different from that heard in this introduction. As it seems there is a difference. The fact is that during the discussion it was demonstrated that they were speaking of two fires, present and future ones, and that all men pass through the purifying fire.
The Orthodox then answered that in the Orthodox Church there is no distinction between an eternal and a present fire. In the Orthodox interpretation of the apostolic passage the eternal fire is meant, the souls of the sinners enter a dark place, a place of sorrow "and they grieve in part and they are punished, being deprived of the divine light", but they are purified through the entreaties and prayers of the Church. This purification and revival does not happen through any existing fire, but by the work of prayer, entreaty and charity.
In the course of the discussions two differences between the Orthodox and the Latins came to light. The first is that the Orthodox were speaking of a place of punishment and grief, but not of fire, while the Latins were speaking of "punishment and purification through fire". The second difference lies in the fact that the Orthodox said that the souls of unrepentant sinners do not receive their final punishment now, since they are also waiting for the resurrection of their bodies, just as the souls of the saints receive the good things now, "but not completely". They will receive the good things completely when at the resurrection of the bodies their souls are united with their bodies. The Latins were saying that the souls of sinners are not punished finally, since they too await their bodies in order to be punished with their bodies eternally, but the souls of the saints "have received the perfect crown in heaven", yet they will then rejoice forever "when they have been clothed in their bodies".
The Latins asked for the Orthodox views in writing in order to think them over and discuss them later. In fact there were also other meetings to discuss this subject, as on the twenty-fifth of June and the twenty-seventh of the same month.
A central topic in these first meetings was the apostolic passage which speaks of salvation "as through fire". The Orthodox based themselves on St. John Chrysostom's interpretation of the passage which we shall see in the next section when we develop in detail St. Mark's teaching about the purifying fire. At any rate, when the Latins returned to the discussion, they maintained that the verb 'is saved' and `save' "is said for the good and not for the bad". They were referring to the scriptural passages in which it appears that to be saved means "salvation, and help, and redemption of the evil ones, and revival". David's saying is characteristic "my God, save thy servant whose hope is in thee", as well as the cry of the Apostle Peter when he was sinking, "Lord save me". The Orthodox opposed this with other passages with a different meaning.
In this first phase of the discussions the Orthodox did not want to disclose all their teaching on the subject, "but only to put the questions and answers obliquely". In this way they wanted to prolong the labours of the Council "until the ambassadors should come from the kings". A deputation had been sent from the Pope to the kings of Venice for help to be sent to Constantinople, where they were in great trouble. For this reason the Orthodox prolonged the discussions and did not completely and fully express their views.
Nevertheless the Orthodox were discussing among themselves "whether the saints were receiving the good things completely, or not". This was being discussed on the sixteenth of July 1438. The Emperor wanted their views in writing, and indeed there was "a great dispute about this". Finally the view prevailed "that they were and were not receiving: the souls as souls were receiving completely, and they will also receive more completely in the resurrection with their own bodies, and then they will shine like the sun, or as the light which our Lord Jesus Christ radiated on Mt. Tabor".
The discussion about the purifying fire continued also in Florence, to which the seat of the Council was transferred. We shall not examine in this section everything that was discussed there, but only what was said about the purifying fire, which was one of the topics discussed. In Florence they ended with a recommendation which seems to be conciliatory. According to this proposal "the souls of the righteous, as souls, have completely received their crown in heaven, and the souls of sinners the complete punishment: and those in the middle exist in a place of torment, which is either fire or darkness and tumult, or something else, we do not disagree".
This proposal is conciliatory because it seems that in their discussions the Latins came back again to the same things. The Latins offered a written text with the proposal that the Orthodox should agree and sign it, and then "let there be unity". In this text it says concerning the purifying fire, that this fire exists and is received by those who have repented and confessed. One interesting sentence is important in showing the difference between the Latins and the Orthodox. The Latins maintained that the order of saints which does not need to pass through the purifying fire "sees the essence of God immediately". Likewise they affirmed that all who have been purified, since they have passed through the purifying fire, will also be deemed worthy of "seeing the essence of God directly".
Here the Franco-Latins' view is presented that the saints see the essence of God, whereas in the Orthodox Tradition there is a distinction between the essence and energy of God, and it is said clearly that men share the uncreated energy of God and not His essence. The fact that the teaching which was set forth at the Council of Ferrara-Florence is speaking of a temporary purifying fire, which purifies a man and leads him to participation in the essence of God, shows that the purifying fire, according to the Latins, is a created reality and that man can attain participation in the essence of God. However, in the Orthodox teaching we are well aware that purification comes from the purifying uncreated energy of God, and illumination and theosis are participation in the illuminating and deifying energy of God and not in His essence.
It seems, then, that the teaching about the purifying fire is not unrelated to the heretical identification of the essence and energy of God, which is the central error of the Latins and their main divergence from the theology of the Fathers. In fact, if one examines carefully all the differences between the Latins and the Orthodox, one will see clearly that they come down to one, to the truth concerning the essence and energy of God.
In the unofficial conversations which the Orthodox had with the Latins, the text of which was given to be signed so that there would be unity after that, the Orthodox were ready to accept their proposal about the purifying fire, but not to defend their point "concerning the divine essence and energy". In the Greek report it says: "They were trying to coerce us to accept what was written: but we, not having an imperial command, could not accept it".
There were many discussions about the purifying fire. While agreement was reached on other questions, they still disagreed about the purifying fire and the consecration of the divine gifts. At one point the Orthodox did say: "We are not divided about the purifying fire, nor do we need to be". The Latins wanted to make the topic of the purifying fire the condition for agreement and unity. There were members of the Orthodox delegation who also wanted to add the subject of the purifying fire to the condition for completing this task, but the emperor opposed it. Finally it was made a stipulation of the Council that the righteous immediately at their death are taken into heaven; those who have fallen into mortal sin without repenting "go straight to hades", and the souls of those who have sinned and repented without having managed to give worthy fruits of repentance "are purified after death". Through the prayers of the living, through the holy offerings and charities, their souls are relieved and freed from punishments.
Of course this stipulation was not signed by St. Mark Eugenicus, nor by some who agreed with him, nor also by some who had left Florence previously. The "unity of the Churches"which came about at Ferrara-Florence was not realised in the end, and this was a great blessing for Orthodoxy. The Orthodox people, clergy and laity who lived the Orthodox Tradition, opposed this unity and consequently the things that had been signed about the purifying fire were not accepted.
