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Three Purgatory Poems: General Introduction


1 See Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory, pp. 84, 357.

2 Since the Vulgate was the primary source for biblical information during the Middle Ages, I have utilized the Douay-Rheims translation of the Vulgate for all references to Scripture. Some attributions, particularly those among the Psalms, may differ in both chapter and verse from those found in Protestant Bibles.

3 For an edition of "Visio Sancti Pauli" based on the version in the Vernon Manuscript, see Carl Horstmann, "Die Vision der heiligen Paulus," Englische Studien 1 (1877), 295-99.

4 For the translation of Enoch, see Genesis 5:23-24.

5 See Le Goff, pp. 46-47, 52-57.

6 For a full exposition of the views of Clement and Origen, see Le Goff, pp. 52-57.

7 The citations are from Louis A. Arand's translation of the Enchiridion, cited in the Bibliography, followed by the Latin citations from the Patrologia Latina, ed. J.-P. Migne.

8 See Le Goff, pp. 100-07.

9 See Eileen Gardiner, Visions of Heaven and Hell before Dante. Professor Gardiner includes excellent commentary with her translations of twelve "visions."

10 The "place of waiting" was sometimes, especially in literary works, transformed into the "terrestrial paradise," a spiritual Garden of Eden at the end of Purgatory, where souls waited in a state of pre-lapsarian bliss for their assured eventual entry into Heaven. See the explanatory note to lines 775 ff. of Sir Owain. The idea is most highly elaborated and given the greatest theological significance in Dante's Purgatorio, xxix-xxxiii.

11 Two additional places or states were sporadically mentioned in the discussion, although they were not directly relevant to the central problem of organizing Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. They are the Limbus Patrum, where Old Testament patriarchs awaited the coming of Christ, and the Limbus Infantium, where unbaptized children were placed. See Le Goff, pp. 220-21.
The genesis of the idea of Purgatory lies ultimately in the inevitability, finality, and mystery of death. To be human is to be aware of death and to be aware of death is to wonder what becomes of us when this quotidian life comes to an end. In the history of Christianity the consideration of the nature of life after death took varied and complex forms. From the time of the four evangelists and St. Paul, the idea of an afterlife of reward or punishment is clearly present. The acceptance of Purgatory as a middle place or state between Heaven and Hell was slower to develop. In the Middle Ages, Purgatory became a central, perhaps crucial, issue in the contemplation of the hereafter. Although speculation, theological and literary, existed from as early as the second century, it was not until the Second Council of Lyons (1274) that the doctrine was dogmatically asserted, and it was not until the Council of Trent (1545-63), during the Counter-Reformation, that it was extensively defined.

In one sense, the doctrine of Purgatory is essential to medieval Christianity in that it accommodates God's justice and mercy and connects the living and the dead. However, the nature of the "middle state" never enjoyed a clear and monolithic clarification. Hazy ideas become clearer, but are often only put into sharp relief to be debated yet again. The doctrine emerged, in fits and starts, without any clear sequence, and was an often confusing and contentious mixture of Scripture, folklore, popular belief, ecclesiastical pronouncements, and theological speculation.

The history of Purgatory is a concatenation of questions, variously and non-sequentially addressed - and then once again debated or left in abeyance. The core of the doctrine is that after death souls not directly received into Heaven or consigned to Hell experience a period of purgation or purification that eventually allows for beatitude. Beyond this, there were numerous questions, foremost of which was whether Purgatory was a place or a state. Related and subsidiary questions abounded from the inception of the Church through the Middle Ages. What, precisely, is the condition of the souls therein? How can souls, spiritual entities, suffer corporeal punishments? Is their punishment a matter of degree? How long does it last? Is the punishment, punitive or purificatory, by fire or by ice, or is it by an assault on all the senses? (In this matter, fire of some sort remained the most popular and enduring torment.) Are the souls aware that they will eventually be saved and, if so, do they know when? What do they know of the affairs of this world, and are they ever able to revisit it for any reason? Can the prayers and offerings, called suffrages, of the living do any good for the souls in Purgatory? If Purgatory is a place, what is its geography?

