Does it exist ? Or not ? Or does it even matter ?
As a result of another thread on Ldstalk, the discussion somehow got to the concept of “Purgatory”. As an ex-Roman Catholic, I have somewhat of an understanding of the doctrine of purgatory and over the years I have found it hard to discuss this with my friends and family back home. When prompted if I would write a small blog entry on the topic, I volunteered and this is the result.
Webster’s defines purgatory as
1: an intermediate state after death for expiatory purification specif : a place or state of punishment wherein according to Roman Catholic doctrine the souls of those who die in God’s grace may make satisfaction for past sins and so become fit for heaven
2: a place or state of temporary suffering or misery
So is it only a “Roman Catholic” concept ? Or do others have something similar ? What about the Mormon concept of “eternal progression” which, as I understand it, continues after death ?
It is true that the word “purgatory” does not appear in the Scripture itself. But neither does the word “trinity” and yet we firmly adhere to that. One can make the argument that there are sufficient scripture passages that imply the existence of the Trinity, or even that the whole Bible speaks to the Trinity, and hence we accept it as being a solid part of our faith. However, the thought in itself really surfaced in the writing of our early Church fathers. And btw. I do adhere and believe in the Trinity quite firmly 😉
Evidence for purgatory is, granted, a lot more circumstantial in scripture. Paul mentions those that “have fallen asleep”, mainly in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15. Strictly in the gospels, the only reference I could find is this:
The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, (Mt 27:52).
All this is suggesting a state in between death and the bodily resurrection. But what is this state ?
Since there is little clarity in the Scriptures themselves, I would like to look to some other elements that form the foundation of our Christian faith, so let us consider the same writing of the same early Church Fathers that discoursed on the nature of the Trinity.
Augustine in Chapter 21 of City of God mentions
“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”.
Gregory of Nyssa in “Sermon on the Dead” says
“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.”
Tertullian wrote in the “Treatise of the Soul”:
“You have a treatise by us, De Paradiso (on Paradise), in which we have established the position that every soul is detained in safe keeping in Hades until the day of the Lord.”.
Unfortunately we don’t have an extant copy of his “De Paradiso” treatise, leaving us to guess what it may contain as other explanations.
Logically one can say that the since the final judgment and the bodily resurrection have not yet taken place, and the believers in Christ have “fallen asleep” as Paul teaches, the “souls” of the believers have to be somewhere. The question is where ?
I’m not indicating I have a strong belief in purgatory. I think it is one of those elements of our faith that is peripheral and one can argue about pro or con, without one claiming the other to be “the real Christian” because or in spite of what they believe. Yet with my background it is a subject I find hard to grasp and categorically denounce.
How about you ? Do you believe in its existence ? And if so, why ? If you do not, do you think we are not giving justice to the Early Church Fathers who gave us so much ? Do you believe there is a state after death during which the “final judgment” can be influenced or changed ? Or does it matter at all ?