Posts Tagged ‘Purgatory’

 By Msgr. Charles Pope

Oh Lord, I’m running….Trying to make a 100. Ninety-nine and a half won’t do! These are the words of an old African American spiritual. And ultimately they are rooted in a promise of God that we will one day be perfect.

Well, I’ll tell you, God’s been good to me and he’s brought me a mighty long way, but I’m not at 100, not even close. Because this “100″ is not graded on some human curve or scale. The 100 is God’s 100! Jesus says, Be therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:48).

How about you? Are you there yet?

If we’re honest we all fall short, way short. But what then of God’s promise, if on the day we die, we haven’t reached God’s 100? Have you ever really known anyone who had God’s perfection? Really? We often speak of how holy some people are, and some have reached great heights, by God’s grace. But how many have you or I really known that had, not just human perfection, but the very perfection of God?

So what if we die unfinished? And most of us will.

Some say, oh well, God will just overlook all that and let us in anyway, “God loves me just the way I am.” But again then we must ask, “What of God’s promise that we would be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect?”

And further, what of the descriptions of the just in heaven and the promises of perfection assigned to us? For example:

  1. But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect (Heb 12:22-23)
  2. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband…..Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev 21:2,27).
  3. You know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, and lacking in nothing. (James 1:3-4)
  4. For now, we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away (1 Cor 13:9-10).
  5. God who has begun a good work in you, will bring it to perfection. (Phil 1:6)

So the promise and the need of perfection stand clear in Scripture. And God will not just overlook his promise and “love me just the way I am.”

What a callous and cruel thing to consign us to ultimate imperfection. The very thought of living in my present unseemly state forever would be awful. As I have said, God has been good to me, but for all of us, there are still too many disordered and competitive drives at work, too many unruly passions, and too many spiritual, emotional and physical irritants of many unknown and deep sources, for you and me to say we’d be happy to stay in this condition. Spiritual progress is the normal Christian state.  But we are heading to a high and wondrous state beyond all imagining. This is the promise and I won’t be satisfied with anything less that the full promise of the Lord to make me perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect.

GK Chesterton, responding to a Critic of Purgatory said,

Purgatory may exist whether he likes it or not…..It may be obvious to us that [a person] is already utterly sinless, at one with the saints. It may be evident to us that [he] is already utterly selfless, filled only with God and forgetful of the very meaning of gain. But if the cosmic power holds that there are still some strange finishing touches, beyond our fancy, to put to his perfection, then certainly there will be some cosmic provision for that mysterious completion of the seemingly complete. The stars are not clean in His sight and His angels He chargeth with folly; and if [God] should decide….there is room for improvement, we can but admit that omniscience can heal the defect that we cannot even see. (G.K’s Weekly 4/11/1925)

Yes, even if we were to engage in the folly of thinking we ourselves, or someone else had reached perfection, the truth is we don’t really know what true, God-like perfection is. All I know is, that if I were to die today, God would have to bring to completion the good work he has begun in me.

The Protestants largely dismiss Purgatory because their first founders (Luther, Calvin et al.) tended to reduce salvation and justification to a legal act. The sinner was “declared” righteous, was “covered” in the blood of the Lamb. But this justice was a justitia aliena (an alien justice), a justice imputed, declared, or said of the sinner, but not intrinsic to them. They did not actually become righteous, they were merely said to be righteous and the Father overlooked their sin. They were, to use Luther’s supposed analogy, a dung hill covered with snow (but still a dung hill underneath).

But here too is a sad loss of the promise of the Lord who did not merely promise we would be considered perfect, but that we would actually BE perfect, by his grace. And in all the promises of scripture listed above, there is no notion of a mere declaration of perfection but, rather, an actual experience of real perfection, an actual and real transformation. And this experience, this transformation, begins now. But surely some finishing work is required for most all of us after death, if we take the scope of Godlike perfection seriously.

