PURGATORY - A BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE
[Dave Hunt states, "A Woman Rides the Beast", Harvest House, Eugene, Oregon, 1994, p. 475-484]:
"The truth has been divinely revealed that sins are followed by punishments. God's holiness and justice inflict them. Sins must be expiated. This may be done on this earth through the sorrows, miseries and trials of this life and, above all, through death.
Otherwise the expiation must be made in the next life through fire and torments or purifying punishments... The punishments with which we are concerned here are imposed by God's judgment, which is just and merciful. The reasons for their imposition are that our souls need to be purified, the holiness of the moral order needs to be strengthened and God's glory must be restored to its full majesty."
-- Vatican II
[Austin Flannery, O.P., gen. ed., "Apostolic Constitution on the Revision of Indulgences." Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, rev. ed. (Costello Publishing, 1988), vol. 1, p. 63]
"If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema."
-The Council of Trent
[The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, ed. and trans. H. J. Schroeder, O.P. (Tan Books, 1978), Sixth Session, Can. 30, p. 46.]
As the quotations opposite indicate, Catholicism teaches that while Christ's death made it possible for sins to be forgiven, the pardoned sinner must himself suffer some undefined pain or torment of unknown intensity and duration in order to be purged and thereby made fit for heaven. While Catholicism says it is theoretically possible to be cleansed through the sufferings of this life and one's death, no one, not even the pope himself, can know whether that has occurred. Consequently, almost all Catholics expect to spend some unknown length of time in purgatory. Failure to accept the doctrine of purgatory brings automatic excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church.
Both Trent and Vatican II speak of those who, even though Christ suffered for their sins, 'must still make expiation [for their sins] in the fire of purgatory.' Here is Vatican II's further explanation of this doctrine:
'The doctrine of purgatory clearly demonstrates that even when the guilt of sin has been taken away, punishment for it or the consequences of it may remain to be expiated or cleansed....
[I]n purgatory the souls of those who died in the charity of God and truly repentant but who had not made satisfaction with adequate penance for their sins and omissions are cleansed after death with punishments designed to purge away their debt.'
[Flannery, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 394]
What is adequate penance? No one knows. The Church has never defined it. Where does the Bible say that punishment purges from sin? It doesn't.
The Impossible Doctrine
The doctrine of purgatory does violence to both logic and Scripture. Romans 6:23 says, 'The wages of sin is death [i.e., eternal separation from God]' not a limited time in purgatory. We would be lost forever apart from Christ's sacrifice for our sins. Nor is sin of such a makeup or quality that suffering of any kind can purge it from the heart and soul. Sin is part of mankind's very nature. Suffering may indeed alter one's attitude temporarily, but once the pain has passed, the old tendencies return because the heart has not been changed. It takes a miracle of God to purge the soul of sin - a miracle which must both leave intact man's power of choice and satisfy the demands of God's infinite justice.
The Bible declares unequivocally that there is only one way for the soul to be cleansed: through the blood of Christ poured out upon the cross in payment for sin, and by a new birth of God's Spirit in the soul through faith in Christ and His finished redemptive work. Thus on two counts the doctrine of purgatorial sufferings is false:
1) It is impossible for suffering to cleanse the heart of sin;
2) It is unnecessary for the pardoned sinner to suffer for his sin because Christ has already paid the full penalty demanded by God's justice. On that basis alone is a person cleansed.
The Bible declares that Christ, 'when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high' (Hebrews 1:3), indicating that the purging is finished. And again, 'The blood of Jesus Christ, [God's] Son, cleanseth [purges] us from all sin' (1 John 1:7). Scripture is very clear in stating that it was the shedding of Christ's blood in death under the judgment of God that purged us. Moreover, 'without shedding of blood is no remission [of sin]' (Hebrews 9:22). Purgatory isn't said to be a place of blood-shedding, but of 'purifying fire.' The only possible purging of our sins was accomplished by Christ; it is accepted only by faith; it is effected in the heart only by the grace of God.
