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Flowchart of Purgatory and its role in the Roman Catholic concept of the afterlife

Purgatory (Latin: Purgatorium from purgare, "Name means::to purify") in Catholicism, is the place where those who are saved but, who have not wholly paid for their venial sins in this life, for which there was no true repentance, go to be purged of their venial sins before they can finally enter Heaven.

Within Catholicism, Purgatory is also called the "final purification of the elect." It is taught that Purgatory is experienced only by those souls judged by God at the moment of death to be destined for heaven, and only by those that are not yet perfectly holy. Purgatory involves temporal punishment for venial sin, which is entirely different from the eternal punishment of the damned in hell for mortal sin.

In broader, non-Catholic terms, there is no distinction between forms of sin. In fact, Christ broadened the scope of sin to be not only adultery, but equating adultery to "looking upon a woman with lust". Christ also equated murder with being angry with someone. The fact is, sin is not an external act, but a condition of the human soul, a poisoned well from which sinful human acts spring. The Bible plainly states that humans "are" evil (Matthew 7:11), human hearts are desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9), all human righteousness is filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), and that no human ever does good (Psalm 53:3)(Romans 3:10-12) and that no human work is acceptable to God for salvation, because he will not allow a human to boast (share glory with his Son) for having affected their salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Humans are born with the sin of Adam, and the death penalty upon them (1 Corinthians 15:22). Sin follows a soul after death (Hebrews 9:27) (Ezekiel 3:19). Only blood can pay for sin, not the works of man (Hebrews 9:22)(Ephesians 2:8-9). Once an eternal soul transitions into death, the soul is judged. If sin is still attached (not cleansed by the blood of Christ) the soul enters eternal damnation without hope.

Purgatory is an imaginary place borne on the False Doctrine that mankind can somehow "work" his way to heaven, even though we are told this is impossible (Ephesians 2:8-9). It offers a false hope of a second chance. The Bible contains many "seconds", but not a "second chance" once the soul transitions to death. Second Day, Second Birth, Second Coming, Second Death, Second Heaven and Earth. God even offers many second chances in this life, but those run out when the soul transitions to death. The Bible says "the time of salvation is now" (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Catholic doctrine

Purgatory in accordance with Catholic teaching is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God's grace, are, not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions.

The faith of the Church concerning purgatory is clearly expressed in the Decree of Union drawn up by the Council of Florence (Mansi, t. XXXI, col. 1031), and in the decree of the Council of Trent which (Sess. XXV) defined:

Whereas the Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Ghost, has from the Sacred Scriptures and the ancient tradition of the Fathers taught in Councils and very recently in this Ecumenical synod that there is a purgatory, and that the souls therein are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, but principally by the acceptable Sacrifice of the Altar; the Holy Synod enjoins on the Bishops that they diligently endeavor to have the sound doctrine of the Fathers in Councils regarding purgatory everywhere taught and preached, held and believed by the faithful.[1]

Further than this the definitions of the Church do not go, but the tradition of the Fathers and the Schoolmen must be consulted to explain the teachings of the councils, and to make clear the belief and the practices of the faithful.

Non-Catholic doctrine

The Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. God rejects the works of man as having any value in salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). The only means to enter heaven is through the remission of sin by blood (Hebrews 9:22). As there is no physical blood available to a soul in the afterlife, there is no means for salvation.

Therefore when a person dies without salvation, judgment is immediate (Hebrews 9:27).

In the afterlife, souls are brought before two separate judgments.

The Judgment Seat of Christ for believers.

2 Corinthians 5:10 -For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.

  • 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 - For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

The Great White Throne Judgment for unbelievers.

  • Rev 20:11-13 - And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

In both cases, humans are judged according to their works, not according to their sins.

Only works are judged. These are acts of the individual that the individual deemed righteous. But they are not sins and are not called sins, because Sin is judged in only one place, at one time: The Cross of Jesus Christ. It is important to understand that the blood of Christ is not intended to protect a human from hell, Satan, sin or any other "consequence" of this present life. The blood of Christ protects a human soul from the wrath of God (John 3:36).

