The history of purgatory in ab0ut 805 words.
Ever wonder how Roman Catholics prove the doctrine of purgatory?
Yeah, me too.
That’s why I did a little digging recently.
Here’s what I found.
Purgatory: The Essentials
First, let’s define purgatory.
In a nutshell, purgatory is a place where redeemed souls go to purge their load of venial [forgivable] sins.
It’s a process of purification before they enter heaven.
Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
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.
How long does a redeemed soul spend in purgatory? From what I can find, as long as it takes to purge those venial sins.
Two days. Two millions years. Just depends.
See, your success in purgatory depends on you. That means you can fail purgatory. No one guarantees you’ll persevere.
Not even God.
However, the good news is that the living can affect your duration. They can pray for you. [See point below.]
So how does one get purged? Fire. It’s a good guess this is a metaphorical fire, but the point is purification–and pain.
Much of what we understand about purgatory originates from Dante’s Divine Comedy–depicted as a mountain in the southern hemisphere with Jerusalem at the top, for instance [image above]–is sheer imagination.
Beautiful, but make believe. Which brings us back to our original question.
Purgatory: The Catholic Proofs
So, how do Catholics prove purgatory exists?
Well, for starters, it’s good to know that purgatory is inextricably wedded to the doctrine of praying for the dead. That means you can’t talk about one without talking about the other.
This is how it works.
Both doctrines have their seeds far back in certain pagan religions.
After that, a prayer for the dead can be found in the Old Testament. The catholic Old Testament. The Book of Maccabees to be exact. In the context of Maccabeus leaders praying for the dead.
Then, early Christian church catacomb inscriptions bear witness to prayers for the dead.
After that, the doctrine gets it traction in the early church fathers–think Augustine, Bede, Jerome. This is the argument from tradition.
Protestants Reject Purgatory
The doctrine wasn’t seriously challenged until 1,000 years later–early 1500s–when the Reformers rolled up on the scene.
What was at stake? Justification by faith alone–Luther’s pivotal beef with the Catholic church.
The Catholics defended that justification was a life long process as demonstrated by the long history–from pagan to early church to present–of the doctrine.
But the Reformers disagreed.
Not to be rebuffed, the Council of Trent affirmed that purgatory is necessary to blot out the full debt of venial sins.
What Luther and Co. argued was purgatory amounted to justification mingled with sanctification. Basically justification equals prayer and fasting in this life…fire in the next.
Purgatory: The Protestant Objection
With a formidable case for purgatory, why would any Protestant in his right mind reject it? Several reasons.
First, sola scriptura.
Affirming purgatory–with it’s rich, deep roots in tradition– otherwise compromises the very supremacy of the Bible as the Protestants rule of faith.
And what does that rule of faith teach? You guessed it: Justification by faith alone.
Take Paul’s defense in Romans 4:4-5 as an example:
Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.
Then there’s Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector. Jesus states that the tax collector is “justified” before God.
Or what about the thief on the cross? Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Instant justification by faith alone. There was no more work to be done. That’s why Jesus, on the cross, said, “It is finished.”
What was finished? The work of atonement and propitiation.
In essence, sanctification is a result of justification. Not a prerequisite. And justification is an event that occurs at the moment of faith:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5;1
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. Romans 5:9
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1
Our justification is an accomplished fact. Not an unfinished project. That’s the Protestant stand. What’s your stand? And did I miss anything? Look forward to your thoughts.
This post was inspired by a reader question. Got a question? Email me.