Such questions as these were not taken up in a systematic way. Indeed, Jacques LeGoff in The Birth of Purgatory, the most comprehensive history of the doctrine, argues that such a basic question as whether Purgatory was a place or state was not even provisionally resolved until the late twelfth century - and then not definitively or permanently, as the ambiguities of the Council of Trent suggest.1 This question, like all the others, appeared in a kind of peek-a-boo development over the centuries, often complicated by the incorporation of suspect sources, doubtful datings of authorities by other authorities, and a substantial admixture of folk beliefs and alternative pagan traditions such as the Irish otherworld. If any direction is discernable, it is an evolution in which the idea of Purgatory shifts from a "temporary Hell" to a process of purification that emphasizes cleansing at least as much as torment.

Some idea of Purgatory existed from the earliest days of Christianity. The scriptural basis, however, is slender and ambiguous and is, perhaps, one of the reasons for the somewhat chaotic development of the idea. References to baptism by fire occur in Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16; punishment for sin with a possible end of the punishment, in Matthew 5:25-26 and 12:32; Christ's "descent into Hell" between His Crucifixion and Resurrection in Matthew 12:40, Acts 2:31, and Romans 10:6-7; the existence of souls "under the earth" in Apocalypse (Revelation)2 5:3, 13; approval of prayers for the dead in 1 Corinthians 15:29-30 and 2 Machabees 12:41-46; and, perhaps most influentially in the Middle Ages, the "test by fire" in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15.

Scriptural accounts were supplemented with a variety of non-Christian authorities whose ideas circulated from antiquity: Zoroastrian beliefs about darkness, fire, and tests after death; elaborate Egyptian accounts of the torments of the dead; Plato's idea of justice, which required variations in the nature of the afterlife; Virgil's underworld, in which there are not only gradations of torment, but also a relationship between the punishment and the crime. Even more significant is the large body of apocryphal literature that circulated during the early centuries of the Church, much of which has survived: the Book of Enoch, the Apocalypses of St. Peter, Ezra, St. Paul, and St. John (only the last of which eventually achieved canonicity), and the Gospel of Nicodemus. Though these works are generally fanciful accounts of Heaven or Hell, they were easily assimilated into discussions of Purgatory.

Perhaps the most influential text in later centuries is the Apocalypse of St. Paul, which tells of a visit to the "Heavens" and Hell by St. Paul. The earliest version is thought to have been written in Greek and was advertised as an additional writing by St. Paul recovered from his house in Tarsus, along with a pair of Paul's shoes, in 388. The story was translated into Armenian, Coptic, Old Slavonic, Syriac, Greek, and into eight Latin redactions from the fourth to the twelfth centuries, as well as many European vernacular languages, of which the most important for our purposes is the thirteenth-century English "Visio Sancti Pauli," based on the fourth redaction of the Latin version.3 In the English text Paul is taken by St. Michael to meet the guardian angels and to the "Place of the Righteous"; he sees what happens to the good when they die and go to a kind of "New Jerusalem" of salvation; he meets the Hebrew prophets and speaks with Enoch, who was subsumed, body and soul, into Heaven.4 But he also sees the world of torment; though it is Hell, what he sees became embodied in numerous later accounts of Purgatory. He sees sinners immersed to varying degrees in a river of fire, cast into pits by demons, and invaded by hideous vermin. Across Hell stretches a bridge from which it is possible to fall into torment. In addition to these details which became part of the literary iconography of Purgatory, it is made clear that souls are judged at the time of death in a "Particular Judgment" and thus do not have to wait until Doomsday, the "General Judgment," for assignment to their eternal destiny. Many later writers seem to have converted the sufferings seen by Paul into the sufferings of Purgatory, thus contributing to occasional overlappings of views of Purgatory and Hell and sometimes to a conception of Purgatory as a kind of temporary Hell.