We are assured that "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). He died two thousand years ago for sins that we had not yet committed. This would be true even today, that his blood has paid for all sins we have committed plus those we have not. The doctrine of Purgatory thinly slices sin (as externalized acts) and makes the believer accept that some of their sins may keep them from heaven. The basic doctrine of Scripture is that there is no evil act that will send us to hell. There is no righteous act that will get us to heaven. We are sent to Hell because we are children of Adam. We are invited to heaven by the blood of Christ. We cannot add our works or sins to this mixture and affect it in any manner whatsoever. Purgatory attempts to define some sort of process of purification, but the Bible clearly states that we are impure without Christ. Purgatory attempts to add another purification protocol on top of the blood of Christ. The Crucifixion, which paid for a human's sin both past and present, is declared "enough" by God the father. Purgatory insults the blood of Christ as not having been enough.

Evidence - Catholic


Catholic A

"Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny." - Matthew 5:26

"And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt." - Matthew 18:34

"As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny." - Luke 12:58-59

The word "accuser" (ἀντίδικος, antidiko[2]) is likely a reference to the devil (see the same word for devil in 1 Peter 5:8[3]) who is an accuser against man (Job 1:6-12; Zechariah 3:1; Revelation 12:10), and God is the judge. According to Catholicism, if people do not adequately deal with Satan and sin in this life, they will be held in a temporary state called a prison, and won’t get out until they have satisfied their entire debt to God. This "prison" is purgatory where they will not get out until the last penny is paid.

Non-Catholic A

In broader, non-Catholic terms, the irony of a "debtor's prison" is that a person in prison is unable to affect earning a wage to pay back their debt, so in fact the debt will never be paid. Scripture states plainly that the only acceptable payment for sin is blood (Hebrews 9:22) and not the works of humans (Ephesians 2:8-9). As a human soul has no access to physical blood in the afterlife, their debt will never be paid.

Humans are not required to deal with Satan or sin in this life. They are to trust that Jesus Christ is God's chosen savior and that his blood alone can deliver them from God's wrath. Sin, Satan, Hell, etc. are not what we are saved from. We are saved from the wrath of God. Jesus Christ paid for the sins of man with his life and blood, offering it to God as a ransom. There is nothing a human can do to add or subtract from this transaction. Either the price Jesus paid was enough, or it was not. If not, then no human can bridge the difference with works alone.

Catholic B

"You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." - Matthew 5:48

Humans are only made perfect through purification, and in Catholic teaching, this purification, if not completed on earth, is continued in a transitional state called purgatory.

Non-Catholic B

The Bible states plainly that purification is only available through the blood of Christ. Once applied, it cannot be shaken. Judgment however, occurs immediately upon death (Hebrews 9:27). This is because the only means to pay for sin is with blood, and there is no physical blood available in the afterlife. God does not accept works in lieu of blood. Our very first example of this is in the ritual sacrifices of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. These two sacrifices are a picture of man coming to God on God's terms (Abel, a blood sacrifice) and man coming to God on man's terms (fruit of the ground, or human works). Purgatory is an example of man attempting to define the road to heaven based on works and building a just-in-case doctrine (Purgatory) should a man fail in accumulating works.

Catholic C

"And anyone who says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but no one who speaks against the Holy Spirit will be forgiven either in this world or in the next." - Matthew 12:32

Jesus thus clearly provides that there is forgiveness after death. The phrase "in the next" (from the Greek ἐν τῷ μέλλοντι, en to mellonti) generally refers to the afterlife (e.g., Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30; 20:34-35; Ephesians 1:21). Forgiveness is not necessary in heaven, and there is no forgiveness in hell.

Non-Catholic C

In the above verses, the Bible is affirming what Christ asserted in Matthew 23 and later we read in Jude, that a person who is still alive can declare themselves unredeemable. The Pharisees were condemned to hell while they were still breathing. There would be no hope for them whatsoever. The book of Jude talks of people who are "twice dead", referencing the Second Death, where they were already under the Second Death even while living, with no hope whatsoever of salvation until the day they physically died. Forgiveness is not found in works. It is found in the Cross and the blood of Christ. If we claim that we can add our works to help us get to heaven, we insult Christ's finished work on the Cross.

