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Purgatory


Introduction

Purgatory is a belief that is held by Catholic, Orthodox, and other Christians. The belief in purgatory comes from the Holy Bible. The Apostolic Church from earliest times has taught the existence of purgatory. The earliest surviving writings from the Church Fathers confirm this belief and it's basis in scripture.

Common Objections

These are the most common arguments against the existence of Purgatory. Let's examine them.

1. Purgatory is not Biblical. False!
2. Purgatory negates Christ's sacrifice on the Cross. False!
3. Purgatory was invented in the Middle Ages. False!

This document will:

1. Provide the scriptural basis for Purgatory
2. Explain in specific detail what the official Catholic teaching regarding Purgatory is (and is not).
3. Answer common objections to the doctrine of Purgatory.
4. Demonstrate the teaching on Purgatory throughout history by the Church, the pillar and Bulwark of truth (1 Timothy 3:15).

1 Timothy 3:15
But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

The Biblical Case for Purgatory

Purgatory is similar to several Biblical concepts (e.g. "Trinity") in that it is not explicitly named. It's attributes and nature are deduced from reading scripture and making logical conclusions. In this sense it can be easy to confuse the facts. But what does the Bible say? Let's take a look at scripture.

Purgatory is the effect of Christ's sufficiency.
  1. God is perfect Holiness. (Isaiah 6:3)
  2. We are called to that same Holiness. (Leviticus 19:2, 1 Peter 1:15, 1, 1:16)
  3. Nothing unclean can stand in the presence of the God or enter Heaven. (Ex. 33:18-20, Ps. 15:1, 66:18, Heb. 12:14, Eph. 5:3, 5:25-2, Apocalypse 21:27)
  4. Our impurities can be cleansed. This purification and final sanctification must happen before we enter Heaven. (Hebrews 12:29, 12:6, 12:10, Isaiah 6:5-7)
  5. Remaining venial sins can be forgiven in the next world. (Matthew 12:32)

Let's walk through the scripture.

1. God is revealed as perfect interior holiness

Isaiah 6:3
And they cried one to another, and said: Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God of hosts, all the earth is full of his glory

2. We are called to that same holiness

Leviticus 19:2
Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel. And thou shalt say to them: Be ye holy, because I the Lord your God am holy.

1 Peter 1:15
But according to him that hath called you, who is holy, be you also in all manner of conversation holy:

1 Peter 1:16
Because it is written: You shall be holy, for I am holy.

3. Who can stand in the face of the holiness of God?

Exodus 33:18
And he said: Shew me thy glory.

Exodus 33:19
He answered: I will shew thee all good, and I will proclaim in the name of the Lord before thee: and I will have mercy on whom I will, and I will be merciful to whom it shall please me.

Exodus 33:20
And again he said: Thou canst not see my face: for man shall not see me, and live.

Psalms 15:1

A psalm for David. Lord, who shall dwell in thy tabernacle? or who shall rest in thy holy hill?

Psalms 66:18
If I have looked at iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.

Hebrews 12:14
Follow peace with all men and holiness: without which no man shall see God.

Ephesians 5:3
But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not so much as be named among you, as becometh saints:

Ephesians 5:25
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the church and delivered himself up for it:

Ephesians 5:26
That he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life:

Ephesians 5:27
That he might present it to himself, a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

Apocalypse 21:27
There shall not enter into it any thing defiled or that worketh abomination or maketh a lie: but they that are written in the book of life of the Lamb.

4. We are deprived of the vision of God because of our sinfulness. But there is a divine purging fire which can heal us.


Hebrews 12:29 
For our God is a consuming fire.

Hebrews 12:6 
For whom the Lord loveth he chastiseth: and he scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.

Hebrews 12:10 
And they indeed for a few days, according to their own pleasure, instructed us: but he, for our profit, that we might receive his sanctification.

Isaiah 6:5 
And I said: Woe is me, because I have held my peace; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people that hath unclean lips, and I have seen with my eyes the King the Lord of hosts.

Isaiah 6:6 
And one of the seraphims flew to me, and in his hand was a live coal, which he had taken with the tongs off the altar.

Isaiah 6:7 
And he touched my mouth, and said: Behold this hath touched thy lips, and thy iniquities shall be taken away, and thy sin shall be cleansed.