It is noteworthy that the Council of 1722 in Constantinople, in an encyclical to the Orthodox of Antioch, referred, among other things, to the subject of the purifying fire. It is a synodal text which is very important and valuable.
It says that while the Latins affirm that there are three places to which the souls of the dead go, "we the godly, following the truth and turning away from such innovations, confess and accept two places for the souls of the dead, paradise and hell, for the righteous and sinners, as the holy Scripture teaches us. We do not accept a third place, a purgatory, by any means, since neither Scripture nor the holy Fathers have taught us any such thing. However, we believe that these two places have many abodes... None of the teachers of the Church have handed down or taught such a purgatory, but they all speak of one single place of punishment, hades, just as they teach about one luminous and bright place, paradise. But both places also have different abodes as we said; and since the souls of the holy and righteous go indisputably to paradise and those of the sinners go to hell, of whom the profane and those who have sinned unforgivably are punished forever and those who have offended forgivably and moderately hope to gain freedom through the unspeakable mercy of God. For on behalf of such souls, that is of the moderately and forgivably sinful, there are in the Church prayers, supplications, liturgies, as well as memorial services and almsgiving, that those souls may receive favour and comfort. Thus when the Church prays for the souls of those who are lying asleep, we hope that there will be comfort for them from God, but not through fire and purgatory, but through divine love for mankind, whereby the infinite goodness of God is seen".
From what has been said it is clear that in the Latins' teaching about the purifying fire there are two interesting points which show how it differs from orthodox teaching. One is that a purifying fire is distinguished from the eternal fire of hell, a notion which is nowhere in Holy Scripture and the Patristic tradition. The second is that because it is said that through the purifying fire people attain a vision of the essence of God, and since in the teaching of the Latins essence is identified with energy - for they speak of `actus purus' and created energy - therefore the 'purifying fire' is created. We shall see later on what kind of presuppositions this teaching of the Latins is based and what consequences it has for the spiritual life. However, it must be noted that it differs clearly from the theology of the Fathers of the Church.
2. The teaching of St. Mark Eugenicus about the purifying fire
St. Mark, Metropolitan of Ephesus, was one of the protagonists at the Council of Ferrara-Florence, expressing the orthodox patristic teaching on all the subjects. Anyone studying his teaching will be manifestly convinced that it is an expression of orthodox teaching and in the main is an expression of the theology of St. Gregory Palamas. At this point we can look at the value of his theology.
It was natural for him to be concerned with the purifying fire and to express the orthodox views on this subject. Since what he said is interesting and has a bearing on many theological questions related to it, we shall make a broad analysis of them.
The things we are going to analyse are in two of St. Mark's homilies which have been preserved - homilies which he delivered in debates at the Council of Ferrara - as well as some chapters which sum up all his teaching and in which he rejected the teaching of the Latins about the existence of the purifying fire.
The first homily bears the title: "Refutation of the Latin chapters which they proposed concerning the purgatorial fire, by the Very Reverend Metropolitan of Ephesus Mark Eugenicus". As it seems, this is a discourse which St. Mark wrote just after the topic was set, but after the command was given by the Emperor. The second sermon is entitled: "Second defence addressed to the Latins in which is also set forth the true doctrine of the Church of the Greeks, by the most wise and learned Mark the Noble of Ephesus". The chapters are entitled: "Ten considerations showing that there is no purifying fire".
Indeed it is difficult to present analytically the whole teaching of St. Mark on this subject. A special treatise would be needed to analyse all the views. However, in what follows I shall attempt to set forth the general positions he takes about the purifying fire, trying not to distort their content. I consider it important because, unfortunately, we know very little about the subject of the purifying fire, and in many respects what is presented does not fully express the orthodox view on the subject.
a) Dogmatic discussion is needed
In the beginning of his second homily St. Mark underlines the need for a genuine investigation of the dogmatic themes which are in doubt. He writes characteristically: "There is truly a need for much research and discussion of all that is doubtful in the dogmas, and for words that are in each case firm and genuine".
The research on doubtful dogmatic topics must be with truth, without underhandedness, always employing the firmest arguments. Such a discussion will be very profitable, for the truth will be revealed. Naturally the saint maintains that the profit will be great if both sides aim at a search for the truth and not at strife and if they are not interested in winning by all means, but also at being tolerant and accepting defeat with good grace. This was a reproach to the Latins, who were pursuing just the opposite. They were seeking not the truth about the purifying fire, but simply, as also on other subjects, to impose their views.
Referring to the apostolic Council which was called to determine whether Gentile Christians should be circumcised, and especially to the discussion which took place among the Apostles, but also to the harmony in the meeting, he says that they themselves too in these conversations should aim at peace and harmony, even if there should be much discussion.
So this is the way the discussion of dogmas should take place when there are arguments and when there is interest in peace and harmony. But if strife prevails, and an attempt to enforce every view, there can be no benefit. This moderation is necessary for every discussion of dogma. For if the Holy Spirit does not act, if peace does not prevail during the discussions, then it is impossible for the truth to be found.
b) Paradise and Hell exist
The Latins' teaching about the purifying fire is related to the teaching about Paradise and Hell, and that is why this subject is discussed.
St. Mark dismisses the existence of the purifying fire, arguing from the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus told by Christ. The soul of Lazarus is in Abraham's bosom, while the rich man's soul is in hades. In this parable, as St. Mark says, the Lord uses Abraham's bosom to indicate "the extremely happy ending of the friends of God", and he uses hades to present "the final condemnation of the tormented and the eternal punishment of sinners". Of course in this parable Christ "did not leave between these two another place with some temporary torment". Consequently there are Paradise and hades and there is not some other temporary place of torment. Moreover according to this parable there is a great gulf between Paradise and hades.
Nowhere in Holy Scripture does it appear that directly after the soul's departure from the body we have Paradise, Hell and a purifying fire. When a person's soul is released from his body to be bodiless and immaterial, "it is not logical that it should be tormented by a bodily fire", since his body is decayed. But after the resurrection, when his soul has come back into his incorruptible body and all creation has been changed and after the fire has been divided, that is to say, its illumination and its burning are separated, then the person will taste everlasting hell, just as do the demons, because they too have some matter and are clothed in a grossness and have aerial bodies and fires. Therefore only Paradise and Hell exist and nothing between them. The foretaste of them begins at the departure of the soul from the body.
It is true that Holy Scripture speaks of hades before the incarnation of Christ and before the abolition of death by Christ's sacrifice on the cross. But Hades as described in Holy Scripture cannot be identified with the purifying fire of the Latins. Hades is an intelligible place, because souls do not have form. The souls of the righteous are kept in hades until the coming of the Saviour only because of the ancestral sin, "not as in fire and torment at any rate, but as in bondage and prison". Therefore it is not a question of a purifying fire, as the Latins teach.