Catholic D

"According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire." - 1_Corinthians 3:10-15

These verses tell us that works are judged after death and tested by fire. Some works are lost, but the person is still saved. According to Catholicism, Paul is referring to the state of purgation called purgatory. The venial sins (bad works) that were committed are burned up after death, but the person is still brought to salvation. This state after death cannot be heaven (no one with venial sins is present) or hell (there is no forgiveness and salvation).

Non Catholic D

In larger non-Catholic terms however, these are not sins being judged, but the works. These are acts that the person thought were righteous. They will be tested by fire and the ones that survive will elicit a reward. But they are not sins. Later in Revelation, the Wicked Dead are also judge for their "works", but again these are not sins. The Bible plainly states that Sin is judged in one and only one place: the Cross of Jesus Christ. No human will find mercy from God anywhere else.

Catholic E

The phrase for "suffer loss" in the Greek is ζημιωθήσεται, zēmiōthēsetai. The root word is ζημιόω, zémioó which also refers to punishment. The construction zēmiōthēsetai is used in Exodus 21:22 and Proverbs 19:19 which refers to punishment (from the Hebrew: ענש, anash meaning "punish" or "penalty"). In Catholicism this verse justifies the notion that there is an expiation of temporal punishment after our death, but the person is still saved. This cannot mean heaven (there is no punishment in heaven) and this cannot mean hell (the possibility of expiation no longer exists and the person is not saved).

Non Catholic E

In broader, non-Catholic terms, these are not sins being judged. These are works being judged. They are judged for whether they were good (righteous acts) or bad (acts that the believer thought were good, but were useless). One is burned up and one remains when the fire is done. The believer may feel that they have suffered loss if they have faithfully served someplace and done a lot of "works". As noted above, sin is judged in only one place, the Cross of Jesus Christ

Catholic F

"in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison" - 1_Peter 3:19

"For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does." - 1_Peter 4:6

These verses state that Jesus preached to the spirits in the "prison." These are the righteous souls being purified for the beatific vision.

Non Catholic F

In broader, non-Catholic terms, these are Old Testament believers who could not enter heaven because prior to Christ's Crucifixion, no man had ever entered heaven (John 3:13). Without being redeemed by Christ's blood, nobody could enter heaven. Rather they went to Abraham's Bosom (a second chamber in Sheol) to await the Crucifixion and redemption of their souls. Clearly Jesus knew what heaven was and spoke of it often. He did not use a metaphor to describe heaven. Abraham's Bosom is a real place with a real Old-Testament purpose.

Catholic G

"But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life." - Revelation 21:27

Revelation 21:27 states that nothing unclean shall enter heaven. The word "unclean" comes from the Greek word κοινόω (koinon) which refers to a spiritual corruption. Even the propensity to sin is spiritually corrupt, or considered unclean, and must be purified before entering heaven.

Non Catholic G

In broader, Non-Catholic terms, trusting in Christ is the only means by which a corrupt soul may enter heaven. The corruption is not removed from the human soul until a person dies as a believer in Christ or they are transformed and translated (e.g. Rapture) while still alive. If the human fails to trust Christ before death, judgment is immediate and final (Hebrews 9:27).

Tradition and Church Fathers (Catholic)

From the Acts of Paul and Thecla 8:5 (160 AD):

And after the exhibition, Tryphæna again receives her. For her daughter Falconilla had died, and said to her in a dream: Mother, thou shalt have this stranger Thecla in my place, in order that she may pray concerning me, and that I may be transferred to the place of the just.

From the Inscription of Abercius (190 AD), a Greek inscription ordered transcribed by Abercius, the bishop of Hieropolis, in Phrygia:

Abercius by name, I am a disciple of the pure Shepherd ... He taught me faithful writings ... These words, I, Abercius, standing by, ordered to be inscribed. In truth I was in the course of my seventy-second year. Let every friend who observeth this, pray for me.

