Friday, January 23, 2009

Why do Catholics believe in purgatory?

Purgatory is one of those teachings that has risen to the “yeah but…” status. When someone asks about a teaching within Catholicism and find that our logic and biblical background is correct, many say “yeah but purgatory, that’s obviously wrong” Other classic “yeah but…”s are the Eucharist, the papacy, and pretty much anything about Mary.

So it’s important to address these topics then, right? Purgatory, or “to purge” is a spiritual reality (not a “place” per se) where souls are cleansed before they enter heaven. It’s a place where souls go when they aren’t perfect, and therefore don’t deserve heaven, but aren’t condemned to hell either.  For more info on what Purgatory is, check out this post.

Most non-Catholics believe there’re only two place to go after death: heaven or hell. Those who are “saved” go to heaven, the rest go to the other place. There’s a problem with this theory though; the Bible doesn’t support it.

Please, flip to 2 Samuel 12:13-18 (that’s in the Old Testament for any Catholics reading this) and give it a read. I’ve got a lot of references here so I can’t quote them verbatim or this post will be enormous. Sorry.
Here we see David’s sins being forgiven (“saved?”) but then what? David’s son will be killed for David’s sin. So there’s punishment for sins even after their forgiven? How does that mesh with the “saved” mentality? When does the repercussion for sins take place?

Next, let’s jump to the back of the Bible at Revelation 21:27. Nothing unclean will enter the new Jerusalem. The “new Jerusalem” is used often throughout Revelation as a name for heaven. The passage doesn’t say that only forgiven people, or sinless people may enter, but “clean”. Catholics believe that means that not only must the sin be forgiven, but as in 2 Sam 12 any repercussions must be paid as well.

In Hebrews 12:22-23 we see talk about “just men made perfect”. This is interesting because a “just man” is “justified” or has salvation. Why would a “just man” need to be made perfect? The “saved” mentality says all just men are perfect, while purgatory makes just men perfect (or clean for the above paragraph).

Finally, let’s look at 1 Corinthians 3:13-15. Each man’s work will be tested and even though he’s saved (again, “justified”) if it’s burned up he’ll suffer loss. How can a saved man suffer loss? That’s impossible with the “saved” mentality; there is no gain or loss, just heaven or hell. Purgatory is a place where our works are judged and tested, and they can make us more, or less, clean, or more, or less, perfect to refer above.

We’ve looked at a few passages that seem to show that purgatory is biblical, in fact more biblical than the idea that a person is “saved” and that’s it. As a final point, why does the Bible talk about judging works so often? If all we have to do is be “saved”, then why are our works so important? See Mt 24, Jn 15, Romans 2, and Rev 20. If we’re “saved” and that’s it, who cares about works? We either made it to heaven or we didn’t. But if purgatory is true, then works matter a great deal because they can influence how much perfecting a soul needs before it may enter the new Jerusalem.

What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your effort to clarify this teaching of the Catholic church. I would like to reinforce however, that purgatory is not a final destination. It is not as if there are three options as to where you will spend all of eternity: Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory, as if those who are not good enough to get to heaven have to settle for an in between. It is merely a purification point on your way to heaven, so that you're soul may be untainted by the damage of sin when you finally com face to face with your Creator.

dave ruiz said...

disagree with your david reasoning-that he was forgiven but still sufferd loss. Are you saying you can be forgiven and then there will be no consequences .That is all that is proved >David still faced consequences on this earth but it is a stretch to get purgatory out of that.Paul mentions to be "absent form the body is to be present with the Lord".He mentions no pit stop for a claening up. Oh ,but he was holy. Well what about the thief on the cross ? "TODAY you will be with me in paradise", he was told. No pit stop for him,and he was dirty, or was he not fully cleansed by faith in the blood that was being shed right before his eyes ? It is an affront to the efficacy of the cleansing blood of the lamb, to say "sorry, not clean enough. I must cleanse myself a little".... I do like your scripture of every mans' work being testsed ,the chaff being burned off. This happens at our judgement,and there is no indication of a time frame. It is by his Word we are judged and cleansed I would say instantly.It is like before a judge today,and he makes his pronouncement,in a few moments and the thing happens ,your bad is stripped away and tossed in the garbage and what is left is pure gold ."It is given unto man to die once and there go to judgemnt"..The judged is quite passive here.Purgatoty is acontrol issue,a power grab,you musy be lorded over by this church. It is also a works issue ,that you can do something to appease your guilt.

Ang said...

Depressing! So your loved one is on his death bed living out his last moments in pain and suffering and all the comfort you can glean from this is that he will soon be free to go to Purgatory? What about your sweet little child who dies of cancer? Really, they go to Purgatory instead of being present with Jesus? What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What Jesus did was enough for me and all who say they are saved. The atonement or washing comes from the blood applied to our souls-picture the blood over the mantle of the door in the OT story of the first Passover. They did nothing to deserve the grace they found-they only had the blood to hide under.

Dan said...