But serious theological considerations of Purgatory were well underway before the Apoc-alypse of St. Paul. The earliest theological commentaries on Purgatory were by Tertullian (late second century), St. Clement of Alexandria (early third century), and Origen (mid third century).5 Tertullian, who later was declared a heretic because of other beliefs, proposed a place of "refreshment" for the dead awaiting the Second Coming of Christ. Tertullian also held, on the basis of 2 Machabees 12:41-46 and 1 Corinthians 15:29-30, that the prayers of the living could benefit the dead. These views, expressed so early by a renowned theologian, provide a notable example of how doctrine can weave simultaneously through authoritative theological argument and dubious apocrypha.

The apocryphal Book of Nicodemus, mentioned above, although not written until the fourth century and truly influential only much later, told that the fate of souls could be altered after death and presented a vague idea of a limbo that was rather a place of waiting than punishment, but not strictly reserved for the pre-Christian patriarchs. To further exemplify this interpenetration of theology, apocrypha, and legend, there is the early-third-century story of "The Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas," a vision in which Perpetua prays for a "place of refreshment" for her deceased little brother as she sees him trying unsuccessfully to drink from a fountain. Thus, the story is illustrative of early concerns about what the living can do for the dead. So we are left with a second-century theologian, a fourth-century apocryphon, and a third-century legend all commenting, with various nuances, on incipient notions of Purgatory.

Although the idea of Purgatory is more a product and concern of the Western Latin Church (indeed the Greek Eastern Church had to be brought into line with Western thought at the Second Council of Lyons in 1274), it was Clement of Alexandria and Origen, writing in Greek, who argued that punishment by God must be to educate and, thereby, contribute to salvation. Neither went so far as Tertullian, who seemed to believe that eventually all would be saved. Basing his ideas especially on Old Testament notions of fire as a divine means of punishment and St. Paul's notion, in Corinthians, of a purifying fire after death, Clement concluded that the fire mentioned in Scripture must be purifying or "cleansing," because God cannot be vindictive. Origen went further in speculating on the fate of souls after death. Indeed, he seems to have seen Hell as a kind of Purgatory in which redemptive suffering is unfortunately eternal. Although vague on the circumstances of souls until the Last Judgment, he held that on Doomsday there occurs a fire that purifies; for some the fire lasts only an instant; the truly sinful must endure longer periods. Origen, unlike Tertullian and Clement, does not suggest that praying for the dead can have any effect on their fate, but he does introduce the idea of gradations of punishment, or necessary purification, and it is clear in Origen that the experi-ence of souls is individual in the sense that each person's experience is related to the life he or she has lived.6

Late in the third century, St. Ambrose took these ideas further by distinguishing three categories: the righteous (the saved), the truly wicked (the damned), and those who would endure a Pauline trial by fire. For the third group, St. Ambrose believed that the prayers of the living could be efficacious even though some degree of fire was inevitable for all of them. Thus, Ambrose perpetuated the idea of gradations of punishment (or purification) and trial, but, more explicitly than anyone before, emphasized the hopeful note that the living could help the dead. He thereby advanced the doctrine of suffrages: prayers, masses, or other devotions offered on behalf of the dead to reduce or eliminate their remaining time in Purgatory.

It is St. Augustine (354-430), however, who, learning so much from St. Ambrose about how to read Scripture, made the earliest comments that would inform later debates about the organization of the afterlife. The idea that suffrages are efficacious is clear in his prayers for his mother, Monica, in The Confessions, though there is no hint of the idea of purchased masses and memorials. Although it seems that Augustine is more interested in Hell in The Enchiridion, he does refer to a fire that is different from the fire of damnation (Enchiridion 18.69 / PL 40.265).7 Most importantly in these works, he divides the afterlife into four segments, a division that would be influential well into the twelfth century and beyond. The first Augustinian part of the afterlife was for the boni, the truly virtuous such as saints and martyrs, and this place is Paradise. At the other end of the spectrum are the mali, the unmistakably evil, who are damned to eternal punishment in the retributive fires of Hell. The two middle groups are the mali non valde, the not completely wicked, and the non valde boni, the not completely good. Both of these groups could be assisted by suffrages (Enchiridion 29.110 / PL 40.283), though it seems that for the former repentance and the prayers of the living created a "more tolerable" Hell, while the latter would pass through a penitential fire at the time of the Last Judgment and be admitted to Heaven, though the purgative fire could be lessened by the benefactions of the living.

