What is Purgatory?
Purgatory is a state after death where the souls of the saved go to be cleansed of the non-eternal punishment due to their sins, before entering Heaven.
Biblical References to Purgatory:
St. Matthew 5:26 “Amen I say to thee, thou shalt not come out from there until thou repay the last farthing”. (this verse shows that there is a place of punishment where debts are repaid; we have to pay for every sin that we commit)
St. 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.” (this verse shows that there is a place in the world to come/afterlife where sins can be forgiven; also shows that some kinds of sins can be forgiven in the afterlife while other kinds of sins cannot be forgiven in the afterlife)
St. Matthew 12:36 “But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it in the day of judgment.” (shows that we must render an account for every sin, regardless of our faith in Jesus Christ; gives us hope that relatively minor sins such as idle words and chit-chat may be given an account of in purgatory rather than eternal condemnation in the fires of Hell)
St. Matthew 18:34 “And his lord being angry, delivered him to the torturers until he paid all the debt.” (shows that torture in the afterlife can repay debts due to sins, otherwise how would torturing someone create money to repay debts? Does torture make money grow on trees? This torture must be referring to the sufferings in Purgatory removing debts owing to sin; also shows that lesser sins such as not forgiving your brother may not condemn someone to eternal fire in Hell, but only to temporary punishment in Purgatory.)
St. Luke 12: 47-48 “And that servant who knew the will of his lord, and prepared not himself, and did not according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.” (shows that there is a range of punishments in the afterlife, some are punished more severely in Hell, while others less severely and temporarily in Purgatory)
1 Corinthians 3:15 “If any man’s works burn, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.” (shows that some men’s salvation is harder and more painful than other men’s salvation, but they are nonetheless saved; also hints that purgatory is painful and involves a cleansing fire.)
1 Corinthians 15:29 “Otherwise what shall they do that are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not again at all? why are they then baptized for them?” (shows that early Christians performed good works designed to help the dead in an afterlife state, a state within which souls could benefit by the actions of the living)
Revelation 21:27 “There shall not enter into it [Heaven] any thing defiled, or that worketh abomination or maketh a lie, but they that are written in the book of life of the Lamb.” (States that only the clean who are entirely purified of their sins may enter Heaven; Since we are all sinners defiled by sin, implies that most people will have to be purified outside Heaven in another place or state before entry into Heaven)
2 Samuel 12:13-14 “And David said to Nathan: I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said to David: The Lord also hath taken away thy sin: thou shalt not die. Nevertheless, because thou hast given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, for this thing, the child that is born to thee, shall surely die.” (Biblical example of a sin being forgiven, but God still expects a temporal punishment for that sin)
2 Machabees 12:46 “It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.” (Jewish practices at the time of Christ suggest the actions of the living can help the dead)
Isaiah 6:6-7 “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. 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.” (pain can cleanse sin)
St. Luke 16: 19-31 “At that time Jesus said to the Pharisees: There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and feasted sumptuously every day. And there was a certain beggar, named Lazarus, who lay at his gate, full of sores, desiring to be filled with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table, and no one did give him: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. And the rich man also died, and he was buried in hell. And lifting up his eyes when he was in torments, he saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom, and he cried and said: Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water to cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame. And Abraham said to him: Son, remember that thou didst receive good things in thy lifetime, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted and thou art tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is fixed a great chaos: so that they who would pass from hence to you cannot, nor from hence come hither. And he said: Then, father, I beseech thee that thou wouldst send him to my father’s house, for I have five brethren, that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torments. And Abraham said to him: They have Moses and the prophets: let them hear them. But he said: No, father Abraham: but if one went to them from the dead, they will do penance. And he said to him: If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe if one rise again from the dead.” (Rich man did not suffer enough for his sins on earth, therefore must further suffer for his sins in the afterlife in Purgatory)
(side note: this Scripture does not make sense if all the rich man needs to be saved is faith alone in Jesus; fasting or feasting, wealth or poverty, fancy clothing or rags, these things would not matter in the Protestant worldview of salvation by faith alone. Yet Our Lord Jesus spends considerable time describing these incidental details and distinguishing between the rich man and poor man, between one who does not penance for his sins in sumptuous feastings, and one who’s whole life is a penance as a hungry beggar fasting from morning until night. Why? Why do these details matter?)
