Our Lord will come and purge the Temples of our Souls – Fr H.J. Coleridge SJ, 1889

“How much more terribly will His zeal burn when He comes to the soul which has been the chosen dwelling-place of God?”


The Prisoners of the King
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Thoughts on the Catholic Doctrine of Purgatory
Fr Henry James Coleridge SJ

Burns and Oates, London
pp 17-27
UK readers
Internet Archive
Image from Wiki Commons, Public Domain

Fr Henry James Coleridge SJ – On Purgatory

One of the greatest pains of Purgatory and how to avoid it
What might Jairus’s Daughter tell us about the pains of Purgatory?
Our Lady, the Rosary and the Holy Souls
Our Lord will come and purge the Temples of our Souls
The price of delay in relieving the souls in Purgatory

Purity required by God in those who see Him in Heaven
The Cleansing of the Temple

Was the cleansing of the Temple a miracle?

The cleansing of the Temple, an action which was twice performed by our Blessed Lord, at the beginning and at the very end of His Public Ministry, is not, strictly speaking, reckoned among His miracles. It was a moral, rather than a material, miracle, and the result was produced by the effect of His wonderful majesty and dignity, by the panic which fell upon the merchants in the Temple, produced, no doubt, in part by their own unquiet consciences and the reverence which they knew to be due to the Holy Place, and perhaps by other spiritual influences working upon them.

And yet St. Jerome reckons this action as among the greatest of our Lord’s miracles, using the word in the widest sense which it usually bears. For certainly, few things could be more wonderful than to see a crowd of busy money-getters, bent on their own enrichment and tolerated by the authorities of the Temple, suddenly driven in fear and confusion from its courts by a single Man, armed with no authority but that inherent to His own Person, with no visible assistance, and no weapon in His hand more formidable than a scourge of small cords.

The malice and obstinacy of men, the hardness of heart which is produced by a life given up to sensuality or to the eager pursuit of wealth – these are forces which seem more difficult to tame and cow than the physical elements or the diseases which assail the body.

In this sense, then, this action was a great miracle, and, being so, we shall find that it affords us more than one point which may be profitably studied by us in our considerations with relation to Purgatory, and which may help us both to avoid those punishments ourselves, and to deliver from them others who are now undergoing them.

What happened

St. John tells us, then, that soon after the miracle at Cana, our Lord went up with His disciples to the feast of the Pasch at Jerusalem. He found the Temple crowded, not only with worshippers from all parts of the Holy Land, and, indeed, of the Roman world, but also by other occupants who had established a custom which sanctioned their presence.

“He found in the Temple those who sold oxen and sheep and the changers of money sitting.” Upon this our Lord made a sort of scourge of small cords, “and drove them all out of the Temple, the oxen and the sheep also, and He poured out the money of the money changers, and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves He said, Take these things hence, and make not the house of My Father a house of traffic.”

St. John adds an authentic commentary on this remarkable action of our Blessed Lord, when he says that His disciples afterwards applied to it the saying of the Psalmist, “The zeal of Thy house hath eaten Me up.”[1] The motive, therefore, which prompted our Lord was the zeal for the purity and honour of the house of His Father – as, indeed, is shown by His own words to the sellers of doves, “Make not the house of My Father a house of traffic” – words which are still further illustrated by what He said on the second occasion on which He cleansed the Temple, when He quoted the prophecy, that, “My house shall be called the house of prayer to all nations.”[2]

It was inconsistent with the reverence which was befitting a place in which God was so specially worshipped, and in which He vouchsafed to dwell with a peculiar kind of presence, such as was to be found nowhere else in the whole world, that traffic should be carried on in its courts, even though it was traffic which was, more or less, necessary on account of the sacrifices and offerings which were there made by the many devout persons from all parts of the world who came thither to honour God.

Such persons required that the money which they brought with them should be changed for coin which could be offered in the Temple many of the coins which they brought from abroad being idolatrous in their inscriptions and also that they should find at some convenient place near at hand the victims which were prescribed for the various kinds of sacrifices which their circumstances or their piety prompted them to offer. This traffic, therefore, was not in itself sinful, except in so far as it was carried on in an unjust spirit of extortion by the dealers whom our Lord drove out.

But it was something profane in the place in which it was carried on – something inconsistent with the perfect silence and reverence, the spirit of worship, adoration, recollection, the intimate feeling of God’s near presence, which became the courts of that solemn Temple, and our Lord’s burning love for His Father’s honour would not suffer it. It was now that was fulfilled of Him that prophecy of Malachias, which is also applied to His presence in the Temple at the Purification of His Blessed Mother,

“Presently the Lord Whom you seek, and the Angel of the Testament, Whom you desire, shall come to His Temple. Behold, He cometh, saith the Lord of hosts. And who shall be able to think of the day of His coming? and who shall stand to see Him? For He is like a refining fire.”[3]

His zeal for God’s honour made Him lay aside the meekness and gentleness which were His ordinary characteristics. They made Him take the law into His own hands, though in all other matters He refused to assume the office of a judge or of an executioner of justice. They made Him use a sort of violence, although even this was tempered by considerateness and equity, for He was less severe on those who sold doves, the offerings of the poor, and simply bade them remove the cages in which they were confined from the courts of the Temple.