That there should be some kind of purifying temporary fire between Paradise and Hell is connected, in some way, with the teaching about the restoration of all things, since it cultivates indolence in the lazy. The restoration of all things and the end of eternal Hell, as Origen taught and passed on to some early church writings as well, was repudiated and anathematised by the Fifth Ecumenical Council because it made lazy people lazier, as they counted on deliverance from the torments. In the same way also the teaching about a purifying fire should be dismissed by the Church since it cultivates the impression that it is not necessary to struggle in the present life, for there will be another purification. "So these are the reasons why the proposed dogma of the purifying fire should be dismissed by the church as making earnest people lazy and persuading them not to struggle by all means to purify themselves in the present life, since another purification is expected".
In analysing the subject of Paradise and Hell, St. Mark, also expressing the teaching of the Church, says that neither do the righteous after death possess that blissful state completely, nor are the sinners led to everlasting torment, where they will be tormented for ever, but both of these things "will necessarily take place after the Judgement of that last day and the resurrection of all". Now both the righteous and the sinners "are in places proper to them": the righteous, in absolute repose and free, are in heaven with the angels and have a foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven, whereas sinners are shut into hades, waiting with discomfort and inconsolable grief, like condemned men awaiting the Judge's sentence and foreseeing eternal torment.
From the teaching of St. Mark it appears that there is no intermediate state of souls, as the Latins maintained, in the sense that between Paradise and Hell a middle place, a purifying fire, intervenes, but he supports an intermediate state of souls from the point of view that after the soul's departure from the body, the righteous await the final pleasure of Paradise, and the sinners await the final decision of the Judge and the final torment. But the enjoyment of the vision of God by the righteous after the soul's departure from the body is at a greater depth than in the present life. He writes that after death the righteous enjoy the blessed vision of God "and the radiance from it more completely and purely than in their former experience".
In order to support this view St. Mark uses many passages from Holy Scripture and the Fathers of the Church. In the final judgement, which will be after the Second Coming of Christ, the righteous will hear the words: "Come, blessed ones of my father and inherit the kingdom prepared for you". This means that they had not yet inherited it directly after the departure of their soul from the body. Besides, if they had inherited it, there would have been no need for the resurrection of the bodies, the coming of the Judge and that dread and universal judgement to take place.
Likewise the Apostle Paul writes: "For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Cor. 5, 10). This means that before that Judgement seat and before we appear before Christ, and especially after the soul is living without the body, no one receives "what is due him for the things done while in the body".
On being asked whether, after the soul's departure from the body, the righteous enjoy the good things and the sinners hell, Athanasius the Great answered "Not at all, but this joy which the souls of the saints have now is partial enjoyment, just as the sorrow which sinners have is partial hell".
And St. Mark concludes by saying that neither are the righteous enjoying completely those eternal good things, nor have the sinners received complete condemnation and been sent to Hell. Moreover, before the resurrection of their bodies they are incomplete "and like cut in two and without a body". Only after the souls' entrance into their incorruptible bodies will they receive the prizes and praises of the contests.
Therefore, between the Paradise and Hell which the righteous and sinners receive in advance directly after the souls departure from the body, after biological death, there is no other created purifying fire. This dogma of the Latins about a created purifying fire cannot be supported in the tradition of the Church.
c) There is no purifying fire
What has been said is not the only argument for the non-existence of the purifying fire. A bearer of the Orthodox Tradition, St. Mark, with unbending arguments demolishes the theories of the Latins and presents the orthodox view on the subject.
At first he maintains that nowhere in holy Scripture or in the patristic tradition is anything said about the existence of a purifying fire. Where there is a reference to this subject, the uncreated and eternal fire is meant, which the sinners will taste after the Second Coming of Christ. But we shall speak of this further on. Here it must be pointed out that the teaching of the Latins about the purifying fire before the Second Coming of Christ is not supported, and indeed cannot be proven from Holy Scripture.
The view that it is possible for souls to be released from sin by purifying punishments brought about by some temporary fire "has not yet been found expressly written, either in the prayers and hymns on their behalf or in the words of the teachers". It is true that some texts which the Latins use refer to this subject, but they are misinterpreted, interposed, that is to say, in another interpretive tradition, as we shall see more analytically further on.
One can find in patristic texts that those who have sinned and not repented "are punished in particular", but not that they have fallen into Hell. The texts of Holy Scripture and the Fathers speak of the grief of those who are in the intermediate state, which chastises and punishes them either by shame and torment of conscience or by regret or confinement and darkness or by fear and uncertainty of the future or even only postponement of the vision of God, according to what they have done, but never is anything said about a fire "bodily punishing and purifying bodiless souls". None of the Fathers who have interpreted the related texts of Holy Scripture have construed them to refer to the purifying fire which the Latins teach.
The Lord says in His sermon on the Mount that whoever calls his brother a fool "shall be in danger of hell fire". And St. Mark explains that the Lord did not assign him "to purgatory but to hell fire". He will be at any rate be accountable for every idle word "at the time of judgement, but the Lord does not teach that one is purified by fire".
Holy Scripture says that the vision of God is a perfect reward for those who have purified their hearts, according to Christ's word: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matt. 5, 8). Naturally there are depths of the vision of God, according to the depths of purification. Therefore not all men have the same depth of purification, nor, naturally, is there need for a purifying fire if the purification in some is imperfect. In the Bible as a whole it appears that "the less purified will see God less". People will see God according to the the depth of purification. Just for that reason it is not necessary that there be another purification after departure from this life.
So nothing is said in Holy Scripture directly about the existence of a temporary purifying fire after the soul's departure from the body, but neither is this novel teaching of the Latins in harmony with its whole spirit. There is no purifying fire between the death of each person and the Second Coming of Christ.
d) Theological arguments against the existence of a purifying fire
The homilies of St. Mark Eugenicus on the subject of the purifying fire are very rich, and naturally it is difficult to present them in this brief analysis of his teaching. They will have to be abbreviated and fragmented. But in spite of the difficulties of presenting the whole teaching of St. Mark, we are trying not to distort it but to examine his general views about the subject which interests us here.
At the end of his first homily he sets out as conclusions the reasons why it is not possible for a purifying fire to exist, as the Latins understand it, as created, temporary and intervening between death and the Second Coming of Christ. The reasons are as follows:
First. Since the longing for the divine, this love itself, purifies people and makes them godlike, why cannot the same thing happen also after death? Cannot this longing purify them of small sins, without the need for such a purifying fire?
