Is there literal physical fire in Purgatory? Video and Thomas Aquinas

The Eastern Orthodox often reject the Latin doctrine of Purgatory based on the Latin tradition of “physical fire” purifying souls in purgatory.

The Latin phrase used by Thomas Aquinas and others is “corporal fire.” For example:

I answer that, In Purgatory there will be a twofold pain; one will be the pain of loss, namely the delay of the divine vision, and the pain of sense, namely punishment by corporeal fire. (STh Supp. App I. q. 2, a. 5)

The Latin is ignis corporalis. The “corporeal fire” of Purgatory is one of the doctrines that the Greek Orthodox objected to during the Second Council of Lyons (1274). Saint Thomas Aquinas was discharged to defend the doctrine at this council, but he died on the way. Saint Bonaventure was sent in his stead (and Bonaventure died at the end of Council).

I very rarely disagree with Saint Thomas Aquinas, but I do disagree here – but I will offer a Benedict XVI suggestion that might provide a unique solution.

How can “corporeal fire” purify an immaterial non-corporeal soul in Purgatory? This is a metaphysical problem. You cold corporeal fire under an immaterial soul all day long and it would not touch the soul. And yet Thomas is insistent on the fire of Purgatory (and Gehenna) as corporeal.

Pope Benedict, in his Encyclical Spe Salvi, writes:

Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Savior. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgment. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves (Pope Benedict, Spe Salvi 47).

This goes along with the teaching of Moses that “the Lord your God is a consuming fire” (Deut 4:24). If Christ Himself is the purifying fire, then here’s the twist: Christ is corporeal! He is resurrected. So a Christian might in fact say that the fire of purgatory is “corporeal” if in fact we are referencing the resurrected corpus Christi.

burning bush icon

Is the particular judgment when we stand face to face with the resurrected Christ the burning fire of love that hurts, burns, cleanses, and restores the soul alive with sanctifying grace but lacking full sanctification at death. I think so.

I think all of this can be held along with holding (as do I) that Purgatory is “located” not in Heaven with the Beatific Vision but in the Infernus or Sheol.

Here’s my video on Saint Thomas Aquinas and the Four Regions of Hell:

Question: Comments are open. Please share your thoughts. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

7 Reasons to Love Saint Thomas Aquinas in 2017

Happy feast day of Saint Thomas Aquinas.

If you wish that you had that intellectual edge in discussing and debating Catholicism, Thomas Aquinas is your best resource. And yet, most Catholics feel intimidated by Thomas Aquinas because they have been wrongly introduced to him and his writings. It doesn’t need to be that way. Thomas Aquinas expressly stated that he wrote for “beginners in theology.”

I’ve assembled over 100 video lessons to help you answer skeptics, Evangelicals, Mormons, Muslims, atheists, and fallen away Catholic through the lens of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Since it is his feast day, I want to share one with you:

Here is a free sample video on “7 Reasons to Love Saint Thomas Aquinas”. Like all of our New Saint Thomas Institute HD video lessons, it is short, to the point, and provides you practical and tangible theological education:

If you’d like to join the New Saint Thomas Institute, you can take more classes like this, receive access to hundreds of free Catholic books by the saints and Fathers and follow our clear and organized curricula in:

  1. Certificate in Catholic Philosophy and Thomistic Studies
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  6. Certificate in Church History: Modern (coming 2017)
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I Had a Donald Trump Dream Last Night

Last night I had a dream that I was having dinner with Donald Trump.

He was looking for an expert in natural law and positive law to advise him for the next four years and he wanted me to walk him through the Catholic position on the matter.

It was a vivid dream:

I can remember the food on the table (fried chicken fingers!) as I step-by-step guided Mr. Trump through Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Summa theologiae I-II qq. 91-95. I wrote my PhD dissertation on this section of the Summa, so I literally “know it in my sleep.”

We talked about eternal law and natural law and the relationship between civil/human law to natural law. It was a dream-state Socratic dialogue between me and The Donald.

And then I woke up.

Mr. Trump if you have questions on natural law, I’m ready. (But let’s get something better than chicken fingers.)

Make America in Accord with Natural Law Again.




Origen’s Solution to the Predestination Debate

It’s time to talk about Origen – the third century priest that allegedly castrated himself and rivaled Saint Thomas Aquinas in writing a great number of biblical commentaries, sermons, and theological books (allegedly thousands of books according to his contemporaries).

