Each day a separate hell
  Each day a journey
    Working, waiting, slaving
      A prisoner who finds
        No comfort in the walls.
      Until the day we met
    When from the depths
  Of self-contained delusion,
I rose.

--Basil Chalmondeley

The word Purgatory itself is from the Latin word purgare meaning to make clean or to purify. Belief in Purgatory is primarily found within the Catholic branch of the Christian Church. Its existence was clearly expressed within the Decree of Union from the Council of Florence and the decree by the Council of Trent.

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 suffrage 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.

Denzinger - "Enchiridion" (y. 983)

The belief in Purgatory is not made up (any more so than the belief in Heaven or Hell) despite that most people are familiar with Purgatory through the fictional writings of Dante. There are a number of passages both within the Old Testament and the New Testament that can be interpreted to support a waiting room of sorts before entering Heaven and after death.

Purgatory is tightly intertwined with prayers for the dead which are common in all denominations of Christianity, not just Catholicism. As stated within the Catholic Encyclopedia, "For why pray for the dead, if there be no belief in the power of prayer to afford solace to those who as yet are excluded from the sight of God?"

Within the Apocrypha of the Old Testament in 2 Maccabees

(38) Then Judas assembled his army and went to the city of Adullam. As the seventh day was coming on, they purified themselves according to the custom, and they kept the sabbath there.
(39) On the next day, as by that time it had become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kinsmen in the sepulchres of their fathers.
(40) Then under the tunic of every one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was why these men had fallen.
(41) So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous Judge, who reveals the things that are hidden;
(42) and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out. And the noble Judas exhorted the people 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.
(43) He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection.
(44) For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead.
(45) But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.

2 Maccabees 12:38-45

In the above passage, verses 42 to 45 are the most important, and of those the last line is the most important. Here we see the prayers for the dead, and an offering to Jerusalem so that the dead may be atoned for their sin and delivered from it. The last verse often reads "It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they might be loosed from sins".

Continuing into the New Testament We have Matthew 12:32 in which Jesus says "And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world nor in the world to come." This passage implies that forgiveness can occur on this world (in life) or in the next - after death. This verse is the most pointed to by theologians in support of Purgatory.

Revelation 21:27 makes the statement that "nothing unclean shall enter Heaven". Thus, if a person dies with some minor sins they are not pure and it would seem to be the case they would need to go to some place to be cleaned before they can attain Heaven.

However, just as there are passages that support Purgatory, there are passages that indicate salvation for an individual is an all or nothing deal - you go to Heaven after death, or Hell.

  • Romans 5:18 "...by the righteousness of one (Jesus) the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life."
  • Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
  • Ephesians 2:8 "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God."
The passages above are written by Paul. Theologians place Paul's belief on the afterlife that anyone who was not saved would not go to Hell, but rather not exist in any form.

Others argue that Purgatory implies the wrath and condemnation of God which is inconsistent with His nature or the promises from the New Testament. Counter arguments state that Purgatory is a loving chastisement from God rather than his wrath or condemnation.

  • Romans 5:9 "Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him."
  • John 5:24 "He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me hat everlasting life and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life."

And yet other passages seem to indicate that a person who has been saved has been totally forgiven of his or her sins. Most clearly this is stated in 1 John.

  • Romans 3:24 "Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus"
  • Romans 8:1 "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus"
  • 1 Corinthians 6:11 "and such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus"
  • Titus 2:14 "Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify onto himself a peculiar people"
  • Hebrews 10:14 "For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified."
  • 1 John 17-9 "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Purgatory is clearly mentioned in many of Martin Luther's 95 Theses - it is not the denial of Purgatory within the Luthern reformation, but rather that Martin Luther was upset that the Church was using Purgatory as a way of financing its worldly enterprises - "They ask, e.g.: Why does not the pope liberate everyone from Purgatory for the sake of love (a most holy thing) and because of the supreme necessity of their souls? This would be morally the best of all reasons. Meanwhile he redeems innumerable souls for money, a most perishable thing, with which to build St. Peter's church, a very minor purpose." (95 Theses, #82). Martin Luther later waffled on the subject of Purgatory - in 1519 he claimed it was undeniable, 1530 he claimed it could not be proven to exist, and later he rejected the concept of Purgatory entirely.

Most protestant churches reject Purgatory with the belief that a person must be saved during their lifetime, and at death they pass on to Heaven or Hell. This belief leads to the conclusion that those who do not believe in Jesus will go to Hell without any hope of cessation or mercy. On the other hand, more liberal Protestant churches abandon the idea of Hell all together and with it Purgatory as a concept that is incompatible with the idea of a benevolent God.

The Eastern Orthodox church differs from the Roman Catholic and has no formal doctrine regarding Purgatory. Still, there are prayers and offerings for the dead within the Eastern Orthodox religion - "Again we pray for the repose of the soul(s) of the servant(s) of God, departed this life; and that he (she, they) may be pardoned all his (her, their) sins, both voluntary and involuntary." (From Service Books of the Orthodox Church, Vol. I: the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom). At the Council of Florence, with the attempt to reunite the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, only St. Mark of Ephesus of the Eastern Orthodox church refused to make a statement regarding the existence of Purgatory - and then only on minor points.


Pur"ga*to*ry (?), a. [L. purgatorius.]

Tending to cleanse; cleansing; expiatory.



© Webster 1913.

Pur"ga*to*ry, n. [Cf. F. purgatoire.]

A state or place of purification after death; according to the Roman Catholic creed, a place, or a state believed to exist after death, in which the souls of persons are purified by expiating such offenses committed in this life as do not merit eternal damnation, or in which they fully satisfy the justice of God for sins that have been forgiven. After this purgation from the impurities of sin, the souls are believed to be received into heaven.


© Webster 1913.

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