Some years ago, Jacques Le Goff argued in The Birth of Purgatory that the notion of Purgatory as a place distinct from heaven and hell emerged only in the late twelfth century. Notions of purgation after death appear much earlier, but Le Goff claimed that the linguistic evidence pointed to a later development. Purgatorium replaced purgatorius ignis and purgatoriis locis between 1160 and 1180.
Le Goff’s book ignited a fiery battle among medievalists, but more recently Megan McLaughlin (Consorting with Saints: Prayer for the Dead in Early Medieval France, 18-19) has defended Le Goff. While admitted that he may have overstated his thesis, she thinks Le Goff “essentially correct.” She adds, “While individual early medieval writers (notably the Venerable Bede) may have described something like Purgatory in their works, there was certainly no shared notion of a single place of purgation in the next world before the twelfth century.”
They may also leave behind a culture where Bible reading and study is the norm (even if in decline, thanks to all those enthusiastic ways of accessing the Spirit). Here is one reader’s response to an appeal for Roman Catholics to read the Bible regularly:
The personality and intellectual type that would read the Bible cover to cover and remember pivotal passages as Aquinas did… is rarely present in Catholicism. That’s why you’ll come across Popes urging Catholics to read the Bible for the past 150 years to no avail. The type person is gone from Catholicism. Aquinas was the last famous Catholic who exhibited an encyclopedic memorization of Scripture. His equals before him were Jerome and Augustine. After Aquinas some saints like St. John of the Cross know a lot of scripture but not nearly as much as Aquinas. The vast reading and memorization of Jerome, Aquinas and Augustine of the Bible later passes into some Protestant sects instead of continuing within Catholicism. You can find fundamentalist truck drivers from say “Holiness” church who have read and memorized hundreds of verses just as Aquinas did. The mystery is why did the Aquinas/ Jerome/ Augustine Bible habit stop within Catholicism and reappear in some…not all…Protestant sects. Read Aquinas’ Summa Theologica end to end and you’ll see him on average quote pivotal passages of scripture perhaps 5 times a page for several thousand pages of five volumes in some editions. If Aquinas suddenly returned to earth, he would enjoy more, a week of conversing with a Billy Graham type than he would conversing with a Catholic with a Masters in Theology but who had not yet read even 20% of the Bible…nor memorized much of that. Why did the Bible habit exist in Aquinas but later pass into Protestant sects instead of remaining in Catholicism? We all know the switch involved the Reformation and the emphasis on the Council of Trent as corrective of lone Bible reading. But how did the flight from scripture become so thorough?
Why do the Callers at Called to Communion obscure these realities?