(side note#2: if the rich man was in the fires of hell instead of in Purgatory, it is unlikely that while burning in agony in the lava he would have the wherewithal to request from Abraham that someone be sent to warn his brothers on earth. It is more likely that the rich man was not in Hell but rather in Purgatory, where the pain is less, and therefore the rich man had the wherewithal to make complicated requests from Abraham and to maintain a meaningful conversation with Abraham for a long time. It is doubtful that the damned in Hell would be able to converse at length with the saved in Heaven, it is more likely that those in Purgatory would be able to converse with Abraham. Therefore this Scripture is additional evidence of the existence of Purgatory.)
(side note#3: why is the rich man asking Saint Abraham to “have mercy” on him? Is this idolatrous saint worship in the Bible? Who is Saint Abraham, that he should “have mercy” on anyone? Shouldn’t the rich man be addressing God directly? Does honoring Saint Abraham here take away from the worship of God? On the contrary, it is appropriate for the rich man to converse with a lower level saint instead of directly with the Supreme Majesty of God in the highest heavens. Even on earth among humans, the incarcerated prisoners in prison rarely have the opportunity to talk directly with the President of the United States, and few would accuse a prisoner of idolatrous saint worship if he calls the prison guard “sir” while asking for some favor, a newspaper, or a snack. Few would say that a prisoner calling a prison guard “sir” is idolatrous saint worship which “takes away from the majesty of the Presidency of the United States of America”. To say that a Christian may never address anyone except God alone is ridiculous; sometimes it is not appropriate to demand direct communication with God the supreme creator of the universe. Sometimes intermediation is appropriate in order to maintain the modesty, decorum, and protocol which God’s majesty deserves.)
References to Purgatory by the Early Christians:
There are relatively few surviving writings by the early Christians, but some of the earliest were Christian graffiti in the Roman Catacombs dating to the 1st and 2nd centuries when Christians were in hiding underground in these cemeteries. These graffiti included prayer requests for the dead.
Writing around 190 A.D. the early Christian writer Tertullian said that the Christians held a yearly commemoration of the faithful departed (i.e. they had a yearly day of remembrance for dead Christian relatives and friends, during which they prayed for the dead).
In the book about the life and martyrdom of early Christian saint Perpetua, it says that Perpetua saw her predeceased younger brother in a dream in a dark and hot place with many others, but after she prayed for him his condition was made much better and he was relieved of his sufferings. The Life of St. Perpetua was written around 210 A.D. based on diaries written around 201 A.D., and is the oldest surviving writing by a Christian female.
On her deathbed St. Monica the mother of St. Augustine the great theologian, asked her son to pray for her at every Mass that he said. St. Monica died in 387 A.D.
1st Century Jewish Practices of Praying for the Dead:
2 Machabees 12:46 states “It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.” The books of the Machabees were written in the 2nd century BC. They chronicle the Jewish rebellion against the pagan Seleucid Empire, and are considered one of the most historically accurate books written at that time. Although Protestants and Jews do not accept the books of the Machabees as canonical, these writings do give us historical insight into Jewish thought and practices in the century preceding the birth of Christ, and also at the time of Christ’s life.
These books show that the Jewish people prayed for their dead at the time of Christ. Christ criticized many Jewish practices and traditions, however, He never criticized praying for the dead. This proves that Christ approved the practice and considered it a tradition of God rather than a fake made-up tradition of men.
The practice of praying for the dead proves that Purgatory exists because it shows that our prayers and actions on earth can help the souls of the dead. If a person is in Heaven, our prayers cannot help them because they are already eternally happy in Heaven forever and do not need our prayers. If a person is in Hell, our prayers also cannot help them because Hell is forever and there is no way to get out of it. Therefore, in order to be of any use, praying for the dead must assume that there is another state in the afterlife, and our prayers on earth can assist the souls of people who go to this other state.
