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Purgatory

by Garry Huysse 7/13/98

A Catholic Bible Study Presentation

Introduction

The Catholic Church teaches there are only three things that are essential components of the doctrine of Purgatory: (1) that a purification after death exists, (2) that it involves some kind of pain, and (3) that the purification can be assisted by the prayers and offerings of the living to God. Other ideas, such that purgatory is a particular "place" in the afterlife or that it takes time to accomplish, are speculations rather than doctrines.

 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "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. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned" (CCC 1030-1).

 

A fundamental truth of the Christian faith is that we will not be sinning in heaven. Sin and final glorification are incompatible. Therefore between the sinfulness of this life and the glories of heaven we must be made pure. Between death and glory there is a purification.

 

Purification after death

The concept of a purification after death from sin and the consequences of sin is stated in the New Testament in passages such as 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, Matthew 5:25-26, and 12:31-32. When we die, we undergo what is called the particular, or individual, judgment. Scripture says that "it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment" (Heb. 9:27). Matthew 25:31-32: "When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." In it all ours sins will be publicly revealed (Luke 12:2-5). "I tell you, you will never get out till you have paid the very last copper." (Luke 12:59).

 

There are several passages in the New Testament that point to a process of purification after death. Thus, Jesus Christ declares (Matt., xii, 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."

 

According to St. Isidore of Seveille (Deord. creatur., c. xiv, n. 6) these words prove that in the next life "some sins will be forgiven and purged away by a certain purifying fire." St. Augustine also argues "that some sinners are not forgiven either in this world or in the next would not be truly said unless there were other [sinners] who, though not forgiven in this world, are forgiven in the world to come" (De Civ. Dei, XXI, xxiv).

 

St. Paul in I Cor., iii, 11-1,5: "For other foundation no man can lay, but that which is

laid; which is Christ Jesus. Now if any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay stubble: Every man's work shall be manifest; for the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire; and the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is. If any man's work abide, which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work burn, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire."

 

The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:[Cf. 1 Cor 3:15 ; 1 Pet 1:7 .]. 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.[St. Gregory the Great, Dial. 4, 39: PL 77, 396; cf. Mt 12:31]

 

Temporal punishment

That temporal punishment is due to sin, even after the sin itself has been pardoned by God, is clearly the teaching of Scripture. God forgave the incredulity of Moses and Aaron, but in punishment kept them from the "land of promise" (Num., xx, 12). The Lord took away the sin of David, but the life of the child was forfeited because David had made God's enemies blaspheme His Holy Name (II Kings, xii,13, 14). In the New Testament as well as in the Old, almsgiving and fasting, and in general penitential acts are the real fruits of repentance (Matt., iii, 8; Luke, xvii, 3; iii, 3). As we approach nearer to God we are made totally aware of our imperfections as we stare back at absolute perfection. At the same time, a feeling of inadequacy will fill the heart of anyone who is not absolutely free of sin.

 

Isaiah 6:5-7 And I said: "Woe is me! for I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven."

 

Micah 7:8-9 Rejoice not over me, O mine enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me forth to the light; I shall behold his deliverance. {see also Leviticus 26:41,43, Job 40:4-5, Lamentations 3:39}

 

Malachi 3:2-4 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

 

Prayers for the dead

The doctrine of purgatory, or the final purification, has been part of the true faith since before the time of Christ. The Jews already believed it before the coming of the Messiah, as revealed in the Old Testament (2 Macc. 12:41-46) as well as other pre-Christian Jewish works, such as one which records that Adam will be in mourning "until the day of dispensing punishment in the last years, when I will turn his sorrow into joy" (The Life of Adam and Eve 46-7). Orthodox Jews to this day believe in the final purification, and for eleven months after the death of a loved one they pray a prayer called the Mourner's Qaddish for their loved one's purification.

 

The Jews offered atonement and prayer for their deceased brethren, who had clearly violated Mosaic Law. Such a practice presupposes purgatory, since those in heaven wouldn't need any help, and those in hell are beyond it. The Jewish people, therefore, believed in prayer. Jesus Christ did not correct this belief, as He surely would have done if it were erroneous (see Matthew 5:22,25-26, 12:32, Luke 12:58-59, 16:9,19-31 below). When our Lord and Savior talks about the afterlife, He never denies the fact that there is a third state, and the overall evidence of His utterances in this regard strongly indicates that He accepted the existence of purgatory.

 

A place other than Heaven and Hell

The Bible speaks quite plainly of a third place, where Christ went after his death, the place commonly called the Limbo of the Fathers, where the just who had died before the Redemption were waiting for heaven to be opened to them (1 Pet. 3:19). This place was neither heaven nor hell. Jesus told the thief on the cross that on the very day the two of them died, they would be together in paradise (Luke 23:43). Was our Lord referring to Heaven? Peter tells us that he "went and preached to the spirits in prison" (1

Peter 3:19), and after his resurrection, Christ himself declared: "I have not yet ascended to the Father" (John 20:17). Thus at that time paradise was located in some third state besides heaven and besides hell.

 

Bibliography:

 

http://www.catholic.com/

http://www.sni.net/advent/

http://christusrex.org/www1/CDHN/ccc.html