Having previously addressed in this series the issues of transubstantiation, the Apocrypha, and the presumed authority of Rome, let us now turn to another matter in which the Roman Catholic dogma is in conflict with the plain teaching of God's holy and inspired Scripture. This is the Catholic doctrine of purgatory. In this examination, the implicit truth will be maintained that the Bible is the sole authority upon which Christian faith and practice, and thus the matter of the existence of purgatory, must and will be decided. As has been previously shown, the Roman Catholic religion and hierarchy have no basis to claim authority over the Bible and the individual soul liberty of Christians. The only Scriptural organisation for Christians presented in the Bible is the autonomous, local church, and the only authority is the local church pastor. No appeal to the Church Fathers, to supra-church hierarchies, popes, tradition, or any other supposed dignity is rightly entertained by the soul seeking to please God in accord with His Word.
As such, the only basis for deciding the validity of Rome's doctrine of purgatory is appeal to the Bible. Is purgatory Scriptural, or is it farcical instead? To see what exactly Rome teaches about purgatory, I will turn to the Catechism of the Catholic religion, and will respond to its teachings.
"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." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1030)
In this very first statement, Rome has placed its doctrine outside of Scriptural boundaries. What the statement above is essentially claiming is that the work done by the Lord Jesus, the grace that was brought to man through Him, is not sufficient to make a person righteous and justified before God. Even though a person has been "saved", they still need to spend an indeterminate period of time in a "cleansing fire" to remove their remaining sin.
This doctrine is an affront to the work and purpose of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible flatly contradicts the notion that a born-again believer would need some sort of "extra cleansing". For example, we see,
"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." (I John 1:7)
"But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. (Hebrews 10:12-14)
"Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Titus 2:13-14)
The Bible says that the shed blood of Christ is able to deal with ALL sin, to PERFECT the saints FOREVER. Indeed, as the verse from Titus tells us, HE purifies us, by His giving Himself for us. To suggest that some sort of extra purification is needed after death before a soul can enter heaven both denies and denigrates Jesus Christ.
The reason for this is because, through faith in Christ, the souls of sinful men and women are justified,
"But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin." (Romans 4:5-8)
Justification is the process whereby the soul that acknowledges his or her sin before God, is willing to repent of that sin, and is willing to trust in Christ ALONE (apart from works, baptism, a church, etc.) is then made righteous in the sight of God. The reason why sin means death for the unrepentant soul is because God is completely holy, meaning He is completely and utterly separated from sin. Sin cannot enter God's presence, so because man is by nature a sinner (something we ought all be able to readily recognise by merely looking around us in this world today), man is also by nature separated from a holy God and must spend eternity apart from God enduring His just wrath against sin, because that sin is an affront and offence to God. But, God's grace to man is manifested through Jesus Christ's sacrifice for our sin. Christ, as God, was and is completely righteous, meaning He had no stain of sin upon Himself, He was fully and completely sinless in the eyes of the Father. The doctrine of imputation seen in the passage from Romans above teaches that when a man or woman is willing to recognise and repent of their sin, and seeks God's forgiveness (i.e. believes that He can and will cleanse them and desires to trust in Him ALONE for this), then God will do so, and more. Not only does He cleanse them, but also justifies them. Justification is essentially a judicial term, one that means that one who was previously found guilty in a court has been declared to be innocent. Imputation comes into play in this process of justification because the repentant soul is not only cleanse of the sin that was an offense to God, but the very righteousness and perfect holiness of God's Son is attributed to that soul. When God looks on a person who has repented and trusted fully and solely in Christ, He no longer sees the sins that separated that soul from Him. He instead sees the righteousness of His own Son - that soul is, judicially speaking, considered to be as righteous as Jesus Christ Himself. That soul therefore no longer has to worry about any condemnation for their sins - they are set free from the fear of death and hell.
