Does Purgatory Exist? (part 2)

On November 15, 2011, in Doctrines, by july

In the previous part of this series, I have written down an introduction of how purgatory is seen from two different lenses.  I hope that I have been as objective as I should be.  I hope that I am able to represent both sides without a hint of bias.

I do not believe that our theology should be one hundred percent correct to get saved.  Yet I believe however that it is our duty to try our best to be as accurate as possible.  For this matter, I hope that through this post, people from both sides can see the evidences and the arguments brought forth by both camps, and consequently think about how their belief on purgatory cohere with reality.

In this post, I will highlight both the Catholic and Protestant views on purgatory.  Further, I will include the arguments they often use to support their position.  Please do let me know if I left something out that you think is necessary.

Catholic View

Catholics begin their argument for the doctrine of purgatory with this verse

“Nothing impure shall enter it [the new Heaven and the new Earth].” – Revelation 21:27

In this life, none of us can claim that upon leaving this world, our inclination to sin will be completely eradicated.  The existence of purgatory then, in the Catholic view, shows us that it is through grace that we are purified upon death, so that no one in heaven can experience the entailments of our sinful tendencies.

For example, a Christian has a problem with lust.  One day, he was ran over by a car, and so he died and off he go to be with the LORD.  Notice that within his lifetime, he hadn’t had a chance to fix his problem of lust.  Entering heaven, he sees women with such glimmering beauty walking around the streets.  Without his lustful desires eliminated, he could potentially make a scandal in heaven.  Having this illustration in mind, the reason why purgatory has to exist, is so that nobody would choose to sin in heaven.

Catholics also point out the verse stated in John 20:17 in which after Mary saw Jesus risen from the dead and wanted to turn towards Him, Jesus stopped her and said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.”  Now this is the third day from Jesus’ death.  Through Jesus’ statement here, we can immediately imply that He has not yet been to heaven.  The only time that Jesus went back to God the Father was at the time of the Pentecost as described in Acts 1.

Therefore, having this issue on the table, it shows that when a person dies, he does not immediately go face to face with God but rather, he is in a temporal state.  Notice also that in Luke 23:42, the penitent thief told Jesus not to forget about him when He comes into His kingdom, Jesus made a remarkable reply in the following verse in which He says, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Notice that the statement framed by the thief is about the kingdom but Jesus clarified it by saying that instead of them immediately going to the Kingdom, they will first be at another place called Paradise.  In light of John 20:17, we can draw out that Jesus has not yet been with God the Father and therefore, Paradise is different from the Kingdom, and the penitent thief and Jesus were there the same day they died.

1 Peter 3:18-20 and 1 Peter 4:6 shows us where Jesus was before He went back to be with God.  In 1 Peter 3:18-20, Peter wrote: “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.  He was put to death in the body, but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah when the ark was being built.” Peter continues in 4:6 saying, “For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.”

So here we see that there appears to be a certain state of existence where people who are already dead but have not yet made it to heaven itself.

In Matthew 12:32, Jesus made this comment: “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”  Here we see that Jesus was referring to forgiveness in an age to come.  Certainly there will be forgiveness in this age as the Bible teaches.  In God’s kingdom however, there is no need for forgiveness because there is no sin to forgive.  Therefore, for the Catholics, the only age wherein there could be another forgiveness is that of a temporal state of existence where man is being cleansed of sin before going to heaven.

In 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, the Catholics claim that Paul hints on this as well.  He writes, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.  If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”

For this reason, Catholics claim that purgatory is a place for people who are already saved, but still has sins in their lives that need to be removed.  God has thus, provided a purifying fire to test the work of man and allow him to retain only those that survived the fire.

With regards to prayer for the dead (not to the dead), Catholics find basis for it in this verse from 2 Maccabees 12:46 “It is therefore, a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed of their sins.”

The Church Fathers have also written extensively on purgatory.  Origen of Alexandria wrote: “For if on the foundation of Christ you have built not only gold and silver and precious stones [1 Corinthians 3]; but also wood and hay and stubble, what do you expect when the soul shall be separated from the body? Would you enter into heaven with your wood and hay and stubble and thus defile the kingdom of God; or on account of these hindrances would you remain without and receive no reward for your gold and silver and precious stones; Neither is this just. It remains then that you be committed to the fire which will burn the light materials; for our God to those who can comprehend heavenly things is called a cleansing fire. But this fire consumes not the creature, but what the creature has himself built, wood, and hay and stubble. It is manifest that the fire destroys the wood of our transgressions and then returns to us the reward of our great works.” (Homilies on Jeremias [c. AD 244] or Migne PG 13:445,448)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote: “For I know that there are many who are saying this: ‘If a soul departs from this world with sins, what does it profit it to be remembered in the prayer?’…[we] grant a remission of their penalties…we too offer prayers to Him for those who have fallen asleep though they be sinners.” (23 [Mystagogic 5], 8, 9, 10 [c. 350 AD] or NPNF2 VII:154-155)

