Sungenis vs. White on Purgatory

Just a couple of words on the Sungenis vs. White debate on Purgatory (beginning missing, but see parts 1 and 2 here and here). In my judgment the debate was rather even on 1 Cor 3, but it focused on it too much, precisely its openness to interpretations requires that it be put in a larger context of Scripture and Tradition. Here I must say that White did a better job, he problematized the doctrine in the light of the development of dogma, which Sungenis didn’t really address (eg. by discussing the patristic evidence in depth).

White’s biggest problems seemed to be his terminological distinctions, first of all the idea of legal punishment as opposed to disciplinary punishment. To me he seemed to have a double standard using this criterion – it only works against Catholicism (there “punishment” immediately means “legal punishment”) but for his own position (there punishment can be fatherly discipline). The Calvinistic distinctions between different sorts of judgments also seem a bit contrived sometimes.

On the other hand, I couldn’t believe that Sungenis would attack White on the basis of distinctions and different judgments. As White pointed out, Catholic theology is full of all kinds of distinctions unknown to early Christian theology. And the claim that for the Catholic Church there is only one judgment, the final one, is simply false, and in fact completely destructive to a defense of Purgatory, to which (according to standard Catholic theology) people are consigned at the particular judgment at their death rather than the final judgment, after which there is only eternal life or eternal death.

The most interesting part of the debate was Sungenis’ rather liberal comment that he believes White will go to heaven. White interpreted that, giving Sungenis the benefit of the doubt, in preconciliar terms as conversion to Catholicism. That, however, doesn’t seem to be what Sungenis meant. It sounded much more like a postconciliar statement to the effect that the Holy Spirit works salvifically in non-Catholic Christians as well.

This raises interesting questions. If one can be saved even though one consciously and publicly opposed Catholic dogmas, then dogmas are not necessary for salvation, in which case they are no longer dogmas in the traditional sense. In other words, Purgatory might exist, and we might even have good reasons to think it exists, but if we follow the logic of Vatican II, its dogmatic status has been relativized if not done away with.

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Explore posts in the same categories: James R. White, Robert Sungenis

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