Second. It is in keeping with the goodness of God not to overlook the small good or punish the small sin. But the small good among great sins does not receive any reward. Nor is it necessary that the little evil done by those who have achieved great things should be brought to court. This is just why there is no need for a purifying fire to exist.
Third. The little good in the sinners cannot have a recompense, but be punished differently. The same happens with the saints. The little evil in them does not produce punishment, but a different pleasure. Consequently, as far as there is a difference of pleasure for the righteous and a different punishment for sinners, there is no need for the existence of a purifying fire.
Fourth. A result of the foregoing points is that the vision of God meets all men alike, but the seeing depends upon the difference and depth of their purification. Hence, in those who have imperfect purification "there is no need for the purifying fire".
Fifth. In his Easter sermon St. Gregory the Theologian expressly and clearly declares that there is no purification "beyond this night", that is to say, no purification after this life, which is characterised as a night.
Sixth. In his sermon St. Gregory the Theologian says that it is preferable for us to purify ourselves here and not to be sent to the torment of hell, because then "it is a time of torment and not of purification". So it seems clear that there is no purification after the soul's departure from the body, but only eternal hell.
Seventh. In His parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Christ left no temporary place between Paradise and Hell, "but a great and impassable gulf lay between them, presenting a sharp and direct opposition".
Eighth. It is impossible for a bodiless and immaterial soul after its separation from the body to be punished bodily by a fire. This eternal fire will exist after the Second Coming of Christ and after the assumption of the imperishable body.
Ninth. Hades, into which the souls of the saints of the Old Testament descended, was not in the form of fire and hell, but in the form of a gaol and a prison. In the same way the souls of those who have sinned in moderation "will be held in that kind of hades after death". In other words, those who have sinned a little will live as in a prison until the Second Coming of Christ, awaiting the final judgement, when Hell will begin. This is why it is not necessary for a purifying fire to exist.
Tenth. The holy Fathers who have lived a life equal to the angels on earth and have been initiated by visions and dreams and wonders into the life of the eternal torment of the ungodly and sinners, as also described in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, "have nowhere explained a purifying temporary fire".
Eleventh. The dogma of a purifying fire must be discarded, because it leads men to be nonchalant and not to struggle in the present life to be purified, awaiting some future purification, just as the dogma of the restoration has been discarded, because it has the same effect.
He develops the same arguments also in his syllogisms about the non-existence of a purifying fire, explaining why we cannot accept the existence of such a temporary and created fire. In these syllogisms the arguments of St. Mark are centred around three points.
First that, as the whole Bible and the Tradition of the Church teach, there is a difference in the vision of God, according to the person's purification in this life. He who is more purified sees the glory of God more completely. Whenever there is greater and lesser vision of God it corresponds to the purification. If someone even has a few sins "he too sees God without any need for a purifying fire", as God's love for mankind is sufficient, of course to a proportionate degree. But the teaching about the purifying fire takes away this difference in the enjoyment of the glory of God. For if men of this category pass through the purifying fire, it follows that all the souls of the righteous "are in the same vision of God, which is bliss". But this is false, because Christ said that in His Father's Kingdom "there are many mansions" (John 14, 2).
The second argument is that it is not possible for the will of man to be changed by any purifying fire after his departure from this life. "The movement of the will and that of deeds is necessarily limited to the present life". The will can be changed as long as a man is in this life, whereas after death it remains immovable. "And he receives the prize or the punishment for these things and not for going through purgatory". So long, then, as uprightness of the will is needed for beatitude and so long as purgatory cannot change the will from bad to good, since this is in accordance with the way the person lived in his biological life, therefore "purgatory contributes nothing" towards beatitude. This too means that men cannot be purified by any purgatory.
The third argument is that, as there is a difference in enjoyment of the Kingdom of Heaven, so there is a difference of punishment. And, as we said earlier, the little good of the sinners cannot be repaid, "but can only have a different punishment". Thus even the little evil in the righteous "will not make a hell but only a difference of enjoyment". For this reason there cannot be a purifying fire, as the Latins say.
e) Interpretation of an apostolic passage
The Latins use various biblical passages to support belief in the purifying fire. For just this reason St. Mark Eugenicus in these homilies, which contradict it and were used in the Council of Ferrara-Florence, provides an orthodox interpretation of these biblical passages and demonstrates that the Latins really misinterpreted them in order to fortify their new doctrine.
The chief passage in which they referred to is one in the first letter to the Corinthians which speaks of the testing of work by fire. The Apostle writes: "Let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become manifest; for the day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire" (I Cor. 3, 10-15).
This passage, as St. Mark says, while it appears that it introduces the purifying fire, nevertheless "most of all it takes it away". The words which demonstrate this are the following. First, the Apostle Paul called it testing and not purifying. Secondly, all the works, even the good ones and the most valuable will pass through the fire, which means that not all need purification. Thirdly, the Apostle says that while the works of the wicked will be burned, they themselves will suffer loss, but according to the interpretation of the Latins, the purified will profit. Fourthly, the things that are said by the Apostle will happen at the time of the Judgement and the age to come, and it is not a matter of any purifying fire between Paradise and Hell. Moreover, there is nothing in Holy Scripture which says this. Indeed Christ is explicit when He says: "And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Matt. 25, 46).
Therefore it is essentially a question of the uncreated grace of God which illuminates the righteous but burns the sinners. This is also in keeping with the passages from Scripture which St. Mark offers in comparison. The prophet David says: "A fire shall devour before him, and it shall be very tempestuous all around him" (Psalm 50, 3). And: "A fire goes before him, and burns up his enemies round about" (Psalm 97, 3). And the Prophet Daniel writes: "A stream of fire issued and came forth from before him" (Dan. 7, 10).
Particularly important is the Apostle Paul's statement: "If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet as through fire. "In interpreting this sentence St. Mark says that the work which will be burned and will finally disappear completely is a bad disposition or action. "He will suffer loss"refers to the burdens of evil which sinners had, and "he will be saved"refers to their preservation. He writes incisively: "he will be saved", that is to say, constantly held prisoner, not destroyed by the evil".
This means that the grace of God will preserve the sinners as well, will restore their nature, and they too will remain eternally in Hell. Therefore the saving refers to preservation.
