The Doctrine of Purgatory is Biblical and Makes Sense

The Doctrine of Purgatory is Biblical and Makes Sense


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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. (Catechism of the Catholic Church – #1030)

Few doctrines of the Catholic faith are more misunderstood than Purgatory, and yet few make more sense—or are more biblical—when rightly understood.

Misunderstandings of Purgatory abound. Some people think the Church teaches it is a second chance, where deceased souls headed for hell get a shot at working their way to heaven. Still others have the notion that Catholics think Purgatory necessary in order for souls to supplement Christ’s grace with our own niceness and good deeds. Nearly all who misunderstand the doctrine imagine it was unknown in the time of Christ, is unmentioned in Scripture and crept into the Church in later centuries due to the influence of superstition.

In fact, however, all these notions are untrue. The Church’s teaching is, at once, much more surprising, commonsensical, human, and biblical than the various non-Catholic theories about what the Church believes. Surprising, because the whole of the gospel is a surprise. Commonsensical, because it dovetails perfectly with what God calls us to be and do. Human, because it offers us the opportunity and the grace to become fully human as Christ is. And biblical, because the Purgatory does, in fact, have solid biblical roots.

So what is Purgatory anyway?

“Purgatory” is derived from the Latin purgatio which means “cleansing” or “purifying”. To undergo “purgation” is to be purified or cleansed. Just as gold is purged of dross in the refining process so Scripture teaches that we are to be purified of all that is sinful or unclean. So, for instance, Psalm 51:6-10 reads:

Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Fill me with joy and gladness;
let the bones which thou hast broken rejoice.
Hide thy face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.

Likewise, John the Apostle writes, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).

In this life, the process of purification from sin is called “sanctification.” Purgatory is the culmination of that process by which a human being who has died in the grace of God is made utterly and completely full of the life of the Blessed Trinity and perfectly “conformed to the image of Christ” (Romans 8:29).

When does sanctification start and end?

Sanctification starts the moment a human being surrenders to Jesus. Jesus welcomes anyone who comes to him by faith (John 3:16). But he welcomes us in order to transform us (Romans 12:2). Therefore, our relationship with Jesus is a cooperative struggle in which his Holy Spirit helps us fulfill the promise of holiness planted in our hearts in baptism. This process is well described by Peter, who writes “By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:3-7). Sanctification will continue, according to Paul, until “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6). In short, God will not rest until we are completely blessed and happy. If the process is not finished when we die, then God completes it in Purgatory. That is why Purgatory is not a “second chance”. All who are in Purgatory have, in fact, died “in God’s grace and friendship” as theCatechism of the Catholic Church says. All the souls in Purgatory are absolutely assured of seeing God’s face. They simply do not yet see it fully.

Peter’s mention of suffering and “testing by fire” sounds ominous. Isn’t the Christian life supposed to be about victory instead of suffering?

That’s a bit like saying the athletic life is supposed to be about trophies instead of running. Trophies, as Paul notes, are awarded at the end of the race (2 Timothy 4:8). Purgatory does indeed involve pain, just as training for a race or running 10 miles does. But pain is not the point of Purgatory. The healing, joy and ecstasy of heaven are.

Our Lord and his apostles all suffered. So have many Christians since then. So does everybody else. As Job says, “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). Our Lord never promised a painless existence. Rather, he promised a joyful one in which nothing-not even pain and death-is wasted and everything is redeemed and turned into glory. What is remarkable about the Christian life is not its notable lack of suffering, but that Christ gives us the grace to suffer pain unto life and even unto joy.

What’s “pain unto life”?

The opposite of damnation unto death. In baptism (and confession), the guilt of sin is forgiven and friendship with God is restored by the grace of Christ. But the fact that sin is forgiven does not mean that sin ceases to have effects on us and on those around us. God’s forgiveness does not mean all bad habits are magically repealed, all back taxes cancelled and the people we hurt are suddenly restored to perfect physical, emotional and spiritual health just because we are believers. Instead the Church says, in effect, “If you break someone’s window in a hissy fit and repent, you shall certainly be forgiven. But you must still pay for the window and do something about that nasty temper. You must, in the words of Paul, ‘work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.'” (Philippians 2:12-13). This is why Jesus commended Zacchaeus for paying back the money he stole, even though his sin of theft was forgiven (Luke 19:1-10). This is why repentant murderers stay in jail, repentant fornicators must still deal with the effects of a sexually transmitted disease and repentant addicts must go on struggling against their cravings. Forgiven sin continues to have effects both on the sinner and on those against whom he sinned. The difference is that, with grace, these struggles do not have the effect of hardening sinners in their sin, but of liberating them from it. This is precisely why Paul writes that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5). The suffering of sanctification produces not remorse, but repentance, not wallowing in guilt, but joy at liberation. As Paul says, “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).

Read the source and comments:

What’s the point of sanctification and Purgatory if you are basically a good person? Wouldn’t a God of love accept us as we are?

Good question!  And we shall address it in this space next time!

What’s the Point of Purgatory?


