29.Who knows whether all souls in purgatory wish to be redeemed, since we have exceptions in St. Severinus and St. Paschal, as related in a legend.
Here Luther wants to make the point that no souls simply “fly up to heaven” without being perfected by the loving grace of God. The thought of the legend was that one might have more glory in heaven after a longer stay in purgatory therefore one might not even desire to be set free immediately.
Luther himself gives the most information that I could find on this “legend” in his Explanations of the 95 Theses. I quote,
I have not read any credible account concerning these two men. Yet I have heard it said that they could have been freed by their own merits if they had wished to be satisfied with achieving lesser glory. So they endured purgatory rather than impair the glory of the beatific vision. But in these matters anyone may believe whatever he wants to, it makes no difference to me. I have not denied that souls suffer other punishments in purgatory, as I have said above; but I wanted to show that they would not fly from purgatory to heaven even with these remissions unless they were made perfectly healthy by grace. Nevertheless it is possible that some out of very great love of God do not wish to be freed from purgatory. Thus it is understandable that Paul and Moses could have desired to be anathematized and eternally separated from God [Cf. Rom. 9:3 and Exod. 32:32]. If they were prompted to do such things in this life, it does not appear as though we could deny that the same could also be done by the dead. There is an example in the sermons of Tauler of a certain virgin who did just that.
This Thesis like so many of the others gives us an insight into what Luther was searching through as he began to develop his theology of grace. As I look at this particular Thesis I am struck with the joy of knowing that I am “made perfectly healthy by grace.”
O God our Father, I thank you for my salvation and I pray that You would always keep me mindful of Your undeserved kindness to me through Your grace. Give me You Spirit that I may remain faithful to this true confession through this life and into the next. In Christ our Lord, Amen.