There is in Purgatory, as in Hell, a double pain – the pain of loss and the pain of sense. The pain of loss consists in being deprived for a time the sight of God, who is the Supreme Good, the beatific end for the light. It is a moral thirst which torments the soul. The pain of sense, or sensible suffering, is the same as that which we experience in our flesh. Its nature is not defined by faith, but it is the common opinion of the Doctors that it consists in fire and other species of suffering. The fire of Purgatory, say the Fathers, is that of Hell, of which the rich glutton speaks, Quia crucior in hac flamma, “I suffer,” he says, “cruelly in these flames.”
As regards the severity of these pains, since they are inflicted by Infinite Justice, they are proportioned to the nature, gravity, and number of sins committed. Each one receives according to his works, each one must acquit himself of the debts with which he sees himself charged before God. Now these debts differ greatly in quality. Some, which have accumulated during a long life, have reached the ten thousand talents of the Gospel, that is to say, millions and ten of millions; whilst others are reduced to few farthings, the trifling remainder of that which has not been expiated on earth. It follows from this that the souls undergo various kinds of sufferings, that there are enumerable degrees of expiation in Purgatory, and that some are incomparably more severe than others. However, speaking in general, the Doctors agree in saying that the pains are most excruciating. The same fire, say St. Gregory, torments the damned and purifies the elect. (In Ps. 37). “Almost all theologians,” says Bellarmine, “teach that the reprobate and the souls in Purgatory suffer the action of the same fire.” (De Purgat., i. 2, cap. 6).
It must be held as certain, writes the same Bellarmine, that there is no proportion between the sufferings of this life and those of Purgatory. (De Gemitu Columbæ, lib. 2, cap. 9). St. Augustine declares precisely the same in his commentary on Psalm 31: Lord, he says, chastise me not in Thy wrath, and reject me not with those to whom Thou hast said, Go into eternal fire; but chastise me not in Thine anger: purify me rather in such manner in this life that I need not to be purified by fire in the next. Yes, I fear that fire which has been enkindled for those who will be saved, it is true, but yet so as by fire. (1 Cor. 3:15). They will be saved, no doubt, after the trial of fire but that trial will be terrible, the torment will be more intolerable than all the most excruciating sufferings in this world. Behold what St. Augustine says, and what St. Gregory, Ven. Bede, St. Anselm, and St. Bernard have said after him. St. Thomas goes even further; he maintains that the least pain of Purgatory surpasses all the sufferings of this life, whatsoever they may be. Pain, says Bl. Peter Lefevre, is deeper and more acute when it directly attacks the soul and the mind than when it reaches them only through the medium of the body. The mortal body, and the senses themselves, absorb and intercept a part of the physical, and even of moral pain. (Sentim. Du B Lefevre sur la Purg., Mess, du S. Cæur, Nov. 1873).
The author of the Imitation explains this doctrine by a practical and striking sentence. Speaking in general of the sufferings of the other life: There, he says, one hour of torment will be more terrible than a hundred years of rigorous penance done here. (lib. 1, chap. 24)
From Purgatory by Fr. F.X. Schouppe, S.J.