Chapter One: Grace and Devotion to Mary
Chapter Two: Mary, Holy Objects and God
Chapter Three: Primary Teachings - Mary the Virgin
Chapter Four: Mary and Jesus
Chapter Five: Deeper Teachings -
Chapter Six: Teachings Not Yet Declared Dogmas -
Jesus and Mary
A Mediator with our Mediator
Chapter Seven: Final Thoughts and Reflections
of the Holy Spirit
of Jesus Made Present
and Church Unity
Consecration to Mary Individual and
Litany of Mary's Faith Journey
© Copyright, J. Roy MacIntyre 2009
A scripture (1Cor 15: 29), noted above, suggests that the Corinthians engaged in the practice of Baptizing those who had died before they could hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. Since scripture cannot be rejected what can we learn from this passage. Well, for one thing it is clear that early Christians believed it was possible to intercede for the departed Ė even be Baptized on their behalf.
The above quote from 1 Corinthians 15 is not the first suggestion of prayer for the dead found in the Scriptures. In the Second Book of Maccabees, a book written about 120 years before the birth of Jesus, there are a number of Good News doctrines taught. In the seventh (verse 9) and fourteenth (verse 46) chapters there is reference to the resurrection of the dead. The teaching of punishment or reward in the afterlife appears in Chapter six (verse 26). The value of martyrdom is portrayed from verse 18 of chapter 6 to verse 41 of chapter 7. The intercessory power of the saints is noted in the fifteenth chapter when both a High Priest and the Prophet Jeremiah are described as praying much for the people of the Holy City. Finally, of course, is the reference to the prayer for the dead in chapter 12 (41-46).
This last passage noted above describes how many slain Jewish fighters were found with amulets of an idol under their tunics. This was understood as the reason for their defeat. However, the Jewish general and High Priest, Judas Maccabees and his army gave themselves in prayer that the sin of their dead companions be fully blotted out. He then took up a collection and sent it to Jerusalem to have a sacrifice for sin offered on behalf of those who had died preparing them for the coming resurrection of the dead.
The Second Book of Maccabbes was written about forty years after the Book of Daniel. This and other books were included in the book of Scriptures circulating at the time of Jesus know as the Septuagint. Rabbis began gathering up what they could of the books of the Torah and the Prophets but only included books up to the book of Daniel. This was translated between the seventh and tenth centuries. It was this version of the Bible known as the Masoretic Text that Martin Luther used for his biblical canon for the Old Testament. For this reason most Protestant Bibles do not include several biblical books found in the Septuagint.
I find it interesting that the only biblical book that speaks of the Jewish feast of lights, Hanukkah is Second Macabees. Hanukkah is definitely one of the feasts the Jesus celebrated living among his people and observing the laws and feast of the Jewish religion. There is even an artefact from about 2000 years ago depicting the Menorah which is lit over the seven days of the celebration of the feast of lights. This of course is more evidence that the book of Macabees was considered canonical the people of God at the time of Jesus.
It should be noted that the Old Testament quotations in the New Testament all come from the Septuagint. The Dead Sea Scrolls have been shown to be closer to the Septuagint than to the Masoretic Text. In other words the text used by Martin Luther was not as accurate as the Bible translated from the Septuagint. Nevertheless, most modern translations use a comparative process so there is not that much difference in the different translations today. The big difference is the missing books in the Protestant Bibles.
The doctrines taught in the Second Book of Maccabbes prophetically prepare the people before the birth of Christ for His teachings. For this reason, the early Church Fathers recognized its divine inspiration and therefore included it as part of the so-called second canon or the deutero-canonical books of the Old Testament.
We recognize that the people of the time of Jesus already knew something of the need for atonement for their sins. Two New Testament scriptures that highlight this teaching are found in Mt 5:26 (& Lk 12:59) and 1Cor 3:15. In the Matthew and Luke texts we read that unless we make amends with the person who has something against us we will be cast into the prison and not be released until we have paid the last penny. What could this scripture mean? Is Jesus talking about a worldly adversary or a spiritual one?
Letís look at Matthew 5:26 and Luke 12:59 from a worldly perspective. If we owe something to someone, or have libelled someone or generally that someone has something against us we should try to work it out with the person before that person takes us to court. Thus we avoid being brought before the judge and placed in prison. But Jesus in both scriptures adds, "I assure you, you will not be released until you have paid the very last penny." This is an absolute statement which seems to go beyond a mere case of owing a debt to someone.
If we look at the above mentioned texts from a spiritual perspective it seems more consistent. If we have harmed or are in debt to someone in thought, word or deed we have sinned. If we ask God for forgiveness yet have not made amends to the person we are free of sin but still in debt. This is the case of David (2Sam 12:13) who was forgiven by God of his sin of lust and murder but still owed a debt that would be paid in the death of the child of Bathsheba and strife in his family through the rest of his life. Here we can clearly see there is a difference between the forgiveness of and the repercussion that comes out of sin.