We see what Romans 8:1-4 says,
"There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
This passage tells us that, if a person is "in Christ Jesus", has been brought into the body and fellowship of Christ and the family of God, then there is no condemnation for that person anymore. Their sins are completely removed by the cleansing application of Christ's blood to their heart. They are justified, that is, considered judicially righteous before God because of God's grace and the faith given to them,
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Purgatory is a form of condemnation. Perhaps it is not taught to be permanent, but it is still a place where sin is punished, and thus is a denial of the ability and position of Jesus Christ in removing sin completely from the repentant sinner. Paul wrote that there is no more condemnation to the saved soul. There is no more need, once justification before God is given, for a soul to need to undergo purification. Judicially speaking, that person is ALREADY pure in God's eyes, because of the imputed righteousness of Christ Himself which is given to that person. As Paul says in 8:4, the righteousness of the Law is fulfilled in those who are saved, those who have put their full and complete trust in Christ alone, and have been given His righteousness.
Further, in 8:2 we see that Paul writes that the law of life in Christ, this life which is given when a soul trusts on Him to salvation, makes us free from the law of sin and death. Purgatory is a doctrine which exists solely because of the perception that souls still need to be "purged" of sin after death to enter heaven. This is completely contradicted by this scripture, however. If salvation makes a person free from the law of sin and death, free from the power of sin over a person and free from God's punishment against sin, then why would the soul of a believer need to be purged of that sin which has already been washed away and which no longer can serve as a basis of condemnation to that person? The answer is, it wouldn't.
The Bible tells us that Christ cleanses us through His blood. What does this mean? The answer is found in Hebrews 7:24-25,
"But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them."
The only priest you will ever need is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself! The Bible tells us here that Christ fulfills continually the role of High Priest for those who trust in Him by faith. In the Old Testament, the high priest had the function of making atonement for the sins of the nation of Israel by carrying the blood of a spotless lamb into the Holiest of Holies and offering that blood on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. This action was a foreshadowing of the coming role of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who as the Lamb of God offered Himself without spot on the cross, shedding His blood to atone for the sins of the whole world. The passage in Hebrews above speaks of the continual intercession that Christ makes as our High Priest in heaven. When a soul repents and cries out to God for forgiveness in faith, Christ our High Priest sprinkles His blood on that mercy seat in heaven, covering our sins in the sight of the Father, allowing that soul to be justified because they are cleansed and atoned by the pure blood of Christ.
This passage ALSO says that He EVER LIVETH to make intercession. Even after salvation, due to the constant struggle between the regenerate nature and the old nature, we still sin. But, I John 1:9 says that this sin, when it is confessed and repented of to God, is cleansed by the blood of Christ. This is Hebrews 7:24-25 in action. He continues to intercede for us, He continues to cleanse us when we cry out to Him. We cannot love that justification we have before God the Father because Christ continually cleanses and preserves His saints. His blood never fails to protect, preserve, cleanse, and maintain the judicial sanctity of the soul that has trusted on Him. And let us keep in mind that this blood that preserves us is applied by Christ Himself in heaven - it is NOT any blood of Christ that is contained in any "real presence" in the mass. Grace is NOT imparted by the sacrament of the mass, and the doctrine of transubstantiation itself is also against the teachings of Scripture.
The doctrine of purgatory runs completely contrary to this. It teaches, essentially, that Christ's intercession is either non-existent or not good enough to judicially purify the soul of the repentant sinner so that they can enter into the presence of God for all eternity. Either way, this doctrine is contradicted and confuted by the truths from Scripture seen above that Christ's sacrifice is completely sufficient and solely capable of cleansing and making righteous the repentant soul. There is simply no need for any purgatory to "purify" a soul so that it can enter heaven. A soul cleansed by Christ's blood is already completely and continually purified, and is already able to enter God's presence in the rest of heaven.
The Catechism then enlightens us as to the origin of the doctrine of Purgatory,
"The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:
As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offences can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1031)
Here we see Matthew 12:31-32 alluded to, in which the Lord says,
"Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come."
