The doctrine of purgatory

Historical Development of Purgatory

            1) The evidence shows that the origins of Purgatory are completely pagan.  Data shows that in the 5th century BC  Plato a Greek philosopher said, “These things being so, as soon as the dead arrive at the region whither his demon carries each, in the first place those who have led an upright life and a holy life, and those who have lived otherwise are judged.  And those who appear to have led a course of life between the two,…and when they are purified and have suffered the penalty of their iniquities, if any of them has committed such, they are absolved,” (Jarvis, p. 72).  So we see from this historical account that the idea of a place of purgation is not original with Catholics.  It is derived from superstitious paganism.

            2) Another source that is said to have given birth to the doctrine of Purgatory is the reference found in 2 Maccabees 12:41-45.  The account here states that dead Jewish soldiers were found to have been wearing pagan amulets.  Their deaths are seen to have been judgment from God, but now those who have found their dead bodies become concerned for the souls of these soldiers.  As a result of this they hold a prayer service for the dead soldiers, and they collect money to provide for a sin offering on behalf of the dead soldiers.  A major problem with this evidence is that it is found in a book from the, which was not, and still is not accepted into the Protestant or Jewish canons.  Jesus referred to the Old Testament canon as the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings, none of which include the Apocrypha (Lk. 24:44).  Jesus also said that the Scriptures cannot be broken, which means that they are authoritative and reliable (John 10:35).  As we have seen He did not include the Apocrypha in the Old Testament canon.

            3) Tertullian discussed the idea of Purgatory in his essay On the Soul.  He asserted that Jesus’ parable in Matthew 5:25-26 referred to Purgatory.  Jesus was discussing the relationship of people with one another in relation to civil law, not the relationship between individuals and God.  There is nothing in this context referring to the intermediate state.               

             4) Cyprian during his lifetime asserted that all those believers who lived faithfully during their earthly lives, or those who died as martyrs were definitely going to Heaven.  On the other hand he was confused with the idea of those believers who had denied Christ when persecuted, but still desired to remain Christians and be reconciled to the Church.  In Cyprian’s mind these “cowardly” Christians could not end up in the same place as the “heroic” Christian martyrs.  But, how could people that were basically good end up in Hell for eternity?  In reconciling this issue Cyprian found his answer in Matthew 5:26.  He decided that the “unfaithful” Christians could be made right through penance in this life, and the afterlife.  According to his logic, in their present “unfaithful” condition they could not enter into communion with Christ.  As a result of Cyprian’s misinterpretation of the text, there is now a doctrine of purification in the future life.  As a result of the Catholic error of works salvation even at this early time, error continued to grow through the new doctrine of purgation.

            5) Clement of Alexandria made use of the gnostic belief of judgment by fire after death.  In looking for Scriptural support for this position, he selected 1 Corinthians 3:10-15.  Unfortunately for Clement, this passage refers to the bema seat of Christ.  This is a one time examination of all true believers so that they can receive rewards for their obedience on earth, but it does not in anyway refer to separation from God, or an indefinite period of purification.  Clement picking up on the idea of pagan people at the time implemented prayer for the dead into his already erroneous theology.  He declared that people can still carry on relationships with others after death, and bear each others burdens (Ratzinger, 227).

            6) Origen another Catholic theologian said that, “There is a resurrection of the dead, and there is a punishment, but not everlasting.  For when the body is punished the soul is gradually purified , and so is restored to its ancient rank.  For all wicked men, and for demons, too, punishment has an end, and both wicked men and demons shall be restored to their former rank,” (Jarvis, 74).  There is absolutely no Scriptural basis for believers being judged in this way (Rom. 5:9; 8:1, 33-34).  Also demons will never be restored, but they will reside in Hell forever (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10).  The return of Christ is a time of salvation for believers, not a time of punishment for sins (Heb. 10:28).

            7) Augustine said that, “We read in the books of Maccabees that sacrifice is offered for the dead yet, even if it were read nowhere in the Old Testament, the authority of the universal church which clearly favors this practice is of great weight, where in the prayers of the priest which are poured forth to the Lord God at His altar the commemoration of the dead has its place,” (Jarvis, 75).  There is finality in the judgment of God (Heb. 9:27).

            8) Pope Gregory (590-604 AD) was the first pope to formalize the doctrine of purgatory.  When he was questioned about how the possibility of freeing souls from Purgatory he said, “Wasn’t he also still in the flesh who hear, ‘whatever you find on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven?  His function in binding and loosing has been taken over by those who govern the church in matters of faith and morals,” (Jarvis, 76).  Contrary to Gregory’s belief, he was not an apostle, nor did he have the right to invent false doctrine.