Ang, actually purgatory isn’t depressing at all; it’s an immeasurably generous gift! The Bible tells us nothing unclean will enter heaven so if a person’s only shot at heaven is to be perfect at the point of death then we’re all in a heap of trouble, wouldn’t you agree?

Oh yes, Jesus dies for us and we are washed in his blood to be sure, but have you sinned today? Are you washed perfectly clean at this very moment? Have you atoned for the temporal punishment of your sins? Remember Jesus’ sacrifice removes our eternal punishment (if we have repented of them); not temporal. Otherwise we would never sin again, we would never feel pain or sadness, and we would never die.

Purgatory is a great mercy in that those who die with venial sin or temporal punishment aren’t destined for hell. I would never rejoice over going to purgatory except to rejoice in being with Jesus in heaven after I have been perfectly washed in His blood in purgatory.

Regarding a child dying of cancer I wouldn’t even consider purgatory. First, they are too young to commit personal sin so they have no danger of venial sins or temporal punishment for them. Besides, our suffering on earth, if we join it to the suffering of Christ as a sacrifice, is one way of removing temporal punishment.

In short, you’re twisting purgatory into a dark, unloving doctrine while in reality it is beautiful and generous. Let me ask you this: when Jesus died and “descended into hell”, where did He go? Did He go to hell? He can’t lead souls out of hell; no one escapes hell. Did he go to heaven? Obviously not, people in heaven don’t need a savior. Wherever He went wasn’t heaven or hell which proves that there can be realities other than heaven and hell. Not eternal realities, however (purgatory isn’t eternal).

Hope that helps, Ang.


Dan said...

Dave, David’s story proves that there are temporal punishments for sin. Sometimes those are repaid in this life and some in the next. Common sense tells us that some people die before the temporal punishment of their sins is atoned for.

The argument that the repentant thief disproves purgatory is popular but not at all correct.

First, Jesus said TODAY you will be with me. If you want TODAY to literally mean that particular day then the thief couldn’t have gone to heaven because Jesus didn’t! Jesus descended into the land of the righteous dead where the souls of the just waited for heaven’s gates to be opened (see below). If TODAY means some time in the future then it certainly allows for purgatory.

Second, “paradise” is translated from “sheol” which is the land of the righteous dead, not heaven. This is where Abraham, Isaac, etc went when they died. They didn’t go to hell or they could never get back out and they didn’t go to heaven either. This “sheol” is where Jesus went when He died and where the thief most likely went as well. Is that place purgatory? I don’t know, but it certainly was neither heaven nor hell.

So the story of the repentant thief is more consistent with Catholic teaching than Protestant.

Also, please read up on what Catholics actually teach about how a soul gets out of purgatory. We do not “cleanse myself a little” as you say. This betrays the core misunderstanding you have of purgatory; that the purification is something “I” do. The purification is something that happens to me; but it is not done by my power.

Finally, what Catholic doctrines are NOT power grabs in your eyes? This isn’t an argument, it’s a cliché.

dave ruiz said...

Dan on one hand you try to correct Ang by saying Jesus descended into hell and twist it to fit (Jesus can not lead a soul out of "hell you say).Then you rebut me with a proper view of hell(sheol) but fall short of the whole picture. You say Jesus was in paradise(sheol). He was, but he was also in Hell (hades),and he did lead souls out of Hades ,hell. He "led captivity captive", the "first fruits" into heaven because the gates of heaven were opened by His sacrifice ,right ? I thought I learned that as a catholic. As you say these are all real places: Heaven and hell(gehenna -place of torment where the "rich man was". It is just that hell(hades) is the old place(before jesus atonement) for the departed ,both good and evil. Within this hades was paradise for the righteous by faith(a place of comfort- Abrahams' bosom), and gehenna for the unbelieving (a "hot" place),and a great space between them.I think Jesus said this was not a parable (rich man and Lazarus).Even if it was ,Jesus never used a parable with false symbols -he used REAL things ,places)I do not see purgatory in His story. So indeed the thief was with Jesus in paradise that day (not heaven-why did you say I or anyone said heaven?) and not gehenna)-no mention of an in between state.Scripture is quite clear ,nothing to think about(you said "most likely)-the thief was in paradise(sheol). Now you could say the thief payed for his sin fully, temporaly HE DIED For his sins -right ? and that is why Jesus did not mention a purging first for the thief ? now why could not the other thief enter also ? he paid fully for his sins, dying for them. Why was not he squeaky clean?. See, this need for temporal cleansing does not make sense ,in the light that it is clear that faith alone in someones else temporal suffering(the Lambs) cleanses. My ,have you not seen mel gibsons' movie on the crucifixion? was not that temporal enough for you and me, something we have nothing to do,but is done for and to us)-I thought it was.........Again where we agree: I will be judged before the Father with Jesus at the right ,for every jot and tittle of my life ,with the chaff being burned away(painfully) then I shall be like Him,instantly (that is where we differ-on the instantly) plus your prayers will do me no good -what I have done I have done and only He will purge me. In fact He unconditionally promises that, regardless of your prayers-I think all prayers are for a change here on earth (that his kingdom come-it is already done in heaven)) thank God

Dan said...