Augustine is not entirely clear on the fate of the two middle groups; indeed, he saw their existence in a "state" rather than a "place" and was more concerned about repentance by human beings while living. Nevertheless, he established for succeeding centuries a clear connection between repentance and purgation, a major theme of later purgatorial literature, and suggested a kind of non-spatial geography of the afterlife that was crucial in later developments. St. Gregory the Great, who became pope in 590, held in his Dialogues an essentially Augustinian view that provided succeeding centuries with exempla for sermons that were of great significance in defining the more familiar Purgatory of Dante and his successors. It would be hard to overemphasize the importance of Gregory's Dialogues in establishing the torments of Purgatory as a powerful motive for repentance in this life.

Jacques Le Goff suggests that even though learned debate on the doctrine of Purgatory was muted from the fifth to the eleventh centuries, Purgatory did not disappear from folk-consciousness and penitential practices.8 The doctrine thrived in this period in a plethora of works dealing with visions and journeys. Although these are usually of Heaven or Hell, the infernal parts kept vividly alive the images of purgatorial torment which were to re-emerge in the twelfth century, for it should be remembered that in the ambiguous and non-sequential development of doctrine, ideas of Hell and Purgatory often overlapped to the point that Pur-gatory was seen as a mild or temporary version of the Hell of these spiritual visions. Thus, these visions and voyages, which are so well chronicled by Eileen Gardiner,9 provide the bridge between Augustine and the revival of theological speculation on Purgatory in the twelfth century.

St. Gregory the Great provided the appropriate link between Augustine and what was to occur from the fifth to the eleventh centuries, when the theologians and didacts once again took up their quills with purgatorial fervor. St. Gregory's Dialogues, as has been noted, incorporated exempla that kept the consideration of Purgatory alive in the sermons of the succeeding centuries, but many other works contributed as well. Most prominent was Bede's "Vision of Drythelm" in his Ecclesiastical History (c. 731), recorded under the year 696. Drythelm is a good man, who appears to die; his soul is led to the otherworld by a shining figure, apparently an angel, a characteristic guide for visionaries. Drythelm sees the punish-ment by fire and ice of diverse sins, a motif that becomes common in subsequent visions. Most importantly, Drythelm sees, between Heaven and Hell, souls whose fate has not yet been decided, who are in an intermediate Purgatory-like state, because they are not so obviously worthy as those who have been certainly saved. Besides raising issues that frequently recur in visions and tracts, the "Vision of Drythelm" reminds us of an especially significant question about the state of souls after death: will they receive their assignment immediately, or will they have to wait until the Last Judgment for permanent disposition? This remarkably clear question remains a matter of controversy in the fourteenth century and beyond.

"The Vision of Drythelm" is not alone in Bede's Ecclesiastical History as an example of a purgatorial visit. Bede also reports, under the year 633, the "Vision of Furseus," the first example of a visionary who apparently visited the afterworld physically, since he returns with burn marks on his shoulder, a sign that he himself has suffered, if only slightly, during his visionary journey. And Bede's work is only a part of a continuing vision tradition during the "silence" of the early Middle Ages. There are numerous others, including "Wetti's Vision" (ninth century) and "Charles the Fat's Vision" (late ninth century). These visions seem infernal rather than purgatorial, but they do provide later centuries with glimpses of various punish-ments and much of the furniture that will decorate later, more clearly purgatorial visions and visits. One might even include in this catalogue "The Voyages of St. Brendan" (c. 486-578), a ninth-century legend preserved in an early-tenth-century work, which includes Brendan's journeys to magical, mystical islands. Although still less obviously purgatorial than the previous examples, the journeys of St. Brendan remind us of the Celtic contribution to developing ideas of otherworlds, especially significant because Ireland will become so important in later visions, especially those of "St. Patrick's Purgatory," but many others as well.