Our Lord’s zeal for the purity of those who enter Heaven

We have therefore, in this action of our Lord, as has been said, an instance of His zeal for the honour of His Father, and of His high sense of the ineffable purity and holiness which must be required in all that dwells or passes in His sanctuary.

Our thoughts pass very easily from this consideration to that in which this significant action becomes an image of the severity with which our Lord’s Heart must burn at the sight of anything that is unworthy or unbecoming in those who are to live in the presence of God, and in whom He has, as the Scripture tells us, taken up His abode.

St. Paul tells us that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost, and we know from many other passages in Sacred Scripture that the hearts and souls of Christians are the chosen sanctuaries in which God delights to dwell.

If, then, our Lord, when as yet His mission was one of mercy, when He came in meekness, lowliness, and humility, not breaking the bruised reed or quenching the smoking flax, yet felt Himself constrained to lay aside His gentleness in order to cleanse the Temple with a scourge, how much more terribly will His zeal for the honour of His Father burn “like a refining fire” when He comes to the soul which has been the chosen dwelling-place of God at its last day, when He comes, not as Saviour only, but as Judge, and when the very reason of His coming, is that He may exact a most minute account of all our shortcomings, and punish with due severity everything which He finds unworthy of the presence of God?

It is not a material temple, which is doomed to perish, which He will then come to cleanse and purge of all that He finds unbecoming in it. It is not a temple in which God will dwell for a time only, and then depart. The souls of Christians which are presented to Him by their Guardian Angels at the moment of Particular Judgment are intended by His immense mercy to live in His presence and sanctuary throughout all eternity, and He is to take up His abode in them and never to depart from them.

They are to be for ever the homes of most holy thoughts, most burning affections of the purest and sublimest charity; they are to be filled with the supernatural knowledge of Him and of all His works and ways, and to be flooded, without being destroyed thereby, by the ineffable ecstatic love which is the fruit of the Beatific Vision.

No presence of God in an earthly temple can be compared with the close and intimate union between Him and them in Heaven.

How can He, Who was full of zeal for the external purity of the material Temple at Jerusalem, bear, in souls like these, which He has purchased with His own Blood and fed upon the graces which flow therefrom, with anything that is soiled, or crooked, or mean, or earthly, the miserable results of passion, or carelessness with anything, in short, which may fairly move Him to anger on account of His zeal for the justice of God and the holiness of all that are to belong to Him?

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Our great need of purification

On the other hand, when we consider what we may well suppose to be true as to the state in which many souls meet our Lord as their Judge, souls which nevertheless die in His faith and in His grace, we may well say to ourselves that He must find in them far more things to offend His most pure eyes and to provoke His anger than He found on this occasion in the Temple at Jerusalem.

For such things are all the arrears of penance undone for sins confessed and absolved; all the penalties of sins, lighter in comparison with mortal sins, but still very displeasing to Him in themselves, which through carelessness and want of self-knowledge have never been retracted and made the subject of sorrow – sins of habit, sins caused in others by bad example or negligence, sins of others in which we have shared, besides the immense and overwhelming multitude of sins of omission.

The holy Psalmist cries out: “Who can understand sins? From my secret ones cleanse me, O Lord, and from those of others spare Thy servant.”[4] No doubt many of these debts to the justice of God may have been cancelled in various ways before the moment of death; but here, again, we are met by the thought of our extreme carelessness in doing penance, in the practice of good works which may satisfy God s justice, in gaining Indulgences, and the like.

When we put together the thought of the intense purity which is required for God’s presence and the thought of the blindness and carelessness of many Christians as to the debt which they owe to His justice, we are certainly led to the fear that our Lord, when, in this sense, He comes to His living temples, will usually be obliged to exercise very great severity, and we find it easy to understand that those who pass from His judgment-seat to their thrones in Heaven without experiencing the pains of Purgatory are few indeed.

What light does this shed on Purgatory?

Indeed, if it were not for the blessed knowledge which our faith assures to us of the ineffable mercy of God in the Incarnation of His Son and the Redemption of the world through Him, the thought of the infinite justice of God might well make us wonder how anyone can stand in that terrible moment of the Particular Judgment.

