Purgatory - Biblical and Patristic Insight

The Scriptures | Jewish Belief | Church Fathers

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. This is because unless they are perfect they will not enter heaven because in the book of Revelation 21:27 St John Says "Nothing unclean shall enter it" (referring to heaven) .

From this alone one would clearly see that to say that pergatory doesn't exist would be foolish because Which among us, can claim to be free of selfishness, even at the moments of our deaths? this would then mean that only the perfect people enter heaven and you can imagine how few people are perfect . Few doctrines are clearer in Scripture than the necessity of absolute holiness in order to enter heaven. On this, Protestants and Catholics are in total agreement. The word purgatory is derived from the Latin purgatorio, ("cleansing," "purifying") in Hebrew its Sheol.

Purgatory is the name given to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned (hell). This is shown by St Paul who says: "But if someone's work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as THROUGH FIRE." (I Corinthians 3:15) It should also be noted that the Greek word "houtos" ("yet so") in 1 Cor 3:15 is an adverb modifying the verb "sotheesetai" ("shall be saved") and points to how the man is saved, i.e., by fire This brings out the idea that Christ will someday judge the work of the Christian to determine its value, and that some Christians will suffer for their bad works done on earth but still be saved by fire. Take a look at 1 Corinthians 5:5, where Paul condemns a man living in sin with his step-mother. Paul says, "with the power of the Lord Jesus he is to be handed over to Satan, so that his sensual body may be destroyed, but his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.

Also The apostle Peter Later Confirms this when he says "... so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though TESTED BY FIRE, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 1:7) Also he later says that Christ Preached to these soles that were in the captive in the underworld when he says: 1 Peter 3:19-20 ". . . he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water".

St Matthew also makes this know:( Matthew 5:22) "But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, "You fool!" shall be liable to the fire of Hell. Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will NEVER GET OUT TILL YOU HAVE PAID THE LAST PENNY". Here is one of our lord's parables referring to purgatory because he is the Judge you will One day stand before and he is the one who will past the sentence but here he says you Will get out of the prisons that in which you are placed but not until you have paid the last penny . What is the presumption? Once you pay the last penny, you are going to get out. Where are you going to go then? To hell? No. You paid the last penny. You're going to enter into the blessing at that point but only after you've paid the fine. {see also Luke 12:58-59} We also read in the Book of Hebrews that the apostle says: Hebrews 12:29 . . . our God is a consuming fire. Scriptures that are understood to be referring to purgatory are: Mt 5:26; 12:32; 12:36; Luke 12:47-48; James 3:1; 1 Peter 3:19; 4:18, Ecclesiasticus 24:45; 7:37, Philippians 2:10; Jude 23; Hebrews 12:22b; Psalm 141:8; Daniel 12:10; Micah 7:9; Zechariah 9:11; 2 Maccabees 12:44-47; Rv 21:27. Some examples in which temporal punishment for sin is sustained in this life are: Numbers 20:1-13; 1 Chronicles 21:1-17: 2 Samuel 12:1-23; 1 Cor 11:29-30. Some examples of prayer, penitent mourning or concern for safe passage of the dead are: Genesis 50:10; Numbers 20:29; Deuteronomy 34:8; 2 Maccabees 12:44-45; 1 Cor 15:29; 2 Timothy 1:16-18; 4:19.)

The fact that Jesus warns his disciples against blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, saying it "will not be forgiven either in this world, nor in the NEXT." (Matthew 12:32) shows us that their is a forgiveness in the next life (purgatory) for some acts/omissions committed by the Christian (namely venial sins) however their are those things (such as sinning against the Holy Ghost) their is no forgiveness for either in this life or the next.

Hebrew Sheol (Greek Hades - netherworld) is not absolutely identical to purgatory (both righteous and unrighteous go there), but it is nevertheless strikingly similar. Sheol is referred to frequently throughout the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 32:22, 2 Samuel 22:6, Psalm 16:10, 18:5, 55:15, 86:13, 116:3, 139:8, Proverbs 9:18, 23:14, Isaiah 5:14, 14:9,15, Ezekiel 31:16-17, 32:21,27). In Jewish apocalyptic literature (in the few hundred years before Christ), the notion of divisions in Sheol is found (for instance, in Enoch 22:1-14).

The Christian hell is equivalent to the New Testament Gehenna or Lake Of Fire. Gehenna was literally the burning ash-heap outside Jerusalem, and was used as the name for hell by Christ (Matthew 5:22,29-30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15,33, Mark 9:43,45,47, Luke 12:5 - cf. James 3:6). Lake of fire occurs only in Revelation as a chilling description of the horrors of hell into which the damned would be thrown (Revelation 19:20, 20:10,14-15, 21:8).

