A person who was keeping vigil in prayer and was not asleep had a spiritual vision. It was as though she saw an unfathomably vast palace where there were countless figures dressed in white and shining clothes, each of whom seemed to have his or her own seat. In the principal part of the palace there was a judgment seat on which the Sun seemed to sit. The rays that came from the Sun were unfathomably long, deep, and wide. Next to this seat stood a maiden with a precious crown on her head, and all the servants of the sun that sat on the seat praised him with hymns and songs.
There appeared then an Ethiopian, terrible in aspect and bearing, as though full of envy and burning with great anger. He cried out and said: "O, just judge, render judgment on this soul for me and hear his works! Little remains of his life. Allow me to punish the body along with the soul until their separation from each other."
After he had said this, it seemed to me that there stood near the seat one like a knight in arms, pure and wise in his words and modest in his bearing. He said: "O, judge, see, here are the good works that he has done up to this hour."
The voice of the Sun seated on the seat was immediately heard: "There is more vice than virtue here, and it is not just that vice should be joined to the summit of virtue."
The Ethiopian answered: "Then it is just for this soul to be joined to me, for while he has some vice in himself, there is total wickedness in me."
The knight answered: "God's mercy accompanies every person until death, until the very last moment, and then comes the judgment. Soul and body are still joined together in the man of whom we speak and he still has the power of discernment."
The Ethiopian answered: "Scripture, which cannot lie, says: 'You shall love God above all things and your neighbor as yourself.' Look how this man did all his works from fear and not from love, as he ought. You will find that all the sins he confessed were confessed with little contrition. So he deserves hell, because he failed to deserve the kingdom of Heaven. Thus his sins are made known here in the presence of divine justice, because he has never until now felt any contrition due to divine love for the sins he has committed."
The knight answered: "He surely hoped to have true contrition and believed he would have it before death."
The Ethiopian replied: "You have collected every good deed he has ever done, and you know all his words and thoughts for the salvation of his soul. The whole lot of them cannot be compared to the grace of contrition arising from divine love along with holy faith and hope, and they can hardly obliterate his sins. God's eternal justice ordains that no sinner may enter Heaven without perfect contrition. It is therefore impossible that God should render a judgment against his eternally foreknown ordinance. This soul is therefore to be sentenced to hell and joined to me for eternal punishment."
On these words the knight fell silent and gave no answer.
Then countless demons appeared, flying off like sparks from a hot fire and crying out with one voice. To Him Who sat like the Sun on the judgment seat they said: "We know that you are one God in three Persons without beginning or end. There is no other God than You. You are love Itself along with Mercy and Justice. You existed in Yourself from the beginning without loss or change, as is proper to God. Outside of You is nothing, and nothing outside of You has any joy. Your love created the angels from no other matter than from Your divine power. You acted as mercy dictated. However, when we became inflamed with inner pride, envy, and greed, Your justice-loving charity cast us together with our burning malice out of Heaven into the unfathomable and shadowy abyss that is now called hell. This is what Your charity did then. Your charity even now cannot be separated from justice in Your judgments, whether it is fulfilled according to mercy or according to equity. We will go even further: If the one whom You love more than anyone, I mean, if the sinless Virgin who begot You had sinned mortally and had died without godly contrition, Your love for justice is such that her soul would never have reached Heaven but would have been with us in hell. So, Judge, why do You not sentence this soul to us, so that we may punish him according to his works?"
After this a trumpet-like sound was heard at which those who heard it fell silent, and immediately a voice spoke and said: "Be silent, all of you angels and souls and demons, and hear what God's Mother has to say!"
Then the Virgin herself appeared before the judgment seat, and it looked as though she were hiding some large objects beneath her mantle. She said: "You, enemies! You attack mercy, and you love justice but without charity. Though these good works of this soul may be deficient and, for that reason, he should not enter Heaven, yet look what I have beneath my mantle!"
Then the Virgin opened the folds of her mantle on either side. On the one side could be seen a little church, as it were, with monks in it. On the other side appeared men and women, God's friends, both religious and others, all of them crying out with one voice and saying: "Have mercy, merciful Lord!"
There was silence then, and the Virgin spoke, saying: "Scripture says: A person with perfect faith can move the world's mountains by means of it. What about the voices of those who both have faith and have served God with burning love? What can and should these be able to accomplish? What will those friends of God do whom this man, seeking only the reward of Heaven for his good works, has asked to pray for him in order that he might be saved from hell and reach Heaven? Are not all their tears and prayers able to snatch him and raise him up so that he can obtain God's love and contrition before his death? Besides, I will also join my own pleas to the prayers of all those saints in Heaven whom he especially honored."
Then she added: "O demons, by the power of the judge I order you to attend to what you in justice now see."
Then all of them answered as with one voice: "We see that in the world a little water and a lot of air placate the wrath of God. So, too, by your prayer God is placated and inclined toward mercy and charity."
Then the Sun's voice was heard to say: "Thanks to the prayers of My friends, this man will yet receive enough godly contrition before death so as not to go to hell, but he will be purged among those who have the heaviest punishment in Purgatory. Once his soul has been purged, he will receive a reward in Heaven in the company of those who had faith and hope but only small charity on earth."
Once this had been said, the demons fled.