5. Jesus implies that our sins can be forgiven in the next world.

Matthew 12:32
And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him neither in this world, nor in the world to come.

Scripture from the Greek Septuagint, the Old Testament of Christ, the Evangelists and Paul, and of the councils of Hippo and Carthage, affirm purgatory.

(Catholic and Orthodox Bibles include a larger Old Testament as did the Bible of Jesus' time. The Greek Text of the Bible used at this time is called the Septuagint. More Information on The Septuagint will be provided in a new article - This text was apart of scripture before Martin Luther mangled the Bible, and remained even in protestant Bibles well into the 19th Century. Some non Catholic, and non Orthodox Bibles still include them in the "Apocrypha" -- an incorrect name, which should be "Deuterocanon". )

2 Maccabees 12:42
And so betaking themselves to prayers, they besought him, that the sin which had been committed might be forgotten. But the most valiant Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves from sin, forasmuch as they saw before their eyes what had happened, because of the sins of those that were slain.

2 Maccabees 12:43
And making a gathering, he sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection.

2 Maccabees 12:44
(For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead,)

2 Maccabees 12:45
And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them.

2 Maccabees 12:46
It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.

Experience teaches us that there are people who die so suddenly, they have not had the opportunity to confess their sins, but are not guilty of serious "death dealing" sin and separation from God. This is essentially the function of purgatory.

Purgatory: Denial of Christ's Sufficiency?

No.

  • Purgatory is the effect of Christ's sufficiency.
  • Some Christians maintain that all temporal punishments for sin are taken away if the person has repented.
  • The Bible indicates that although God takes away the eternal punishment, some temporal punishments may remain.

This objection is based on a pair of erroneous presumptions: That progressive sanctification and suffering take away from Christ's work on Calvary and that the Church teaches that purgatory is work.

To address the second objection first, purgatory is not a place for those bad Catholics who didn't finish working their way to heaven while on earth. "For by grace you have been saved by faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). The purification that takes place in purgatory is purely a work of God's grace, since there is no chance for merit after death, and the judgment of each individual is based solely upon their earthly life. But regardless of where Christ purifies men, it is precisely because his sacrifice was sufficient that each believer can be perfected.

Though Christ paid the infinite debt of man's sins 2,000 years ago, the sanctification process in the life each Christian continues. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Paul tells the faithful, "May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." According to Scripture, sanctification is a thing of the past (1 Cor. 6:11), present (1 Thess. 4:3), and future (1 Thess. 5:23) in the Christian life.

This process often involves suffering, as Paul indicates: "Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus as the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross… 'My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. [God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Heb. 12:1-12).

Therefore, the presence of suffering does not detract from Christ's sacrifice. In fact, there is only one mention in all of Scripture of something "lacking in Christ's afflictions," and that missing link is the suffering of his mystical body, the Church (Col. 1:24).

In the Old Testament, God forgave David, but still took the life of his son:

2 Samuel 12:3
But the poor man had nothing at all but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up, and which had grown up in his house together with his children, eating of his bread, and drinking of his cup, and sleeping in his bosom: and it was unto him as a daughter.

2 Samuel 12:4
And when a certain stranger was come to the rich man, he spared to take of his own sheep and oxen, to make a feast for that stranger, who was come to him, but took the poor man's ewe, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.

In the New Testament, Christ reiterates this principle:

St. Matthew 5:25
Be at agreement with thy adversary betimes, whilst thou art in the way with him: lest perhaps the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.

St. Matthew 5:26
Amen I say to thee, thou shalt not go out from thence till thou repay the last farthing.

Women still experience the temporal punishment of birth pains:

Genesis 3:16
To the woman also he said: I will multiply thy sorrows, and thy conceptions: in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband's power, and he shall have dominion over thee.

Even though Christ paid the infinite debt of man's original sin:

Romans 5:12 
Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world and by sin death: and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.

Romans 5:13 
For until the law sin was in the world: but sin was not imputed, when the law was not.

Romans 5:14 
But death reigned from Adam unto Moses, even over them also who have not sinned, after the similitude of the transgression of Adam, who is a figure of him who was to come.