Philippians 2:10-11 / Revelation 5:3,13 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. If God refuses to receive prayer, praise and worship from the unrepentant sinner (as shown in :Psalm 66:18, Proverbs 1:28-30, Isaiah 1:15, 59:2, Jeremiah 6:20, Amos 5:21-24, Micah 3:4, Malachi 1:10, John 9:31, Hebrews 10:38), why would He permit the damned to undertake this practice? Furthermore, if God does not compel human beings to follow Him and to enjoy His presence for eternity contrary to their free will, then it seems that He would not - as far as we can tell from Scripture - compel them to praise Him, as this would be meaningless, if not repulsive.

Therefore, under the earth must refer to purgatory. Revelation 5:13 especially makes sense under this interpretation, as the praise spoken there does not in any way appear forced, but rather, heartfelt and seemingly spontaneous (which would not be at all expected of persons eternally consigned to hell - see Matthew 8:29, Luke 4:34, 8:28, James 2:19).

Again we also read in: 2 Timothy 1:16-18 May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me; he was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me eagerly and found me - may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day - and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.

Onesiphorus appears to be dead at the time St. Paul writes this letter to Timothy. If that is true, then Paul is praying for the dead .

While Christ was on the cross he had said to one of the criminals "I say to you this day you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). This is often used by some to refute the doctrine of purgatory since the thief did not have to spend any time in purgatory but was with Christ in paradise on the same day? In response to this, we know that Jesus was not speaking literally because he did not enter heaven until after his ascension (40 days after the resurrection). This we know because Christ himself declares it to the woman weeping (John 20:17) when he says, "Do not hold on to me for I have not yet returned to the father"(see also Mk 16:19). Further we note that Christ said to the dying thief "this day I say to you", in other words on that particular day Christ was going to affirm something to the thief, namely that he would one day enter heaven. This is often misinterpreted and so it is read as meaning "this day you shall be in Paradise".

Further Jesus himself affirms it saying (John 24:25) "Did not Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory". This shows us that not until he rose from the dead was he to enter into his due glory (heaven). Jesus tells us that he will be in the underworld (sheol) for three days when he declares to the Pharisees " For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the son of man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth "(Matt 12: 40).

Jewish Belief in Purgatory Or sheol

Prayers by the Jews in Temple and Synagogue on behalf of the dead are traceable back to the earliest times. We can't find the origin of it because, as far back as we go, it's a prevalent custom that is unquestioned. We read in : 2 Maccabees 12:39-42,44-45 . . . Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen . . . 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 . . . So they all . . . turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out . . . 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. 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.

This makes it eminently clear that long before Our Lord lived among us the concept of living intercession for the dead and its implicit corollaries was accepted among His people, and the doctrine was passed along by the early Christians as another segment of that portion of our own tradition handed down to us from Judaism. The doctrine was as well-established in the Church by the Second Century A.D. as it had been among the Jews in the Second Century B.C. The Jews offered atonement and prayer for their deceased brethren, who had clearly violated Mosaic Law. Such a practice presupposes purgatory, since those in heaven wouldn't need any help, and those in hell are beyond it. The Jewish people, therefore, believed in prayer for the dead (whether or not this book is scriptural - Protestants deny that it is). Jesus Christ did not correct this belief, as He surely would have done if it were erroneous (see Matthew 5:22,25-26, 12:32, Luke 12:58-59, 16:9,19-31 below). When our Lord and Savior talks about the afterlife, He never denies the fact that there is a third state, and the overall evidence of His utterances in this regard strongly indicates that He accepted the existence of purgatory.

Fire, in Scripture, usually indicates judgment, leading sometimes to condemnation, and sometimes to purification through fire. David wrote; "You tested us, God, you refined [purified] us like silver...but now the ordeal by fire and water is over." (Psalm 66:10-12) When Isaiah was called to be a prophet, he protested that he had unclean lips. "Then one of the seraphs flew to me holding in his hand a live coal which we had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. With this he touched my mouth and said: 'See now, this has touched your lips, your sin is taken away, your iniquity is purged.'" This passage is a noteworthy example of what happens when men experience God's presence directly. An immediate recognition of one's own unholiness occurs, along with the corresponding feeling of inadequacy. Like Isaiah, we must all undergo a self-conscious and voluntary purging upon approaching God more closely than in this present life. (Isaiah 6:6-7) Through Isaiah the Lord promises: "I will smelt away your dross in the furnace, I will remove all base metal from you!"

Some other Old Testament Texts

Psalm 66:12 Thou didst let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet thou hast brought us forth to a spacious place.

Isaiah 4:4 When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning. {see also Isaiah 1:25-26}

Early Christian Belief in Pergatory

The doctrine of purgatory has the unanimous support of the Church Fathers (early Christians) who addressed the matter, either in direct references to an intermediate state prior to heaven, or in reference to prayers for the dead. Fathers Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, Lactantius, Eusebius, Cyril, Gregory of Nyssa, Epiphanius, Jerome, Ambrose, John Chrysostom, Augustine, Gregory the Great, Venerable Bede and second-millennium theologians such as Anselm, Bernard, Aquinas and Bonaventure supported the doctrine of purgatory. Both purgatory and prayers for the dead were upheld by the major councils, beginning with the Council of Carthage in 394 A.D. to the Council of Trent in 1554 A.D. Evidence of prayers for the dead also appeared in inscriptions on the walls of Christian catacombs in the very early years of the Church. In addition, all the liturgies of the early Church, without exception, made references to prayers for the dead.