There is a further reason why suffering either on earth or in purgatory by the sinner himself cannot purge from sin: The one making the sacrifice for sin must himself be without sin. Sixty-two times in the Old Testament we are told that the animals that were offered had to be 'without blemish' (Exodus 12:5; 29:1; Leviticus 1:3; etc.). These were 'types' or symbols of Christ, the sinless, holy 'Lamb of God' who would 'take away the sin of the world' (John 1:36, 29). Thus no amount of suffering by a sinner, here or in purgatory, could ever purge him or anyone else from sin. Only a sinless sacrifice can suffice.
Of Christ we are told, '[He] did no sin' (1 Peter 2:22), '[He] knew no sin' (2 Corinthians 5:21), and 'in him is no sin' (1 John 3:5). Absolute sinlessness was essential or else Christ could not have died for our sins; He would have been under the penalty of death for His own sins. So Peter said of Christ that He 'the just [suffered] for [us] the unjust that He might bring us to God [i.e., to heaven, not to purgatory]' (1 Peter 3:18). He added that those who lack this assurance have forgotten that they have been 'purged from [their] old sins' (2 Peter 1:9). If we have trusted Christ as our Savior, we are to accept by faith the fact that God has purged us through Christ's finished work.
The Origins, Development, and Purpose of This Doctrine
The idea of purgatory, a fictitious place of final purgation, was invented by Pope Gregory the Great in 593. There was such reluctance to accept the idea (since it went contrary to Scripture) that purgatory did not become an official Catholic dogma for nearly 850 years - at the Council of Florence in 1439. No doctrine has so increased the Church's power over its members of added so much to its income. To this day the threat of purgatory hangs over Catholics, who therefore give repeated offerings to the Church for its help in getting them out of that place of torment.
Rome promises that if its decrees are followed one will eventually be released from purgatory and enter heaven. Yet the Church has never been able to define how long any person must spend in purgatory nor how much that time is shortened by any means it offers. It is utter folly to trust one's release from purgatory to a Church which cannot even define how long one must spend there for each sin or how much each ritual or act of penance reduces purgatorial suffering. Nevertheless, offerings are given by Catholics to the Church and large sums left in wills (remember Henry VIII) to have multiple Masses said on one's behalf. That process never stops, 'just in case' more Masses are needed.
The Council of Trent, Vatican II, and the resulting Code of Canon Law contain many complex rules for applying the merits of the living, and especially Masses, to the dead in purgation of their sins and to reduce them in purgatory:
'The Church offers the Pascal Sacrifice for the Dead so that.. the dead may be helped by prayers and the living may be consoled by hope.
Among Masses for the Dead it is the Funeral Mass which holds the first place in importance... A Mass for the dead may be celebrated as soon as news of a death is received....'
[Flannery, op. cit., p. 205]
A major developer of this horribly false but ingeniously profitable doctrine was an Augustinian monk named Augostino Trionfo. In his day (the fourteenth century) the popes ruled as absolute monarchs over both heaven and earth. By their power to bind and loose they not only established and deposed kings and emperors, but it was believed they could open or shut the gates of heaven to mankind at will. Trionfo's genius extended this authority, at the behest of Pope John XXII, to a third realm. Von Dollinger explains:
'It had been said before that the power of God's vicar extended over two realms, the earthly and the heavenly... From the end of the thirteenth century a third realm was added, the empire [rule] over which was assigned to the Pope by the theologians of the Curia - Purgatory.'