Romans 5:15 
But not as the offence, so also the gift. For if by the offence of one, many died: much more the grace of God and the gift, by the grace of one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.

Romans 5:16 
And not as it was by one sin, so also is the gift. For judgment indeed was by one unto condemnation: but grace is of many offences unto justification.

Romans 5:17 
For if by one man's offence death reigned through one; much more they who receive abundance of grace and of the gift and of justice shall reign in life through one, Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:18 
Therefore, as by the offence of one, unto all men to condemnation: so also by the justice of one, unto all men to justification of life.

Romans 5:19 
For as by the disobedience of one man, many were made sinners: so also by the obedience of one, many shall be made just.

Romans 5:20 
Now the law entered in that sin might abound. And where sin abounded, grace did more abound.

Romans 5:21 
That as sin hath reigned to death: so also grace might reign by justice unto life everlasting, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Conclusion:

The sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice is not lessened by the fact that God's work of perfecting his children is a process that often involves suffering and even temporal punishment.

While:

Hebrews 12:11
Now all chastisement for the present indeed seemeth not to bring with it joy, but sorrow: but afterwards it will yield to them that are exercised by it the most peaceable fruit of justice.

It is all a part of God’s promise made through Paul:

1 Corinthians 3:15
If any mans work burn, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.

Philippians 1:6
Being confident of this very thing: that he who hath begun a good work in you will perfect it unto the day of Christ Jesus. 

Even if it should be through suffering loss, yet so as by fire:

1 Corinthians 3:15
If any mans work burn, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.


The constant faith of the Church affirms the belief in purgatory.

From the earliest of times, the Fathers of the Church taught the existence of purgatory. This information is independently verifiable. The Common objection that purgatory was invented in the middle ages is false.

  • Tertullian (Rome, 160 - 220?)
  • Origen (Alexandria, 185 - 254?)
  • Cyprian (Carthage, 200 - 258)
  • Ambrose (Tier, 340 - 397)
  • Augustine (Numidia, 354 - 430)
  • Basil (Caesarea, 329 - 379)
  • Gregory of Nazianzus (in Cappadocia, 329 - 389)
  • John Chrysostom (Antioch, 349 - 407)
  • Gregory the Great (Rome, 540 - 604)

And many others.

The teaching Magisterium of the Church affirms the belief in purgatory.

Council of Lyons II (1274)
We believe ... that the souls, by the purifying compensation are purged after death.
Council of Florence
Repeated the Council of Lyons II.
Council of Trent (1545-1563)
We constantly hold that purgatory exists, and that the souls of the faithful there detained are helped by the prayers of the faithful.

The Official Catholic Doctrine of Purgatory as presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

The official teaching of Purgatory within the Catholic Church is quite small and occupies only a few paragraphs. The following is taken directly from my copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Page 291, Paperback).

III. The Final Purification, or Purgatory

1030 All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:

    As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.

1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: "Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin." From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:

    Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.

(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Page 291, Paperback)


The Punishments of Sin

1472 To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the "eternal punishment" of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the "temporal punishment" of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.

(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Page 411, Paperback)


The Early Church Fathers

The Early Church Fathers speak on Purgatory and Prayers for the dead.

Clement of Alexandria
The believer through discipline divests himself of his passions and passes to the mansion which is better than the former one, passes to the greatest torment, taking with him the characteristic of repentance for the faults he may have committed after baptism. He is tortured then still more, not yet attaining what he sees others have acquired. The greatest torments are assigned to the believer, for God's righteousness is good, and His goodness righteous, and though these punishments cease in the course of the expiation and purification of each one, "yet" etc. (Patres Groeci. IX, col. 332 [A.D. 150-215]).

Origen
If a man departs this life with lighter faults, he is condemned to fire which burns away the lighter materials, and prepares the soul for the kingdom of God, where nothing defiled may enter. For if on the foundation of Christ you have built not only gold and silver and precious stones (I Cor., 3); but also wood and hay and stubble, what do you expect when the soul shall be separated from the body? Would you enter into heaven with your wood and hay and stubble and thus defile the kingdom of God; or on account of these hindrances would you remain without and receive no reward for your gold and silver and precious stones? Neither is this just. It remains then that you be committed to the fire which will burn the light materials; for our God to those who can comprehend heavenly things is called a cleansing fire. But this fire consumes not the creature, but what the creature has himself built, wood, and hay and stubble. It is manifest that the fire destroys the wood of our transgressions and then returns to us the reward of our great works. (Patres Groeci. XIII, col. 445, 448 [A.D. 185-232]).

