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Did any medieval Catholics have a pious belief that immediately after death, God gave people a last chance to repent of their sins and thus save their immortal soul from going to hell for all eternity?

I recently came across the following tidbit about St. Padre Pio in which he affirmed his own belief that repentance immediately after death was possible.

"I believe that not a great number of souls go to hell. God loves us so much. He formed us at his image. God loves us beyond understanding. And it is my belief that when we have passed from the consciousness of the world, when we appear to be dead, God, before He judges us, will give us a chance to see and understand what sin really is. And if we understand it properly, how could we fail to repent?" - Close encounters of a special kind with Padre Pio: The Souls in Purgatory, The Guardian Angel, the devil.

This got me thinking of what a priest that once told me some years ago: “Some Catholics in the Middle Ages (500 AD - 1500 AD) had a pious belief that immediately after sinners had died, Our Lord gave them a final chance to repent!”

The priest in question is no longer amongst us and I have never known him to state something like this erroneously.

Can anyone find any references from any Catholic sources about the possible existence of this pious belief during the Middle Ages?

  • I am not sure, but I think that Cardinal Cajetan speculated about that option. – Thom Dec 5 '19 at 23:34
  • @Thom I doubt it was Cdl. Cajetan (1469-1534); he was after Benedict XII's 1336 dogmatic definition (although Cdl. Cajetan was heterodox in his interpretation of the "exceptive clause" of Mt. 5:32 & 19:9). – Geremia Dec 6 '19 at 16:50
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    @Geremia Joseph White, O.P. comments on this here at 1:11:50. – Thom Dec 6 '19 at 18:48
  • Note how St. Pio doesn't cite any tradition or Scripture, only "it is my belief." I doubt you'll find this anywhere in tradition; and we know saints can be wrong. – Sola Gratia Dec 6 '19 at 20:39
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    @Thom That opens the door to the possibility of demons repenting, too, but they are obstinate in evil (I q. 62 a. 2; cf. Cajetan's long commentary on that article). – Geremia Dec 7 '19 at 4:33
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John XXII (reigned 1316-1334) (in)famously held the opinion that one's particular judgment did not occur immediately after death. His successor Benedict XII (reigned 1334-1342) defined the following dogma in Benedictus Deus (1336):

we define that according to the general disposition of God, the souls of those who die in actual mortal sin go down into hell immediately (mox) after death and there suffer the pain of hell.

Thus, those who die in a state of mortal sin do not have a chance to repent after death.

Now that this dogma has been defined, it's not a pious opinion but heresy to hold a contrary view.

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    "Mox" often means "soon". What's your source for translating it "immediately" instead? – Matt Gutting Dec 6 '19 at 20:12
  • I know what the Church professes in this domain, but I am looking for a reference to the existence of a particular pious belief that some Catholics may have held during the Middle Ages. – Ken Graham Dec 6 '19 at 22:55
  • @MattGutting Even if mox isn't synonymous with statim here, his statement still excludes repentance after death. – Geremia Dec 6 '19 at 23:24
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    If mox means "soon" rather than "immediately" (statim), the possibility seems to exist that the soul is judged at some short time after death, rather than immediately at death. That would leave open the possibility of repentance immediately after death, and judgment soon (mox) thereafter. – Matt Gutting Dec 7 '19 at 6:13
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    @MattGutting "That would leave open the possibility of repentance immediately after death" No. He affirms that "the souls of those who die in actual mortal sin go down into hell," regardless of how soon after death. – Geremia Dec 7 '19 at 21:07

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