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Last time, in this space, we began looking at the Church’s doctrine of Purgatory, and we left off with this excellent question:

What’s the point of sanctification and Purgatory if you are basically a good person? Wouldn’t a God of love accept us as we are?

We often hear “So and so is ‘basically a good person.'” What do we mean by it? To find out, suppose someone says, “Einstein was basically a good scientist” or “Bach was basically a good musician” or “Babe Ruth was basically a good ball player.” Does this strike you as rather weak? That’s not surprising. When we say that somebody is “basically good” we are really saying “despite their mediocrity, they had some good qualities.” That is why nobody says Bach or Einstein or Ruth were “basically” okay. We recognize that buy finasteride online canada there was a lot more to these people than “the basics.” They were special.

You are special too. Paul tells us “we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” The term “workmanship” is translated from the Greek word “poiema” (from which we get the word “poem”). We are literally God’s works of art, created in order to manifest fully the life of Christ in the world. Our destiny in Christ is not to be “okay” or “basically good” but to be saints and “partakers in the glory that is to be revealed” (1 Peter 5:1). As C.S. Lewis says, “the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.” This being so, it is not enough to say that God accepts us as we are (though he certainly does that as well). We must recognize that he accepts us for a purpose: namely, to make us participants in his glory. He intends to transform us into creatures who, in a way proper to creatures, are fully at home in the life of God. That is why Paul prays “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God (Ephesians 3:16-19). For this to happen, there must be a change, not merely of our address from earth to heaven, but of our hearts from “okay” to “holy.” We must not merely go to heaven, we must become heavenly to be at home there, just as Christ is.

Isn’t it blasphemous to talk of being “just as Christ is”?

It would be blasphemous to talk that way if we did so on our own. That is why Adam and Eve got in hot water. They fell for the serpent’s suggestion that they should try—on their own steam—to “be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). But the irony is that, had they but remained with God in trust, they would have found that God desired to give what they tried to steal. For according to Peter, God desires that we become “participants in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). That is why Jesus tells us we “must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), or, in other words, that we should “be like God.” Indeed, everything Satan tricked our First Parents into trying to steal was just a cheap imitation of what God actually wills us to have. Wisdom, knowledge, power, love, true riches, assurance about the future and even communion with the whole Body of Christ both living and dead are all our proper heritage in Christ (Ephesians 1:18-19; 3:14-21). But to inherit these things is not merely to be forgiven, it is to be Christlike. Merely desiring forgiveness without desiring inner transformation is like “cleansing the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity” (Matthew 23:25). To be Christlike, we must be changed as well as forgiven. We must be purified and “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that [we] might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).

How on earth can anybody do that?

Nobody on earth can—on their own, that is. We cannot change our fallen selves any more than we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. We cannot gate-crash Heaven anymore than Hamlet can barge into Shakespeare’s house. If Hamlet is to meet Shakespeare-if we are to meet God, much less “participate in his divine nature”-it is necessary for the Author to write himself into the character’s world since the character cannot get into the Author’s world. That is what God did: he wrote himself into this world by becoming human while remaining God. He became a character in his own story. Because of this, we can now freely ask for help from the only person who is both fully human and fully God, the only one who is both of heaven and of earth: Jesus Christ (John 3:31). He came: to take away our sins by his death and to give us a share in his life since we are completely incapable of making ourselves sharers in his divine life. If anyone professes faith in Jesus Christ and is baptized, he promises, “my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). In short, we are dependent upon the grace and love of God in Christ to enter our souls and change us. That is why Paul tells us “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God-not because of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9) and Jesus says, I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). In faith and baptism, our sins are forgiven, we are grafted onto that vine, our hearts are injected with the supernatural life of the Blessed Trinity, and we are given a share in the life of God that we never could have achieved on our own power. And that life, the moment it enters our souls, begins to change us.

If baptism and faith in Christ covers our sin and gives us God’s grace, why then is sanctification necessary?

On that, more next time!

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What is purgatory? Purgatory  is the state of those who die in God’s friendship, assured of their eternal salvation, but who still have need of purification to enter the happiness of heaven (CCC: 1030-1031, 1054).

How can we help the souls being purified in purgatory? Because of the communion of saints, the faithful who are still pilgrims on earth are able to help the souls in purgatory by offering prayers in suffrage for them, especially the Eucharistic sacrifice. They also help them by almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance (CCC: 1032).

In what does hell consist? Hell consists in the eternal damnation of those who die in mortal sin through their own free choice. The principal suffering of hell is eternal separation from God in whom alone we can have the life and happiness for which we were created and for which we long Christ proclaimed this reality with the words, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41; CCC: 1033-1035, 1056-1057).

Death does not put an end to life with loved ones in Christ. It actually enhances Life. “What is the Church if not the assembly of all the saints? The communion of saints is the Church” (CCC: 945). “Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness… They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus…. So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped” (CCC: 956). “In full consciousness of this communion of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the Church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of Christian religion, has honored with great respect the memory of the dead; and because it is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins she offers her suffrages for them (2 Macc 12:45). Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective” (CCC: 958).