Allan Kardec

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1. The Gospels make no mention of Purgatory, which was not admitted by the Church until the year 593 of our era. The idea of Purgatory is certainly more rational and more in conformity with the justice of God, since it established a penal code of less severity, and provides for the redemption of the minor sorts of wrongdoing.

The idea of Purgatory is, therefore, based on the principle of equity; it is, in the sphere of spirit- life, what temporary imprisonment is in the earthly life, in comparison with perpetual imprisonment. What would be thought of the justice of a code that should punish the greatest crimes and the slightest transgressions, indiscriminately, with the penalty of death? Unless there is a Purgatory, there can be only two alternatives for all souls; supreme happiness, or eternal torment. What, according to this hypothesis, becomes of the souls who have only been guilty of minor transgressions? They must either share the happiness of the elect without having attained perfection, or they must suffer the same punishment as the very greatest criminals without having done anything terribly wrong, which would be neither just nor reasonable.

2. But the notion of Purgatory was necessarily incomplete when it gained importance, for humanity at that time had no other idea of Hell than that of fire and they therefore naturally conceived of Purgatory as a lesser and shorter Hell; they supposed that souls were burned there, but with a burning less intense. And as the idea of progress is irreconcilable with the dogma of eternal punishment, they held that souls are delivered from Purgatory not as a consequence of their own moral improvement, but as an effect of the prayers that are said or paid for, by their friends on Earth for their deliverance.

The primary idea of Purgatory was true and good; but the same cannot be said of the consequences deduced from it, and the abuses of which it has thus become the source. Through the custom of paying for prayers on behalf of the souls in Purgatory, this doctrine has become a mine even more productive to those who work it than that of Hell. *

* The doctrine of Purgatory has also given rise to the scandalous sale of indulgences, which pretend to enable people to purchase, with money, their entrance into Heaven. This gross abuse was the determining cause of the Reformation, and led to the rejection of the idea of Purgatory by Luther.

3. The site of Purgatory has never been determined, nor has the nature of the punishment endured therein ever been clearly defined. It was reserved for the new revelation to supply this lack by explaining the causes of the miseries of human life, the justice and aim of which can only be shown by the light that is thrown on the subject by the plurality of our existences.

Those miseries are necessarily a consequence of the imperfections of the soul; for, if the soul were perfect it would not do wrong, and would not have to undergo the sufferings which are the consequence of wrongdoing. Those, who, for instance, should be sober and moderate in all things, would not fall a prey to the maladies that are engendered by excess. Those who are unhappy are so, usually, through their own fault; but their imperfections are evidently a quality that they brought with them at birth, and which they must therefore have possessed before they came into the earthly life; they have, consequently, to expiate not only the faults they commit in their present life, but also the faults of their anterior lives for which they have not yet made reparation; they endure, in a life of troubles and trials, the wrongs they have caused others to endure in some previous existence. The vicissitudes that they undergo are for them, both a temporary punishment and a warning against the imperfections of which they must cure themselves, if they would avoid having to undergo similar vicissitudes in the future and advance on the road to perfection. The troubles of human life are so many lessons for the soul; lessons often hard to bear but that are all the more profitable for its future, in proportion to the depth of the impression left by them: they give rise to incessant struggles that develop its moral and intellectual faculties and strengthen it in the pursuit of goodness, and from which it always emerges victorious if it has had the courage to persevere in its efforts to the end. It reaps the reward of its victory in the spirit-life, into which it enters radiant and triumphant, like the soldier who returns from the battlefield to receive the conqueror’s palm.

4. Each successive existence affords the soul an opportunity of advancing a step on the road of progress; the length of the step thus accomplished depends on its own will, for it may make a considerable advance or it may remain stationary. In the latter case, its sufferings will have been sterile; and, as each soul must pay its debt sooner or later, it will have to begin a new existence under conditions still more painful, because, to the stain of its previous lives, which it has failed to efface, it has added a new stain.

It is, therefore, by means of its successive incarnations that the soul gradually works itself clear of its imperfections, that it purges itself from them, so to say, until it is sufficiently purified to have acquired the right to quit the world of expiation and to incarnate itself in worlds of a progressively happier nature, each of which it will subsequently quit so that, eventually, it may enter into the regions of supreme happiness.

Purgatory, when thus explained, is no longer a vague and uncertain hypothesis; it is a physical reality which we see and touch, and to which we are, even now, subjected; for Purgatory is nothing else than the worlds of expiation and the Earth, as yet, is one of those worlds; worlds in which human beings expiate their past and their present, for the advancement of their future happiness. But, contrary to the idea usually entertained in regard to Purgatory, each of us can abridge or prolong our stay in it, according to the degree of progress and purification to which we have attained as the result of our efforts at self-improvement; and we come out of it, not because we have finished our time or through the merits of somebody else, but as the reward of our own individual merits, in virtue of the principle set forth in the declaration of Christ: — “To each, according to his works;” a declaration which sums up the entire code of the Divine justice.

5. Those who suffer in the present life should therefore say to themselves that they suffer because they failed to purify themselves thoroughly in their preceding existence, and that, if they fail to accomplish their purification in their present life, they will suffer again in their next existence. And this is both just and reasonable. Suffering being inherent in imperfection, we suffer as long as we remain imperfect; just as we suffer from disease until we are cured of it. Thus, so long as human beings remain proud, so long will they suffer from the consequences of their pride; so long as they remain selfish, so long will they suffer from the consequences of their selfishness.

