Why this is Purgatory, nor am I out of it…
From Rev'd Dr Peter Mullen:
Pope Francis is turning out to be the new Elvis. Hear him on Copacabana beach offering the kids time off purgatory if they will follow him on Twitter. This morning the BBC characteristically sneered at this gesture as 'medieval'. I’m not sure if they meant the doctrine of purgatory as medieval or Twitter. I would gladly spend more time in purgatory if this enabled me to avoid Twitter, Facebook, Ipods, Youpods and portable phones in general.
Of course Anglicans take their traditionally high-minded attitude towards purgatory, reviling it in the XXXIX Articles as 'the Romish doctrine'. Interestingly, John Henry Newman – before he jumped ship – said it wasn’t purgatory itself which the Articles condemned but 'the Romish doctrine of'. But there’s no other doctrine than the Romish one, John. I can see a lot of spiritual sense in the idea of purgatory because I’m a filthy sinner and I don’t fancy going immediately from my customary cesspit into the dazzling presence of God. Purgatory is a variety of sun-glasses. Or think of it as a boot camp. You’ve avoided the straight and narrow all your life and charged happily along the primrose path that leads to the everlasting bonfire. Purgatory is your chance to go straight.
It will be painful. But then some pain is worth it. It’s astonishing, for example, how much trouble people will put themselves to in order to get thin or develop muscles. To detox, botox and all the other toxes obligato. Is it not worth spending a bit of effort on your spiritual condition? That’s the one you’ll have to live with forever. And in the spiritual gymnasium too there’s no gain without pain.
The BBC wanted an expert opinion on this matter so, after consulting the arch-modernist Peter Stanford who’s forever introduced as someone who used to be something on The Tablet – that liberal RC heresy sheet which Malcolm Muggeridge used to call The Pill – they went to the Catholic World Youth Festival in Kent. Where else? They interrupted the kids’ listening to their homogenous modern church musak and jiving with Jesus hymns and asked them what they thought. Well, they thought it a good thing innit.
Incidentally, when the BBC wants to refer to something as particularly nasty, why do they always have recourse to the adjective 'medieval'? The Middle Ages gave us the cathedrals, Thomas Aquinas, Anselm, Dante, Gregorian plainchant, Perotin, Giotto, chivalry, courtly love and a Christian Europe. The wonderfully progressive modern period gave us two world wars, Hitler’s holocaust, Stalin’s slaughter of 20 million, Mao’s killing of 70 million, the hydrogen bomb, abortion as a means of contraception, the destruction of marriage, Tate Modern, Jacques Derrida and the EU.
Purgatory here I come – please.
Rev'd Dr Peter Mullen is an author and former rector of St Michael's, Cornhill in the City of London.