Dave, we agree that Jesus went to Sheol and led souls out (like Lazarus in Lk 16). We agree that souls in Gahanna were not led out (like the rich man). You say that Sheol (or “paradise” or “Abraham’s bosom”) is part of Hades. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but one thing is for sure; Sheol wasn’t eternal. It was temporal

The whole point of speaking about Sheol is that it proves non-eternal (temporal) states of begin are possible. In other words, a soul doesn’t have to be in heaven or hell (eternal hell). Every soul will end up in one of those places; but doesn’t necessarily go there without passage of time. Thus Purgatory is perfectly reasonable. If the souls of the righteous dead went to some temporal state of being before going to an eternal state then why can’t our souls go to Purgatory (temporal) before going to heaven (eternal)?

You say that your purification is "instant". You either mean “takes no time” which is impossible because that would make your purification an eternal state of being (which cannot be since there are only two eternal states of being; heaven and hell) or you mean “very fast”, which means you believe in Purgatory.

Even if the purification is so extremely fast that we cannot measure it, it still takes time. Purification must happen BEFORE entering heaven (“nothing unclean will enter it” Rev 21:27). Therefore, the purification MUST be temporal because it happens between bodily death and entry into eternal heaven.

This temporal purification must have a state of being associated with it. If a soul has no state of being, then it would simply cease to exist. This obviously can’t be the case since a soul must exist to be purified. Because the soul is not in heaven or hell over the duration of the temporal purification then THERE MUST BE A TEMPORAL STATE OF BEING IN WHICH A SOUL IS PURIFIED. This state of being is what “Purgatory” is used to describe.

If you disagree, please explain how you can be purified BEFORE entering heaven but yet insist that the purification is not a separate state of being from heaven.

Shifting gears to another topic. You said “now why could not the other thief enter also ? he paid fully for his sins, dying for them. Why was not he squeaky clean?.“ Please tell me you’re kidding. This can’t possibly be serious. Dave, the reason the non-repentant thief wasn’t saved is he was “non-repentant”! Who cares if he suffered; he didn’t repent. Suffering deals with temporal punishment while repentance deals with eternal. How can you possibly not know that?

I really don’t care about the argument regarding the non-repentant thiif. I really want to know how you can be purified BEFORE entering heaven but yet insist that the purification is not a separate state of being from heaven.

dave ruiz said...

Dan,the point for Sheol was that the gates of heaven had not been opened-there is no mention of "Abraham" or
anyone in his "bosom"-paradise having to be purified or to suffer cleansing. As noted in the two thieves, self-payment or cleansing was not enough -you had to believe on the Lord's blood to enter(repent of the opposite idea). Now the gates are open and there is no need for Sheol(paradise part).You are really saying His blood opening the gates is not enough, that we can not be in his court for judgement. Where does it say the Father must leave His throne to judge us ? Does He judge us from a distance? How did Satan have access to the throne to accuse Job ? Those that are raptured to be with the perfect Jesus are first sidelined a bit for the final "wash" ? Is there time in His Kingdom ? Do you need a place for a split second ?Paul says to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Again, I am really saying whatever has to be done for my cleansing HAS BEEN DONE-He promises past, present and future sins to be covered if you "BELIEVE IT"

Anonymous said...

Dan the reasoning for paradise sheol is different than your reasoning for a need for purgatory. Now if Abraham or anyone in his bosom (paradise) suffered or were cleansed,there is no mention of it .There is no mention that the Lord took them thru purgatory first or that Abraham had to purged in purgatory. The gates were opened right ? As you say the real purging takes place when you repent, and really that is repenting from the beleif that you can do anything for yourself but believe in His blood for total cleansing. Does the father leave His throne to judge me ? Did not Satan aproach His throne to accuse Job ? Do the raptured first take a pit stop for final cleansing before meeting the pefrect Lord ? Is there time in heaven ? "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord". His blood cleanses me from ALL my unrighteousness,past present and future. There is no other place needed to do this other than Calvary. You have not answered how your prayer can cleanse me of my sin. Justice demands ALL my sins be covered by a perfect sacrifice,of which you and I are not while on this earth, much less someones money and penance.

Anonymous said...

The blood of Jesus cleanses all believers of all sin. It is heresy to suggest otherwise. Either Christ's death on the cross covers/removes/forgives all sin of the repentant believer or it does not. There is no redemption from sin, any sin, any degree of sinfulness, all sin is equally damning even though the ramifications of various sins carry more perceived weight. The crucifixion nailed all sin to the cross. There is no need for a "purgatory" after death nor is it biblical. To have to be further punished for one's sins after death is an idea that comes from Islam. It is not biblical. There is no repentance after death. There is no way to save or condemn another after death.