This interpretation of St. Mark Eugenicus is not arbitrary, but is taught by the Holy Fathers of the Church. St. Mark refers to the interpretation of St. John Chrysostom and the teaching of Basil the Great about the fire of the age to come.
St. John Chrysostom, who is `the lips' of Paul, as the Apostle Paul is `the lips' of Christ, interprets this sentence of the Apostle Paul by saying precisely: "for the sinner is saved as through fire", that is to say he will remain tormented in fire and will not be destroyed together with his evil works and dispositions. This is not unrelated to the Orthodox teaching that a man is a person, that he can never be brought into non-existence, into nonbeing, and that Christ by His resurrection gave to all men, righteous and unrighteous, as His gift, the resurrection which will take place at His Second Coming, that there will be a restoration of nature, but not of will, and that while the righteous will enjoy "ever-being", the sinners will have "ever ill-being".
St. Basil the Great, interpreting the scriptural passage "The voice of the Lord divides the flames of fire" (Psalm 29, 7), says that since fire has two properties, illumining and burning, the voice of the Lord will cut through this fire "so that the fire of hell is without the light of the sun, while the light of rest remains".
Presenting this passage of Basil the Great, St. Mark says that the bright and luminous works of the righteous appear brighter, and the righteous will be inheritors of the light. The sinners, however, will suffer loss with the burning of their works, while "they will inherit a salvation which is worse than perdition, remaining eternally in the fire (for this is what, strictly speaking, the word `saved' means) lest they think that because of the destructiveness of the fire, they themselves will be utterly destroyed". At the same time St. Mark says that if there is any interpreter who understands the word salvation to mean release from hell, and going through the fire to mean purification, he "seems to have understood this passage in a completely wrong way".
According to St. Mark Eugenicus, St. John Chrysostom's interpretation is the most important, and all the teachers of the Church agree with this. Thus Chrysostom's interpretation "is the most exact and true". Within this frame of reference he himself adds an interpretation, which is connected with the events that took place in Corinth and provided the occasion for the Apostle Paul to say these words.
St. Mark maintains that in this case the Apostle Paul is referring to the Christian in Corinth who committed prostitution. He was one of the teachers who, while he had fallen into a great misdeed, "nevertheless held to the value of teaching, having a system and seeming in himself not contemptible in either outward wisdom or wealth". So it seems that the Apostle had in view a certain teacher who while he had sinned, was continuing to teach, trusting in external wisdom and the wealth of his mind. He draws this conclusion from what is said in the relevant chapter of the Apostle Paul's epistle.
Therefore, according to St. Mark, this word "is expressly addressed to the man who had committed prostitution". Such a teacher not only will not receive a reward for his teaching, but also his teaching work will burn to ashes. But he will remain to be judged for his deeds. "Such a teacher himself will not perish with his own work, but will be preserved and remain and stand trial and answer for what he has done and undergo eternal judgement, not having any profit from that work of teaching, which is to be destroyed, ... and he will be saved in a salvation worse than destruction; for it would have been better for him who brings such a matter upon himself if he had not existed or then not been preserved".
It must be pointed out that St. Mark repeatedly uses St. John Chrysostom's words that salvation means "to be left alive". "... salvation means only that one does not perish with one's work, that one is left when one's work perishes". This man will be presented before the Judge "surrounded by fire". Besides, this fire about which the Apostle Paul speaks is only a testing "but not that which the sinners endure for ever". That is to say, clearly St. Mark is here distinguishing the testing fire of judgement, at the Second Coming of Christ, from the everlasting fire of hell. Naturally the fire of judgement is not created, but uncreated. I think this distinction manifests, on the one hand, the trial of the judgement, which is made by Christ Himself, and on the other hand the caustic property of God's energy, which is due to the person's spiritual state.
St. Mark, rejecting the view that the word salvation is not used for what is bad, but only for the good, refers to the relevant passage in Job. The messenger after the catastrophe spoke to Job to tell him about what had happened, saying: "I alone have escaped to tell you" (Job 1, 15). He was saved, preserved from the catastrophe, and said it was in order to give him the bad news.
Consequently, the apostolic word cannot support any purifying fire, as the Latins say. It refers clearly to the coming trial, to the judgement and the preservation of the sinner, that is his coming through the fire without being destroyed together with his evil deeds.
f) Patristic passages in the dialogue
The Latins too used patristic passages during the dialogue in order to support their novel teaching about the purifying fire. This is because the Orthodox were seeking to find out where they found support for their teaching, so strange to the Orthodox Church. But we shall see in what follows that the Latins in fact distorted the passages from the Fathers, as well as the biblical passages.
I am not going to make a lengthy analysis of this side of the subject, but I shall simply comment on it, also drawing the necessary conclusions.
The Latins used "some words from the Fifth Ecumenical Council", in which it seems that there was acceptance of the teaching of St. Augustine and St. Ambrose. Next they used passages from St. Gregory Dialogos, prayers of Basil the Great, sayings of St. Gregory of Nyssa, as well as sayings of Dionysius the Areopagite, Epiphanius and Theorrimonos of Damascus. There is also reference to the blessed Theodorite.
Using all these patristic passages, the Latins came to the conclusion that divine justice does not leave anything unpunished, and therefore there must be another place for those who have not been punished in this life. Nor is it about their being punished in heaven or in Hades, in which they will be punished and purified. After these things the Latins say: "It remains for another place to be set apart where this purification must take place, through which everyone who has become pure is taken up into the heavenly pleasure forthwith".
St. Mark Eugenicus, a bearer of the Orthodox tradition and an authentic witness of the Scriptures and the words of the Fathers, analyses and interprets all these passages according to Orthodoxy, overthrowing the views of the Latins. He demonstrates clearly that not one of these passages from the Fathers says clearly that the so-called purgatory exists. Therefore there is no justification for the Latins to claim the existence of a purgatory. Very simply, in their attempts to fortify it, they alter and misinterpret the patristic words.
Thus St. Mark demonstrates that some of these passages, such as those from St. Augustine and St. Ambrose, are not clearly about the purifying fire, that others are misinterpreted, such as those of Basil the Great, Dionysius the Areopagite, St. John of Damascus, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and so forth.
We must certainly point out that St. Gregory of Nyssa does not speak about a restoration of all things in a philosophical and heretical way, as some contemporary thinkers influenced by the western hermeneutical tradition want to present it, but he is in the Orthodox Church Tradition. We shall see this in another chapter.
Likewise the fact that the Latins use passages from the Fifth Ecumenical Council is also an object of criticism and reproach by St. Mark, who maintains that this great Ecumenical Council is not able to legislate such teachings. Then St. Mark ends sharply: "For neither the scripture nor the fifth of the ecumentical councils has handed down to us a double hell and a double fire".
