I. A State After Death of Suffering and Forgiveness
Matt. 5:26,18:34; Luke 12:58-59 – Jesus teaches us, “Come to terms with your
opponent or you will be handed over to the judge and thrown into prison. You
will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” The word “opponent”
(antidiko) is likely a reference to the devil (see the same word for devil in 1
Pet. 5:8) who is an accuser against man (c.f. Job 1.6-12; Zech. 3.1; Rev.
12.10), and God is the judge. If we have not adequately dealt with satan and
sin in this life, we will be held in a temporary state called a prison, and we
won’t get out until we have satisfied our entire debt to God. This “prison” is
purgatory where we will not get out until the last penny is paid.
Matt. 5:48 - Jesus says, "be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect."
We are only made perfect through purification, and in Catholic teaching, this
purification, if not completed on earth, is continued in a transitional state
we call purgatory.
Matt. 12:32 – Jesus says, “And anyone who says a word against the Son of man
will be forgiven; but no one who speaks against the Holy Spirit will be
forgiven either in this world or in the next.” Jesus thus clearly provides that
there is forgiveness after death. The phrase “in the next” (from the Greek “en
to mellonti”) generally refers to the afterlife (see, for example, Mark 10.30;
Luke 18.30; 20.34-35; Eph. 1.21 for similar language). Forgiveness is not
necessary in heaven, and there is no forgiveness in hell. This proves that
there is another state after death, and the Church for 2,000 years has called
this state purgatory.
Luke 12:47-48 - when the Master comes (at the end of time), some will receive
light or heavy beatings but will live. This state is not heaven or hell,
because in heaven there are no beatings, and in hell we will no longer live
with the Master.
Luke 16:19-31 - in this story, we see that the dead rich man is suffering but
still feels compassion for his brothers and wants to warn them of his place of
suffering. But there is no suffering in heaven or compassion in hell because
compassion is a grace from God and those in hell are deprived from God's graces
for all eternity. So where is the rich man? He is in purgatory.
1 Cor. 15:29-30 - Paul mentions people being baptized on behalf of the dead, in
the context of atoning for their sins (people are baptized on the dead’s behalf
so the dead can be raised). These people cannot be in heaven because they are
still with sin, but they also cannot be in hell because their sins can no
longer be atoned for. They are in purgatory. These verses directly correspond
to 2 Macc. 12:44-45 which also shows specific prayers for the dead, so that
they may be forgiven of their sin.
Phil. 2:10 - every knee bends to Jesus, in heaven, on earth, and "under the
earth" which is the realm of the righteous dead, or purgatory.
2 Tim. 1:16-18 - Onesiphorus is dead but Paul asks for mercy on him “on that
day.” Paul’s use of “that day” demonstrates its eschatological usage (see, for
example, Rom. 2.5,16; 1 Cor. 1.8; 3.13; 5.5; 2 Cor. 1.14; Phil. 1.6,10; 2.16; 1
Thess. 5.2,4,5,8; 2 Thess. 2.2,3; 2 Tim. 4.8). Of course, there is no need for
mercy in heaven, and there is no mercy given in hell. Where is Onesiphorus? He
is in purgatory.
Heb. 12:14 - without holiness no one will see the Lord. We need final
sanctification to attain true holiness before God, and this process occurs
during our lives and, if not completed during our lives, in the transitional
state of purgatory.
Heb. 12:23 - the spirits of just men who died in godliness are "made" perfect.
They do not necessarily arrive perfect. They are made perfect after their
death. But those in heaven are already perfect, and those in hell can no longer
be made perfect. These spirits are in purgatory.
1 Peter 3:19; 4:6 - Jesus preached to the spirits in the "prison." These are
the righteous souls being purified for the beatific vision.
Rev. 21:4 - God shall wipe away their tears, and there will be no mourning or
pain, but only after the coming of the new heaven and the passing away of the
current heaven and earth. Note the elimination of tears and pain only occurs at
the end of time. But there is no morning or pain in heaven, and God will not
wipe away their tears in hell. These are the souls experiencing purgatory.
Rev. 21:27 - nothing unclean shall enter heaven. The word “unclean” comes from
the Greek word “koinon” which refers to a spiritual corruption. Even the
propensity to sin is spiritually corrupt, or considered unclean, and must be
purified before entering heaven. It is amazing how many Protestants do not want
to believe in purgatory. Purgatory exists because of the mercy of God. If there
were no purgatory, this would also likely mean no salvation for most people.
