WHAT PURGATORY IS NOT
Contrary to protestant views, the Church did not invent the idea of purgatory; neither does the idea mean that people who die in mortal sin have hope of salvation. On the contrary, the Church teaches that those who die in mortal sin are lost, purgatory is meant for people who still have a certain unhealthy attachment to created goods, they are purified right before they enter paradise.
These people are already justified before God on earth, they have been forgiven of grave faults, “Holy Souls” as we call them, but are yet to be totally cleansed. Purgatory does not mean a second chance of conversion after death. Purgatory is for souls already forgiven on earth and not for unrepentant sinners.
WHAT PURGATORY IS; OUR GOD IS A CONSUMING FIRE
Our very life is an interplay of “Yes” and “No”. On the one hand there are people who have closed their hearts to truth, love and to neighbour. Their choices echo a resounding “No” to the loving invitation of God to his love by obedience. On the other hand are those who are perfectly united with God, they have been made pure, their choices resound with a loving “yes” to God in response to his continual call. These people have followed the words of Christ and have died to sins.
A simple glance at the face of the world today, the possibility of having either extremes is rare though not totally impossible. What is more obtainable is an interplay of the “yes” and “no”; a continual struggle to keep up the practise of virtue or vice. Even the man who rejects God from time to time accepts the opportunity to do good, albeit for a temporal view in mind, and those who struggle to live for God sometimes succumb to temptations either out of weakness or momentary coldness towards God. At death however, the dangling pendulum of yes and no stops at either an irrevocable “Yes” or “No”; from then on, one will no longer have the ability to open himself to conversion any more.
What happens to the man who dies with venial sins in his soul? What happens to the man who has not fully expiated his undue attachment to created goods? These souls, insofar as they have uttered a “Yes” by way of conversion before death, will suffer a moment and later be saved, whilst those who have denied God and have died in sin will be lost; their free choice to be “Left alone by God” will be respected by the Lord; they shall be eternally excluded from communion with God and the Saints.
The Catholic idea of purgatory (as distinct from what some protestants think we teach about purgatory) is not entirely consoling neither is it to be hoped and depended upon by a Christian. Purgatory springs from a mature understanding of sin and its seriousness, and of the mercy of God. The sinner who promises himself purgatory hereafter does not achieve salvation since this is overt presumption. We do not even say that those in purgatory are sinners, they are called “Holy souls” since communion with God and prior justification on earth is REQUIRED to be there. What we say is: These Souls are Holy, having been justified by God’s grace before death.
THE FIRES OF PURGATORY AS CHRIST HIMSELF
Some theologians identify the fires of purgatory as Christ himself. When a soul who has died in communion with Christ appears before his Judge, with stains of sin still left in his soul. He is exposed to the naked fire of God’s eye, where all Truth is laid bare and all lies melt away in this fiery gaze of love and mercy. “Fire” signifies the intensity of the transformational property of this encounter with Jesus. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is one of those who held that the Fires of purgatory is Christ himself. He illustrates this in his book “Eschatology” and later on in his Encyclical “Spe Salvi”. The latter is quoted below:
“The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love” Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, Paragraph 47.
A LITTLE MORE ON PURGATORY
I have below an article I wrote on purgatory some time ago; it will serve as an attempt to further explain the idea of purgatory:
Protestants argue against the existence of purgatory, both the name and the idea it conveys are repudiated by them.
- They say “Catholics deceive themselves by giving themselves hope of cleansing after a life of sin” They confound the doctrine of Purgatory with presumption; one which teaches that a sinner, after living in sin on earth may hope for heaven through the cleansing fires of purgatory.
- They argue that it was the Catholic Church that “Invented” this doctrine, maybe with an “evil” intention.
- That there cannot be salvation from ANY sin or its stain after death.
- That there cannot be ANY transformation after death, that once someone meets pain in the afterlife, it is eternal, and once he meets joy, it is equally eternal.
- That God cannot forgive any sin or grant any form of mercy/cleansing after death; death shuts the door to ALL MERCY.
- They say there is no mention of both the word and the idea in the Scripture or any trace in ancient Christian History.
