Is Purgatory Necessary?

In case you missed John W. Martens' post on "The Good Word" on the Scriptural roots of purgatory, check it out here. A sample:

Purgatory has had an odd history, with many Catholics today no longer having a clear sense of what it is. And while many Protestants have long rejected purgatory as a non-biblical Catholic "thing," many of the Reformers of the 16th century, while they may have had troubles, to put it mildly, with indulgences or ecclesiastical organization did not initially struggle with the reality of purgatory. The basic reason, I think, is that it makes theological sense. In order to be in the presence of God one must be prepared; since God’s being is holy, one must be made ready to be in the presence of holiness. This is the process of purgation, or purification, in which the remnants and effects of our imperfections and sins are burned away.

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Tim Reidy

 

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Mark Harden
7 years 5 months ago
Perhaps the reluctance of many Catholics today to acknowledge purgatory has to do with their having been raised in their faith without the proper remorse for sin. Such people have too often been told that they - as they are - are perfectly acceptable to God. Why, then, should they need any sort of purgation? In that context, purgatory would indeed make no sense, or at least seem unnecessary.
Crystal Watson
7 years 5 months ago
I think that deciding something must be true because it makes some kind of sense to us  (like purgatory) is not the best way to decide what's true. 

Actually, purgatory doesn't make sense to me.   I don't remember purgatory ever being mentioned in my RCIA class but just to make sure I've got it right ... when people are bad and repent, God forgives them but they still must endure temporal punishment in purgatory, a kind of pit-stop on the way to heaven, and time served can be mitigated with an indulgence?  The ideas that it's God's nature to forgive and yet still punish rather than transform with love, that by cash, deed, or arranged prayer, rather than an honest change of heart, we can buy ourselves and others out of some of this purgatorial punishment, is disturbing .... I believe God is better than this. From what I've read in "What Happened at Vatican II" by John O'Malley, many there disbelieved in purgatory and indulgences as well.
7 years 5 months ago
I had purgatory explained to me by more than one good Catholic teacher as necessary to be with God.  It was also emphasized that not all purgatory experiences is the same as some may need a lot more of it than others.  This made sense to me as I personally witnessed saintly behavior amongst many of the religious and many of the lay people I knew while many of my friends and myself did not achieve such a level.  


It would make a mockery of the whole earthly experience if all just waltzed right into heaven and were accepted equally when there was a very wide skew in the curve of earthly goodness.  Purgatory was then a way of maybe evening this life experience out while still receiving salvation. 


Made sense to me as a kid.  Makes sense to me now as an adult.  Any alternative seems absurd. 
Crystal Watson
7 years 5 months ago
JR,  an example from the gospels .... Matthew the tax collector had done many wrong things, but Jesus accepted him as a disciple withoit any punishment first to even the scales.
Jim McCrea
7 years 5 months ago
Simple answer:  Nope!

If my sins are not absolved in confession assuming the proper degree of contrition abd repentance, then the idea of the sacrament of penance is meaningless. 

Residual "remnants and effects of our imperfections and sins are burned away?"   That never made sense to me during high school and university religion/theology classes, and is even less believable now.

How do you say "balderdash" in Latin?
Crystal Watson
7 years 5 months ago
Hi John,

I do see what you mean, but I think we've created an idea (with the help of Aquinas and Augustine) that we have to be holy to be with God, and that the way to become holy is to suffer.  I don't actually see any examples of that idea in the gospels, though.  When Jesus is crucified he says to the theif beside him "Today you will be with me in paradise"  not "After some time in purgatory where you'll suffer to redeem yourself, then you'll be with me in paradise".  Becoming ok enough to be with God without a time of suffering first may seem counter-intuitive, but that soesn't mean it can't be true.
Bill Mazzella
7 years 5 months ago
Just because something has a spiritual reference does not mean it is true or factual. If that were true how many things would we say that are true which we know are not. Do I have to give references? Second, remember Jesus stresses mercy over sacrifice. The  notion of purgatory stresses the Anselmian concept of a God who exacts atonement for transgressions. What about this day you will be with me in paradise. Yes Jesus had harsh words for those who persisted in evil but instant mercy for those who had faith. Purgatory may stem more from human's reflecting on revenge having no idea of the mercy of God. But how about: "My ways are not your ways." And do we need the notion of purgatory to know the mercy of God. What kind of reasoning suggests that we need satisfaction to prove the mercy and goodness of God. Certainly, we need to follow Matthew 25. But we get there through the mercy and free gift of God. 