God is merciful indeed.
Luke 23:43 – many Protestants argue that, because Jesus sent the good thief
right to heaven, there can be no purgatory. There are several rebuttals. First,
when Jesus uses the word "paradise,” He did not mean heaven. Paradise, from the
Hebrew "sheol," meant the realm of the righteous dead. This was the place of
the dead who were destined for heaven, but who were captive until the Lord's
resurrection. Second, since there was no punctuation in the original
manuscript, Jesus’ statement “I say to you today you will be with me in
paradise” does not mean there was a comma after the first word “you.” This
means Jesus could have said, “I say to you today, you will be with me in
paradise” (meaning, Jesus could have emphasized with exclamation his statement
was “today” or “now,” and that some time in the future the good thief would go
to heaven). Third, even if the thief went straight to heaven, this does not
prove there is no purgatory (those who are fully sanctified in this life –
perhaps by a bloody and repentant death – could be ready for admission in to
Gen. 50:10; Num. 20:29; Deut. 34:8 - here are some examples of ritual prayer
and penitent mourning for the dead for specific periods of time. The Jewish
understanding of these practices was that the prayers freed the souls from
their painful state of purification, and expedited their journey to God.
Baruch 3:4 - Baruch asks the Lord to hear the prayers of the dead of Israel.
Prayers for the dead are unnecessary in heaven and unnecessary in hell. These
dead are in purgatory.
Zech. 9:11 - God, through the blood of His covenant, will set those free from
the waterless pit, a spiritual abode of suffering which the Church calls
2 Macc. 12:43-45 - the prayers for the dead help free them from sin and help
them to the reward of heaven. Those in heaven have no sin, and those in hell
can no longer be freed from sin. They are in purgatory. Luther was particularly
troubled with these verses because he rejected the age-old teaching of
purgatory. As a result, he removed Maccabees from the canon of the Bible.
Tradition / Church Fathers
I. The Early Church’s Belief in Purgatory
"And after the exhibition, Tryphaena again receives her. For her daughter
Falconilla had died, and said to her in a dream: Mother, thou shaft have this
stranger Thecla in my place, in order that she may pray concerning me, and that
I may be transferred to the place of the just." Acts of Paul and Thecla (A.D.
"Abercius by name, I am a disciple of the chaste shepherd...He taught
me…faithful writings...These words, I, Abercius, standing by, ordered to be
inscribed. In truth, I was in the course of my seventy-second year. Let him who
understands and believes this pray fro Abercius." Inscription of Abercius (A.D.
"Without delay, on that very night, this was shown to me in a vision. I saw
Dinocrates going out from a gloomy place, where also there were several others,
and he was parched and very thirsty, with a filthy countenance and pallid
colour, and the wound on his face which he had when he died. This Dinocrates
had been my brother after the flesh, seven years of age? Who died miserably
with disease...But I trusted that my prayer would bring help to his suffering;
and I prayed for him every day until we passed over into the prison of the
camp, for we were to fight in the camp-show. Then was the birth-day of Gets
Caesar, and I made my prayer for my brother day and night, groaning and weeping
that he might be granted to me. Then, on the day on which we remained in
fetters, this was shown to me. I saw that that place which I had formerly
observed to be in gloom was now bright; and Dinocrates, with a clean body well
clad, was finding refreshment. And where there had been a wound, I saw a scar;
and that pool which I had before seen, I saw now with its margin lowered even
to the boy's navel. And one drew water from the pool incessantly, and upon its
brink was a goblet filled with water; and Dinocrates drew near and began to
drink from it, and the goblet did not fail. And when he was satisfied, he went
away from the water to play joyously, after the manner of children, and I
awoke. Then I understood that he was translated from the place of punishment." The
Passion of Perpetua and Felicitias, 2:3-4 (A.D. 202).
"Accordingly the believer, through great discipline, divesting himself of the
passions, passes to the mansion which is better than the former one, viz., to
the greatest torment, taking with him the characteristic of repentance from the
sins he has committed after baptism. He is tortured then still more--not yet or
not quite attaining what he sees others to have acquired. Besides, he is also
ashamed of his transgressions. The greatest torments, indeed, are assigned to
the believer. For God's righteousness is good, and His goodness is righteous.
