Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Heaven Can Wait: Purgatory in Catholic Devotional and Popular Culture

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Heaven Can Wait: Purgatory in Catholic Devotional and Popular Culture

Article excerpt

Heaven Can Wait: Purgatory in Catholic Devotional and Popular Culture. By Diana Walsh Pasulka. (New York: Oxford University Press. 2014. Pp. x, 207. S29.95. ISBN 978-0-19-538202-0.)

This book gives a certain appearance of being a scholarly treatment of the doctrine and popular reception of purgatory from the Middle Ages to the present, but the appearance turns out to be illusory. Pasulka approaches her subject with enthusiasm, but unfortunately the theology of sin, forgiveness, and satisfaction has escaped her. There is no mention of contrition or repentance in her book. She speaks, on the one hand, of "absolving afterlife sin" and performing penance after death as a means of avoiding hell; and, on the other hand, of pilgrims effecting their salvation while still alive by visiting St. Patrick's Purgatory (pp. 40-42).

In her introduction, she sets the stage by referring to the decline of interest in purgatory since the Second Vatican Council, claiming that the Council itself supported the de-emphasis. Then, rather than giving a general history of purgatory, she concentrates mainly on medieval Ireland and modern America (from the nineteenth century onward). For the Middle Ages, she spends most of her time on stories of St. Patrick's Purgatory (located on an island in Lake Derg in County Donegal), as if this constituted the main or only idea of purgatory in the Middle Ages. She does not treat standard devotions, like offering Masses and other prayers for the delivery of souls from punishment.

Chapter 1 is titled "When Purgatory Was a Place on Earth," and chapter 2 is subtitled "Moving Purgatory Off the Earth," which indicate Pasulka's belief that there was a gradual progression from thinking of purgatory as earthly to regarding it as nonearthly. However, it is important to know that purgatory was generally seen to be in an "infernal" location-that is, under the earth. St. Thomas Aquinas was typical in considering the hell of the damned to be in the lowest position, with the limbo of infants above it, purgatory above that, and the limbo of the fathers (which was emptied when Jesus "descended into hell") the highest (3 Sent. …

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