In his second homily St. Mark analyses this subject thoroughly, presenting various patristic passages that refer to the future without any clear word about a purifying fire, as well as the teaching of St. Gregory of Nyssa and how the Church confronts this serious topic. But here is not the suitable place for going into it.
In general St. Mark affirms that the Latins misunderstand and falsify the patristic teaching about this topic. The Latins do not have orthodox presuppositions for understanding the Fathers of the Church and therefore they miss the mark in their interpretive presentations of them.
Orthodox teaching speaks of the remission of sins and the value of memorial services. The Latins are not really able to grasp these two happenings. In what follows we shall refer briefly to the relevant teaching of the Church.
The remission of sins in the Orthodox Tradition is release from hell and punishment. And this remission takes place in three ways and at three different times. The first is at the time of Baptism, the second is after Baptism through conversion and mourning during the present life, and the third after death, through prayers and beneficences and whatever the Church of Christ performs.
Remission through Baptism is effortless and equal in value in all people. It is a work of grace and no work is required on the part of the person, but only faith. Remission after Baptism is arduous and requires repentance and contrition on the person's part. Remission after death too is arduous, because it is closely connected with repentance "and a conscience that is contrite and suffers from insufficiency of good", but it is free of punishment, since it is not possible for remission and punishment to exist at the same time.
In the first and third remission the grace of God prevails, and prayers contribute, but very little is brought in by us". The intermediate remission is by the grace of God, but more of it is from our own action: "the middle, on the contrary, has little from grace, while the greater part is owing to our labour". Likewise, the first remission, through Holy Baptism, differs from the last, after death, because the first remission is forgiveness of all sins, but the last is remission only of those that are not mortal, and certainly of those over which the person has repented in life.
This is the teaching of the Orthodox Church, as St. Mark says, and therefore it prays for forgiveness for those who have fallen asleep. It asks God to forgive the sins of the penitent Christians who died in the faith, without appointing any punishment because it is aware that in such sins the divine goodness "far outweighs the word of justice". Thus in the Orthodox Church we speak of the goodness of God and not of the satisfaction of divine justice.
Also connected with the remission of sins is the subject of memorial services. The Orthodox Church has memorial services for Christians who have fallen asleep, and prays to God for them, but in a different way and for a different reason from the Latins. In other words, it is not possible for the purifying fire of the Latins to be linked with the memorial service in the Orthodox Church. The former presupposes purification by punishment, the latter presupposes a completion for the person's unfinished journey towards theosis. St. Mark gives interesting information on this subject.
The memorial services in the Orthodox Church are for all the people who have died in the hope of resurrection and with faith in Jesus Christ. And therefore the memorial services and prayers of the Church benefit all those who have died, righteous and unrighteous, saints and sinners. Of course the prayers said are different for each Christian. Even for the saints we have memorial services and offer wheat in their memory, but because we have signs of their holiness and since they have been counted in the list and company of the saints, the prayers differ. We do not ask God to have mercy on them, but we pray "in order to honour and commemorate them"and we ask them to pray for us.
Concerning the benefit of the prayers and memorial services St. Mark writes: "Likewise we pray for all those who have fallen asleep in the faith and we say that these prayers achieve something for all and the power and benefit pass over to all from them". So the prayers are made for all those who have died in the orthodox faith.
The Church prays at first for the sinners, who have been imprisoned in hades, "that they may gain some small comfort, even if not complete release". Prayers are said mainly for those who have died in faith "even if they are very sinful". Indeed there are also cases of saints who have even prayed for the ungodly, but "the church of God by no means prays for such". The sinners and those imprisoned after death in hades benefit from these prayers on the one hand because they have not been definitively condemned and do not yet have the final decision of the tribunal, on the other hand because they have not yet fallen into hell, which will happen after the Second Coming of Christ. If this is effective for sinners, much more do the memorial services and prayers benefit those who have repented but did not have time to be purified completely and for their nous to be illuminated. If these have very small or light sins, they are restored to the inheritance of the righteous or remain where they are, that is to say in hades, and "their troubles are lightened and they return towards more honourable hopes".
But the memorial services and prayers of the Church also benefit the righteous and those who have lived a saintly life. This is a central teaching of our Church. St. Mark affirms that the prayers of the Divine Liturgy show that "the power of these prayers and especially of the mystical sacrifice goes through to those enjoying blessedness from God". This appears in the prayer in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom: "Also we offer to thee this reasonable worship on behalf of those forefathers, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs confessors, ascetics and every righteous spirit who has died in faith". Even if, having prayed for the saints, we do not seek blessings for them, we give thanks for them and "do this for their glory, nevertheless in some way the sacrifice is on their behalf and passes over to them".
In another passage St. Mark analyses more thoroughly what is the benefit of saints being subjected to the fire which is everywhere with God and is His uncreated energy. He writes: "For such a fire shows the saints brighter, like gold tried in the furnace, since they bring no evil deed and mark...". It is plain in this passage, as also in other connections in the holy Fathers, that the saints are illumined more and have a greater capacity for participating in the glory of God.
St. Mark also takes a passage from St. Dionysius the Areopagite, in which it seems that the bishop prays even for those being perfected in the divine life. By citing this passage the saint says that the power of the prayers, and particularly of the mystical sacrifice, also goes "to those who have lived a righteous and holy life". And this is explained because as far as perfection is concerned, even the saints are imperfect and so their capacity for divine glory can increase. He writes: The power of prayers and of the Divine Liturgy also reaches those who have lived a righteous and holy life "since they too are imperfect and always receptive to what contributes towards the good, as they do not yet enjoy perfect blessedness".
So the prayers of the Church reach all, both sinners and righteous, but they work differently, according to the spiritual condition which each has reached in this life. The saint ends by saying: Since the prayers of the Church reach all, we do not need to receive the purifying fire. Purification and salvation are brought about by the goodness and philanthropy of God.