That these visions and journeys provide a continuity between the fifth century and the eleventh becomes apparent when one notices that they are not simply folktales that live (and perhaps die) in popular imagination, but are told and retold by chroniclers like Bede, William of Malmesbury (c. 1095-1143) in Gesta regum Anglorum, Roger of Wendover (d. 1236) in his Chronicles, Vincent of Beauvais (c. 1190-1264) in his Speculum, and Jacobus de Voragine (1231-98) in his extraordinarily popular Legenda aurea. Two facts make these works especially important. First, multiple versions of the same stories seem to have survived and been passed on. For example, Bede's version of "Dythelm" dates the event in 696, Roger of Wendover places it in 699, and Vincent of Beauvais in 941. Second, the chroniclers wrote well past the time by which theological speculation on Purgatory had resumed in earnest.

Although little new was added to the formation of the doctrine of Purgatory until its resurgence in theological speculation in the twelfth century, the visions and voyages helped to keep the considerations of Purgatory alive. In addition, practical problems, such as the question of the efficacy of suffrages, continue to crop up. Indeed, the Cluniac Benedictines established All Souls' Day in the early eleventh century, indicating that prayers for the dead remained a matter of concern. Le Goff, on whom I have relied for much of the chronology of early speculations on Purgatory, argues that, although vague elements and indistinct notions of some kind of purgatorial experience, engendered by early theologians, survived through the second half of the first millenium, it was not until the late twelfth century that Purgatory really achieved the status of a "place," a true geographical location. Although there is no doubt that interest in Purgatory as a physical reality intensified in the late twelfth century, Le Goff may have tried to be more definitive in establishing a precise dating for "the birth of Purgatory" as a place than the facts allow. He cites two concrete pieces of evidence for his strict historical line of demarcation: the use of Purgatory as a noun (purgatorium) rather than as an adjective (purgatorius, -a, -um) by Peter the Chanter in 1170, and the composition of the Latin account of Sir Owain's entry, body and soul, into "St. Patrick's Purgatory" (Lough Derg, County Donegal, Ireland) in the late 1180s. The origin of the idea of Purgatory as a place cannot, I think, be dated so specifically. Certainly there was much attention given to Purgatory as a place at this time, but, as early as the seventh century, Furseus' burns suggest that he visited a real place, and, at the other extreme, the Council of Trent (1545-63) was still not dogmatic about "place" in the sixteenth century.

There is no doubt, however, that ideas of Purgatory were being clarified and challenged. Significant contributions were made throughout the twelfth century before Peter the Chanter. Hugh of St. Victor (d. 1141) was interested both in the problem of place and in the other very old question of how physical punishments could be applied to incorporeal souls. Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153) suggested a three-part division composed of Hell, of some kind of "place" of purification, and of a location on the face of the earth where the just waited in peace for eventual entry into Heaven. Thus, the question of when entry to Heaven was possible had not been resolved, but one can see hints of a drift towards a simplified three-part afterlife consisting of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, despite the retention of some kind of "place of waiting."10 Gratian of Bologna, in his Decretum (1140) reinforced the long-developing idea of an antechamber, or "place of waiting" between death and the resurrection of the body, during which suffrages (once again) were efficacious. And Peter Lombard, in his Sentences (1155-57), began more clearly to merge the two middle parts of Augustine's four-part division into a single "middle" place.

In any case, the twelfth and thirteenth centuries are replete with commentaries essentially consistent with a three-part afterlife.11 The idea of a single Purgatory was widely promulgated, at first especially by the mendicant orders of Franciscans and Dominicans. One might cynically argue that the doctrine was well suited to the situation of the mendicant friars, who could use gruesome exempla based on the pains (now made more graphic by the visions discussed earlier) of a single, unified Purgatory to encourage repentance and to provide income, because of the now quite firmly established doctrine of suffrages, which usually took the form of almsgiving, memorial masses for a price, and even donation of endowments for perpetual prayers for the deceased. The possibilities for corruption were great and resulted, by the fourteenth century, in many satiric caricatures of fat, greedy friars. The situation was further complicated by the development of the doctrine of Indulgences - remissions in whole (plenary) or part (partial) of the purgatorial punishment required for venial (less serious) sins and for mortal (damnable) sins that had been forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance but not completely satisfied by repentance at the time of death. Moreover, the living could help the dead by securing indulgences on their behalf - a somewhat elaborate way of providing suffrages. In 1300, Pope Boniface VIII offered a plenary indulgence, at considerable cost, for pilgrimages to the Holy Land and later put the indulgences on offer more flexibly simply for the donation to the Church of the cost of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Indulgences have their own history, too lengthy to probe here, but they were clearly related to the enduring question of suffrages found in almsgiving and memorial masses.