And though the punishments cease in the course of the completion of the
expiation and purification of each one, yet those have very great and permanent
grief who are found worthy of the other fold, on account of not being along
with those that have been glorified through righteousness." Clement of
Alexandria, Stromata, 6:14 (post A.D. 202).
"[T]hat allegory of the Lord which is extremely clear and simple in its
meaning, and ought to be from the first understood in its plain and natural
sense...Then, again, should you be disposed to apply the term 'adversary' to
the devil, you are advised by the (Lord's) injunction, while you are in the way
with him, 'to make even with him such a compact as may be deemed compatible
with the requirements of your true faith. Now the compact you have made
respecting him is to renounce him, and his pomp, and his angels. Such is your
agreement in this matter. Now the friendly understanding you will have to carry
out must arise from your observance of the compact: you must never think of
getting back any of the things which you have abjured, and have restored to
him, lest he should summon you as a fraudulent man, and a transgressor of your
agreement, before God the Judge (for in this light do we read of him, in
another passage, as 'the accuser of the brethren,' or saints, where reference
is made to the actual practice of legal prosecution); and lest this Judge
deliver you over to the angel who is to execute the sentence, and he commit you
to the prison of hell, out of which there will be no dismissal until the
smallest even of your delinquencies be paid off in the period before the
resurrection. What can be a more fitting sense than this? What a truer
interpretation?" Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul, 35 (A.D. 210).
"All souls, therefore; are shut up within Hades: do you admit this? It is true,
whether you say yes or no: moreover, there are already experienced there
punishments and consolations; and there you have a poor man and a
rich...Moreover, the soul executes not all its operations with the ministration
of the flesh; for the judgment of God pursues even simple cogitations and the
merest volitions. 'Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath
committed adultery with her already in his heart.' Therefore, even for this
cause it is most fitting that the soul, without at all waiting for the flesh,
should be punished for what it has done without the partnership of the flesh.
So, on the same principle, in return for the pious and kindly thoughts in which
it shared not the help of the flesh, shall it without the flesh receive its
consolation. In short, inasmuch as we understand 'the prison' pointed out in
the Gospel to be Hades, and as we also interpret 'the uttermost farthing' to
mean the very smallest offence which has to be recompensed there before the
resurrection, no one will hesitate to believe that the soul undergoes in Hades
some compensatory discipline, without prejudice to the full process of the
resurrection, when the recompense will be administered through the flesh
besides." Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul, 58 (A.D. 210).
"As often as the anniversary comes round, we make offerings for the dead as
birthday honours." Tertullian, The Chaplut, 3 (A.D. 211).
"[A] woman is more bound when her husband is dead...Indeed, she prays for his
soul, and requests refreshment for him meanwhile, and fellowship (with him) in
the first resurrection; and she offers (her sacrifice) on the anniversary of
his falling asleep." Tertullian, On Monogamy, 10 (A.D. 216).
"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." Origen, Homilies on Jeremias, PG 13:445, 448 ( A.D. 244).
"For to adulterers even a time of repentance is granted by us, and peace is
given. Yet virginity is not therefore deficient in the Church, nor does the
glorious design of continence languish through the sins of others. The Church,
crowned with so many virgins, flourishes; and chastity and modesty preserve the
tenor of their glory. Nor is the vigour of continence broken down because
repentance and pardon are facilitated to the adulterer. It is one thing to
stand for pardon, another thing to attain to glory: it is one thing, when cast
into prison, not to go out thence until one has paid the uttermost farthing;
another thing at once to receive the wages of faith and courage. It is one
thing, tortured by long suffering for sins, to be cleansed and long purged by
fire; another to have purged all sins by suffering. It is one thing, in fine,
to be in suspense till the sentence of God at the day of judgment; another to
be at once crowned by the Lord." Cyprian, To Antonianus, Epistle 51 (55):20
"Let us pray for our brethren that are at rest in Christ, that God, the lover
of mankind, who has received his soul, may forgive him every sin, voluntary and
involuntary, and may be merciful and gracious to him, and give him his lot in
the land of the pious that are sent into the bosom of Abraham, and Isaac, and
Jacob, with all those that have pleased Him and done His will from the
beginning of the world, whence all sorrow, grief, and lamentation are
banished." Apostolic Constitutions, 8:4,41 (3rd Century).