Incidentally, and not related to our discussion here, the books of the Machabees also show that the Jews of the 1st Century B.C. believed in the resurrection of the dead at the last Judgment. This agrees more with the beliefs of modern Christians than the beliefs of modern rabbinical Jews, and shows that Christianity really is the continuation of the historical Hebrew religion founded by God.
1st Century Christian Practices of Baptizing the Dead:
Based on the writings of St. Paul (1 Corinthians 15:29) we know that the early Christians may have engaged in a now-extinct practice called “baptism of the dead”. Not much is known about this very early practice, other than that it was probably a form of almsdeed or good work or ceremony. Some modern 18th century religions perform a ceremony and call it “baptism of the dead,” but there is no evidence that their ceremony is authentically connected to the 1st century practice, and they have not worked any miracles to show that their arguments are convincing and deserve our belief. However, merely the existence of the practice of baptizing the dead must assume that there is another state in the afterlife, and that the actions of the living on earth can assist the souls of the dead in this state that is neither Heaven nor Hell.
God’s Mercy Demands the Existence of Purgatory
Since God is very merciful, it is reasonable to assume that because of His mercy He will create a state where some people will be able to pay for their sins and evil works without being condemned eternally to the fires of Hell. “God will render to every man according to his works.” (Romans 2:6).
God’s Justice Demands the Existence of Purgatory
God is not only merciful, but He is also just. He is Justice itself. Therefore His justice does not permit Him to save everyone in a blanket fashion without any punishment whatsoever for their sins. To say “just have faith in Jesus” oversimplifies a 1,300-page Bible and the long and rich history of Christianity, and even insults some people’s intelligence. Yes, we must have faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ, the creator of the Universe, and our God (praise and glory, power, and honor be to His Name forever). But we must not oversimplify Christianity to make it sound silly. Everyone can “just has faith in Jesus”, but not everyone will be saved, even if they call Jesus ‘Lord, Lord’ (Matthew 7:21). Saving everyone would offend basic notions of the justice of God. To develop in our faith and knowledge of God, we must learn about Purgatory also, as well as other ancient Christian teachings. Without Purgatory, there is no way for God’s justice to manifest itself, except by “going all the way” and condemning someone eternally to the fires of Hell. Justice systems must have intermediate levels of punishment – this is the case in every human society. If a criminal steals a car, a just civilization would put the criminal in jail for a time, but it would not whip him continually without stopping for the rest of his human life, nor would it ignore his crime completely by not punishing the criminal at all saying “Jesus already paid for your crime”. Purgatory is the instrument of God’s Divine justice on every human being, uniquely tailored to the sins and circumstances of life of each individual human person.
Many Bible Verses do not make sense without the Concept of Purgatory:
If you go back and read the scriptural verses at the beginning of this document, you will see that many of these Scriptures do not make any sense without the concept of Purgatory. For example, “I say to you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it in the day of judgment” (Matt. 12:36) – this does not make any sense if “all we need is to have faith in Jesus in order to be saved”. If we go directly to Heaven by having faith in Jesus, then how would we “render an account” for our sins? This verse makes sense if Purgatory exists, wherein the souls of the saved “render an account” for their specific and individual sins, while at the same time being saved by their faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Another verse which doesn’t make any sense without Purgatory is: “torture him until he repays all his debt” (cf Matt 18:34). How would torturing someone repay their debts due to sins? This verse suggests a Biblical concept that pain can repay debts. This makes sense only if Purgatory exists. If Purgatory does not exist, then the Biblical concept that pain can repay debts becomes weird and bizarre and just does not make sense, even as a parable. What would Our Lord Jesus possibly mean when He says “torture him until he repays all his debts”? There are other examples of this idea in the Bible, for example, when God asks his people to inflict suffering on themselves by fasting from food (i.e. going hungry by eating only one meal per day). God commands fasting in the context of doing reparation for sin.