The idea of a difference between a sin and its effects can be illustrated in the case of the rape of a woman. A sincerely asked for forgiveness will be forgiven by God and perhaps even by the woman. But the woman is likely to continue to feel the painful psychological, emotional and even physical suffering from the act. So, the sin may be forgiven but its bad effects require something more to attain resolution or healing.
Letís take another example. Suppose a person severs anotherís limb. He may ask forgiveness but it does not give the victim his limb back. So if one is forgiven a sin by God but makes no effort to make amends or compensate for the wrong and subsequently dies before doing so, what comes of him in terms of Godís justice? He still has a debt due to sin even if the sin itself is forgiven.
It is suggested by some that Jesus took all our sin on Himself on the cross (2Cor 5:21) and that he has paid our debt (Acts 20:27) therefore we have nothing to pay. However, Jesus also says that we will have to answer for every idle word (Mt 12:36). This implies some retribution for our wrongdoing. In this same vein, St. Paul, in talking about peopleís ministry, suggests that Christian teachers will build the Church with different materials but that all will not survive the testing with fire. To those who teach something less than, or contrary to the Gospel, Paul says they will be saved but only as through fire (1Cor 3:15). In fact, he says they will suffer loss. Therefore, even though Jesus has paid our debts, we too, may have to atone for the harm we may have caused.
It could be argued that the loss would be a lessened reward in Heaven. However, we will receive reward for the good works we do on earth and even if we do wrong the reward of our good works can not be taken away by our just God. On the other hand, if we do moral harm and have not made amends for the wrong we have done what happens to this debt when we die? Again our just God canít pretend it did not happen Ė one must atone for the harmful effects of our sin.
Let me try to illustrate my point about teachers building with something other than the Gospel with two historical examples. In the late third and fourth centuries there was a Christian teacher named Pelagius. He taught that man could be saved by his own efforts Ė by his good works. His basic premise was that man was made good and of himself could do good and live a Godly life. This teaching has recently been revived by some people such as a man named Matthew Fox. He focuses on Manís "Original Blessedness" while dismissing Original Sin. The Bible teaches clearly that all have sinned and therefore are in need of redemption. So, Pelagius was incorrect in his teaching. What could be the consequence of this erroneous teaching for the man since St. Paul say he would suffer loss. He did not seem to lose anything in this life.
Martin Luther, on the other hand, in the 16th century taught that man was inherently evil because of the fall of Adam. In fact, he is quoted as saying "sin bravely" since sin was inevitable for human beings. His assertion, in the opposite direction of Pelagius, was that man, by faith alone, could know that he is saved. Luther, in fact, inserted "alone" after the word faith in Rm 3, 28 in his first translation of the Bible. He also eliminated the Letter of James since it clearly stated, as do the Gospels, that one was also obligated to do good works while working out oneís salvation. Fortunately, the Letter of James is now included in all Bibles. Nevertheless, Luther taught something different than the Gospels. Where were the consequences of this erroneous teaching for Luther?
In each of the historical cases cited above one can see that the teacher has added something of his own teaching to the Gospel. St. Paul implies that believers who alter the Scripture message will be saved but only as through fire and that they will suffer loss. Where is this retribution to take place? The Church has taught for nearly 2000 years that such a salvation as through fire takes place in purgatory, a place of purification. The idea of this place of purification is also implied in the writings in the Scriptures in use prior to the time of jesus.
The very existence of Second Maccabees attests to the beliefs of the people prior to the coming of Christ in the various ways noted above; prayer for the dead, making atonement for the departed, the intercession of the Saints and so forth. Since the book was consistent with the oral and written Tradition of the early Church it was recognized as part of the history of the revelation of God to His people and as such a canonical book. People may choose to reject this book but they cannot deny that the beliefs of the people living before the time of Christ are consistent with the teaching of the Church from the earliest time.
It should be noted that it was not just the books of the Septuagint that were referred to in the New Testament; the letter of Jude makes reference to the apocryphal books, Assumption of Moses and Enoch. There were many such books circulating around the time of the early Church but the teaching of Second Maccabees was considered a necessary part of the canon of the Bible and so is included.
So, like Judas Maccabees, we too can pray for those who have died and are being tested in fire where they are purified sufficiently to enter the presence of God. Let me say that the fire in purgatory, although in many ways consistent with physical fire, is actually the fire of love and remorse arising from knowing fully how we have offend the infinitely merciful and loving God. Maccabees says that it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead Ė those suffering in their purification. In fact, praying for the dead is considered to be the greatest charity since the poor souls in purgatory can do nothing to hasten their own purification and therefore are completely dependent on our intercession and atoning sacrifices.
We can make atonement for the holy souls in purgatory by prayer, acts of charity in the name of those in purgatory, offering our daily crosses for them and having prayers said for them, most especially the Eucharist. I should note that even the souls in purgatory can pray for us. Therefore we can ask the assistance of their prayers which many have found to be powerful and efficacious.