You only get once chance.
1 From these points, of course, we can gather that immediately after death the souls of men receive either punishment or reward according to their merits.
2 For the separated souls are susceptible to punishment, not only to spiritual, but even to bodily, punishment, as has been shown. That they are susceptible to glory is manifest from the points treated in Book III. For the separation of the soul from the body makes it capable of the divine vision, and it was unable to arrive at this so long as it was united to the corruptible body.
Now, in the vision of God consists man’s ultimate beatitude, which is the “reward of virtue.” But there would be no reason why punishment should differ from reward, in each of which the soul can share. Therefore, immediately after its separation from the body the man’s soul receives its reward or punishment “according as he bath done in the body (see 2 Cor. 5:10).
3 In that life, too, there is the state of being paid or docked; hence, the comparison to “warfare” and “the days of the hireling,” as is clear in Job (7:1): “The life of man upon earth is a warfare, and his days are like the days of a hireling.”
But, after the state of warfare and the labor of the hireling, the reward or punishment is straightway due those who have fought well or badly; hence, we read in Leviticus (19:13): “The wages of him that bath been hired by you shall not abide with you until the morning”; and in Joel (3:4): “I will very soon return you a recompense upon your own head.” Immediately after death, therefore, the souls receive either reward or punishment.
4 There is, moreover, in the order of fault and merit a harmony with the order of punishment and reward. But merit and fault are fitted to the body only through the soul, since there is essentially no merit or demerit except so far as a thing is voluntary. Therefore, both reward and punishment flow suitably from the soul to the body, but it does not belong to the soul by reason of the body. There is, therefore, no reason in the infliction of punishment or bestowal of reward why the souls should wait for the resumption of their bodies; rather, it seems more fitting that, since the souls had priority in the fault or merit, they have priority also in being punished or rewarded.
5 Then, too, the same providence of God owes rational creatures their reward or punishment which bestows on the natural things the perfections due them. But it happens this way in natural things: Everything immediately receives the perfection for which it has capacity unless there is an obstacle an the part of the one receiving or of the one giving the perfection. Therefore, since the souls immediately after they are separated from the body have a capacity for glory or punishment, they will straightway receive one or the other, and neither the reward of the good nor the punishment of the evil is put off until the souls take up their bodies again.
6 Nonetheless, one must weigh the fact that in the case of the good there can be an obstacle to keep the souls from receiving their ultimate reward, which consists in the vision of God, right after their release from the body.
To that vision no rational creature can be elevated unless it be thoroughly and entirely purified, since that vision exceeds the whole of the creatures natural powers. Hence, Wisdom (7:25) says of wisdom that “no defiled thing comes into her”; and Isaiah (55:8) says of “the holy way, the unclean shall not pass over it.” But by sin the soul is unclean in its disordered union to inferior things.
To be sure, the soul is purified from this uncleanness in this life by penance and the other sacraments. as was said above, but it does at times happen that such purification is not entirely perfected in this life, one remains a debtor for the punishment, whether by reason of some negligence, or business, or even because a man is overtaken by death. Nevertheless, he is not entirely cut off from his reward, because such things can happen without mortal sin, which alone takes away the charity to which the reward of eternal life is due.
And this is clear from what was said in Book III. They must, then, be purged after this life before they achieve the final reward. This purgation, of course, is made by punishments, just as in this life their purgation would have been completed by punishments which satisfy the debt; otherwise, the negligent would be better off than the solicitous, if the punishment which they do not complete for their sins here need not be undergone in the future. Therefore, if the souls of the good have something capable of purgation in this world, they are held back from the achievement of their reward while they undergo cleansing punishments. And this is the reason we hold that there is a purgatory.
Notes A reminder the some copies of scripture are still accidentally printed without the book of Wisdom. Find a complete copy.
7 This position, of course, is supported by the Apostle’s saying: “If any man’s work burn, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved yet so as by fire (1 Cor. 5: 15). There is also support in the universal custom of the Church which prays for the dead, such prayers would be useless, indeed, if one holds there is no purgatory after death. For the Church does not pray for those who are already at the goal of good or of evil, but for those who have not yet arrived at the goal.
8 Now, the attainment immediately after death of the punishment or of the reward if there be no obstacle is established by Scriptural authorities. For Job (21:3) says of the wicked: “They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment they go down to hell”; and Luke (16:22): “And the rich man died and he was buried in hell.”
Hell, of course, is the place where souls are punished. The same point is clear about the good, for, as Luke (23:43) has it, our Lord hanging on the cross said to the thief: “This day you shall be with Me in paradise.” By paradise one understands the reward which is promised to the good, as in the Apocalypse (2:7): “To him that overcomes I will give to eat of the tree of life which is in the paradise of My God.”
9 However, some do say that by “paradise” one understands not the ultimate reward which will be in heaven, as in Matthew (5:12): “Be glad and rejoice for your reward is very great in heaven,” but an equal reward upon earth. For “paradise seems to be an earthly place, from what Genesis (2:8) says: “The Lord God had planted a paradise of pleasure wherein He placed man whom He had formed.”
But let a man consider rightly the words of sacred Scripture and he will find that the final recompense promised to the saints in heaven is given immediately after this life. For the Apostle, after he had spoken of the final glory, said: “That which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation works for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory, while we look not at the things which are seen but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4: 17-18).
Clearly, he is speaking of the final glory which is in heaven, and to show when and how this glory is had he adds: “For we know, if our earthly house of this habitation be dissolved, that we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in heaven” (2 Cor. 5: 1). By this he manifestly gives us to understand that when the body is dissolved the soul is led to an eternal and heavenly mansion which is nothing but the enjoyment of divinity as the angels enjoy it in heaven.
10 But someone may choose to contradict and to assert that the Apostle did not say that immediately on the dissolution of the body we are to have an eternal home in heaven in fact, but merely in hope, and at long last we are to have it in fact. Clearly, however, this is contrary to the Apostle’s intention, for, even while we live here, we are to have the heavenly mansion according to divine predestination; and we already have it in hope, as Romans (8:24) says: “For we are saved by hope.” Vainly, then, he added: “if our earthly house of this habitation be dissolved,” for it would have been enough to say: “We know that we have a building of God,” and so forth.
The point is again and more expressly clear in the addition: “Knowing that while we are in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith and not by sight. But we are confident and have a good will to be absent rather from the body, and to be present to the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6-8). But we should be willing in vain “to be absent from the body,” meaning “separated,” unless we were to be straightway present to the Lord. But we are not present except when we behold by sight, for as long as we walk by faith and not by sight “we are absent from the Lord,” as he says there.
Straightway, therefore, when the holy soul is separated from the body, it sees God by sight. And this is the ultimate beatitude, as was shown in Book III. The same truth is also made manifest by the words of the same Apostle: “Having a desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23). Now, Christ is in heaven. Therefore, the Apostle was hoping that immediately after the dissolution of his body he would arrive in heaven.
11 In this way one avoids the error of some of the Greeks, who deny purgatory and say that before the resurrection souls neither ascend into heaven nor descend into hell.