Purgatory in Scripture

The following is a guest post by Eric Novitsky:

What does the bible teach about Purgatory? Is it a straight shot to heaven if we are saved?

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Cor 5:10).

But where exactly is this judgment seat? We know from Revelation that:

“But nothing unclean will enter [heaven], nor any[one] who does abominable things or tells lies. Only those will enter whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Rev 21:27).

Is there a final purification? Let’s look at some examples in the scripture that could imply such a process. A popular verse in scripture about Purgatory is 1 Corinthians 3:11-15.

“For no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, the work of each will come to light, for the Day will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire [itself] will test the quality of each one’s work. If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. But if someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Cor 3:11-15).

What could it mean if a person suffers loss? Bro. Peter Dimond of Most Holy Family Monastery gives his analysis of the passage.1

“The Greek word which is translated as “suffer loss” is zemiothesetai. It comes from the Greek word zemioo. Forms of this same Greek word, zemioo – which is translated as “suffer loss” in 1 Cor. 3:15 – are found in other passages in the Bible. The word is used to mean punishment. In Exodus 21:22, Proverbs 17:26, Proverbs 19:19 and elsewhere, this very Greek word zemioo is used to mean punishment. That means that zemiothesetai, the word translated as suffer loss in 1 Cor. 3:15, can mean punishment.”

The Bible teaches that God uses fire and discipline to reform and purge His children. If this is not done during one’s lifetime on Earth, it must be done in Purgatory.

“He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.” (John 15:2)

References to Purgatory are found in The Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“1030 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.

1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.2 The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:3

As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.4

1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.”5 From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.6 The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:

Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, 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.7”

It is also stated more concisely:

“1054 Those who die in God’s grace and friendship imperfectly purified, although they are assured of their eternal salvation, undergo a purification after death, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of God.”

In paragraph 1032 there is a mention of Judas Maccabeus which references 2 Maccabees.

“Judas rallied his army and went to the city of Adullam. As the week was ending, they purified themselves according to custom and kept the sabbath there. On the following day, since the task had now become urgent, Judas and his men went to gather up the bodies of the slain and bury them with their kinsmen in their ancestral tombs. But under the tunic of each of the dead they found amulets sacred to the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. So it was clear to all that this was why these men had been slain. They all therefore praised the ways of the Lord, the just judge who brings to light the things that are hidden. Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out. The noble Judas warned the soldiers to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin.” (2 Maccabees 38-46).

Judas acted so that the dead could be freed from their sin, possibly meaning that there is a place where the faithful departed are retained until they are absolved from all sin. Additional support for Purgatory can be found in Matthew.

“Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 25-26).

A similar example is given in a parable in Matthew 18.

“Then Peter approaching asked Him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35).

Retention in a prison might be a metaphor for Purgatory. Matthew 12:32 also could provide a reference to Purgatory.

“And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:32)

Bro. Peter Dimond gives his analysis of the passage.1

Why would Jesus say that the sin against the Holy Ghost will not be forgiven in this world or in the world to come? A father of the Church, Pope St. Gregory the Great, understood these words of Jesus to indicate that certain sins will be forgiven or satisfied for in the next world: in Purgatory.

Pope St. Gregory the Great, Dialogues (4, 40), 593 “Everyone is presented in judgment just as he is when he departs this life. But nevertheless, it must be believed that there is, for the sake of certain lesser faults, a purgatorial fire before the judgment, in view of the fact that Truth [Jesus] does say that if anyone speak blasphemy against the Holy Spirit it will be forgiven him neither in this world nor in that to come [Matthew 12:32]. In this statement we are given to understand that some faults can be forgiven in this world and some in the world to come. For if something is denied to one in particular, the intellect logically infers that it is granted for some others. But, as I said before, this must be believed to be a possible disposition for small and lesser sins.” (William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 3: 2321.)

In his book, Bro. Peter Dimond also addresses the question: did Jesus’ suffering on the cross account for all sins?1

“Some non-Catholics like to think that Jesus Christ’s passion and death made up for everything, including the penalty due to all future sins. There are no worries about something such as Purgatory, they say, because Jesus Christ paid the price for it all. It’s proven false by Colossians 1:24.”

“Now I rejoice in my suffering for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Col 1:24).

“Paul says that he fills up, for the Church, those things that are wanting or lacking in the sufferings of Christ. Christ’s suffering was perfect and of infinite value; so what does this mean? What St. Paul means is that many sufferings are still wanting and needed for the members of the Church to work out their salvation, which was all made possible by Christ’s sacrifice. This verse proves that Christ’s sacrifice doesn’t do away with all worries about the possibility of future punishment due to one’s sins. If so, then Paul would never say that his sufferings fill up for members of the Church that which is wanting in the sacrifice of Christ; nor would Jesus speak of the punishments for sins, which He repeatedly does. This verse, Colossians 1:24, also proves the Catholic doctrine of the communion of saints, and the effect of intercessory prayer and sacrifice.”

Other important church figures have also given support for purgatory:1

Pope Gregory X, Council of Lyons II, A.D. 1274: “Because if they die truly repentant in charity before they have made satisfaction by worthy fruits of penance for sins committed and omitted, their souls are cleansed after death for purgatorial or purifying punishments….” (Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma. 464)

St. Augustine of Hippo, Sermons, A.D. 411 “…there is no doubt that the dead are aided, that the Lord might deal more mercifully with them than their sins would deserve. The whole Church observes this practice which was handed down by the Fathers: that it prays for those who have died in the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ…” (William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 3:1516).

St. Augustine, Faith, Hope and Love, A.D. 421 “That there should be some such fire even after this life is not incredible, and it can be inquired and either be discovered or left hidden whether some of the faithful may be saved, some more slowly and some more quickly in the greater and lesser degree in which they loved the good things that perish – through a certain purgatorial fire.” (William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 3:1920).

References
1. Dimond, P. The Bible Proves the Teachings of the Catholic Church. The Most Holy Family Monastery, 2009.

2. Cf. Council of Florence (1439):DS 1304; Council of Trent (1563):DS 1820; (1547):1580; see also Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus (1336):DS 1000.

3. Cf. 1 Cor 3:15; 1 Pet 1:7.

4. St. Gregory the Great, Dial. 4,39:PL 77,396; cf. Mt 12:31.

5. 2 Macc 12:46.

6. Cf. Council of Lyons II (1274):DS 856.

7. St. John Chrysostom, Hom. in 1 Cor. 41,5:PG 61,361; cf. Job 1:5.

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  1. Pingback: Creationism and Science: The Seven Day Creation, the Big Bang, and Genesis | Thoughts from a Catholic

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