The Cathechism somehow manages to take a statement about the permanency of the fate of the blasphemer who refuses to acknowledge the work of the Holy Spirit, and turn it into a statement of transience in punishment. The statement "neither in this world, neither in the world to come" was a Jewish figure of speech that was used by the Jews, ironically, to indicate and establish the absolute unchangeability of what was being described. Jesus is not somehow suggesting that there are certain sins that *could* be forgiven later after a stint in purgatory. Quite the opposite, He is speaking ONLY to the point of the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and is stating that it will not receive forgiveness. It is stretching the text to the point of credulity to speculate some sort of implied allusion to purgatory or to sins being forgiven in the world to come.
Indeed, the testimony of Scripture elsewhere confutes this interpretation presented by the Catechism. Hebrews 9:27 tells us that "it is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment". There is nothing after death but judgment, whether to eternal life or eternal death. There is no intermediary state, or some point where sins can continue to be purged from the soul once physical death has come. This point is emphasised further,
"He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still." (Revelation 22:11)
This verse is referring to the permanency of state of every person at death, as they await the final judgment. Those who are righteous will remain so, and be judged worthy to enter the joys of heaven. Those who are filthy, who remained in their sins, will remain so until the time of judgment to the lake of fire. This permanency denies the doctrine of purgatory. If one calling him or herself a Christian is "filthy" before God, then that person remains so. There is no hint of purgation of their sin, to make the filthy one clean. Either they are filthy or they are clean, and they will remain so to their judgment.
Another passage sometimes called as a witness for purgatory is I Corinthians 3:15,
"If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire."
When this verse is taken in the greater context surrounding it, it is easily seen that this passage is not talking about any purgatory.
"For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon 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 abide which he hath 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." (I Corinthians 3:9-15)
Quite obviously, this passage is talking about the works done during the Christian life. The works are figuratively likened to a building. The foundation is Christ, and individual Christians are building upon this foundation by their service to Christ. Some of this service is pure and brings glory to the Lord, and is thus likened to gold, silver, and precious stones. Other of this service is done with a wrong attitude or heart, and does not glorify the Lord, thus causing it to be considered of base materials. Purgatory is specifically denied in this verse because the testing of the materials is said to occur in "the day", that is, the time of Christ's testing of His people, judging the quality and motivations of their service to Him. If this verse were speaking of purgatory as that doctrine is understood in the Catholic religion, then it would not speak of this "trial by fire" as occurring at one point in time. The purgation in this verse, such as it is, is that of works that do not meet the Lord's standard. Verse 15 says that the work shall be burned, as in burned away and removed. In fact, v. 15, logically speaking, would say just the opposite of purification by a stay in purgatory, for the verse says that if a man's work is burned, he suffers loss. The point to purgatory is to purify a man so that he DOES NOT suffer loss, in this case being a failure to enter heaven. If this verse teaches a post-mortem purification so that a soul can enter heaven, why would the purgation be considered a "loss" suffered? One would think the purgation of sins would be considered a boon, not a loss. As the plain context suggests, this verse is speaking of the loss of works done that do not meet the standard the Lord sets for our works done in service to Him, after salvation. When it says that he shall be saved, it does not say that he is so BY fire, but "yet SO AS by fire". The intent is to say that he is still saved, despite having potentially nothing of his works that has withstood the trial by fire and been deemed worthy of reward by the Lord.
One other writing appealed to as a scriptural support for the doctrine of purgatory (through the associated practice of praying - and paying - for the dead to get out of purgatory) is II Maccabees 12:43, in which Judas Maccabeus is said to have sent 2000 drachmas of silver to Jerusalem to be offered for the souls of the dead. This particular passage I will not address in detail here, as the passage is apocryphal, and is not Scripture.
Patristics and purgatory:
- Tertullian, De Monogamia, 10
- Cyprian, Ep. xlvi.
- Basil, In Esaiae, ix. 19
- Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechesis Mystagogica, v. 9
- Gregory of Nyssa, Oratio de Mortuis
- Jerome, Comment in c. lxv. Isa. Opera
- Augustine, De Civitate Dei, XXI. xxiv. 2