The Scripture is rife with the idea of Purgatory. In the book of Maccabees, the author captured an exhortation to pray for the dead; this prayer carries within it the possibility of salvation from sin after death:
“Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from sin.” 2 Maccabees 12:46
The above text whether or not it is accepted as canonical by the protestants, at least have some historical lesson: the Ancient Jews believed in the idea of praying for the dead; they believed in the idea of an intermediary place between Heaven and Hell, where the forefathers either enjoyed some sort of bliss (Limbo of the Fathers), or where people could be temporarily purified (Purgatory) as distinct from Hell where there is no hope of redemption.
“Now if any man builds on 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 abides which he has 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” 1 COR 3:12-15
IMPLICATION OF PAUL’S TEACHING:
- Everyone’s work/deed shall be judged
- Some people’s deeds will be found perfect
- Some will be found imperfect and therefore “Burned up”
- The one who loses shall “Suffer” and still be “Saved” as through a “Fire”
- That someone can “Suffer” for a moment after death and still be “Saved” after this suffering.
Paul exposes the error of those who hold there can be no mercy what so ever.
St Paul shows that someone can be judged, found imperfect (though already justified by Christ’s grace; built his albeit inferior house on Christ), be Purified and afterwards saved (as through a fire).
CHRIST AND THE CHURCH
The Church uses the word “Purgatory” to represent the state of being “burned up” or “saved as through a fire”, since this “fire” has “purificatory” properties it is called “Purgatory” which represents the process of “cleansing”. The Church does not hold that there is some otherworldly PLACE with a big signpost that reads “PURGATORY”, NO. It is the act of cleansing that the Church concerns herself with not a geographical place. Again, the Church does not claim to know EVERYTHING about this “state” or “place”, She only teaches the existence of an intermediary state of purification, which belief has been held even before the birth of Christianity.
Christ’s words “Whoever sins against the Holy Spirit can neither be forgiven in this world nor in the world to come” confirms the idea of forgiveness “Post mortem” i.e. after death “in the next world”. “The next world” must rightly be identified with Heaven or his Kingdom of justice on earth, which is also Heaven. Christ would not say this if it were totally impossible to be forgiven in the “next world”. Let it be known still that “Forgiveness” does not mean the opportunity of conversion, but purification from temporal punishment due to sins ALREADY FORGIVEN ON EARTH.
The Church says: Someone can suffer for a moment after death and later be saved – this is purgatory, Scripture CONFIRMS it as can be seen above.
The Church says that God can cleanse someone of his imperfection even after death – this is Purgatory, Scripture CONFIRMS it.
Those who say it is either HEAVEN or HELL and who dismiss the idea of ANY intermediary place or state, forget the fact that even Christ himself directly referred to a place of intermediary rest enjoyed by the Ancient Patriarchs/Saints before his coming, a place/state we call “Limbo”. Jesus spoke of Lazarus dying and resting “in Abraham’s bosom”, the Rich man called, not to God, but to Abraham. (Luke 16) Though these holy souls were at rest, they were clearly not yet enjoying the perfect presence of God. That THERE CAN exist an intermediary place is demonstrated by God, to show he has power to make provisional arrangements for his Children who, though lacking in the degree of grace necessary for immediate enjoyment of blessedness, are still united with him, and consequently cannot be lost.
The very fact that “Nothing defiled” (Revelation 21:27) shall enter heaven and “All have sinned and come short of the Glory of God” (Romans3:23), “Whoever says he has no sin makes God a liar” (1 John 1:8) makes the idea of Purgatory all the more true. Other historical and biblical evidences and the faith of the Church shows it is certain. If nothing defiled can enter heaven, and if we all are defiled (referring exclusively to venial faults and temporal punishments due to sins), then it follows that NO ONE can enter heaven. Since ABSOLUTE SINLESSNESS is very difficult, to the point of near impossibility; no matter how holy a person is, he must at least falter in very little things (I am not saying a Christian cannot live without sin as though it is necessary, neither am I saying that it is impossible to live without a single mortal sin, it is very possible. However, it is impossible to be in absolute control of ourselves, so that every little movement of the heart, lips, eyes, is directed to God UNSELFISHLY, and ENTIRELY).