"The same divine fire, therefore, with one and the same force and power, will
both burn the wicked and will form them again, and will replace as much as it
shall consume of their bodies, and will supply itself with eternal nourishment:
which the poets transferred to the vulture of Tityus. Thus, without any wasting
of bodies, which regain their substance, it will only burn and affect them with
a sense of pain. But when He shall have judged the righteous, He will also try
them with fire. Then they whose sins shall exceed either in weight or in
number, shall be scorched by the fire and burnt: but they whom full justice and
maturity of virtue has imbued will not perceive that fire; for they have
something of God in themselves which repels and rejects the violence of the
flame." Lactantius, The Divine Institutes, 7:21 (A.D. 307).
"Then we commemorate also those who have fallen asleep before us, first
Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, that at their prayers and
intercessions God would receive our petition. Then on behalf also of the Holy
Fathers and Bishops who have fallen asleep before us, and in a word of all who
in past years have fallen asleep among us, believing that it will be a very
great benefit to the souls, for whom the supplication is put up, while that
holy and most awful sacrifice is set forth. 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 either with sins, or without sins, if it be commemorated in the
prayer? For if a king were to banish certain who had given him of-fence, 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.” Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 23:9,10 (c. A.D.
"I think that the noble athletes of God, who have wrestled all their lives with
the invisible enemies, after they have escaped all of their persecutions and
have come to the end of life, are examined by the prince of this world; and if
they are found to have any wounds from their wrestling, any stains or effects
of sin, they are detained. If, however they are found unwounded and without
stain, they are, as unconquered, brought by Christ into their rest." Basil,
Homilies on the Psalms, 7:2 (ante A.D. 370).
"Lay me not with sweet spices: for this honour avails me not; Nor yet incense
and perfumes: for the honour benefits me not. Burn sweet spices in the Holy
Place: and me, even me, conduct to the grave with prayer. Give ye incense to
God: and over me send up hymns. Instead of perfumes of spices: in prayer make
remembrance of me." Ephraem, His Testament (ante A.D. 373).
"Useful too is the prayer fashioned on their [the dead’s] behalf...it is
useful, because in this world we often stumble either voluntarily or
involuntarily." Epiphanius, Panarion, 75:8 (A.D. 375).
"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." Gregory of Nyssa, Sermon
on the Dead, PG 13:445,448 (ante A.D. 394).
"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." Ambrose,
De obitu Theodosii, PL 16:1397 (A.D. 395).
"Other husbands scatter on the graves of their wives violets, roses, lilies,
and purple flowers; and assuage the grief of their hearts by fulfilling this
tender duty. Our dear Pammachius also waters the holy ashes and the revered
bones of Paulina, but it is with the balm of almsgiving." Jerome, To
Pammachius, Epistle 66:5 (A.D. 397).
"Weep for the unbelievers; weep for those who differ in nowise from them, those
who depart hence without the 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 unto you, Except a man be
born of water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven."
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 all weep for these in private and in public, but with propriety, with
gravity, not so as to make exhibitions of ourselves; let us weep for these, not
one day, or two, but all our life. Such tears spring not from senseless
passion, but from true affection. The other sort are of senseless passion. For
this cause they are quickly quenched, whereas if they spring from the fear of
God, they always abide with us. 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." John Chrysostom, Homilies on Phillipians, 3 (ante A.D. 404).
"If the baptized person fulfills the obligations demanded of a Christian, he
does well. If he does not--provided he keeps the faith, without which he would
perish forever--no matter in what sin or impurity remains, he will be saved, as
it were, by fire; as one who has built on the foundation, which is Christ, not
gold, silver, and precious stones, but wood, hay straw, that is, not just and
chasted works but wicked and unchaste works." Augustine, Faith and Works, 1:1
"Now on what ground does this person pray that he may not be 'rebuked in
indignation, nor chastened in hot displeasure"? He speaks as if he would say
unto God, 'Since the things which I already suffer are many in number, I pray
Thee let them suffice;' and he begins to enumerate them, by way of satisfying
God; offering what he suffers now, that he may not have to suffer worse evils
hereafter." Augustine, Exposition of the Psalms, 38(37):3 (A.D. 418).