Another verse which doesn’t make sense to Protestants is “God will render to every man according to his works” (Romans 2:6). If all we need to be saved is faith in Jesus, and if we go directly to Heaven, then how would God “render to every man according to his works”?? Purgatory explains this Scripture: We are saved from the eternal punishment due to our sins in Hell by the precious blood of Jesus, however, God will still render to each saved man according to his works, in Purgatory, with non-eternal punishment. Purgatory perfectly explains this Scriptural verse, showing that Paul is not contradicting himself, and the Scripture itself does not contradict itself.
The word “Purgatory” does not occur in the Bible, just like the word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible. However, the Christian dogma of the “Trinity” explains many of the Scriptures which would not otherwise make any sense and would seem to contradict each other. For example, how can Jesus and the Father be “one” and at the same time the Father is not the Son and seems to be “greater” than Jesus, but also “he who sees the Son sees the Father” and “I will send the Holy Spirit to you, which proceeds from the Father”. The dogma of the Trinity perfectly explains all of these verses although the dogma was formally defined by the Catholic Church a whopping 300 years after the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The word “purgatory” does not have to be in the Bible in order to be a real thing, just like we know that the Trinity exists, which is a clear, definitive explanation of God and the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God in Three Persons. Purgatory is a forced conclusion from contradictory Scriptural verses. It is a necessary belief in order for the Scriptures to make sense.
Distinguishing Eternal Punishment due to sin from Non-Eternal Punishment due to sin
It is important to distinguish between eternal and non-eternal punishment due to sin. Eternal punishment due to sin is, of course, Hell. When God exercises His Divine right to damn a person, He condemns them to Hell, which is where the damned will suffer agony eternally without any hope of ever being with God.
The magnitude of the punishment due to an injury depends upon the person injured. If you slap a person on the street, you will go to jail for a month or so. If you slap your own mother for no reason, the punishment will be greater, due to the bonds of loyalty and gratitude which you owe her. If you slap the President of the United States, you will spend years in jail, because the person injured is more important. If you slap God by sinning against Him, you will get eternal punishment, because of the status of the Entity injured, an eternal God is offended eternally, and serious sins against an eternal Being deserves eternal punishment. Examples of sins deserving an eternal punishment include murder, adultery, and willful rejection of the Christian religion.
Our Lord Jesus Christ died on the Cross to save us from the eternal punishment due to sin. Almost every human has committed a serious sin deserving of Hell, therefore we all need the be saved from eternal punishment in Hell by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, which is the only thing which can clean us from these damnable offenses. Eternal punishment due to sin can only be forgiven by the sacrifice of an eternal being, an eternally perfect being, Jesus Christ, Who is our Passover lamb sacrificed to atone for our sins according to the traditions of the ancient Hebrew people.
We must distinguish, however, eternal punishment from non-eternal punishment. Although Our Lord has paid the price for the eternal punishment which we deserve, we must still be punished for each individual sin which we commit. St. Matthew 12:36 “But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it in the day of judgment.” Romans 2:6 “God will render to every man according to his works.” St. Matthew 16:27 “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels: and then will he render to every man according to his works.” Apocalypse 20:13 “And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and hell gave up their dead that were in them; and they were judged every one according to their works.”
2 Corinthians 5:10 “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; so that everyone may receive what is due to him, according to what he has done in the body, whether it is good or bad.”
Purgatory is the place or state where the souls of the saved undergo the non-eternal punishment for their sins. God is perfect, therefore we must also be perfect before entering into Heaven (Apocalypse 21:27). “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.” (St. Matthew 5:48). Some people do enough penance on earth to go directly to Heaven. Other people need to do additional penance in Purgatory before they can enter the perfect presence of God in Heaven. Few people would feel they are worthy enough to be in God’s presence at the time of their death, regardless of their self-serving assertions of having faith in Jesus.