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.