Protestants seem to agree with Catholics that Dismas was a good thief for his conversion. The good thief also called St. Dismas is held in high esteem by the Protestants but they failed to understand that his story is not enough to reject baptism, works and Purgatory as not necessary for salvation. They believe only faith can save a person. An indebt look into Jesus’ mission on Earth has already done much to reject the Protestants doctrines.
Firstly, As regards to Baptism not being necessary for salvation, Jesus would not have given the Great Commission in Matthew 28 and made it a condition for becoming his disciple if he had shared the Protestants belief. His disciples too preached Baptism and went on to baptize people who got converted to Christianity. Peter in Acts of the Apostles 2:38 told the converts to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins.
Secondly, Jesus binds salvation to the sacrament of baptism but he was not bound to it himself (CCC. 1257). The Church teaches that Jesus can communicate the grace of salvation in extraordinary ways when circumstances prevented receiving the sacrament the ordinary way. God is able to judge the human heart ( 1 Sam. 16:7), he can tell if one is genuinely seeking him or not. Baptism is very much necessary for those to whom it has been revealed. Jesus said it is our new birth (John 3:3-5), he made it the gateway for membership in his church (Matthew 28:19) which is his body( 1 Cor.12:13)
About work not also being necessary for salvation as believed by Protestants is also not justifiable by the good thief story for he did one when he defended Christ on the Cross and proclaimed his innocence. Moreso, the good thief repented. These two things involved an act of will animated by charity. Hence, James teaching would apply: ” You see that a man is Justified by Works and not by faith alone (James 2:24).
The Protestants find the good thief story as an evidence to reject the existence of Purgatory because Jesus promised him Paradise on the same day. This claim lacks sufficient evidence to justify it. Although, the Church teaches that a conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment (temporal punishment) would remain (CCC 1472). Dismas may have gone through the temporal punishment due to his sins and thus have no need for Purgatory or he could have experienced a quick refinement in Purgatory and still entered heaven on that same day because the Church teaches that the duration one stays in Purgatory varies individually. The major support against the Protestants claim is their assumption that Paradise means Heaven. The Greek word “Paradeiso” means the abode of the blessed dead (A Manual of Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, 339) which at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion was not Heaven since Jesus had not yet ascended. The place was the “prison” to which Jesus descended after his death to preach and free the souls of the just (1 Peter 3:19). Jesus took a host of captives with him on his Ascension. He who descended is he who ascended far above all heavens, that he might fill all things (Eph.4:8-10).
From the various explanations, it is now clear that it was the abode of the dead that Jesus promised Dismas on that day not Heaven. And as such, he could have undergone his final purification there if he still needed any. The details surrounding Dismas conversion suits the Catholic understanding of salvation and the afterlife.
Summarised by Chioma Betina Okwara
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