I must admit  I see a lot of circuitious reasoning here. Leading to scruples and muddy thinking. Wo/man does need reconciliation. But the God of Jesus Christ is a welcoming God who just wants us to know that we are coming toward so s/he can run to embrace us and celebrate. The brother of the prodigal son invented purgatory because he thinks he got there by himself rather than from the grace of God. 
Marie Rehbein
7 years 5 months ago
I think there are a number of hints in the Bible that we don't just pop into heaven when we die.  Maybe John has them more at hand and can help out here.  However, I see that there may be a need to have such a stage as purgatory for those of us who don't correctly identify all our sins and who don't have the option of confession and absolution for those sins we do recognize.
Bill Mazzella
7 years 5 months ago
Marie,

Perhaps you prove my point. Mercy is not dependent on correctly identifying our sins. God forgives when we acknowledge our sinfulness, trust in his mercy and believe in his goodness. There is the ancient tradition of praying for those who passed away. This is our connection to them and is no doubt a better practice than the obsession with saints which is really a 4th century creation. If we were to juridically calculate our sins we would never get into heaven. The mercies of the Lord endure forever. That phrase is biblical and we can count on it. 
Crystal Watson
7 years 5 months ago
I  read the post at The Good Word. I'm not sure I agree with the statement  - "In order to be in the presence of God one must be prepared; since God’s being is holy, one must be made ready to be in the presence of holiness." - the bible has people meeting God, meeting angels, meeting Jesus, and none of those people  first perfected themselves.   I do like the idea that purgatory is  not a place with a time span but rather the change of heart that takes place in a person when they meet God.  If that's true, though, I don't see how participating in  indulgences (like walking through a jubilee door)  or having someone else say a prayer for you could make any difference to that change of heart or to the way God would treat you.
Bill Mazzella
7 years 5 months ago
There are three other things I would offer for consideration on the topic. One is we have to be careful about quoting Augustine as an authority as he has been wrong on substantial issues. Secondly, the reliance of the "Fathers of the Church" as a clincher to any dispute must come to an end. They were wrong often enough for us to dispel that kind of thinking. Sometimes the fathers were more obviously questionable (if not absurd). I mean what does Augustine (agreed to by Anselm) mean by the "positive suffering of the damned," to which unbaptized infants dwell in. The third point which I wrote about above, is the issue of having to be cleansed to appear before an all holy God. Developing that argument no one is worthy to be in the presence of God. Mercy triumphs. Triumphs over the juridical God of Ambrose and the Manichean God of Augustine.