Purgatory just makes sense when we focus on the promises of God rather than merely to see it as a punitive place where we make up for our sins. Purgatory must also be a place of healing and of promise keeping. Likely there is suffering there, since to let go and be purged of things to which we have been clinging is probably not easy. But Oh, the healing too and weight that must be lifted and we finally shed years of accumulated “issues and baggage.”

Of those made fit for heaven the Scripture says that Jesus “Will wipe every tear from their eyes” (Rev 21:3). I, like you, have surely said goodbye to family, friends and parishioners who still had some tears in their eyes. And we know that they, like we, had things they could not bring to heaven: tears, sorrows, regrets, painful memories, unhealed hurts, and sins. But God, who is good, and a promise keeper, will not leave anything undone. He will wipe every tear from our eyes, every tear.

Purgatory has to be. God loves us too much to leave us in our present unseemly state.


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As an Evangelical said to me once: “It is as if what Christ did on the cross to purify us of our sins (forgving us and cleansing us through His shed blood and sacrifice) is not enough and we must suffer ourselves to somehow earn a purification that we do not receive simply by believing in Christ alone so here”

Along the same lines Catholics could ask a fundamentalist Christian “why are we asked to keep the commandments, to be holy, to carry our cross, feed the hungry and clothe the naked,  if  faith in Christ is enough to take us to Heaven?  Didn’t his Sacrifice make up for every omission or wrongdoing that we could possibly do?  If we believe, but  fail to do all those things the Lord is asking of us, what happens, what are the consequences?”

Nevertheless, how should Catholics explain the position of the Church on Purgatory and Salvation to a protestant friend?

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 ( Catechism of the Catholic Church)

First we have to clarify that  Catholics believe that only God is perfectly good and holy. However, God is just and fair, therefore he would not ask his children “to be Holy because he is Holy” (Cf Lev 11:44) if that was something impossible for any-one to achieve. Neither would Peter echoed these words in 1 Peter 1:15-16.

 Having said that, even the great saints in the Bible, such as David and the apostle Peter, sinned against God; didn’t they? So how can it be that without holiness no one will see God (Cf Heb 12: 14)?

I suppose the Catholic answer to this would be: Contrition, Expiation and Remission of Sins.

The Bible plainly says that “the soul that sinneth, it shall die”, Ezek. 18:4. It also says that, “Without shedding of blood is no remission” of sin (Heb.9:22).  Christ said before He went back to Heaven “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). Therefore, blood redemption in Christ means nothing to the individual until he first repents.

Contrition –  Repentance for one’s sins. Perfect Contrition, on the other hand is repentance for the LOVE of GOD rather than for fear of Hell.

Isaiah speaks of it in these words,“For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isa. 57:15).

Expiation – “The idea of expiation has to do with reparation for a wrong, the satisfaction of the demands of justice through paying a penalty.” To make expiation or satisfaction for a sin is to make amends or reparation for it. When someone makes reparations, he tries to repair the situation caused by his sin. This is a very clear concept that  I’ve seen in the lives of the of all Catholic saints that I’ve read.

I found this catholic explanation on Catholic Answers Website:

 Certainly when it comes to the eternal effects of our sins, only Christ can make amends or reparation. Only he was able to pay the infinite price necessary to cover our sins. We are completely unable to do so not only because we are finite creatures incapable of making an infinite satisfaction (or an infinite anything), but because everything we have been given to us by God. For us to try to satisfy God’s eternal justice would be like using money we had borrowed from someone to repay what we had stolen from him. No actual satisfaction would be made (cf. Ps. 49:7-9, Job 41:11, Rom. 11:35). This does not mean we can’t make amends or reparation for the temporal effects of our sins. The claim that only Christ can atone for or expiate our sins arises from a confusion about whether the temporal or the eternal dimension of our sins is being discussed. Only Christ can provide eternal satisfaction for our sins, but we can make temporal amends or reparations for them.