NSTI Catholic Video Lesson on the Life and Theology of Origen, student member link here:

Origen of Alex Video

But today we are getting crazy and talking about Origen…and his view of predestination as it relates to pre-existent souls.

Catholics and the Problem of Predestination

We have often discussed the intramural Catholic debate about Predestination over at the New Saint Thomas Institute: Augustine, double predestination, Molinism, Thomas Aquinas, Jansenism, etc.

Most new Catholic students react by saying, “Well we’re Catholics. We don’t believe in predestination.” The problem is that it is in the Bible and so we have to account for what it means. Saint Paul refers to predestination:

Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified (Romans 8:28-30).

In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11).

The Greek word is προορίζω (proorizó).

To lay my cards on the table, I float back and forth between Molinism and Thomas Aquinas’s solution. If you are interested in this topic in Catholic theology and history, please use the search function at or better yet watch some of our videos on Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and the topic of predestination.

Origen and Predestination

One perspective that I’ve avoided entirely is the solution to predestination presented by Origen of Alexandria. This really out there, so hang with me.

Origen, in his book Peri Archon, states repeatedly that all rational creatures were once equally ranked minds prior to the creation of the universe.

According to Origen, God created millions of minds. He then tested these minds and they strayed from God to greater or lesser degrees.

  1. Those that hardly strayed became angels and were arranged in an angelic hierarchy in accord to their fidelity to God.
  2. Those that strayed more were destined to become humans in the future.
  3. Those that strayed far away from God became demons and were arranged in a demonic hierarchy in accord to their hatred for God.

One of Origen’s favorites verses was Jeremiah 1:5:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”


For Origen this proves that Jeremiah (and all humans) existed before they were formed in the womb – and some were already consecrated.

Another one from the canonical scriptures would be Wisdom 8:19-20:

“As a child I was naturally gifted, and a good soul fell to my lot; or rather, being good, I entered an undefiled body.”

This verse seem to hold that “a good soul feel to my lot” and that the soul pre-existed the body and entered into it.

Origen also states that out of the millions of minds, one single mind did not stray at all. This one single soul remained 100% allied with God’s will and so it was immediately united with the Divine Logos – the Second Person of the Trinity. This was the soul that would eventually assume a body in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

Now Origen, then claims that it appears entirely unjust for some people to be born as Moses, Abraham, David, or John the Baptist while others are born as heathens. That’s totally unfair and this is often a topic of debate in youth groups and philosophical symposia about God’s justice.

Origen, says: “The answer is easy! Everyone is given a perfectly crafted life in conformity to their fidelity to God in the test prior to creation.”

So if a baby dies early. If a person is born in idolatrous India. If a girls is born in 1873 into the Martin family in Lisieux, France. If a boy is born into the Polish Wojtyła family in 1920…All these scenarios follow from God’s judgment of a soul’s response to God before creation.

Origen states that every person’s life was designed for their salvation based on their previous inclination (or lack thereof) in the test prior to the creation of the galaxy.

Origen says that Taylor Marshall was born into a nominally Christian home in Fort Worth Texas and given all by set backs and privileges based on how my pre-existent mind behaved toward God zillions of years ago.

Assessment of Origen and Predestination

Mormons have taken Origen’s doctrine of pre-existent souls. They hold something similar. Catholics, however, reject these schema. It has, however, been held by Catholics:

  • Origen died in good standing.
  • It’s likely that Clement of Alexandria held to this view of pre-existent souls.
  • Didymus the Blind (a saint in the Oriental Orthodox Churches) held it.
  • Perhaps Saint Gregory of Nyssa held it.
  • The early Saint Basil the Great and the early Saint Gregory of Nazianzus held it. They later reject it.
  • Allegedly, Saint Jerome held to this view in his early priesthood but later condemned it loudly and insistently.
  • And there is no doubt that Evagrius Ponticus held to this view of pre-existence of souls and especially held to the role of the one sinless mind that became the soul of Christ which united to the Logos.
  • The doctrine of pre-existent souls was condemned by the local Synod of Constantinople (AD 543) then again by the Emperor Justinian in his Edict of AD 544.
  • The 5th Ecumenical Council (Constantinople II in 553) allegedly condemned this theology, but modern scholars are divided on whether the Fathers of the Council truly ratified the rulings of the Synod of Constantinople in AD 543.
  • Notably, many of the quotes condemned as “Origenist” actually come from a book written by Evagrius Ponticus.