 
Kang Dole
7 years 5 months ago

I really don't have a dog in the fight over what to do with the doctrine of purgatory, but I am deeply interested in the scriptural texts that are referenced in the debates.
 I think it's important to recognize the breadth of beliefs concerning the fate of the dead in the ancient Mediterranean, as well as just how difficult it can be to make heads or tails of some of the textual evidence concerning these beliefs. I think that the Pauline verses cited by Dr. Martens, as well as the passage from 2 Maccab. are particularly difficult.
 I guess one difficulty I'm having with this discussion stems from my very imperfect understanding of Church doctrine on purgatory. I have looked at CCC 1030ff., which seem to be the relevant passages, but I would appreciate some clarification:
 “1030 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.”
Is the idea that purgation for the “imperfectly purified” is a process that begins right after death? Or is it a process that occurs at the eschaton? The idea in CCC 1032 seems to be that steps can be taken by the living in the present to advance the purification of the dead. So do these acts (prayer, eucharists) contribute to a purification that will occur at the eschaton, or do they actively contribute to a process already underway? One reason that I ask this is because 1 Cor. 3: 12-15, insofar as it is at all clear, seems to point to fires of testing that will be experienced on the Day of the Lord. Since Paul's discussions of the fate of the dead in 1 Thess. and 1 Cor. all emphasize the resurrection of the dead at the return of Christ, this eschatological emphasis in 1 Cor. 3 isn't surprising, but I wonder if it doesn't affect notions of current processes of purgation prior to the resurrection.
 I would also briefly mention with respect to 1 Cor.3:12-15, the text Rosh HaShana b, where Rabbi Shammai discusses a period of purgation in Gehenna at the eschaton; this text could hold parallels for the Corinthian passage, and is probably pretty relevant to the idea of purgatory, in general. (but again, I would emphasize that this purgation isn't something that happens to the dead prior to the Day of the Lord).
 With respect to the Maccabees text, I don't really share Dr. Martens' confidence in it as a proof text for purgatory. I would first note that purgation isn't actually mentioned in the text; rather, the emphasis is on atonement. The living atone for the dead, but there's no indication that the sinful dead are experiencing anything. I would then observe that this is again a text with an eschatological perspective; it's the resurrection that's in view, not the transfer of a purified soul from a sate of suffering to a heavenly state. I think that the narrative layering is interesting. It's the narrator who interprets Judah's actions as being influenced by eschatological expectations of the resurrection. If there's any historical basis for the story, I imagine (for what that's worth), that Judah's concerns were probably more in line with the perspective of Joshua 7: the sinful actions of some in the group take a corporate toll. I think that the corporate dimension here is significant, for I think that it also bears on Paul's perspective. Purgatory seems to be concerned with the fate of individuals, but it's the fate of social bodies that seems to be of greater concern in these ancient texts: the fate of nation, tribe, or assembly seems to be of greater concern than any individual's fate.
 In connection with 2 Maccabees 12, I'd mention the interesting parallel of 1 Cor. 15:29, where Paul references “baptizing for the dead.” It's a cryptic passage, and I wouldn't put much stock in anyone who was overly confident in its interpretation, but it does seem reasonably clear that Paul has mixed feelings about what the Corinthians are doing.
Also, with respect to the Maccab. passage, CCC 1033 says, “To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell." I interpret this to mean that there are those who die who are beyond purification. I wonder (and this is just navel-gazing), would idolatry (the crime of the fallen soldiers) be considered a mortal sin? From a Catholic perspective, would Judah's actions on behalf of these idolatrous fallen have any bearing on their fate?
I apologize for writing so much. My main question, in a nutshell, is: Is purgation a current or future phenomenon?
Marie Rehbein
7 years 5 months ago
Abe has written an interesting and informative response.  In questioning CCC 1033 (“To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called 'hell'."), it had occurred to me that purgatory could be one more chance where the conscious experiences something like a visit from the ghosts of Christmas past and present. The Catechism seems not to allow for that in this one sentence, but elsewhere Catholic teaching holds that the sinner must know that an action as sinful and choose to do it in order for it to have mortal consequences for the soul.

To those who have been expressing the idea that purgatory implies a less than merciful God, I would ask whether being with God is not likely to be the same as being part of God and, therefore, part of God's omniscience, so that even if we are worthy of it, our souls still need to undergo some kind of transformation.
7 years 5 months ago
The Doctrine of Purgatory by John Hardon SJ is brief adn provides great insight. Go to

http://www.therealpresence.org and enter purgartory. The first item will be the Doctrine.

Thanks, Tim. I think about purgatory, a lot, and pray for the holy souls, with frequency since coming to understand my own sin and need for His mercy...
Kang Dole
7 years 5 months ago
I have never before considered some of the passages you mention above (especially the Philipians verses) in connection with this topic, so thanks for giving me more food for thought!

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