            9) The Council of Florence in 1439 A.D. made Purgatory official Catholic teaching.  The Council of Trent elevated tradition as a necessary element of hermeneutics.  Canon 31 of the Council of Trent says, “If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification that guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of Heaven can be opened, let him be anathema (accursed).”  Purgatory is a place where unfaithful Christians go because they were unable to make payment for their sins during their earthly lifetime.  They will remain there until they make complete payment for their sins, but their suffering can be diminished and even ended by the prayers and sacrifices made on their behalf by those still living. 

Modern Catholicism

            1) Vatican II continues the traditional teaching of purgatory by stating, “This most sacred Synod accepts with great devotion the venerable faith of our ancestors regarding this vital fellowship with our brethren who are in heavenly glory or who are still being purified after death,” (Jarvis, 67).  This document also affirms in a blanket statement the rest of the previous teachings regarding Purgatory. 

            2) The 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church makes many statements affirming the supposed reality of Purgatory.  It says, “The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect,” (p. 268-269 #1031).  They also declare that, “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,” (p. 2658 #1030). 

            3) The newly appointed Pope of the Catholic Church formerly known as Joseph Ratzinger has written a great deal in regard to the issue of Purgatory.  He says that,  “Purgatory means still unresolved guilt, a sufferings which continues to radiate out because of our guilt.  Purgatory means, then, suffering to the end what one has left behind on earth–in the certainty of being definitively accepted, yet having to bear the infinite burden of the withdrawn presence of the Beloved,” (Ratzinger, 189).

            4) Zachary Hayes in presenting the doctrine of Purgatory says that, “Not everyone seems bad enough to be consigned to eternal Hell.  Therefore, something has to happen ‘in between.’  Therefore some sort of cleansing process is postulated between death and the entrance into Heaven,” (Four Views, 99).  As a result of the Catholic view that people are not separated from interacting with and influencing one another after death, the doctrine of prayer for the dead becomes an essential part of life for Catholics.  Hayes admits that, “Whether the doctrine of Purgatory can be defended as having any basis in Scripture depends on how one approaches the Bible and understands revelation.  From here, the step to tradition becomes clear.  In Roman Catholic thought, Christians never deal solely with the text of Scripture,” (99).  He also concedes that there is no clear and unambiguous evidence for the doctrine of Purgatory in the Scriptures (104). 



                           Purgatory: Fact or Fiction? The Falseness of the Doctrine of Purgatory

            In dealing with the authenticity of the doctrine of purgatory I will begin the discussion with a definition from a Roman Catholic scholar.  “Purgatory is commonly understood to refer to the state, place, or condition in the next world between heaven and hell, a state of purifying suffering for those who have died and still are in need of such purification.  This purifying condition comes to an end for the individual when that person’s guilt is expiated,” (Hayes, p. 93).  With this as the starting point of the discussion a very important question must be posed.  Is it possible for the evidence of history, tradition, and the opinions of highly esteemed and scholarly men to establish the reality of purgatory, or does the testimony of the 66 canonical books of the inspired Word of God render the reality of purgatory as nothing more than fiction?


Catholic Theology: the necessity of Purgatory

1) Justification by works: Justification in the Catholic system is achieved in a process of human efforts.  The process is started with water baptism, “In baptism, the child received his or her ‘first justification,’ and this began the process of sanctification.  Thus, justification was seen as the beginning of moral change, and only at the end of the process–assuming one made proper use of the sacraments, confessed one’s sins verbally to a priest, and died without having committed a mortal sin–could one hope to be justified.  In fact, the process actually continued beyond the grave, in Purgatory, where the remaining corruptions and transgressions were purged.  The whole process may be ascribed to ‘grace alone,’ and yet the way one received this ‘grace’ was, in effect, by meriting it,” (Michael S. Horton in Roman Catholicism: Evangelical Protestants Analyze what Divides and Unites us, 255).  Over the years the Roman Catholic Church has taught penitent believers to utilize the sacraments of the Church to obtain forgiveness or cleansing from their sins.  They did this because when Christ died, He gave His authority to the bishops of the Church (especially the bishop of Rome, whom they argue to be the successor of Peter).  In this system of beliefs lies their justification for them as leaders binding or loosing people from their sins.  So since they say that Jesus gave them this power, they have given it to the priests who officiate over the sacraments.  The Catholic Church teaches that an individual’s relationship with God is initiated through water baptism, the relationship of salvation is maintained, and grace is received through Mass.  Penance is then a part of all of that, so that you can make up for the wrongs that you have committed so that you will not have to do it in Purgatory.  The Catholic Church has made salvation something that is earned by human obedience and effort.

