The peculiar old man wandered about the streets aimlessly. A former student of philosophy, he had given up his career in obedience to his mother’s wishes and not from any lack of means or ability. Quite the contrary, it was because his mother was rich and he was said to possess talent. The good woman feared that her son would become learned and forget God, so she had given him his choice of entering the priesthood or leaving college. Being in love, he chose the latter course and married. Then having lost both his wife and his mother within a year, he sought consolation in his books in order to free himself from sorrow, the cockpit, and the dangers of idleness. He became so addicted to his studies and the purchase of books, that he entirely neglected his fortune and gradually ruined himself. Persons of culture called him Don Anastasio, or Tasio the Sage, while the great crowd of the ignorant knew him as Tasio the Lunatic, on account of his peculiar ideas and his eccentric manner of dealing with others.
As we said before, the evening threatened to be stormy. The lightning flashed its pale rays across the leaden sky, the air was heavy and the slight breeze excessively sultry. Tasio had apparently already forgotten his beloved skull, and now he was smiling as he looked at the dark clouds. Near the church he met a man wearing an alpaca coat, who carried in one hand a large bundle of candles and in the other a tasseled cane, the emblem of his office as gobernadorcillo.
“You seem to be merry?” he greeted Tasio in Tagalog.
“Truly I am, señor capitan, I’m merry because I hope for something.”
“Ah? What do you hope for?”
“The storm? Are you thinking of taking a bath?” asked the gobernadorcillo in a jesting way as he stared at the simple attire of the old man.
“A bath? That’s not a bad idea, especially when one has just stumbled over some trash!” answered Tasio in a similar, though somewhat more offensive tone, staring at the other’s face. “But I hope for something better.”
“Some thunderbolts that will kill people and burn down houses,” returned the Sage seriously.
“Why don’t you ask for the deluge at once?”
“We all deserve it, even you and I! You, señor gobernadorcillo, have there a bundle of tapers that came from some Chinese shop, yet this now makes the tenth year that I have been proposing to each new occupant of your office the purchase of lightning-rods. Every one laughs at me, and buys bombs and rockets and pays for the ringing of bells. Even you yourself, on the day after I made my proposition, ordered from the Chinese founders a bell in honor of St. Barbara,1 when science has shown that it is dangerous to ring the bells during a storm. Explain to me why in the year ’70, when lightning struck in Biñan, it hit the very church tower and destroyed the clock and altar. What was the bell of St. Barbara doing then?”
At the moment there was a vivid flash. “Jesús, María, y José! Holy St. Barbara!” exclaimed the gobernadorcillo, turning pale and crossing himself.
Tasio burst out into a loud laugh. “You are worthy of your patroness,” he remarked dryly in Spanish as he turned his back and went toward the church.
Inside, the sacristans were preparing a catafalque, bordered with candles placed in wooden sockets. Two large tables had been placed one above the other and covered with black cloth across which ran white stripes, with here and there a skull painted on it.
“Is that for the souls or for the candles?” inquired the old man, but noticing two boys, one about ten and the other seven, he turned to them without awaiting an answer from the sacristans.
“Won’t you come with me, boys?” he asked them. “Your mother has prepared a supper for you fit for a curate.”
“The senior sacristan will not let us leave until eight o’clock, sir,” answered the larger of the two boys. “I expect to get my pay to give it to our mother.”
“Ah! And where are you going now?”
“To the belfry, sir, to ring the knell for the souls.”
“Going to the belfry! Then take care! Don’t go near the bells during the storm!”
Tasio then left the church, not without first bestowing a look of pity on the two boys, who were climbing the stairway into the organ-loft. He passed his hand over his eyes, looked at the sky again, and murmured, “Now I should be sorry if thunderbolts should fall.” With his head bowed in thought he started toward the outskirts of the town.
“Won’t you come in?” invited a voice in Spanish from a window.
The Sage raised his head and saw a man of thirty or thirty-five years of age smiling at him.
“What are you reading there?” asked Tasio, pointing to a book the man held in his hand.
“A work just published: ‘The Torments Suffered by the Blessed Souls in Purgatory,’” the other answered with a smile.
“Man, man, man!” exclaimed the Sage in an altered tone as he entered the house. “The author must be a very clever person.”
Upon reaching the top of the stairway, he was cordially received by the master of the house, Don Filipo Lino, and his young wife, Doña Teodora Viña. Don Filipo was the teniente-mayor of the town and leader of one of the parties—the liberal faction, if it be possible to speak so, and if there exist parties in the towns of the Philippines.
“Did you meet in the cemetery the son of the deceased Don Rafael, who has just returned from Europe?”
“Yes, I saw him as he alighted from his carriage.”
“They say that he went to look for his father’s grave. It must have been a terrible blow.”
The Sage shrugged his shoulders.
“Doesn’t such a misfortune affect you?” asked the young wife.
“You know very well that I was one of the six who accompanied the body, and it was I who appealed to the Captain-General when I saw that no one, not even the authorities, said anything about such an outrage, although I always prefer to honor a good man in life rather than to worship him after his death.”