Proverbs 16:6 states, “By kindness and piety guilt is expiated, and by the fear of the LORD man avoids evil” Also on expiation, Exodus 30:15-16; Leviticus 17:11; Numbers 31:50

We could put it like this, in our earthly relationships whenever we hurt someone it is good to say sorry, but it is even better if we try to put things right whenever we can, because we are called to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This can be done at all levels. Say that I break my neighbor’s window while playing ball, I can say sorry and apologize, but the right thing to do is to say sorry AND replace the window or pay for the damage. This would please my neighbor; wouldn’t it? The same thing with God. 

With true contrition comes the desire to put things right. With repentance comes remission of sins.

Remission of Sins –  A completely free and undeserved gift, a newness of life which we could never earn. God grants it to us out of his mercy. As Saint Paul wrote: “It is all God’s work. It was God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the work of handing on this reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5, 18).

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I was watching the History Channel the other day when a program on the Protestant Reformation was being aired and not long after it had started, it became apparent that whatever research the producers had done, it surely did not prevent a number of mistakes or misinterpretations on Catholic Christianity. Among the things that were  said, something caught my attention and made me wonder how many non-Catholic viewers could potentially have been mislead by some of the statements made during the show. 

According to the presenter, one of the main reasons for Martin Luther’s break up with Catholicism was his contrary views on Purgatory, since he believed in salvation by faith alone and imputed justification, as opposed to infused justification, as held by the Catholic Church.

Now, I am not  questioning Luther’s real motifs or beliefs; but rather the brief explanation provided on the Catholic dogma of Purgatory. The presenter explained that Martin Luther opposed the teaching of purgatory because he did not believe that the prayers of any living believer could ‘save’ those already deceased.  Such statement could not possibly be legitimate, because this is not what the Catholic Church teaches neither on Purgatory or Salvation! (more…)

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In essence, yes, though they do not call it purgatory. Jews do believe in a purification (a purgation) which takes place after death. When a Jewish person’s loved one dies, it is customary to pray on his behalf for eleven months using a prayer known as the mourner’s Qaddish (derived from the Hebrew word meaning “holy”). This prayer is used to ask God to hasten the purification of the loved one’s soul. The Qaddish is prayed for only eleven months because it is thought to be an insult to imply that the loved one’s sins were so severe that he would require a full year of purification.

The practice of praying for the dead has been part of the Jewish faith since before Christ. Remember that 2 Maccabees 12:39-46, on which Catholics base themselves for one of  the main evidence for the observance of this practice, show that, a century and a half before Christ, prayer for the dead was taken for granted. Unlike Protestantism, Catholicism has preserved this authentic element of Judeo-Christian faith. 

Read also: Is Purgatory a second chace at Salvation?

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But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’sbook of life. Rev 21:27

The word purgatory is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible in the same way that terms such as ‘Incarnation’, ‘Holy Trinity’ or even the word Bible, do not appear in the Scriptures. This, however, is no reason to deny the existence of a ‘purging place’, which is indeed mentioned in the Bible.

There are a few passages that indicate to us the existence of such a cleansing place, but let us take a look at 1 Cor 3:12-15, which unlike other biblical references to purgatory,  cannot be talked away by protestants. We will analyze  an excerpt from King James version, a popular protestant Bible translation.

12Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. 14If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.15If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

If we look at this passage within the context of Chapter 3, we will notice that it addresses members of the Church of Christ, as  it deals with  Corinthians believers regarding their sinful actions, such as divisions and jealousy.  In chapter 3, Paul not only states that our works are rewarded, but he also deals with the quality of man’s works, for which each of us will be either rewarded or punished.