This teaching of St. Mark is orthodox and is found in many patristic texts. We will not go into this in detail here. What must be underlined is that, according to orthodox teaching, there are three stages of spiritual perfection: purification of the heart, illumination of the nous, and theosis. A man's perfecting is incomplete. Man is always susceptible of improvement in his spiritual condition. This movement will continue even in the age to come. Therefore when through repentance a person enters the stage of purification but because of death cannot complete the purification and reach illumination, this can be done through the prayers and memorial services of the Church. That is, there will be an endless increase of participation in the purifying, illuminating and divinising energy of God. This is how we are to understand many occurrences in the lives of saints in which their prayer justified their spiritual children. If we think that justification is illumination of the nous - and of course it is primarily the remission of sins - then we can explain these occurrences.
g) The eternal fire is uncreated
Nowhere in the Fathers is there mention of a punishing fire through which people will pass after their death - chiefly those who have not succeeded in performing their rule. In the teaching of the Fathers, as we have seen, it is clearly said that there are Paradise and Hell after the Second Coming of Christ, and a foretaste of Paradise and Hell after the soul's departure from the body. Until the Second Coming of Christ the Church performs the memorial services, the power of which passes to all those who have died in the faith, whether they are sinners or righteous and holy. Nowhere is it said that there is also a purifying fire for Christians who have repented but not completed the repentance.
St. Mark says that where fire is mentioned in Holy Scripture and the patristic texts it means the eternal fire of Hell, which actually is uncreated and not created. It is not a question of something created, about some created reality, but about the action of God, which is experienced as fire by those who have not been cured.
In one place in his first homily he affirms: "If there is to be encountered in these hymns and prayers any mention of fire, it is not a temporal one that has a purgatorial power, but rather that eternal fire and unceasing punishment, from which the saints pray for the deliverance of those departed in faith ...".
This fire mentioned in texts of the Church is not a temporary one, but the eternal fire. Referring to a passage in St. Gregory the Theologian, he says: "He says that that fire is not temporary and passing, but longer and more painful".
So the fire of hell is not corporeal, created, but uncreated. The light in the worthy is vision of God, says St. Mark. And of course this light is the uncreated glory of God. St. Mark also associates the uncreated light with the fire of hell. He says that the eternal fire is not corporeal, "as it is light for those worthy of the vision of it". Analysing this view, he affirms that the saints of the Church take the eternal fire and unending punishment "rather allegorically". It is a matter of allegory, because the light of the righteous is not corporeal, nor is the fire of the sinners created and corporeal. They are actual facts and true states, but not the states which we know from the world of the senses.
Holy Scripture uses many images to indicate the condition of those punished, such as fire, worms, snakes and the gnashing of teeth. All these express other realities. By fire the saints mean ignorance of God: "that fire there should not be thought of as corporeal nor outer darkness as other than ignorance of God".
Of course when one speaks of ignorance of God, one means not participating in Him, since we realise that the sinners will see God, that is to say they will have a sight of God, but, not participating in Him, they will be ignorant of Him. Knowledge of God in the Orthodox Tradition is participation in God. The worm or some poisonous and flesh-eating genus of reptiles indicate the torment of the immoral by their conscience, and that bitter remorse. The gnashing of teeth means exactly the same, that is to say it indicates the grief, rage and bitter lamentation of those in conflict with themselves.
It is clear then that where there is reference to fire in the ecclesiastical tradition, the eternal and uncreated fire is meant. This means that it is not a question of some temporary purifying fire, but of the experience of uncreated grace as fire because of one's impurity. For just this reason it is not possible that there can be a purifying fire in the Latins' sense.
In general we can say that the teaching of St. Mark Eugenicus, as it appears in his homilies at the Council of Ferarra-Florence, belongs organically to the Tradition of the Orthodox Church concerning a man's life after his soul leaves his body. St. Mark is an authentic interpreter of the orthodox teaching, because he himself is a bearer of the Orthodox Tradition. Thus it is demonstrated that the purifying fire of the Latins is an empty doctrine, a new teaching, a novel belief which cannot be adopted by the Orthodox Church. On this matter too St. Mark proves to be an authentic interpreter of the Orthodox Tradition.
3. What is the source of the Latins' teaching about the purifying fire
An interesting point in our study is to find the reasons that led the Latins to the teaching about the purifying fire. This is necessary, because, as we believe, the appearance of this teaching is not fortuitous.
We must point out that, as it appears from our study, the teaching about a purifying fire is an organic part of the Latins' whole theology and is developed entirely within that atmosphere. So it is not a chance event, but a symptom of the theology of the West as it has been developed in the course of its severance from orthodox theology. We have already had occasion to look into this in previous analyses, but now we shall study it more extensively and analytically.
We can point out five factors which brought western theological thought to the teaching about a purifying fire.
First, the lack of a neptic theology. Western theology, by its withdrawal from orthodox theology, especially from the neptic tradition about purity of heart, illumination of the nous and the vision of God, prepared the way for the teaching about the purifying fire.
This is said in the light of the fact that in the hesychastic-neptic theology of the Orthodox Church one speaks of the energy of God, which, as a fire, purifies man. In view of its action the grace of God also acquires a special name, it is called a purifying, illuminating and deifying energy. In other words, when the uncreated energy of God purifies a man it is called purifying, when it illuminates him it is called illuminating and when it deifies him it is called deifying.
Christ Himself said: "I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!" (Luke 12, 49). The Apostle Paul writes: "For our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12, 29).
St. John of the Ladder, expressing the whole neptic tradition on this subject, says that we experience the grace of God first as fire, a flame, and then as light. The supracelestial fire, when it comes to dwell in the heart, sets some people ablaze because of the insufficiency of their purification and illuminates others "according to the degree of their perfection". This same fire is called "both a consuming and an illuminating fire". Therefore some have come from their prayer as if from a flaming furnace, feeling relieved from uncleanness, and others, when they have finished their prayer, feel as if they were coming out illuminated and had put on the garment of lowliness and rejoicing.
At another point St. John of the Ladder says that we take great pains until God's fire enters into our sanctuary, our heart. God, who is a fire, consumes "all lusts, all stirrings of passion, all predispositions, and all hardness of heart, and darkness both within and without, both visible and spiritual".
Generally, the whole ecclesiastical tradition speaks of the fire which enters the heart, that is to say the uncreated grace of God which one feels in one's heart burning up the passions. This fire is uncreated, that is to say, it is the uncreated grace of God, which burns up the passions, purifies the heart, and therefore is called the purifying grace, and this takes place during a man's struggle to be cured. It is essentially the first stage in the spiritual life. Likewise this same fire, the purifying grace of God, will work in those who have fallen asleep who have entered the stage of purification but have not had time to be purified. Thus through the memorial services and prayers of the Church, as we said before, the person is purified and ascends into the stages of spiritual perfection, where, moreover, the perfection is never-ending.