"And it is not impossible that something of the same kind may take place even
after this life. It is a matter that may be inquired into, and either
ascertained or left doubtful, whether some believers shall pass through a kind
of purgatorial fire, and in proportion as they have loved with more or less
devotion the goods that perish, be less or more quickly delivered from it. This
cannot, however, be the case of any of those of whom it is said, that they
'shall not inherit the kingdom of God,' unless after suitable repentance their
sins be forgiven them. When I say 'suitable,' I mean that they are not to be
unfruitful in almsgiving; for Holy Scripture lays so much stress on this
virtue, that our Lord tells us beforehand, that He will ascribe no merit to
those on His right hand but that they abound in it, and no defect to those on
His left hand but their want of it, when He shall say to the former, "Come, ye
blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom," and to the latter, 'Depart from me,
ye cursed, into everlasting fire.'" Augustine, Enchiridion, 69 (A.D. 421).
"During the time, moreover, which intervenes between a man's death and the final
resurrection, the soul dwells in a hidden retreat, where it enjoys rest or
suffers affliction just in proportion to the merit it has earned by the life
which it led on earth." Augustine, Enchiridion, 1099 (A.D. 421).
"For our part, we recognize that even in this life some punishments are
purgatorial,--not, indeed, to those whose life is none the better, but rather
the worse for them, but to those who are constrained by them to amend their
life. All other punishments, whether temporal or eternal, inflicted as they are
on every one by divine providence, are sent either on account of past sins, or
of sins presently allowed in the life, or to exercise and reveal a man's
graces. They may be inflicted by the instrumentality of bad men and angels as
well as of the good. For even if any one suffers some hurt through another's
wickedness or mistake, the man indeed sins whose ignorance or injustice does
the harm; but God, who by His just though hidden judgment permits it to be
done, sins not. But temporary punishments are suffered by some in this life
only, by others after death, by others both now and then; but all of them
before that last and strictest judgment. But of those who suffer temporary
punishments after death, all are not doomed to those everlasting pains which
are to follow that judgment; for to some, as we have already said, what is not
remitted in this world is remitted in the next, that is, they are not punished
with the eternal punishment of the world to come." Augustine, City of God,
21:13 (A.D. 426).
"But since she has this certainty regarding no man, she prays for all her
enemies who yet live in this world; and yet she is not heard in behalf of all.
But she is heard in the case of those only who, though they oppose the Church,
are yet predestinated to become her sons through her intercession...For some of
the dead, indeed, the prayer of the Church or of pious individuals is heard;
but it is for those who, having been regenerated in Christ, did not spend their
life so wickedly that they can be judged unworthy of such compassion, nor so
well that they can be considered to have no need of it. As also, after the
resurrection, there will be some of the dead to whom, after they have endured
the pains proper to the spirits of the dead, mercy shall be accorded, and
acquittal from the punishment of the eternal fire. For were there not some
whose sins, though not remitted in this life, shall be remitted in that which
is to come, it could not be truly said, "They shall not be forgiven, neither in
this world, neither in that which is to come.' But when the Judge of quick and
dead has said, 'Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for
you from the foundation of the world,' and to those on the other side, 'Depart
from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire, which is prepared for the devil and
his angels,' and 'These shall go away into eternal punishment, but the
righteous into eternal life,' it were excessively presumptuous to say that the
punishment of any of those whom God has said shall go away into eternal
punishment shall not be eternal, and so bring either despair or doubt upon the
corresponding promise of life eternal." Augustine, City of God,2 1:24 (A.D.
"If we neither give thanks to God in tribulations nor redeem our own sins by
good works, we shall have to remain in that purgatorian fire as long as it
takes for those above-mentioned lesser sins to be consumed like wood and straw
and hay." Ceasar of Arles, Sermon 179 (104):2 (A.D. 542).
"Each one will be presented to the Judge exactly as he was when he departed
this life. Yet, there must be a cleansing fire before judgment, because of some
minor faults that may remain to be purged away. Does not Christ, the Truth, say
that if anyone blasphemes against the Holy Spirit he shall not be forgiven
'either in this world or in the world to come'(Mt. 12:32)? From this statement
we learn that some sins can be forgiven in this world and some in the world to
come. For, if forgiveness is refused for a particular sin, we conclude
logically that it is granted for others. This must apply, as I said, to slight
transgressions." Gregory the Great [regn. A.D. 590-604], Dialogues, 4:39 (A.D.