The reality, however, cannot be reduced to cynical generalizations. One motive does not necessarily destroy the validity of others. Thus, Franciscans and Dominicans might benefit from doctrines of indulgences and suffrages even while believing devoutly in the doctrine of Purgatory to which especially the Dominicans contributed so much intellectually over the centuries. In fact, it was rather the Cistercians, the austere reformers of Benedictine monasticism, led by the venerable St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who were the first and foremost promulgators of the doctrine as it came to be understood by the beginning of the thirteenth century. Regardless of motives, the eleventh through thirteenth centuries are replete with serious considerations of the doctrine of Purgatory. Theological treatises flourished in the works of commentators such as Peter Damian, Alberic, Anselm, Gratian, Peter Lombard, and St. Bonaventure, and didactic tracts, such as "St. Patrick's Purgatory" (the story of Sir Owain) and "The Vision of Tundale."

Foremost among thirteenth-century theologians who addressed the doctrine of Purgatory was the great Dominican "angelic doctor," St. Thomas Aquinas. It was Aquinas who most clearly and powerfully asserted the sense of the doctrine for the later Middle Ages, and provided the clarity and coherence so influential on Dante's ultimate imaginative embodiment of the doctrine at the beginning of the fourteenth century.

While admitting that Scripture says nothing of the location of Purgatory, Aquinas, especially in the Summa contra Gentiles (3.140-46) and the Summa theologiae (repeatedly), including the "Supplementum" added by his students and doubtlessly Thomistic in its opinions, gave shape and clarity even when simply articulating the significant questions we have seen emerge over and over. Aquinas did not try to resolve all disputes, but he did lay a firm foundation for the doctrine in the idea that Divine Justice requires a place for the purification of souls who have not completed their penance for sins forgiven. In accordance with the canons of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), Aquinas believed that the priest could absolve the "culpa" of mortal sin but the "poena" (pain or punishment) still had to be satisfied by repentance (ST 3.qu.84-90). Aquinas held that such repentance could be achieved in this life, but Divine Justice required a second chance, in Purgatory, if the repentance had begun and the purpose of amendment was firm. He distinguished between contrition, sorrow for sin because it is an offense against God, and attrition, sorrow engendered by the fear of punishment. Attrition was efficacious, but more clearly required purgatorial purification (ST Suppl.qu.1-5, 12-15). Likewise, less serious venial sins could be expiated after death. The foundation of Aquinas' views was in the doctrine of "the Communion of Saints." Following his Dominican colleague, Albertus Magnus, Aquinas saw the Church as composed of three interrelated groups: the "Church Triumphant," those souls who had achieved salvation; the "Church Militant," human beings in the process of working out their salvation; and the "Church Suffering," the dead who need purification before beatitude (ST Suppl.71).

The doctrine does not seem astonishingly innovative, and indeed Aquinas was not the first or only theologian to articulate it, but Aquinas emphasized the essential unity of the three groups, under a just God, and thereby was able to show an interdependence, a community of all Christians at whatever stage in their existence. As a result, the doctrine of the "Communion of Saints" implies a kind of reciprocity among all Christians. The saved souls, all of them saints because they have achieved beatitude, may be invoked through prayer by both living Christians and suffering souls to assist them in their journey to beatitude. Even more striking for the doctrine of Purgatory is the reciprocity between human souls on earth and the suffering souls after death. The living may pray for the dead, one of the few ideas about Purgatory with some scriptural justification, and thereby assist them towards Paradise. Aquinas avoided mathematical calculations about how long various souls would suffer and how much quanti-tative good human prayer could do, but he was clear that the actions of the living can benefit the undamned dead. Then, of course, when the suffering souls achieve salvation, they can be invoked by members of the "Church Militant." The relationship is not simple quid pro quo, but an enduring connection of charity.

