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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 13

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 13.—Against the Opinion of Those Who Think that the Punishments of the Wicked After Death are Purgatorial.

The Platonists, indeed, while they maintain that no sins are unpunished, suppose that all punishment is administered for remedial purposes, 1519 be it inflicted by human or divine law, in this life or after death; for a man may be scathless here, or, though punished, may yet not amend.  Hence that passage of Virgil, where, when he had said of our earthly bodies and mortal members, that our souls derive—

“Hence wild desires and grovelling fears,

And human laughter, human tears;

Immured in dungeon-seeming night,

They look abroad, yet see no light,”

goes on to say:

“Nay, when at last the life has fled,

And left the body cold and dead,

Ee’n then there passes not away

The painful heritage of clay;

Full many a long-contracted stain

Perforce must linger deep in grain.

So penal sufferings they endure

For ancient crime, to make them pure;

Some hang aloft in open view,

For winds to pierce them through and through,

While others purge their guilt deep-dyed

In burning fire or whelming tide.” 1520

They who are of this opinion would have all punishments after death to be purgatorial; and as the elements of air, fire, and water are superior to earth, one or other of these may p. 464 be the instrument of expiating and purging away the stain contracted by the contagion of earth.  So Virgil hints at the air in the words, “Some hang aloft for winds to pierce;” at the water in “whelming tide;” and at fire in the expression “in burning fire.”  For our part, we recognize that even in this life some punishments are purgatorial,—not, indeed, to those whose life is none the better, but rather the worse for them, but to those who are constrained by them to amend their life.  All other punishments, whether temporal or eternal, inflicted as they are on every one by divine providence, are sent either on account of past sins, or of sins presently allowed in the life, or to exercise and reveal a man’s graces.  They may be inflicted by the instrumentality of bad men and angels as well as of the good.  For even if any one suffers some hurt through another’s wickedness or mistake, the man indeed sins whose ignorance or injustice does the harm; but God, who by His just though hidden judgment permits it to be done, sins not.  But temporary punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by others after death, by others both now and then; but all of them before that last and strictest judgment.  But of those who suffer temporary punishments after death, all are not doomed to those everlasting pains which are to follow that judgment; for to some, as we have already said, what is not remitted in this world is remitted in the next, that is, they are not punished with the eternal punishment of the world to come.



Plato’s own theory was that punishment had a twofold purpose, to reform and to deter.  “No one punishes an offender on account of the past offense, and simply because he has done wrong, but for the sake of the future, that the offense may not be again committed, either by the same person or by any one who has seen him punished.”—See the Protagoras, 324, b, and Grote’s Plato, ii. 41.


Æneid, vi. 733.

Next: Chapter 14

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