After addressing purgatory in The Breviloquium, Saint Bonaventure addresses the second of the antecedents to the Last Judgment, "the suffrages of the Church."
What Bonaventure terms suffrages, we might term prayer and sacrifices. These suffrages, he says,
benefit the dead; that is, those offered specifically for the dead, such as Masses, fastings, alms, and other forms of prayer and penance performed for the purpose of facilitating and hastening the expiation of their sins.
These suffrages do not benefit all of the dead, he is clear to remind us. They do not benefit the Saints - those in heaven - because we count upon and beg their prayers for us, and they cannot benefit the souls in hell - those who are "entirely evil." Our suffrages benefit those souls in purgatory, those who are "imperfectly good."
Being of practical minds, we might wonder how much our suffrages benefit those imperfectly good souls. Naturally, Bonaventure anticipates this question. The level of benefit, he says, "depends both upon the degree of merit of the dead and upon the charity of the living, who may apply them to some souls in preference to others, either to alleviate pain or to hasten relief, as divine providence sees fit for each soul's good."
We would do well to recover the practice of offering our prayers, sufferings and sacrifices for the souls in purgatory, asking God to more swiftly cleanse them that might, as Bonaventure says, "fly out at once and [be] introduced into the glory of paradise."
Now we must consider why our suffrages can benefit those in purgatory. Recalling, again, that God is supremely good, "and hence supremely severe against evil, [God] must display a corresponding supreme sweetness toward good." It is because God is that which is Good that our suffrages are beneficial to those who are suffering. He says:
Therefore, while the just in whom there remains some guilt of sin must be cleansed by the pain of purgatory after this life because of the severity of justice, they must also be lifted up and given assistance and comfort because of the sweetness of mercy; all the more so as they are in a state of pain and can no longer help themselves through good works and merits. Hence it was befitting for divine providence to dispose that suffrages be offered for them by those who could still do so; without, however, impairing the rectitude of justice, from which even the sweetness of divine mercy may not and cannot derogate or separate itself in any way.
Here, Bonaventure brilliantly balances, as it were, the divine justice and the divine mercy.
The Seraphic Doctor notes that rightness of God's justice "respects the honor of God, the government of the universe, and the fact of individual merit." Why must these aspects of God's justice be preserved?
First, he says, the honor of God must be respected and honored, which "requires the performance of works of reparation and penance to atone to Him for sins; therefore," he says, "suffrages are to be offered through such acts as best render satisfaction and repay honor to God." Such acts include fasting, prayer, the giving of alms, and the Holy Mass, "which is the best way of rendering due honor to God."
On a curious note, following Pope Saint Gregory, Saint Bonaventure makes these words of Saint Augustine his own: "the pomp of funeral processions, a costly tomb, solemn burial rites, are rather a solace for the living than a help to the dead." As such, these, says Bonaventure, do not count as suffrages.
Returning, then, to the divine justice, Bonaventure uses the analogy of the body to discuss the preservation of the order of the universe. Our suffrages cannot benefit those in hell because "these are completely separated from the mystical body of Christ." Consequently, "no spiritual effect can reach them, or be of any use to them, any more than the head can have an effect upon members severed from the body."
Likewise, our suffrages cannot benefit the souls in heaven because they "are at the summit and therefore cannot possibly rise any higher." It is, rather, the prayers of the Saints that are beneficial to us.
But whereas our suffrages do not benefit those in heaven or in hell, they do benefit those in purgatory because,
by the fact of suffering without being able to help themselves, they are inferior to the living; but in terms of justice, they are linked to the other members of the Church, so that the merits of the Church may rightly be applied to them. Lastly, the justice of God requires that the consideration of individual merit.
"Therefore," teaches Saint Bonaventure, "such suffrages as are offered for the dead in general, although they are effectivefor all good souls, each in his own measure, convey a greater effect in regard to those who during their life more richly deserved to be affected and assisted by them."
This is not to say that our suffrages do not benefit those who are less worthy of them, but they will rather need more suffrages offered on their behalf. For this reason, we would do well to strive to live as holy a life as possibly while we still may.
Tomorrow we will consider the consuming fire.