I don’t see how a Catholic would want to follow this view of predestination by Origen. I can see why a Catholic would be attracted to it. It levels out divine justice. It’s almost like Hindu karma. It allows a Christian to say, “So you don’t like your life? Sorry, but you earned it millions of years ago in a spiritual realm where you tested and apparently you failed. If you had acted better, you’d be Saint Michael the Archangel or a cherub. As it is, you are merely you. God has given you this particular life because it is the best way for you to be saved. Offer it up!”

Despite Jeremiah 1:5 stating “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you,” Sacred Scripture teaches that we come into being in our mother’s womb. We don’t pre-exist. The mystery of why Moses was born Moses and Pharoah was born Pharaoh remains a mystery. The tension I read in Romans 8-10 seems to keep this tension and does nothing to resolve it.

For this reason, the Catholic tradition has sought to find alternate views of predestination. Augustine holding to an unconditional predestination. Molinism holding to foreseen merits. And then various versions of the two systems.

One final strike against pre-existent souls is that none of us remember it. It seems that if we are punished or rewarded, we should know. That alone seems unjust.

Question: The first time I heard, my mind was blown. I’m interested to hear your thoughts and questions on this topic. I look forward to your thoughts. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Descended into Hell and Today you will be with me in Paradise: How does this fit?

Waiting in Limbo...

Renee, a student member of the New Saint Thomas Institute recently asked this question:

Ok, I am confused about something in regard to this subject.
As Jesus hung on the cross, one of the crucified thieves acknowledged Him as the Son of God, acknowledged Christ’s innocence, confessed his own sins, and asked to be remembered. The Bible says: (Luke 23:43) ‘Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” ‘
Since Jesus truly died, then descended into hell to preach, and then rose again on the third day, how is the construction of the sentence in Luke 23:43 possible? It makes sense to me if you move the comma like so: “Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in paradise”.

What is going on with this passage? How can the thief be with Jesus in paradise on THAT day when Jesus has descended (or will descend) into hell? Does the original Greek have a different context? Any help would be appreciated.

And here is my answer:

10 Reasons to Study Thomas Aquinas in 2016

I heard a priest say in his homily: “I do not recommend that you read Thomas Aquinas.” He had praised the great patron of theology, education, and scholar, but then implied that Saint Thomas was “too difficult.”

“Thomas Aquinas is too hard,” is a common myth and it derives from decades of teachers who were not enthusiastic and skilled in making Catholic Theology via Thomas Aquinas accessible to the ordinary person.

So here are 10 Reasons to Study Thomas Aquinas for 2016. Below you also find resources to help you:

Thomas Aquinas resized

Could You Explain Natural Law and Homosexuality?

Have you ever found yourself in a position where you needed to explain or defend our Catholic teaching about traditional matrimony, homosexuality, abortion, etc?

We can use Scripture and Tradition, but when talking to a non-Christian we often need to reach deeper and craft the discussion around NATURAL LAW. Natural Law Theory is one of the most powerful teachings – and yet so few Catholics know what it is or how to use it.

You are invited. Please join us:

I wrote my PhD dissertation on Natural Law and Thomas Aquinas, and I’ll be giving a short and complimentary online class on Natural Law and how it will help you understand and explain key topics related to human sexuality, grace, and apologetics.

All attendees will receive a pdf copy of our Catholic Bible Cheat Sheet (gives all the Bibile verses for all our Catholic doctrines) and a Worksheet on Natural Law. It’s a free gift to help you in the New Evangelization.

Please click the button below or click here to register and reserve your spot:

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VIDEO: How to Share Catholic Faith with Jewish Friends

Hanukah ends this week: So how do you convincingly and charitably share the Jewish Faith with your Catholic friend or family member?

Despite what you may have heard elsewhere, we Christians really do want our Jewish family and friends to experience the healing of baptism and the joys and consolation of the Holy Eucharist!

Thomas looking at NSTIChrist is the King of the Jews, and (as St Paul and St Thomas Aquinas teach) their personal reception of Christ brings glory to God and is an eschatological sign!

I’m really excited to share with you this HD Catholic Class from the New Saint Thomas Institute with detailed practical advice on sharing the Catholic Faith with Jewish family, friends, and co-workers. Hanukah ends this week so it’s a great opportunity to brush up on your Catholic theology and Old Testament skills.

[If you already are a Member of the New Saint Thomas Institute, you received this video lesson last week, plus so much more. Your premium version access of this video is available here.]