And, in the same way, the glimpse of our Lord’s severity, in His zeal for the honour of His Father, which is afforded us in this action on which we are meditating, might very well help us to understand the teaching of Scripture and of the Saints as to the very great sufferings to which the souls in Purgatory are subjected, in order to the full expiation of their faults and that perfect purification which is necessary to them to make them fit to stand before God for ever.

The more fully we are enabled by the teaching of the Holy Ghost to understand, in part at least, the holiness of God, the more shall we be prepared to believe in the intensity of the pains of Purgatory.

But now – to take up the thought which presented itself so naturally to us in the first of these considerations – there is indeed no vestige in the sacred history on which we are meditating of any help or even encouragement furnished to our Lord in His work of purification by the bystanders or witnesses of His action of zeal.

But, when we turn our minds to that other purification of which we are considering this cleansing of the Temple to have been a figure, we find that it is in our power very materially to assist our Lord, to share, as it were, His work with Him, and by so doing to gain His gratitude and the abundant blessings which flow from His Sacred Heart on all who in any way advance what He is engaged upon.

Surely it would have been a most blessed work and a service to our Lord which He would have repaid in His own magnificent way, if the disciples, or the priests and officers of the Temple, had thrown themselves into the work which He had begun, and removed with their own hands the articles and animals which offended His eyes.

This is what we can do.

For we can make the accomplishment of the work of purgation of the Holy Souls more easy and more rapid by the many means which He has placed at our disposal of helping those blessed victims of His justice, who are, at the same time, the objects of His tenderest love.

Their immense sufferings, far greater than any that we can either feel or imagine upon earth, may well enough move us to compassion, and make us exert ourselves for them as we do when we see our fellow-creatures in the agonies of death from hunger, or disease, or pain of any kind. At such a time we do not hesitate to sacrifice ease, comfort, our own resources, even what may now or hereafter be most necessary for ourselves – the extreme needs of those who are bound to us by so many ties of nature and grace overpower all other claims.

But it is not compassion for the suffering souls alone which is suggested to us as the motive of our charity by the action of our Lord of which we are considering. It is also a desire to see His zeal for the glory of His Father and the holiness required in everything that belongs to Him, satisfied – a desire that everything that is unbecoming may be swept away at once from the sanctuary of God, that the temple, in which He is delighted to dwell for ever, may be at once made fit for His Presence, “not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing,”[5] as St. Paul says of the Church.

How zeal for the Holy Souls affects ourselves

And, with regard to ourselves, it is impossible but that the kindling in our hearts of the flame of zeal for the purity of God’s abode should very greatly help us to make our own hearts fit dwellings, as far as may be, for the Holy Ghost.

The very consideration of the holiness of God and of the very great dishonour to Him which may be brought about by the careless and indifferent lives of those who belong to Him, must in itself furnish a powerful motive for the avoidance of such negligence on our own part, and for the immediate cancelling, by means of the holy sacraments, prayer, penance, almsdeeds, and the like, of the debt which we ourselves may have contracted to His justice.

The consideration that the soul of the Christian is, in truth, the chosen temple and abode of God cannot be deeply rooted in the soul, without, by the assistance of His grace, producing in us a readiness in that holy exercise of the Presence of God which is of such immense importance in the process of sanctification.

These two fruits are, as it were, naturally engendered by the zeal and devotion for the relief of the Holy Souls. But we have not only to deal with the fruits which are given up to this devotion. We may also reckon on the bountiful goodness and graciousness of our Blessed Lord, Whose part, as it were, we take when we aid in the purification of these holy prisoners.

We may also look for an especial blessing and assistance from His own Royal Mother, the Queen of Purgatory, the first, as we saw in the former meditation, to exert herself in a cause like that of the sufferers there. We may expect that their patron saints, and indeed the whole company of the Blessed, will assist us in keeping our own souls free from stain, or in getting rid of any stains which may now infect them, as well as on the intense and burning gratitude of the Holy Souls themselves a gratitude only to be measured by their sense of the awful holiness of God and of the seventy of His judgments.

Further Reading

From Fr Henry James Coleridge SJ, The Prisoners of the King – Thoughts on the Catholic Doctrine of Purgatory. Also available for UK readers and at the Internet Archive

Fr Henry James Coleridge SJ – On Purgatory

One of the greatest pains of Purgatory and how to avoid it
What might Jairus’s Daughter tell us about the pains of Purgatory?
Our Lady, the Rosary and the Holy Souls
Our Lord will come and purge the Temples of our Souls
The price of delay in relieving the souls in Purgatory

Fr Henry James Coleridge SJ – On the End of the World

What are the warnings that the final storm approaches?
The Church in the Last Days – Part I: How will we see her?
The Church in the Last Days – Part II: How will we know her?


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[1] Psalm lxviii 10.

[2] St Mark xi 17; Isaias lvi 7

[3] Mal. III, 1, 2.

[4] Psalm xviii. 13.

[5] Ephes. v. 27.

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