St. John Chrysostom wrote “Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice [Job 1:5], why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.” (Homilies on First Corinthians 41:5 [c. AD 392])

St. Augustine of Hippo wrote “‘Lord, rebuke me not in Your indignation, nor correct me in Your anger’ [Psalm 38:1]…In this life may You cleanse me and make me such that I have no need of the corrective fire, which is for those who are saved, but as if by fire…for it is said: ‘He shall be saved, but as if by fire’ [1 Cor 3:15]. And because it is said that he shall be saved, little is thought of that fire. Yet plainly, though we be saved by fire, that fire will be more severe than anything a man can suffer in this life.” (Explanations of the Psalms 37:3 [c. AD 392])

Notice the year of writing of these documents.  The Christian Bible was canonized at the end of the fourth century, particularly 396 AD.  These documents are written way before the canon.  Catholics claim that it is more reasonable to believe the affirmations of the church fathers who lived a few centuries after the death of Jesus rather than doctrines born more than a millennium hence the death of Jesus. [1]

To summarize the view of the Catholic Church, Purgatory should exist because of the following reasons:

  1. Nothing unclean can defile the Kingdom of God.
  2. Jesus did not immediately enter the Kingdom when He died.
  3. Paul confirms a fire that will burn away man’s works.
  4. Jesus hints about forgiveness in the coming age.
  5. The early Church Fathers believed in its existence and we have no evidence of other Church Fathers correcting this belief early on.

Protestant View

Protestants believe that there is no such thing as Purgatory for two primary reasons.

  1. This concept is not found in the Bible
  2. It undermines the sufficiency of Christ’s redemption

The argument against the existence of purgatory can start with the passage in Hebrews 1:3 “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

In light of the protestant worldview, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is sufficient to cleanse us from our sins.  For this reason, there is no longer need for a purgatorial fire to relieve us from the penalty of our sins.  It is also notable that the Bible itself does not have any direct reference on the word purgatory.  This, in line with the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura (the Scripture Alone contains all the knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness), immediately denies its existence.

In 1 John 2:2, the Bible says, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. “ Thus, Protestants believe that if we must in any sense pay for, atone for, or suffer because of our sins – that indicates Jesus’ death was not a perfect, complete, and sufficient sacrifice.

Protestants also believe that to be away from the body is to be with the Lord.  In other words, the moment we die, there is no intermediary place upon which we will have to stay for a time before meeting the Lord.  2 Corinthians 5:6-8 is often quoted to support this.  It reads, “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”

Protestants point out that in this verse, if Paul believes in the existence of purgatory, he would instead have something like this: “To be away from the body, is to be in the purgatory.” In relation to this, Protestants claim that we have no evidence in the Bible that Paul believes in purgatory.  We have no evidence in the Bible that the apostles believe in purgatory.  Jesus never used the word purgatory as well.  This having said, as believed by Protestants, are sufficient reason to believe that purgatory really doesn’t exist.

Hebrews 10:14 is also often pointed out as a reference to argue of purgatory’s non-existence.  It reads, “Because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” This having said, essentially removes the necessity of purgatory.  This is because once Jesus made us perfect forever, there is nothing left to purge from us.

Wessel Gansfort, a reformed theologian who lived in the 1400′s denied the existence of Purgatory as well.  He wrote, “Neither the authority of the prelates nor the validity of the sacraments renders a man in this life devoid of sin. Unless one can declare a man devoid of sin, he cannot decree that he is exempt from punishment.”

Martin Luther, in an article he published in the 1530, says this: “. . . the deceased who have died in the Lord are holy, . . . they rest and are at peace, as Isaiah 57 says that the just. . . when they die go in peace.”

Isaiah 57:2 reads: “Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.”


That’s all I have for this part.  On the next part, I will simply write a synthesis and a conclusion.  I hope that this post was helpful to you.  :)

[1] The Church Fathers and the Catholic Doctrine of Purgatory

[2] Does Purgatory Deny the Sufficiency of Christ’s Sacrifice?

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