If you’re not a Member of the New Saint Thomas Institute, here is a free sample of our high quality Catholic theological videos:

HD Video: How to Share Catholic Faith with a Jewish Friend:

If you don’t see this theological video in your email, click here to begin watching it.

If you are not yet a Member of the New Saint Thomas Institute and want to study Catholic theology with us online and earn your Certificate, our Advent Enrollment is currently open!

You can receive our Advent Apologetics package and over 100 videos on Catholic Theology and Apologetics by signing up today:

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Sign up as a Student Member at the New Saint Thomas Institute by clicking here.

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You Need a Theology of Delayed Gratification!

Learn to wait and delay good things...

Did you know that there is a connection between your child waiting for the prayer of blessing before meals and his ability to avoid premarital sex?

It has to do with delayed gratification:

When we sit down at a meal, it is just and right that we first thank God and ask His blessing upon the food that we are about to enjoy. Then, and only then, do we pick up our forks and eat.

Little children are usually tempted to sneak a bite from their plates while mother is turned around getting the last dish on the table. It’s the duty of parents to stop this. The children must learn to wait. Why?

Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 2.56.14 PMWell one day their appetites will include not only food for preservation of the human body, but they will have an intense appetite for the preservation of the human race. Will they be allowed to nibble a little bit here and there before the blessing? In case you’re not following the analogy:

hungry child > dinner blessing > fulfillment of hunger appetite

young person > matrimonial blessing > fulfillment of sexual appetite

You see if Timmy learns that he can eat before the family is assembled and father leads in the religious blessing, well then, Timmy will not likely wait to have sex until after his family is assembled at church and Father has pronounced the religious blessing on Timmy’s bride and Timmy at the altar.

Are you following this?

Delaying Good Things for Good Reasons:

And this isn’t just about family meals. It’s about everything. School, jobs, Advent, Lent, the Eucharistic fast, fish Fridays, penance, sacramental preparation, childbearing, childrearing, illness, natural death, and so on and so on.

Catholicism is the religion of delayed gratification. This life is a test run to determine our eternal gratification. If we live only to have pleasure in the now, we won’t have beatitude in the future. Christ has instituted His Catholic Church to provide us with small mini-trials every day.

The Eucharistic fast is one obvious example. Humbling one’s self in the confessional before receiving the Holy Eucharist is another. It’s learning how to do something difficult or inconvenient for some other greater good.

Let’s go back to Timmy. If Timmy learns to break the Eucharistic fast or cheat his resolutions during Lent, what will he do in other areas of life? He’ll push the boundaries, but ultimately he’ll fail because he does not understand that all success derives from delayed gratification – both temporal and eternal.

Look at all these hipsters in America. They have college degrees. They vote. They are somewhat intelligent. They even own an interesting collection of vinyl records. Yet they do not have jobs.

It’s now being reported that our college educated hipsters are becoming dependent on state subsidies. They hang out in coffee shops discussing Renoir, Radiohead, and Rousseau, but they buy their groceries with food-stamps! It looks like they’ve fallen for the hipster trap.

What’s going on here?

These young people have been raised to reject delayed gratification. They are the products of society that glorifies immediate gratification  They want meaningful jobs…right now. They want to be art gallery directors, professors, CEOs, non-profit directors, film-directors, Facebook creators, authors, actors, and poets.

What they don’t see is that it takes a helluva lot of hard work to ascend to these professions.

This is why we must realize the value of Catholicism for our culture. Catholicism, in this regard, helps us in two ways: The first way is supernatural and the second way natural, temporal, and social.

  1. First, the Catholic theology of waiting confirms that the honors and accolades of this world are vanity of vanities. The Faith is what led the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to resign his power and live his remaining days in an obscure monastery. The smaller natural pleasures of this life are not worth trading for the enormous supernatural beatitude to be attained in the next. This life itself is a prolonged wait for something better and beyond.
  2. Secondly, the theology of waiting or delayed gratification is not one of passivity. You are active and waiting. Unlike the ideology of hipsters smoking hand rolled cigarettes and complaining about those faceless stiff-shirts belonging to the “one percent,” the theology of waiting calls for sacrifice now for something better later. So if you want a meaningful job, get up off your skinny jeans and produce something. Contribute. Nobody cares about your thoughts and feelings unless they contribute to something. If you’re an artist, it may take you 20 years to actually sell something. If you can’t accept that, then don’t throw a tantrum and complain about the world. Learn a little delayed gratification. Write down your goals and realize that it takes a long time to reach important goals.