Aquinas' formulation has important consequences. First, it implies that souls are judged at the time of their death and therefore begin their purification immediately, not having to await the General Judgment. Second, suffrages are firmly defined as efficacious. The best suffrages, according to Aquinas, are prayer, masses, and almsgiving - and their efficacy is based on the fundamental Christian doctrine of charity, the greatest of the theological virtues. Third, the union between the living and the souls in Purgatory implies a connection that, without denying the necessity of personal penance and satisfaction for sin, creates a world in which the living and the dead are not entirely cut off from each other. Although not a wholly new idea, indeed Aquinas often formulates or consolidates earlier ideas, it is a vibrant connection, founded as it is in the doctrine of the "Communion of Saints." The damned are damned and, therefore, beyond consideration. The saved may be invoked, but it is the continuing "conversation" between souls on earth and souls in Purgatory that gives an especially human and humane cast to Aquinas' explication of the doctrine. The dead are not completely lost to us. Suffrages, long an important part of the doctrine especially for Dominicans, are given a human face in that they become not only a financial opportunity for friars and a theological duty for the living, but also a solace to the grief-stricken.

Aquinas had spoken, but, unsurprisingly, controversy did not disappear, not even after the ultimate total rejection of the doctrine by Luther and Calvin. Aquinas did not answer all of the questions, and, as had long been the case, resolved matters became unresolved, earlier opinions were periodically revived, and later versions of literary works often renewed issues from sources centuries earlier. The three poems in this volume provide a good example. Two, Sir Owain and The Vision of Tundale, are fourteenth-century works in Middle English that preserve and also put their own imprint on doctrines from twelfth-century Latin sources; one, The Gast of Gy, also written in the fourteenth century, seems at least in part a Dominican attempt to dissuade Pope John XXII from his tendency to relegate judgment on all souls until Doomsday, by this time an almost heretical view. Thus, revival and reconsideration and dispute endured. What remains clear is that the doctrine, no matter what the nuances of interpretation, had an enormous appeal and poignancy into the fourteenth century and well beyond. After all, it had everything: adventure and adversity, suffering and excitement, and, most importantly, a profound theological warning wrapped in the joyful solace of communion with the departed and hope for our own sinful selves.

Go to The Gast of Gy Introduction
Go To The Gast of Gy
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Keiser, George R. "The Progress of Purgatory: Visions of the Afterlife in Later Middle English Literature." In Zeit, Tod und Ewigkeit in der Renaissance Literatur. Vol. 3. Ed. James Hogg. Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 1987. Pp. 72-100.

Le Goff, Jacques. The Birth of Purgatory. Trans. Arthur Goldhammer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

Matsuda, Takami. Death and Purgatory in Middle English Didactic Poetry. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 1997.

Mumford, J., and Richard Ashby. Two Ancient Treatises on Purgatory. London: Burns and Oates, 1893.

Murphy, John Lancaster. "The Idea of Purgatory in Middle English Literature." Ph.D. Dissertation: UCLA, 1994. DAI 56.3A (1995), p. 944A.

Oakden, J. P. Alliterative Poetry in Middle English. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1930; rpt. Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1968.

Ombres, Robert. Theology of Purgatory. Dublin: Mercier Press, 1978.

Os, Arnold Barel van. Religious Visions: The Development of the Eschatological Elements in Mediaeval English Religious Literature. Amsterdam: H. J. Paris, 1932.

Pantin, W. A. The English Church in the Fourteenth Century. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1955; rpt. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980.

Patch, Howard Rollin. The Other World, According to Descriptions in Medieval Literature. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1950.

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Taylor, Michael J. Purgatory. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publications, 1998.

Standard Abbreviations

Canterbury Tales
Middle English Dictionary
Oxford Classical Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary
Patrologia Latina. (Ed. J.-P. Migne)
Troilus and Criseyde