From The Passion of Perpetua and Felicitias 2:3-4 (202 AD):

Without delay, on that very night, this was shown to me in a vision. I saw Dinocrates going out from a gloomy place, where also there were several others, and he was parched and very thirsty, with a filthy countenance and pallid colour, and the wound on his face which he had when he died. This Dinocrates had been my brother after the flesh, seven years of age? Who died miserably with disease...But I trusted that my prayer would bring help to his suffering; and I prayed for him every day until we passed over into the prison of the camp, for we were to fight in the camp-show. Then was the birth-day of Gets Caesar, and I made my prayer for my brother day and night, groaning and weeping that he might be granted to me. Then, on the day on which we remained in fetters, this was shown to me. I saw that that place which I had formerly observed to be in gloom was now bright; and Dinocrates, with a clean body well clad, was finding refreshment. And where there had been a wound, I saw a scar; and that pool which I had before seen, I saw now with its margin lowered even to the boy's navel. And one drew water from the pool incessantly, and upon its brink was a goblet filled with water; and Dinocrates drew near and began to drink from it, and the goblet did not fail. And when he was satisfied, he went away from the water to play joyously, after the manner of children, and I awoke. Then I understood that he was translated from the place of punishment.

Clement of Alexandria, in his Stromata 6:14 (c. 202 AD), says:

Accordingly the believer, through great discipline, divesting himself of the passions, passes to the mansion which is better than the former one, viz., to the greatest torment, taking with him the characteristic of repentance from the sins he has committed after baptism. He is tortured then still more—not yet or not quite attaining what he sees others to have acquired. Besides, he is also ashamed of his transgressions. The greatest torments, indeed, are assigned to the believer. For God's righteousness is good, and His goodness is righteous. And though the punishments cease in the course of the completion of the expiation and purification of each one, yet those have very great and permanent grief who are found worthy of the other fold, on account of not being along with those that have been glorified through righteousness.

Speaking of purgatory, St. Cyprian (253 AD) says that:

For to adulterers even a time of repentance is granted by us, and peace is given. Yet virginity is not therefore deficient in the Church, nor does the glorious design of continence languish through the sins of others. The Church, crowned with so many virgins, flourishes; and chastity and modesty preserve the tenor of their glory. Nor is the vigour of continence broken down because repentance and pardon are facilitated to the adulterer. It is one thing to stand for pardon, another thing to attain to glory: it is one thing, when cast into prison, not to go out thence until one has paid the uttermost farthing; another thing at once to receive the wages of faith and courage. It is one thing, tortured by long suffering for sins, to be cleansed and long purged by fire; another to have purged all sins by suffering. It is one thing, in fine, to be in suspense till the sentence of God at the day of judgment; another to be at once crowned by the Lord.[4]

St. Basil of Caesarea notes the following in his Homilies on the Psalms (c. 370 AD):

I think that the noble athletes of God, who have wrestled all their lives with the invisible enemies, after they have escaped all of their persecutions and have come to the end of life, are examined by the prince of this world; and if they are found to have any wounds from their wrestling, any stains or effects of sin, they are detained. If, however they are found unwounded and without stain, they are, as unconquered, brought by Christ into their rest."[5]

In his On Faith and Works (413 AD), Saint Augustine remarks that:

If the baptized person fulfills the obligations demanded of a Christian, he does well. If he does not — provided he keeps the faith, without which he would perish forever - no matter in what sin or impurity remains, he will be saved, as it were, by fire; as one who has built on the foundation, which is Christ, not gold, silver, and precious stones, but wood, hay straw, that is, not just and chasted works but wicked and unchaste works.[6]

Gregory the Great (594 AD) commenting on Matthew's gospel (12:32) states that

Each one will be presented to the Judge exactly as he was when he departed this life. Yet, there must be a cleansing fire before judgment, because of some minor faults that may remain to be purged away. Does not Christ, the Truth, say that if anyone blasphemes against the Holy Spirit he shall not be forgiven 'either in this world or in the world to come' (Mt. 12:32)? From this statement we learn that some sins can be forgiven in this world and some in the world to come. For, if forgiveness is refused for a particular sin, we conclude logically that it is granted for others. This must apply, as I said, to slight transgressions.[7]

See Also

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  1. Denzinger, Enchiridon, 983
  2. Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for antidikos (Strong's 476)". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2008. 19 Dec 2008. < [1] >
  3. Ibid.
  4. Cyprian, To Antonianus, Epistle 51 (55):20 (253 AD)
  5. Basil, Homilies on the Psalms, 7:2 (ante 370 AD)
  6. Augustine, On Faith and Works, 1:1 (413 AD)
  7. Gregory the Great [regn. A.D. 590-604], Dialogues, 4:39 (594 AD).

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