[J. H. Ignaz von Dollinger, The Pope and the Council (London, 1869), pp. 186-87]
Problems with Support from 2 Maccabees
Gavin tells how in his day (the early eighteenth century) it was still commonly taught that there were eight levels in purgatory. The poor were in the lowest level, where the fire was coolest, with kings in the highest level, where the fire was hottest. God in His goodness had supposedly planned it that way because kings and nobles were able to pay more to the Church to get their souls out whereas the poor had little to pay. He tells of poor people who upon being told that a relative who had just died was among the beggars in purgatory, scraped together the money to say enough Masses to get them moved up to a higher level. Though the torment was greater, they would be in better company. So the priests charged money both to make the torment in purgatory greater and to get poor souls out of it!
Neither the word 'purgatory' itself nor the idea of purgatory is to be found even once in the entire Bible. Nor is it so much as hinted at by Jesus or the apostles. Apologist Karl Keating admits that the doctrine 'is not explicitly set out in the Bible.'
[Karl Keating, Catholicisim and Fundamentalism: The Attack on 'Romanism' by 'Bible Christians' (Ignatius Press, 1988), p. 190]
The one verse always cited in support of purgatory comes from the Apocrypha: 'It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they might be loosed from their sins' (2 Maccabees 12:46).
There are three obvious problems with this verse. First of all, there is not one example in the entire Bible of anyone praying for the dead. The Bible clearly states that 'it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment' (Hebrews 9:27). It is too late for prayer after death; all that follows is judgment. Therefore this verse [in the apocrypha] contradicts the Bible.
Secondly, those of whom this was said had been guilty of idolatry: 'But under the tunic of each of the dead they found amulets sacred to the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear' (2 Maccabees 12:40 New American Bible). Idolatry was a mortal sin and, according to Catholic doctrine, would have landed these men not in purgatory but in hell, from which there is no release. Thus the idea of praying for them was both blasphemous and a waste of time, hardly the basis for accepting the doctrine of purgatory.
Finally, the very book of Maccabees itself declares that there were no prophets at this time and thus the inspiration of God had ceased. 'There had not been such great distress in Israel since the time prophets ceased to appear among the people' (1 Maccabees 9:27 NAB). And again: 'The Jewish people and their priest have, therefore, made the following decisions. Simon shall be their permanent leader and high priest until a true prophet arises' (1 Maccabees 14:41 NAB). Thus the two books of Maccabees can only be regarded as historical accounts at best but certainly not as Scripture, inasmuch as God was not inspiring anyone among His people. Obviously, then, one cannot support any true doctrine by a quote from this source. No wonder it contradicts the Bible!
What About Paul's Suffering?
Catholic apologists attempt to be biblical by basing the doctrine of purifying sufferings upon Colossians 1:24, where Paul says, 'Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church.' That Paul's suffering, however, had nothing to do with purging sin, either his own or anyone else's, is clear from the fact that Christ's sufferings had completed that work. Only a sinless sacrifice and the shedding of blood would avail.
Then what did Paul mean? Rather than suffering to effect the purification of his or anyone else's soul, Paul was suffering for the sake of bringing the gospel to others ('my suffering for you'). He referred to the persecution which 'all that will live godly in Christ Jesus' would suffer (2 Timothy 3:12). Jesus told His disciples they would be hated and persecuted by the world (John 15:18, 19). There is an 'offense of the cross' (Galatians 5:11), and Paul said we must be willing to 'suffer persecution for the cross of Christ' (Galatians 6:12).
It is not that Paul, like Christ, was suffering for sins in order to make up for what Christ's suffering upon the cross lacked, for there was no lack in that. The suffering that Paul endured and all other Christians true to the Lord must endure comes because we identify ourselves with Christ and live Christ like lives that condemn the world and reveal its evil. Therefore the world hates us as they hated Christ. In fact, Christ said that Paul must suffer greatly 'for my name's sake' (Acts 9:16). In Acts 5:41 the disciples rejoiced that they 'were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.' The suffering that true Christians endure is at the hands of those who hate their Lord and are offended by His cross.