            *All people are sinners: The Word of God says that all people are sinners because we are descendants of Adam (Rom. 5:12).  “As it is written; There is none righteous, not even one; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Rom. 3:10, 23).  The Bible also states that if anyone claims that they do not sin, they have deceived themselves, and have not accepted God’s truth in this matter (1 Jn. 1:8).  The Scriptures also state that everyone sins (Jas. 3:2).  The Scriptures have stated that everyone is a sinner, so that salvation would be through faith to all that believe in Christ (Gal. 3:22).

            *Our good works cannot save us. The Bible states that our best works that we could possibly do are like filthy rags in God’s eyes (Isa. 64:6).  Many Jews in the time of Paul did not receive salvation because they tried to earn it (Rom. 9:30-32; 10:3-4).  “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due,” (Rom. 4:4).  Eternal salvation was earned by the cross-work of Jesus Christ, and it is not possible to earn it (Gal. 2:21; 3:11; 5:5). 

            *God offers salvation as a free gift through Christ.  One can only be saved by grace through faith.  God provided eternal salvation through His Son whoever would receive it by faith (John 3:16).  Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for many so that they could be free from their sins (Matt. 21:28; Gal. 1:4).  The death of Jesus paid for our sins, and by believing that His sacrifice paid for our sins we are declared righteous by God (Rom. 3:25).  Eternal salvation is a free gift, which cannot be earned (Rom. 6:23; Titus 3:5).  The way for someone to receive salvation is so simple it has often been rejected as too easy (Rom. 10:9-11).  The Bible says that anyone who repents of their sins and truly believe in Jesus Christ as Savior will be saved (Acts 10:43; Rom. 10:13, 17; 2 Tim. 1:9).  There is no one on earth that is too evil for God to save through Jesus Christ, He can save anyone (Rom. 4:5; 1 Jn. 2:2).  Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved, nothing else can be done to be saved (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

            *We are justified by Christ.  There is no further need for further purification (like in Purgatory).  We are forgiven completely and forever through Christ.  God has removed our transgressions from us (Ps. 103:12).  Our sins have been forgiven completely, and will be remembered no more (Isa. 43:25; Heb. 10:17).  Christ is the One who bore our sins so that we would not have to (1 Pet. 2:24; 2 Cor. 5:21).  Christ cleanses us from all sin (1 Jn. 1:7).  “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Rom. 8:1).  The Bible even says that those who have trusted Christ as Savior are new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17).  We were reconciled to God through Christ, and we are no longer His enemies (2 Cor. 5:18-19).  As a result of being born again through the blood of Christ we are reconciled to God (Rom. 5:1-2).  Jesus has washed our sins away (Rev. 1:5).  Christ has purged our sins, so there is no sin left for us to pay for (Heb. 1:3).  Jesus has also purged our conscience (Heb. 9:14).  The righteousness of Christ has been imputed to us by God, which means that we do not have to earn our own righteousness  (2 Cor 5:21).  Christ will make sinners stand before Him blameless (Jude 24).  When God looks at us, He sees us in Christ (Eph 1:1-14).  In Christ we are holy and blameless before God (Eph 1:4).  A born again Christian serves God because he/she loves God, not because they are purify themselves from sin (2 Cor 5:14; Rom 8:15).  For those that have trusted Christ by faith there is continual cleansing of sin, which is provided for the believer when he/she confesses it directly to the Lord in prayer (1 Jn. 1:9).  When someone who has trusted Christ sins, they do not need to worry about making themselves right with God, because Christ is their advocate with the Father (1 Jn. 2:1).  “Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ,” (1 Pet. 1:18-19).                   

* Repentance is an inward reality.  The Bible says that repentance is brought about through the conviction of the Holy Spirit in relation to sin.  It is not a set of “special” acts done to make an individual right with God.  It is a matter of the heart (John 3:3-7; Ezek. 36:26; 2 Cor. 5:17; Joel 2:13).  Repentance is a change of heart that affects an individual’s view of God and himself (Acts 26:20; 1 Thess 1:9-10).   

* We can be certain of our eternal salvation.  We can be certain that we will go to Heaven when we die.  We have eternal security.  The Bible says that when a believer dies, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord,” (no separation temporally or physically-2 Cor. 5:8).  Paul says that when he dies physically that he will go be with Christ (Phil. 1:23-24).  Jesus says that He went to prepare a place for believers, and that He will come back to take them to be with Him in Heaven (John 14:3-6).  Jesus is the One who protects our salvation in Heaven for all eternity (1 Pet. 1:3-5, 23; Rom. 8:28-39; Heb. 7:25; 9:15; 10:14).  “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life,” (1 Jn. 5:13).    