Since the Latins had lost the neptic theology and did not experience these states empirically, they misunderstood the patristic texts. They were certain that the texts of Holy Scripture and the holy Fathers are speaking of a fire which purifies a man, and that this continues even after death for those who have already entered repentance, the stage of purification; and since they did not have spiritual experience of this teaching, they misinterpreted the patristic passages. Thus they came to speak of a created fire of punishment, through which men will pass. But it is clear that the term has another meaning in orthodox patristic teaching.
A second reason for the appearance of the teaching about the purifying fire is the identification of essence and energy in God, which has brought about many evils in the West.
From orthodox theology we know well that God has essence and energy. If the essence is uncreated its energy is also uncreated, if the essence is created, then also its energy is created. The essence of God is uncreated, and so we say that His energy is uncreated. Love, peace, justice, and so forth are energies of God, which are certainly not impersonal, but personal, since it is impossible for energy to exist without a person, by reason of the fact that he who acts is the person. This theological truth protects us from many dangers and from heretical deviations.
This distinction is not made in the West. The scholastic theologists, in their effort to maintain the simplicity of God and at the same time to keep intact the distinction between God and the world, identify God's energy with His essence, calling Him `actus purus' (pure energy), and at the same time consider the providential and saving energy of God as created. In this way God, according to western theology, has no actual relationship with the world in His uncreated energy, but only through created means and created energies. But this teaching impairs the whole basis and content of man's salvation.
If we examine carefully all the differences between the Orthodox Church and that of the Latins, we shall be convinced that they are due to this crucial theological question. Precisely this also appears in the teaching of the Latins about the purifying fire. At first they speak about the experience of the purifying fire, which is created, since God has no direct communication with created things, and as a result they speak of the vision of the uncreated essence of God by those who have been purified. That is to say, when men have passed through the purifying fire, they reach the vision of the essence of God. But this teaching, apart from the others, inasmuch as it speaks of salvation, necessarily removes the distinction between created and uncreated, between nature and grace.
In the Orthodox Church, however, salvation is identified with man's participation in the uncreated deifying grace and energy of God. Here salvation is real and God remains God.
Third, the teaching about the purifying fire is a consequence of the whole Franco-Latin tradition as it is expressed by the so-called scholastic theology. Actually, as we have also said before, scholastic theology, which disengaged itself from the empirical, hesychastic and neptic theology of the Orthodox Church, has done a great deal of harm in the West.
According to Western theology, which was based on St. Augustine, the ancestral sin is inherited from Adam by all the descendants, and God's justice has condemned all mankind to Hell and prescribed the penalty of death. Therefore, according to the Franco-Latin tradition, hell and death are a punishment by God and not an illness, as the Orthodox Church teaches.
As a consequence of this teaching, the Franco-Latins were led into the theory of punishment and a purifying fire. The Franks, since they believed that the punished do not see God, considered the fire of hell as created. It is in this light that we must see Dante's Hell, where the sinners will be tormented by the created fire of Hell. Thus the Franco-Latins imagine the world as three-storeyed, made up of the unchanging heaven for the fortunate, the changing earth for the testing of men and the changing underworld for those punished and being purified.
Of course the Franco-Latins, as we have said before, also speak of the vision of the essence of God by the righteous and the purified. In other words, by their grace and their reason, those saved will see God and the archetypes of beings, which exist in Him. By this vision of the divine essence the souls will be released from desire, passion, and changing, and so will become unchangingly happy. Needless to say, the Orthodox Church does not accept these views, since the achetypes of beings do not exist in God. God creates, foresees and saves the world by His uncreated energy.
Likewise the Franco-Latins did not understand apophatic theology correctly; they took it more as a theology of conjecture. In Orthodox theology the glory of God is put in terms of opposites: light and dark, fire and darkness. The first antithesis is about the glory of the righteous, the second is about the state of sinners. These antitheses are used not because antitheses exist in God, but in order to express the truth that there is no likeness between the uncreated glory of God and created things.
In any case these presuppositions of the Franco-Latins led western theologians into a teaching about a purifying fire, by which the sinners and penitents will be punished so that in that way they may attain the vision of the essence of God. Therefore we maintain that the Latins' dogma about a purifying fire is not independent of the basic structures of the scholastic theology of the West.
A fourth reason is the Latins' teaching about satisfying divine justice. According to Anselm of Canterbury the requirement to punish man and the requirement to save him are a necessity of the divine nature. Contrary to the teaching of the Fathers, who speak of sin as an illness and salvation as God's love, through which a man's cure is achieved with his own cooperation, Anselm speaks of offending God's justice and of atoning for it.
Such a view on the part of the Latins about man's salvation was subsequently to lead them to the teaching about the purifying fire, to the teaching about man's punishment so that God might be appeased. Naturally this teaching distorts the whole spiritual life, since it makes it a commercial transaction and sets up relations of offended and fallen.
A fifth cause of the appearance of the teaching about the purifying fire is the politico-economic connection of Popery. Since the Franco-Latins lost the empirical theology of the eastern Church and disengaged themselves from the neptic-hesychast tradition of the Orthodox Church, it was natural for them to fall into anthropocentric conditions. The feudalistic conception of the composition of the community, the passion for building and economic rise, the clash with the political authority, and so forth, contributed to the dogma of a purifying fire. In this way too the people are held down, but the "Church"is helped in the reconstruction of buildings.
The connecting of the purifying fire with material offerings brought the people's disenchantment with the Popery. It is said that the purifying fire, the so-called purgatory, was invented for the completion of the temple of the Apostle Peter in Rome and the upkeep of the Papal palace. But it must be observed that the dogma of the purifying fire was not invented simply to exploit the people, because, as we have said before, it is in line with the Franco-Latins' scholastic theology. Nevertheless it was used for economic reasons as well.
After this analysis we can end with the following conclusion. Just as Orthodox theology constitutes a unity - I would say a circle -and when one approaches a point on the circle one meets the whole circle, the same is true also in Franco-Latin theology. All of its novel dogmas are interrelated and are defined on the same basis.
This means that the loss of hesychastic theology and the discarding of therapeutic and empirical theology, have brought many evils to the West. The dogma of the purifying fire is not unrelated to the loss of the teaching about the inseparable distinction of essence and energy in God.
The purifying fire is a fruit and result of the scholastic theology of the Franco-Latins and has no relationship to Orthodox theology as Christ taught it, the Apostles lived it and the holy Fathers handed it down to us.
Web-Editor Note! Recommended reading regarding the Council: THE HISTORY OF THE COUNCIL OF FLORENCE, by Ivan N. Ostroumoff, translated from the Russian by Basil Popoff. Published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Boston, MA