The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. 1 Cor3:8

If we look at verse 15 in the same chapter, we have a man whose works have been judged and  burned, this man ‘suffers loss’ but is ultimately saved by fire. In order to clarify what this means we need to define what ‘suffer loss’ represents.  The expression ‘suffer loss’ is a form of the Greek word Zemio. Forms of this same Greek word also appear in the context of the Old Testament to mean PUNISHMENT [ Ex. 21:21, Proverbs 17:26, 19:19 , etc…].  This means that Zemio, translated in  1 Cor3:15 as ‘suffer loss’ can mean punishment. Therefore, 1Cor3:12-15 gives us a clear description of Purgatory because that is what Paul is referring to.  Even more so when we consider, as stated above, the context of the whole Chapter 3, where Paul rebukes the Corinthians believers for their bad works or sins.




Paul makes an analogy to the  quality of our works where gold, silver, precious stones represent a more perfect or better adherence to the Gospel of Christ and wood, straw and stubble which are burned and for which the man ‘suffers loss’ or ‘punishment’ but he is saved, yet so as by fire. Therefore, in 1 Corinthians 3:12, the wood, hay and stubble (which are burned) signify the works of a man who has died in the state of justification and has been forgiven of any mortal sins he might have committed. He is therefore eventually saved, but he hasn’t made satisfaction for sins committed after baptism.

Christians understand that once a soul is condemned into hell it cannot be saved anymore. In this context, the Old Testament demonstrates that indeed Purgatory, which is the place where those who did justified by not yet purfied go,exists:

Psalm 49:15 15 But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead;  he will surely take me to himself.


The passages above agree perfectly with the Catholic teaching on Purgatory. The Catholic Council of Lyons II defined Purgatory this way:

Pope Gregory X,

Council of Lyons II, 1274: “Because if they die truly repentant in charity before they have made satisfaction by worthy fruits of penance for sins committed and omitted, their souls are cleansed after death for purgatorial or purifying punishments….” (Denzinger 464)

A great example of a man who has been forgiven of his serious sin, but hasn’t made satisfaction for it, is found in the case of David. In 2nd Samuel 11 (2 Kings 11 in the Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible), we read that King David committed adultery with Bathsheba. David also had her husband killed. These are mortal sins. If David would have died in that state, he would have gone to Hell. 1 Cor. 6:9 shows us that no adulterers or murderers will enter Heaven. But David repented of his sin when convicted of it by Nathan in 2 Samuel 12.

2 Samuel 12:13- “And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said unto David, the Lord hath forgiven thy sin, thou shalt not die.

The Lord took away David’s sin, and Nathan said that he would not die. This means that he would not eternally die. The guilt of the sin was forgiven because David truly repented and turned from it, but was that the end of it? No, full satisfaction for this mortal sin had not been made. We read in 2 Samuel 12:14-15 that David had to suffer the loss of his child to make satisfaction for his sin; a sin that had already been forgiven.

2 Samuel 12:14-15- “… because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die. And Nathan departed unto his house. And the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bare unto David, and it was very sick.”

This provides undeniable proof that the guilt of a sin of a believer can be forgiven without the entire punishment being taken away. The Council of Trent put it this way:

Pope Julius III,

The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.” David had to suffer the loss of his child to make satisfaction for his sin – a sin which had already been forgiven. because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die. And Nathan departed unto his house. And the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bare unto David, and it was very sick.” Council of Trent, on the Sacrament of Penance, Sess. 14, Chap. 8, Nov. 25, 1551- “… it is absolutely false and contrary to the word of God that the guilt [of a sin] is never forgiven by the Lord without the entire punishment also being remitted. For clear and illustrious examples are found in the Sacred Writings [cf. Gen. 3:16 f; Num. 12:14; Num 20:11; II Kings 12:13 f.; etc.].” (Denzinger 904)

There are various references to the existence of purgatory in the Old Testament, which I intent to discuss here, as well as other references in the New Testament, but as seen in 1 Cor 3:12-15, Purgatory was taught in Scripture and was believed by the earliest Christians. Why did the ancient Christians believe in Purgatory and prayers for the dead? It’s obviously not because this was a man-made doctrine, but because they clearly saw that it was taught in the Bible and was part of the Tradition received from the Apostles.

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