Then it seemed as though a terrible and dark place was opened up before the bride. In it there appeared a burning furnace. The fire burned on no other fuel than demons and living souls. Above the furnace appeared the soul whose sentence was mentioned earlier. Its feet were affixed to the furnace, and it stood upright like a man. The soul stood neither on the uppermost part of the furnace nor the lowest but, as it were, on one side of it. The shape of the furnace was terrible and awesome. Its fire seemed to push upward through the bottom of the soul's feet, as when water pushes itself upward through pipes, and it went up over his head with such violent pressure that the soul's pores were like veins coursing with hot fire. His ears looked like a blacksmith's bellows that continuously fanned the whole brain with their flapping. His eyes looked like they were inside out, sunken all the way in and attached to the back of his head. His mouth was open, and his tongue was pulled out through his nostrils and was hanging down to his lips. His teeth were like iron nails attached to his gums. His arms were so long that they reached down to the feet. Both hands seemed to be holding and squeezing a greasy, tar-like thing that was on fire. The skin that covered the soul looked like an animal hide just hanging over his body, and he was dressed in a cloth that was like a sheet drenched with sperm. This cloth was so icy cold that anyone who saw it shivered. Pus oozed out of it as from a wound with putrid blood. A stench came from it that was so bad that it could not be compared to the worst stench in the world.
After the sight of this torment, the soul's voice was heard to cry out woe five times, weeping with all his might. He said: "Woe is me, first of all, because I loved God so little in return for His great virtues and for the grace given me. Woe is me, second, because I did not fear God's justice as I should have. Woe is me, third, because I loved the pleasure of my sinful body and flesh. Woe is me, fourth, for all my worldly riches and pride. Woe is me, fifth, that I ever laid eyes on you, Louis and Johanna!"
Then an angel said to me: "Let me explain this vision for you. The palace you saw is an image of Heaven. The great crowd of those who were seated and dressed in white and shining clothes are the angels and the souls of the saints. The Sun signifies Christ in His divine nature; the woman stands for the Virgin who gave birth to God; the Ethiopian accusing the soul is the devil; the knight reporting the good works of the soul is an angel. The furnace denotes hell. Hell is so hot inside that if the whole world and everything in it were on fire, it could not compare to that vast furnace. The various voices heard in the furnace all speak against God. They begin and end their speech with laments. The souls look like people whose limbs are forever being stretched without relief or pause.
"Know, too, that the fire that you saw in the furnace burns in eternal darkness, and the souls burning in it do not all have the same punishment. The darkness that appeared around the furnace is called limbo. It comes from the darkness that is in the furnace. Yet both make up one place and one hell. Anyone entering it will never dwell with God.
"Above the darkness is found the greatest punishment of Purgatory sustainable by souls. Beyond this lies another place of lesser punishment, where there is only a weakened condition as to fortitude, beauty, and the like. It is like when people have been sick, and once the sickness and pain are gone, they have nothing left of their strength until they gradually recover it.
"Beyond that is a third place where there is only the punishment of the longing for God. To help your mind understand it better, I will offer you a comparison. It is as when copper is mixed with gold, and the two are melted together in a very hot fire so long as necessary to purge it until the copper is consumed and only pure gold is left. The stronger and thicker the copper is, the hotter the fire must be, until the gold flows like water and is all on fire. The master then takes the gold to another place where it obtains its true form to be seen and touched. Afterward he puts it in a third place where it is stored to be presented to the owner.
"This is also the case in spiritual matters. The greatest punishment of Purgatory is in the first level above the darkness where you saw the aforesaid soul being purged. The demons can touch it there; poisonous vermin and wild beasts are symbolically present there. There is heat and cold, darkness and confusion, all coming from the punishment of hell. Some souls are punished less there, some more, according as sins were atoned for or not while the soul remained in the body.
"The Master, that is, God's Justice, then carries the gold, that is, the souls, to other places where they only suffer from a lack of strength. There they dwell as long as necessary until they attain relief either from their own special friends or from the continuous works of the Holy Church. The more help a soul gets from her friends, the quicker she convalesces and is released from that place. After this a soul is brought to the third place where there is no other punishment but the longing to enter God's presence and behold Him in blessedness. Many souls dwell there for a very long time, except for those who had a perfect longing to enter God's presence and behold Him while they still lived in the world.
"Know, too, that many people die in the world who are so just and innocent that they enter right away into the presence and vision of God. There are also those who have made so much atonement for their sins with their good works that their souls shall know no punishment. However, there are few who do not come to the place of longing for God. Hence all the souls dwelling in these three places participate in the prayers of the Holy Church and in the good works done in the world, especially in those that they did in their lifetimes and in those that are done by their friends after their death.
"Know also that, just as sins are of many different kinds and forms, so too the punishments are of many and different kinds. Hence, just as a hungry man rejoices over a morsel of food that reaches his mouth, a thirsty man over a drink, a sad man is gladdened by joy, a naked one by clothing, a sick one on coming into bed, so souls rejoice and participate in those goods that are done for them in the world."
The angel added: "Blessed be the person in the world who helps souls with prayers and good deeds and physical labor. God's justice, which cannot lie, declares that souls must either be purged after death through the punishment of Purgatory or released ahead of time through the good works of friends."
After this many voices were heard from Purgatory, saying: "O, Lord Jesus Christ, just Judge, send Your love to those who have spiritual power in the world, and then we will be able to participate more than now in their chants, readings, and offerings."
Above the space from which their cries were heard there seemed to appear a house in which many voices were heard, saying: "May God reward those who send us help in our weakness!"
It seemed that the rays of dawn appeared in this house, and beneath the rays a cloud appeared that had nothing of the light of dawn, and from it came a great voice saying: "O Lord God, through Your unfathomable power grant hundredfold wages to each of those in the world who with their good works raise us up to the light of Your divinity and the vision of Your face!"