2) Tradition and Revelation: Zachary Hayes sums up the relationship between tradition and revelation in Catholicism, “While the Protestant viewpoint looks for a pure form of doctrine at the beginning of Christian history and sees any deviation from that pure form as a corruption, the Catholic viewpoint sees the beginning more like a seed planted in history.  It is the nature of the seed to grow and develop.  So for Roman Catholic theology, it is not surprising that we cannot find clear textual ‘proof’ of the doctrine of Purgatory in the Scriptures.  One way or the other, the issue of Purgatory is clearly an issue of development of doctrine.  In this sense, the question of Purgatory can be said to have emerged from the voice of the people,” (Four Views, 109-110).  For modernist Catholics tradition now has more authority than the Scriptures themselves do (Father Greeley, 332).  Aiden Nichols a Catholic scholar states that, “Our survey of hermeneutics should at least leave us in possession of the notion that the Bible has no one meaning,” (The Shape of Catholic Theology, 161).  This is a very dangerous teaching that causes the Bible to be interpreted in whatever direction one may wish to go.   

            *The Word of God is the rule of our faith, not tradition.  The Bible is said to be God breathed, which means that God has given us what we need, and nothing else needs to be added to it (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  There are no errors in the Word of God because God cannot lie (Heb. 6:18).  The Scriptures also contain a warning to those who add to, or take away from what it says (Rev. 22:18-19).  The Bible also says that we are to speak as the utterances of God (referring to the Scriptures -1 Peter 4:11).  Also, the Word of God should not contradict itself but should agree with and help to interpret itself because God is the One who revealed it through prophets (2 Peter 1:20-21).  Paul says that God’s Word should be used so that the faith of people rests in God’s strength, not the wisdom of men (1 Cor. 2:1-5).  Peter said that anyone who speaks should speak as God’s Word speaks, not as tradition speaks (1 Pet. 4:11).  The Biblical authors were led by the Spirit of God to write what they did, and many of the cases were eyewitness accounts, not the philosophy of the day (2 Pet. 1:16).  The Bible also warns of the destruction of those who misinterpret its teachings and mislead others (2 Pet. 3:16).  The Scriptures themselves testify that they are not lacking in any way.  They are complete, and the canon is closed (Jude 3).


Historical Chart of the Roman Catholic Church (taken from Roman Catholicism in Light of Scripture, p. 252)

            AD            313            Emperor Constantine proclaims Christian freedom of worship

            324            Church flourishes

            325            First general Church Council

            431            First worship of Mary

            593            Doctrine of purgatory introduced

600            Use of Latin in worship introduced

600-1400 The Dark Ages

            787            Worship of images and relics introduced

            788            Worship of Mary

            819            First observance of Feast of Assumption

            1074            Priests forbidden to marry

            1075            Compulsory divorce of wives married to priests

            1100            Payment for Masses introduced

            1115            Confession made an article of faith

            1190            Sale of indulgences

            1215            Transubstantiation made an article of faith

            1226            Elevation of angels introduced

            1229            Laity forbidden to read the Bible

            1303            Roman Catholic Church proclaimed as the only true Church, in which salvation can be found alone

            1415            Declaration that only priests can say Masses

1439        The seven sacraments and doctrine of purgatory made articles of faith

1517             The Protestant Reformation begins

            1546            Tradition given equal authority with the Scriptures

            1562            Mass declared to be a propitiatory offering, confirmation of worship of saints

            1634            Canonization procedure promulgated

            1854            Promulgation of the doctrine of immaculate conception

            1864            Declaration of the temporal authority of the pope

                                                                        1870            Declaration of papal infallibility           

            1950            Assumption of Mary made an article of faith Conclusion:

            *The Catholic doctrine of justification is not Biblical because it does not agree with the essential teachings of Scripture.  Therefore Purgatory is not necessary, nor is it real, because Jesus Christ has provided eternal salvation for all of mankind.  It is received by grace through faith.  God imputes the righteousness of Jesus Christ to all who will receive Him by faith. 

            *The location of Purgatory is not found in any reference of the 66 canonical books of the Bible, nor is it found in any location in reality.  Purgatory was a doctrine picked up from paganism to help complete the already erroneous theology of the Roman Catholic Church.

            * The Word of God is the only true authority for born again believers of any age.  Scripture is revealed by God, is non-contradictory, and does not make things up as it goes along, which is the case with man made tradition. 


“If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son.  The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because He has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son.  And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life,” (1 Jn. 5:9-13).    


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