Book Review: “Purgatory: Explained by the Lives and Legends of the Saints”

Last New Year’s Eve, I was browsing some books at home in Bacolod and I stumbled on a black book with a white cross like the mantle of the Knights Hospitallers of St. John: “Purgatory: Explained by the Lives and Legends of the Saints” by Fr. F. X. Schouppe, S.J.  The imprimatur was issued in 1893, so this must be a very old book, though the edition that I have was published by TAN in 1986.

The pocket book is divided into two parts.  Part I is the Mystery of God’s Justice.  Part II is the Mystery of God’s Mercy.  The first part have 41 chapters; the second, 65.  But do not let the number of chapters discourage you: each chapter do not exceed 5 pages.  And the prints are large like that of Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys.  So this 430-page treatise on purgatory is an easy read.

The book opens with fire: “Let him be anathema.”  In pages vi to vii, Fr. Shouppe immediately lists down the pertinent Canons of the Council of Trent (1547-1551) regarding Purgatory.  For those of us who still plan to set aside the doctrine of Purgatory, the threat of anathema (let him be handed over to Satan) is enough to make us think thrice.  (Vatican II, in contrast, was a pastoral council and no anathemas were hurled.)

But despite the anathemas, the book’s writing style is simple, because it was meant to instruct the simple–the children and the child-like.  Thus, we should not expect the rigor of proof like that of St. Thomas’s “Summa Theologiae”.  Rather, we should read it as if we are reading St. Louis de Montfort’s masterpiece: “The Secret of the Rosary.”

The first sentences of each chapter of the book are usually the main point.  The next paragraphs are doctrines, teachings, and stories illustrating such point.  The dogmatic doctrines of the church regarding Purgatory must be believed by all Catholics.  The teachings of doctors and theologians we may disagree, but it would be ” imprudent, and even rash, to reject them, and it is in the spirit of the church to follow the opinions commonly held by the doctors.”  The revelations of saints we may also disbelieve, but since they are authenticated, “we cannot freely reject them  without offending against reason; because sound reason demands that all men should give assent to truth when it is sufficiently demonstrated.”  These distinctions Fr. Schouppe explained in his Preface.

Today, we have forgotten about sin and the effects of sin on the soul, which must be paid to the last penny either in this age or in the age to come.  We have forgotten about our dead relatives who languished long in Purgatory with no one to pray for them.  We have forgotten how our little works here on earth, such as as simply abstaining from water between meals, can assuage the suffering of our departed brethren.  We have forgotten about the power of the rosary, the scapular, and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We have forgotten that we too shall die.  And the cure for our forgetfulness? Fr. Schouppe’s “Purgatory.”

This book is a masterpiece.