Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Persistence of Purgatory

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Persistence of Purgatory

Article excerpt

The Persistence of Purgatory. By Richard K. Fenn. Cambridge, UK: University of Cambridge Press, 1995. viii + 209 pp. $49.95 (cloth); $16.95 (paper).

In modern Western societies, human beings suffer the tyranny of time. We have to meet deadlines, save time, be on time, and work under its pressure. Yet our time is short, elusive, and we rarely seem to have enough of it. In modernity, the human being is buffeted and squeezed by the orderings of rival times: business, social, fiscal, academic calendars; the time to remember a birthday or write a review. This plight-this "social construction" of time in the West-is often traced by way of industrialism and urbanization to economic and social changes in early modern Europe. In The Persistence of Purgatory, Richard Fenn proposes an earlier origin: the development of the doctrine and spirituality of purgatory. This was our cultural induction into the demand that time, for the sake of the living and the dead, be subject to a rigorous spiritual stewardship expressed in prayer and action. Since the discovery of purgatory, our time, Fenn argues, has been running out.

The goal of purgatorial suffering, as Dante knew, is self-possession. Thus, after the ascent through Purgatory, he receives the Virgilian blessing, "I crown and miter you over yourself." The threat of soul-loss, of possession by alien desires and forces, is over. Purgation consists of "doing time," the painful separation from old loves, proving oneself by suffering the old flames but now as alien to the soul. Fenn's case is that purgatorial practice, the construction of time as the site for self-proving, persists in the secular economy as the ceaseless pressure of time, a rigorous accountability for time, though now, without hope. …

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