“But, madam, I am not a believer in hereditary monarchy. By reason of the Chinese blood which I have received from my mother I believe a little like the Chinese: I honor the father on account of the son and not the son on account of the father. I believe that each one should receive the reward or punishment for his own deeds, not for those of another.”
“Did you order a mass said for your dead wife, as I advised you yesterday?” asked the young woman, changing the subject of conversation.
“No,” answered the old man with a smile.
“What a pity!” she exclaimed with unfeigned regret.
“They say that until ten o’clock tomorrow the souls will wander at liberty, awaiting the prayers of the living, and that during these days one mass is equivalent to five on other days of the year, or even to six, as the curate said this morning.”
“What! Does that mean that we have a period without paying, which we should take advantage of?”
“But, Doray,” interrupted Don Filipo, “you know that Don Anastasio doesn’t believe in purgatory.”
“I don’t believe in purgatory!” protested the old man, partly rising from his seat. “Even when I know something of its history!”
“The history of purgatory!” exclaimed the couple, full of surprise. “Come, relate it to us.”
“You don’t know it and yet you order masses and talk about its torments? Well, as it has begun to rain and threatens to continue, we shall have time to relieve the monotony,” replied Tasio, falling into a thoughtful mood.
Don Filipo closed the book which he held in his hand and Doray sat down at his side determined not to believe anything that the old man was about to say.
The latter began in the following manner: “Purgatory existed long before Our Lord came into the world and must have been located in the center of the earth, according to Padre Astete; or somewhere near Cluny, according to the monk of whom Padre Girard tells us. But the location is of least importance here. Now then, who were scorching in those fires that had been burning from the beginning of the world? Its very ancient existence is proved by Christian philosophy, which teaches that God has created nothing new since he rested.”
“But it could have existed in potentia and not in actu,”2 observed Don Filipo.
“Very well! But yet I must answer that some knew of it and as existing in actu. One of these was Zarathustra, or Zoroaster, who wrote part of the Zend-Avesta and founded a religion which in some points resembles ours, and Zarathustra, according to the scholars, flourished at least eight hundred years before Christ. I say ‘at least,’ since Gaffarel, after examining the testimony of Plato, Xanthus of Lydia, Pliny, Hermippus, and Eudoxus, believes it to have been two thousand five hundred years before our era. However that may be, it is certain that Zarathustra talked of a kind of purgatory and showed ways of getting free from it. The living could redeem the souls of those who died in sin by reciting passages from the Avesta and by doing good works, but under the condition that the person offering the petitions should be a relative, up to the fourth generation. The time for this occurred every year and lasted five days. Later, when this belief had become fixed among the people, the priests of that religion saw in it a chance of profit and so they exploited ‘the deep and dark prison where remorse reigns,’ as Zarathustra called it. They declared that by the payment of a small coin it was possible to save a soul from a year of torture, but as in that religion there were sins punishable by three hundred to a thousand years of suffering, such as lying, faithlessness, failure to keep one’s word, and so on, it resulted that the rascals took in countless sums. Here you will observe something like our purgatory, if you take into account the differences in the religions.”
A vivid flash of lightning, followed by rolling thunder, caused Doray to start up and exclaim, as she crossed herself: “Jesús, María, y José! I’m going to leave you, I’m going to burn some sacred palm and light candles of penitence.”
The rain began to fall in torrents. The Sage Tasio, watching the young woman leave, continued: “Now that she is not here, we can consider this matter more rationally. Doray, even though a little superstitious, is a good Catholic, and I don’t care to root out the faith from her heart. A pure and simple faith is as distinct from fanaticism as the flame from smoke or music from discords: only the fools and the deaf confuse them. Between ourselves we can say that the idea of purgatory is good, holy, and rational. It perpetuates the union of those who were and those who are, leading thus to greater purity of life. The evil is in its abuse.
“But let us now see where Catholicism got this idea, which does not exist in the Old Testament nor in the Gospels. Neither Moses nor Christ made the slightest mention of it, and the single passage which is cited from Maccabees is insufficient. Besides, this book was declared apocryphal by the Council of Laodicea and the holy Catholic Church accepted it only later. Neither have the pagan religions anything like it. The oft-quoted passage in Virgil, Aliae panduntur inanes,3 which probably gave occasion for St. Gregory the Great to speak of drowned souls, and to Dante for another narrative in his Divine Comedy, cannot have been the origin of this belief. Neither the Brahmins, the Buddhists, nor the Egyptians, who may have given Rome her Charon and her Avernus, had anything like this idea. I won’t speak now of the religions of northern Europe, for they were religions of warriors, bards, and hunters, and not of philosophers. While they yet preserve their beliefs and even their rites under Christian forms, they were unable to accompany the hordes in the spoliation of Rome or to seat themselves on the Capitoline; the religions of the mists were dissipated by the southern sun. Now then, the early Christians did not believe in a purgatory but died in the blissful confidence of shortly seeing God face to face. Apparently the first fathers of the Church who mentioned it were St. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and St. Irenaeus, who were all perhaps influenced by Zarathustra’s religion, which still flourished and was widely spread throughout the East, since at every step we read reproaches against Origen’s Orientalism. St. Irenaeus proved its existence by the fact that Christ remained ‘three days in the depths of the earth,’ three days of purgatory, and deduced from this that every soul must remain there until the resurrection of the body, although the ‘Hodie mecum eris in Paradiso’4 seems to contradict it. St. Augustine also speaks of purgatory and, if not affirming its existence, yet he did not believe it impossible, conjecturing that in another existence there might continue the punishments that we receive in this life for our sins.”
