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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A Lengthier Response on the Purgatory

I repost (with some editing) a response I made to a comment below: It is true that the term "Purgatory" is exclusively Catholic, but praying for the dead is a practice for the Eastern Orthodox as well as the Jews. The Eastern Orthodox reject only that the purification is literally fiery and that Purgatory involves a place. That is actually acceptable to Catholics because we only use the metaphor of fiery purification based on the words of Sts. Peter and Paul (1 Cor 3:15; 1 Pet 1:7), and the doctrine speaks of a state, not necessarily a place. Praying for the purification of the dead (the Mourner's Qaddish) is an ancient Jewish practice, mentioned for example in 2 Macc. 12:46. Ancient Christian literature like the non-canonical Acts of Paul and Thecla (2nd century) mention prayers for the dead, as do surviving words from Tertullian (AD 211), St. Cyprian (AD 256), St. John Chrysostom (Homilies on 1 Corinthians 41:5, AD 392), St. Augustine (City of God, AD 419) and St. Monica (4th century), and of course the oft-mentioned Pope Gregory the Great (6th century), but there is no record of any objection to the practice or the doctrine until the Protestant reformation. Here's an interesting exercise: what if we were to rephrase the doctrine of Purgatory in this manner: "All who are in God's grace and friendship must undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. .. this final purification of the elect .. is entirely different from the punishment of the damned." I deliberately edited that from the catechism of the Catholic Church which teaches that doctrine in the context of those who died in God's grace and friendship. Humor me here: let's talk about that doctrine in the context of the living who are in God's grace and friendship. Let's support that case with these:
 "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).
 Paul said he rejoiced "in my sufferings for you, and [I] fill up those things that are wanting in the suffering of Christ" (Col. 1:24). Ronald Knox explained this passage by noting that "the obvious meaning is that Christ's sufferings, although fully satisfactory on behalf of our sins, leave us under a debt of honour, as it were, to repay them by sufferings of our own." Paul did not imply there was something lacking in the Redemption, that Christ could not pull it off on his own, and no Fundamentalist misreads Col. 1:24 that way. Analogously, it is not contrary to the Redemption to say we must suffer for our sins; it is a matter of justice. -- Karl Keating
 Sanctification is the experience, beginning in regeneration, by which the believer is set apart to God's purposes, and is enabled to progress toward moral and spiritual maturity through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him. Growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person's life. (from the Southern Baptist Convention)
 Would it not beak the heart if God said to us, 'It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy'? Should we not reply, 'With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I'd rather be cleansed first.' 'It may hurt, you know.' 'Even so, sir.' - C.S.Lewis
My thesis is simple: most Christians have no problem with the concept of needing to become holy, to become pure, to conform to the holiness of God. Most Christians also believe that Christian living will involve suffering from time to time Hebrews (12:6, 11) while in no way claiming that the suffering of Christ on the cross was in any way insufficient. The notion of God's discipline is crucial because discipline is not about payment: it is about correction. It is about growth and becoming mature. It is about transformation. Jimmy Akin says: "Because we still sin in this life, but will not be sinning when we are in glory, between death and glorification must come purification." Because "nothing unclean shall enter heaven" (Apoc. 21:27). No one can hide one's muddy rags and immaturity from the God who reveals all things and sees to the heart. No one wants to stand in dirty rags in the presence of the King, petulant and immature, especially if one considers that, when we finally get our chance to do so, we do so forever. The Catholic, Orthodox and Jewish bone to pick is not the notion of purification itself, but the notion of purification after death. It seems to me that this is repelling to Protestants for a few reasons which should be reconsidered:
  • Does the doctrine of Purgatory claim a second chance for sinners? The answer is a resounding NO. Purgatory pertains only to those who die in God's grace and friendship.
  • Does the doctrine claim that Christ's sacrifice on the cross is insufficient? The answer is also a resounding NO. The purification we undergo to mature in holiness, in justification, has as its source the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. To become Christ-like is our goal. When St. Paul tells us to conform, it is to conform to Christ: his righteousness, his holiness. We already know this concerning the cross that we must take up, the obedience that is due to God, the love that we must manifest in our actions.
Apart from that, there's the natural suspicion that Scriptures do not talk about the dead undergoing any sort of transformation into holiness. Unfortunately, the Catholics and the Orthodox believe that they do. And with the Jews, our traditions do so as well, and these are traditions which pre-date Scriptures while, from our perspective, do not contradict Scriptures. The Bible does not warn against praying for the purification of the dead. One might as well look for dire warnings against those who pray for the sanctification of the living, in case such intentions are an insult to the finished work of Christ on the cross.


Lito said...


The purgatory the Roman Church speaks about is after death where as scripture teaches that such purification is here while we are alive. It does not matter what would be Jew thinks or an Orthodox believer thinks, the issue is that of the church's official teaching and I'd say that purgatory is distinctively Roman. The philosophy of Protestants is to subject the teaching of the doctors of the church under scripture.

Since there is no such teaching found in Scripture, the subject of purgatory will not be found in the protestant confessions of faith.

It is the confessions that determine the belief of the church body. Even Luther and Calvin were subjected to their groups confessions and the confessions are meant to be the exposition of scripture.

I can agree with your rephrasing but the purification is while you are alive and here on earth. The Lord himself never alluded to such a place of temporary purgation, that is the most crucial issue to me.


cait said...

Hmm...(just stumbled across your blog when checking my site stats) I have often thought that purification occurs during this lifetime, but as we live on a fundamentally flawed plane of existence, I don't know that it is possible for the average joe to be made holy solely on this earth. Obviously, this is not sola scriptura (but then, I wouldn't be Catholic if that's what I professed), but I refuse to believe that God would not reveal Himself to us through means other than an unchanging scripture. Not that our values change with the world, but rather, they have new applications as new moral questions present themselves; as a result, I accept sacraments that are not articulated in the New Testament, and I accept the doctrine of purgatory, though the bible does specifically address it. Frankly, how else am I getting to heaven?

My whole life, when I have been suffering and there has been no way to relieve that suffering, I have been told to "offer it up for the souls in purgatory:" the concept that in some sense, we are on the cross with Christ when we are suffering, and that we are in some part able to offer that up as our own sacrifice for the good of all souls. Pragmatically, though, I just don't see how we can be purified solely on this earth.

Of course, this is the fundamental difference of opinion between the Church and Protestant sects: scripture vs. tradition, as I'm sure we all know. Then again, whoever professes to understand the Divine is really just suffering from delusions of grandeur.

Lito said...


My experience is different. My suffering here on earth is such that it is enough for me that we are told to say "even so Lord Jesus come" to make all of what is wrong in this world to be made right.

The purpose of suffering is to draw us in faith to God and his Christ. Faith is precious to God for without it we can not please him. so Caitlin, let us call on his name when we suffer and wait for his salvation.

Whoso ever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved (not names of dead Saints or his mother). Those who believe in him will not be disappointed (put to shame). Our suffering is an opportunity for his reality to be manifested in our lives.