Search This Blog

Sunday, 28 May 2017


According to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, Purgatory is a halfway house between heaven and earth where ones souls are cleansed so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. Protestants discount this teaching.

The Roman Catholic tradition of Purgatory has a history that dates back to the belief, found in Pre-Christian Judaism that prayer for the dead contributed to their afterlife purification. St Augustine of Hippo developed many Catholic doctrines including belief in purgatory, St. Ambrose of Milan spoke of a kind of "baptism of fire" which is located at the entrance to Heaven, and through which all must pass, at the end of the world and Pope St. Gregory the Great stated his belief in Purgatory adding however that the Purgatorial fire could only purify away minor transgressions, not "iron, bronze, or lead," or other "hardened" (duriora) sins.

Image of a fiery purgatory by Ludovico Carracci

The concept of purgatory was made official church doctrine at the 1274 Council of Lyons. The council wrote that Christians who had not shown sufficient repentance for their sin needed to be cleansed by purgatorial punishments. Furthermore, the council taught that these punishments could be relieved for oneself (or for those who had died) through “the sacrifices of Masses, prayers, alms, and other duties of piety.”

Perhaps the best-known instance of purgatory in the arts is Dante's Purgatorio, the second book of his Divine Comedy.

Despite the Roman poet Virgil (70-19BC) being an unbaptized pagan, his fourth Eclogue contained a passage which some interpreted as a prediction of the birth of Christ. This led to his acceptance as an "honorary Christian" by the medieval church and Dante made Virgil his guide to Purgatory (and Hell) in The Divine Comedy.

When Dante's Divine Comedy allocated the great men of the Christian era to their destiny after death, the Arabic sultan Saladin was placed in Purgatory rather than Hell, despite being a heathen who fought the Crusaders. Such was his chivalry and generosities to losers, many believed Saladin must have been a secret Christian.

Image of a non-fiery purgatory (Gustave Doré: illustration for Dante's Purgatorio, Canto 24).

The medieval Roman church raised money for their benefit by selling indulgences for the forgiveness of sins. You could either purchase forgiveness for yourself; or you could even shorten the time your dead relatives spend in purgatory. The selling of indulgences reached its peak in the second decade of the 16th century as  Rome had just begun to build the extravagant new basilica of St Peter. The church was already in a financial crisis and in money had to be raised to somehow.

Martin Luther's career as a reformer began after a visit to Rome in 1510-11 where the sale of indulgences angered him. After much study, Martin Luther concluded that the selling of indulgences to shorten loved ones time in purgatory was entirely contrary to the teaching of Scripture, which is the free forgiveness of sin by simple faith in the shed blood of Christ on the Cross. On October 31, 1517, Luther nailed up on the church door at Wittenburg his 95 Theses, (the standard way of raising issues for debate), arguing that a Christian has had a full pardon from God. His proposals included the selling of indulgences and doctrinal policies about purgatory.

Henry VIII was interested in theology and personally remained a Catholic during the Reformation though he rejected some Catholic theology such as purgatory.

Shakespeare used Catholic imagery in several of his plays including the return of the ghost from purgatory in Hamlet.

Recent Roman Catholic thought plays down the idea of punishment (though without losing it completely) and instead emphasizes the idea of purification. The 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church has a section on purgatory. As the title of this section (The Final Purification or Purgatory) indicates, the emphasis throughout is on the purification required to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven, and this purification is contrasted with a punishment of the damned.

Probably the most famous Protestant advocate of the idea of a purgatorial purification after death was C.S Lewis. He stated that he had never believed that "the faithfulest soul could leap straight into perfection and peace the moment death has rattled in the throat." A Grief Observed).

Source Christianity magazine

No comments:

Post a Comment