“The devil with St. Augustine!” ejaculated Don Filipo. “He wasn’t satisfied with what we suffer here but wished a continuance.”
“Well, so it went” some believed it and others didn’t. Although St. Gregory finally came to admit it in his de quibusdam levibus culpis esse ante judicium purgatorius ignis credendus est,5 yet nothing definite was done until the year 1439, that is, eight centuries later, when the Council of Florence declared that there must exist a purifying fire for the souls of those who have died in the love of God but without having satisfied divine Justice. Lastly, the Council of Trent under Pius IV in 1563, in the twenty-fifth session, issued the purgatorial decree beginning Cura catholica ecclesia, Spiritu Santo edocta, wherein it deduces that, after the office of the mass, the petitions of the living, their prayers, alms, and other pious works are the surest means of freeing the souls. Nevertheless, the Protestants do not believe in it nor do the Greek Fathers, since they reject any Biblical authority for it and say that our responsibility ends with death, and that the ‘Quodcumque ligaberis in terra,’6 does not mean ‘usque ad purgatorium,’7 but to this the answer can be made that since purgatory is located in the center of the earth it fell naturally under the control of St. Peter. But I should never get through if I had to relate all that has been said on the subject. Any day that you wish to discuss the matter with me, come to my house and there we will consult the books and talk freely and quietly.
“Now I must go. I don’t understand why Christian piety permits robbery on this night—and you, the authorities, allow it—and I fear for my books. If they should steal them to read I wouldn’t object, but I know that there are many who wish to burn them in order to do for me an act of charity, and such charity, worthy of the Caliph Omar, is to be dreaded. Some believe that on account of those books I am already damned—”
“But I suppose that you do believe in damnation?” asked Doray with a smile, as she appeared carrying in a brazier the dry palm leaves, which gave off a peculiar smoke and an agreeable odor.
“I don’t know, madam, what God will do with me,” replied the old man thoughtfully. “When I die I will commit myself to Him without fear and He may do with me what He wishes. But a thought strikes me!”
“What thought is that?”
“If the only ones who can be saved are the Catholics, and of them only five per cent—as many curates say—and as the Catholics form only a twelfth part of the population of the world—if we believe what statistics show—it would result that after damning millions and millions of men during the countless ages that passed before the Saviour came to the earth, after a Son of God has died for us, it is now possible to save only five in every twelve hundred. That cannot be so! I prefer to believe and say with Job: ‘Wilt thou break a leaf driven to and fro, and wilt thou pursue the dry stubble?’ No, such a calamity is impossible and to believe it is blasphemy!”
“What do you wish? Divine Justice, divine Purity—”
“Oh, but divine Justice and divine Purity saw the future before the creation,” answered the old man, as he rose shuddering. “Man is an accidental and not a necessary part of creation, and that God cannot have created him, no indeed, only to make a few happy and condemn hundreds to eternal misery, and all in a moment, for hereditary faults! No! If that be true, strangle your baby son sleeping there! If such a belief were not a blasphemy against that God, who must be the Highest Good, then the Phenician Moloch, which was appeased with human sacrifices and innocent blood, and in whose belly were burned the babes torn from their mothers’ breasts, that bloody deity, that horrible divinity, would be by the side of Him a weak girl, a friend, a mother of humanity!”
Horrified, the Lunatic—or the Sage—left the house and ran along the street in spite of the rain and the darkness. A lurid flash, followed by frightful thunder and filling the air with deadly currents, lighted the old man as he stretched his hand toward the sky and cried out: “Thou protestest! I know that Thou art not cruel, I know that I must only name Thee Good!”
The flashes of lightning became more frequent and the storm increased in violence.
1 St. Barbara is invoked during thunder-storms as the special protectress against lightning.—TR.
2 In possibility (i.e., latent) and not: in fact.—TR.
“For this are various penances enjoined;
And some are hung to bleach upon the wind;
Some plunged in waters, others purged in fires,
Till all the dregs are drained, and all the rust expires.”
Dryden, Virgil’s Aeneid, VI.
4 “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”—Luke xxiii, 43.
5 It should be believed that for some light faults there is a purgatorial fire before the judgment.
6 Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth.—Matt, xvi, 19.
7 Even up to purgatory.