Abercius
The citizen of a prominent city, I erected this while I lived, that I might have a resting place for my body. Abercius is my name, a disciple of the chaste shepherd who feeds his sheep on the mountains and in the fields, who has great eyes surveying everywhere, who taught me the faithful writings of life. Standing by, I, Abercius, ordered this to be inscribed; truly I was in my seventy-second year. May everyone who is in accord with this and who understands it pray for Abercius (Epitaph of Abercius [A.D. 190]).

Tertullian
That allegory of the Lord [Matt. 5:25-26] . . . is extremely clear and simple in its meaning . . . [beware lest as] a transgressor of your agreement, before God the judge . . . and lest this judge deliver you over to the angel who is to execute the sentence, and he commit you to the prison of hell, out of which there will be no dismissal until the smallest even of your delinquencies be paid off in the period before the resurrection. What can be a more fitting sense than this? What a truer interpretation? (The Soul 35 [A.D. 210]).

The faithful widow prays for the soul of her husband, and begs for him in the interim repose, and participation in the first resurrection, and offers prayers on the anniversary of his death (Monogamy 10 [A.D. 213]).

Cyprian
It is one thing to stand for pardon, another thing to attain to glory; it is one thing, when cast into prison, not to go out thence until one has paid the uttermost farthing; another thing at once to receive the wages of faith and courage. It is one thing, tortured by long suffering for sins, to be cleansed and long purged by fire; another to have purged all sins by suffering. It is one thing, in fine, to be in suspense till the sentence of God at the Day of Judgment; another to be at once crowned by the Lord (Letters 51[55]:20 [A.D. 253]).

Cyril of Jerusalem
Then we make mention also of those who have already fallen asleep: first, the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, that through their prayers and supplications God would receive our petition, next, we make mention also of the holy fathers and bishops who have already fallen asleep, and, to put it simply, of all among us who have already fallen asleep. For we believe that it will be of very great benefit to the souls of those for whom the petition is carried up, while this holy and most solemn sacrifice is laid out (Catechetical Lectures 23:5:9 [A.D. 350]).

John Chrysostom
Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice [Job l:5), why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them (Homilies on First Corinthians 41:5 (A.D. 392)).

Not in vain was it decreed by the apostles that in the awesome mysteries remembrance should be made of the departed. They knew that here there was much gain for them, much benefit. When the entire people stands with hands uplifted, a priestly assembly, and that awesome sacrificial victim is laid out, how, when we are calling upon God, should we not succeed in their defense? But this is done for those who have departed in the faith, while even the catechumens are not reckoned .is worthy of this consolation, but are deprived of every means of assistance except one. And what is that? We may give alms to the poor on their behalf (Homilies on Philippians 3:9-10 [A.D. 402]).

Ambrose of Milan
Give perfect rest to thy servant Theodosius, that rest which thou hast prepared for thy saints… I have loved him, and therefore will I follow him into the land of the living; nor will I leave him until by tears and prayers I shall lead him wither his merits summon him, unto the holy mountain of the Lord (Funeral Sermon of Theodosius 36-37 [A.D. 395]).

Augustine
There is an ecclesiastical discipline, as the faithful know, when the names of the martyrs are read aloud in that place at the altar of God, where prayer is not offered for them. Prayer, however, is offered for other dead who are remembered. It is wrong to pray for a martyr, to whose prayers we ought ourselves be commended (Sermons 159:1 [A.D. 411]).

Temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by some after death, by some both here and hereafter, but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But not all who suffer temporal punishments after death will come to eternal punishments, which are to follow after that judgment (The City of God 21:13 [A.D. 419]).

That there should be some fire even after this life is not incredible, and it can be inquired into and either be discovered or left hidden whether some of the faithful may be saved, some more slowly and some more quickly in the greater or lesser degree in which they loved the good things that perish, through a certain purgatorial fire (Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Charity l8:69 [A.D. 421]).



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