Contraception and Delay:

Contraception is the perfect example for our society’s desire for instant gratification. Contraception is the idea that you can have lots and lots of immediate pleasure (feels really awesome!) without committing to one person (a sacrificial act), and without committing to a pregnancy (a hugely sacrificial act), and without committing to raising a human person for eighteen years (an immensely sacrificial act).

Back to Timmy for one last time. From the time Timmy is born, he will be maintaining his “threshold for waiting.” He will observe the “threshold of waiting” in his parents. Do they live on a whim? Do they go into debt to have fun now? Are they penitential? Are they religious hypocrites? Then he will begin to see how the standard for the “threshold of waiting” is applied to him. Is he allowed to throw temper-tantrums when he is not immediately gratified. Will he persevere in household tasks? Will he finish homework? Will he keep the Eucharistic fast or will he sneak a cookie before Mass? Will he maintain simple customs such as not eating before the Blessing? You get the idea.

If Timmy does not learn this Catholic principle of delayed gratification, what will he become? He’ll become a contracepting hipster with a B.A. waiting for that $60,000 job to fall into his lap. Regrettably, he’ll be a nothing. Worst of all, he won’t live the abundant life that Christ promised for those who would take up their cross and follow Him.

Of course, it’s not easy to assume this theology of waiting. It is the most difficult teaching of Catholicism. As the Blessed Virgin Mary said to Saint Bernadette: “I promise to make you happy, not in this world, but in the next.” Those words terrify me. However, it is a sure promise. None of us will be perfectly happy in this life. It’s just not going to happen.

C.S. Lewis once speculated that if God gave us perfect happiness in this life, it would be unjust since we would then stop seeking after God Himself. Saint Thomas Aquinas would say it is impossible to find happiness anywhere else since our Summum Bonum is none other than God Himself.

So don’t get down in the mouth about delayed gratification. It’s delayed…not never. Life won’t be perfect. Embrace this truth. There is freedom in it. There is joy in realizing it. Here the verse that wraps it all up nicely:

“But if you partake of the sufferings of Christ, rejoice that when his glory shall be revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” (1 Peter 4:13)

And another:

“But he that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved.” (Matthew 24:13)

Taylor R. Marshall

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Did Thomas Aquinas Fear the Man of One Book?

A member of the New Saint Thomas Institute recently asked a good question about Saint Thomas Aquinas:

aquinasDear Taylor,
I am truly fascinated by Saint Thomas aquinas’ comment Beware the man of one book.
I can interpret that two ways and I was wondering if you had the original italian, because the word ‘un’ in Italian can mean one book or it can mean a book, and this would help better interpret the meaning.
If it means one book, then it can mean that a man who writes only one book could be limited in his views.
It can also mean that the writer of one book has put a lot of thought and study into writing and therefore he is a thinker and therefore, a person to be reckoned with or an authority on a subject.
On the other hand, to beware of the man who writes A book could mean any book (indefinite article.) which can then mean that he thinks he is an expert and may not be.
So I would love to know the original Italian and context for nothing more than curiosity.


Dear Catherine,

You have some amazing analysis of this quote! I’ve never thought so much about it!

Fortunately for us, Thomas didn’t usually write in Italian! Let’s get into the Latin, which makes it very clear.

We don’t know if Thomas Aquinas really said this (it’s not in his Works as far as I’ve read), but in Latin the received Thomistic proverb is: “Hominem unius libri timeo.” I fear the man of a single book.

Here unius means one and only one. In a medieval context it would refer to a man who has only studied one book. Probably not a man who has written only one book.

So Saint Thomas Aquinas, if he really said it, is communicating that he fears “scholars” who only have a single speciality and not a breath of knowledge (as did his master Saint Albert the Great).

As we show in the New Saint Thomas Institute, Saint Thomas Aquinas was a master of:

  1. Old Testament
  2. New Testament
  3. Aristotle
  4. Boethius
  5. Augustine
  6. Dionysius the Areopagite
  7. Eastern Church Fathers
  8. Science and Astronomy (for his time)
  9. Practical sermons and preaching

Thomas was hardly a man of one book or one speciality. I hope that helps. Thanks for the question!


PS: A few “back to school” slots will be opening up on Monday Aug 17 2015 for those that want to study with us at the New Saint Thomas Institute (NSTI). Please join the NSTI waiting list in order to hold a reservation.