6. The guilty spirit suffers, first, in the spirit-life, in proportion to the degree of its imperfections; and, next, in the return to terrestrial life which is granted to it as a means of repairing its past wrongdoing; and it is to this end that it finds itself thrown into the society of those whom it has wronged, or placed in the midst of surroundings similar to those in which it did the wrongdoing that it has to expiate, or in a situation which is its opposite: as, for example, in a state of poverty, if the spirit has made a bad use of riches, or in a humble position, if it has been proud.

As previously remarked, the spirit’s expiation of wrongdoing is effected both in the spirit-world and also upon the Earth; the expiation of the earthly life is only the continuation and complement of the expiation which had been previously begun by it in the spirit-world, and is imposed on it in order to help forward its improvement, by giving it the opportunity of putting into practice the lessons it has learned; it is for the spirit to profit by the opportunity thus afforded it. Is it not better for it to come back to Earth, with the possibility of eventually winning entrance into Heaven, than to be condemned to everlasting misery, on quitting the earthly life? The new opportunity thus given to the spirit of working out its own purification, and consequent happiness, is a proof of the wisdom, the goodness, and the justice of God, who wills that each spirit incarnated in a human body should owe everything to its own efforts, and should be the artificer of its future; if it be unhappy, for a longer or shorter period, it has only itself to blame for it, and, whatever may be the intensity or duration of the suffering it may have brought upon itself, the door of repentance, amendment, and rehabilitation is always open for it.

7. On considering how great is the suffering of certain guilty spirits in the invisible world, how terrible is the situation of some of them, to what harrowing anxieties they are a prey, and how much their sufferings are intensified by their inability to foresee the end of them, we might well apply the term Hell to express the abyss of suffering and horror in which they find themselves, were it not that this word has been adopted as implying the idea of an eternal and physical punishment. Thanks to the light that has been thrown on this subject by the higher spirits, and to the examples that they placed before us by the ostensible communication now being generalized between incarnate and discarnate souls, we know that the duration of expiation is subordinate to the amendment of the wrongdoer.

8. Spiritism, therefore, does not deny the doctrine of the future punishment of the guilty; on the contrary, it asserts, explains, and justifies that doctrine. What Spiritism denies and destroys is the idea of a localized, physical Hell, with its fires and pitchforks, of unpardonable sins and eternal punishment. It does not deny the reality of Purgatory, for it proves that the world in which we now find ourselves is, in fact, a Purgatory, that is to say, a place of punishment and discipline; and, by the explanation it thus furnishes of the sorrows and trials of the earthly life, it defines and gives precision to the vague idea that has been previously put forth in regard to Purgatory, and, by so doing, renders it credible and acceptable to those by whom it was formerly rejected.

Does Spiritism reject the idea of praying for the dead? It does just the contrary, since the suffering spirits earnestly implore of us to pray for them; it shows us that to do so is one of the duties imposed on us by charity, and it also shows us the effectiveness of prayer as a means of bringing them back to goodness, and, thus, of shortening their sufferings. * Addressing its doctrines to our human intelligence, Spiritism gives religious belief to the unbelieving; it proves the value of prayer to those who formerly mocked at it. But Spiritism also shows that the effectiveness of prayer is in the thought it embodies and not in the words in which it is clothed, that the most efficacious prayers are those of the heart and not of the lips, those which are offered of our own volition, and not those which we cause to be said by others for money.

* Vide “The Gospel According to Spiritism,” chap. XXVII, Action of Prayer.

9. Whether the chastisement of the guilty takes place in spirit-life or upon the Earth, and whatever its duration, it has always a term, more or less near, more or less distant. There are, therefore, for a spirit, only two alternatives, viz., temporary punishment, proportioned to the degree of culpability, and reward, proportioned to merit. Spiritism rejects the third alternative, viz., that of eternal damnation. It regards hell as a symbol of the severest forms of suffering endured by certain spirits, and of which the termination is unforeseen by them; but it regards Purgatory as a reality.

The word Purgatory suggests the idea of a circumscribed locality, and it is therefore more appropriately applied to Earth, considered as a place of expiation, than to the infinity of space in which suffering spirits undergo the expiations of the discarnate state; moreover, the earthly life is, by its very nature, a veritable expiation.

When human beings shall have grown better, they will furnish only good spirits to the invisible world; and these spirits, on incarnating themselves on Earth, will furnish only improved elements to the human race. Earth will then cease to be a world of expiation, and its human inhabitants will no longer have to endure the miseries that are the consequence of their present imperfection. This transformation is being effected at the present day; its accomplishment will raise the Earth to a higher rank in the hierarchy of worlds. (Vide “The Gospel According to Spiritism,” chap. III.)

10. Why did Christ not speak of Purgatory? Because, the idea of Purgatory had not then been conceived by the human mind, and there was, consequently, no word by which to express it. He employed the word hell, the only one then in use, as a generic term, to designate the entire subject of future punishment in general, without reference to details. If, in contradistinction to the word hell he had employed another word equivalent to purgatory, he would have been unable to define its precise meaning without opening up a question that was reserved for the future; and he would also have appeared to declare the existence of two regions especially devoted to punishment. The word hell, in its general acceptation, suggestive of the idea of punishment, necessarily implied the idea of purgatory, which is only one of the modes of penalty. The future, being destined to enlighten humankind in regard to the nature of future punishment, was also destined, in so doing, to reduce the idea of hell to its true proportions.

The fact that the Church, after the lapse of six centuries, considered it necessary to supplement the teaching of Jesus by asserting the existence of Purgatory is an admission, on the part of theologians, that he did not reveal everything during his sojourn upon the Earth. Why, then, should not his teachings be progressively supplemented in regard to other points?

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