St. Gregory the Great commenting on St. Matthew's gospel (12:32) states that "In this sentence it is given to understand that many sins can be remitted in this world, but also many in the world to come" - Dial. IV 39 (See Also St. Augustine, De Civ. Dei. XXXXXI 24, 2.).

St. Cyprian speaking of purgatory states that "To be tormented in long pains and to be cleansed and purified from one's sins by continuous fire, is a different thing from expiating one's sins all at by suffering (of martyrdom)" - Ep. 55, 20

St. Cyril of Jerusalem: "And I wish to persuade you by an illustration. For I know that many say, what is a soul profited, which departs from this world whether with sins, or without sins, if it be commemorated in the prayer? For if a king were to banish certain who had given him offence, and then those who belong to them should weave a crown and offer it to him on behalf of those under punishment, would he not grant a remission of their penalties? In the same way we, when we offer to Him our supplications for those who have fallen asleep, though they be sinners, weave no crown, but offer up Christ sacrificed for our sins, propitiating our merciful God for them as well as for ourselves" (Catecheses, 23:10).

St. John Chrysostom: 

"Weep for the unbelievers; weep for those who differ in nowise from them, those who depart hence without illumination, without the seal! They indeed deserve our wailing, they deserve our groans; they are outside the Palace, with the culprits, with the condemned: for, 'Verily I say unrto you, Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven' (John 3:5). Mourn for those who have died in wealth and did not from their wealth think of any solace for their soul, who had power to wash away their sins and would not. Let us weep for these; let us assist them according to our power; let us think of some assistance for them, small though it be, yet still let us assist them. How and in what way? By praying and entreating others to make prayers for them, by continually giving to the poor on their behalf. Not in vain did the Apostles order that remembrance should be made of the dead in the dreadful Mysteries. They know that great gain results to them, great benefit; for when the whole people stands with uplifted hands, a priestly assembly, and that awful Sacrifice lies displayed, how shall we not prevail with God by our entreaties of them. And this we do for those who have departed in faith" ("Homilies on Philippians, 3:4).

Pope Gregory I, in AD 604 stated that "If guilty deeds are not beyond absolution even after death, the sacred offering of the saving Victim consistently aids souls even after death, so that the very souls of the departed seem sometimes to yearn for this." (Pelikan, "The Emergence of the Catholic tradition 100-600, pg. 356).

St. Augustine :

"Some suffer temporal punishments only in this life, others only after death, still others both in life and after death, but always before this most strict and most final court" - De Civ. Dei XXI 13


"For if on the foundation of Christ you have built not only gold and silver and precious stones(1 Cor.,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, PG 13:445,448(A.D. 244),in CE,577

Gregory of Nyssa,

"When he has quitted his body and the difference between virtue and vice is known he cannot approach God till the purging fire shall have cleansed the stains with which his soul was infested. That same fire in others will cancel the corruption of matter, and the propensity to evil." - Sermon on the Dead PG 13:445,448(ante A.D. 394),in CE,577


"Give,Oh Lord,rest to Thy servant Theodosius,that rest Thou hast prepared for Thy saints....I love him,therefore will I follow him to the land of the living; I will not leave him till by my prayers and lamentations he shall be admitted unto the holy mount of the Lord,to which his deserts call him." - De obitu Theodosii,PL 16:1397(A.D. 395),in CE,577

Not until the later stages of the Reformation was the doctrine of purgatory rejected outright. Luther, as late as 1519, had said that the existence of purgatory was undeniable. This view held sway until 1530 when he lessened his support, saying that its existence could not be proven. He later rejected it that same year. In 1543, however, he permitted the insertion of prayers for the dead in the official edition of his church directory. Not only did Luther (the head reformer or leader of the Protestants) contradict himself but also he must Of though just because he didn't believe in it that it all of a sudden does not exist? However the Christians for the past 1500 years held that purgatory existed and so did the Jews before that.

Calvin, the Protestant reformer of Geneva, had a woman whipped because she was discovered praying at the grave of her son and hence was guilty, according to Calvin, of "superstition."

Yes, God promises to purge, to purify us, for "nothing unclean may come into [heaven]." (Revelation 21:27)

One of the most meritorious acts that e can perform on earth is to aid the souls in purgatory. St Franscis de Sales, Said that " With Charity towards the dead we practice all the works of charity. The Church encourages us to aid the souls in purgatory, who in turn will reward us abundantly when they come into their glory" . Thus let us perform this great work of Charity!