Phillippeans 1:29 says it is a privilege to suffer because of the hatred the world has toward Christ: 'Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ not only to believe on him but also to suffer for his sake.' Second Thessalonians 1:5 speaks of 'the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer.' First Timothy 4:10 says that we 'labor and suffer reproach because we trust in the living God.' Peter also referred to the suffering that comes to every Christian who is true to the Lord (1 Peter 3:14; 4:13, 16). Many other verses express the same thought.
In Philippeans 3:10 Paul expresses his passion to know Christ 'and the fellowship of his sufferings,' which he says helps to bring him into conformity with the death and character of Christ. It is clear that Paul referred to sufferings for Christ's sake here upon earth at the hands of sinners, not to suffering in a future purgatory to be cleansed of one's sin. Paul writes in Romans 8:18 that 'the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.' Certainly there is no thought of purgatory. We go from the sufferings of this world into the presence and glory of Christ and God.
Other Serious Problems with Purgatory
The doctrine of purgatory errs in a number of other ways. It forgets that we have offended God's infinite justice. James says that even the smallest sin makes a sinner 'guilty of [breaking] all' of the commandments (James 2:10). Why? Because any sin is rebellion against God, which separates the sinner from God for eternity. We are finite beings and could never pay the infinite penalty demanded by God's justice. Consequently there is no escape from hell, but the sinner must suffer there eternally. To 'expiate' one's sins by suffering is therefore impossible.
Of course, in theory God could pay the infinite penalty demanded by His justice against sin, but that wouldn't be just because He isn't one of us. So God became man through the virgin birth. Being a sinless man and infinite God in one Person, Christ was able to satisfy the claims of His own justice so that 'whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). The only expiation of sin comes as a free gift of God's grace; any attempt to earn or merit it constitutes a rejection of God's offer of mercy to unworthy sinners. Moreover, the thought that there is any suffering at all left for a Christian to endure in payment of his sins after Christ suffered the full penalty and cried 'It is finished' (John 19:30) is a blasphemous denial of the redemption that Christ effected and the salvation that He offers.
In the teaching of purgatory we see once again that Roman Catholicism does not accept God's offer of salvation by His grace, but insists upon adding human works to what Christ has done. Although Catholicism does affirm that salvation is ultimately by grace through faith, it also states that good works (though by God's grace operating in the individual) are essential for salvation. We quote again from Vatican II:
'From the most ancient times in the Church good works were also offered to God for the salvation of sinners... [by] the prayers and good works of holy people... the penitent was washed, cleansed and redeemed....
Following in Christ's steps, those who believe in Him have always.. carried their crosses to make expiation for their own sins and the sins of others... [to] help their brothers to obtain salvation from God...
[Flannery, op. cit.,, vol. 1, Apostolic Constitution on the Revision of Indulgences, II 5., III 6, pp. 65, 68]
A Fatal Contradiction
Only blind submission to the Church prevents the Roman Catholic adherent from seeing that the doctrine of purgatory contains an obvious and fatal contradiction. On the one hand we are told that the sacrifice of Christ is not enough to get one to heaven, but in addition to Christ's sufferings on the cross the forgiven sinner must himself suffer torment to be purged of his sin. On the other hand, however, and in direct contradiction, it is said that the Mass, which is representation or perpetual renewal of Christ's sacrifice, reduces (by some unknown amount) one's suffering. Presumably, if enough Masses were said one would be purged by the expiation of all sins without any suffering at all. So one doesn't have to suffer, after all, to be purged.
If one truly had to suffer before heaven's gate could open, the Church would have nothing to offer and would lose a major means of income. The same would be true if Christ's sacrifice for sin, as the Bible teaches, were enough to purge the sinner. The Catholic Church would again be out of business. Therefore, to keep the Church operating and its coffers full, it is taught that one may be purged of sin by certain means which the Church can provide, and that Christ's sacrifice on the cross was insufficient to purge of sin, so that the Mass, for which the Church receives income, can be credited with reducing suffering in purgatory and opening the gate of heaven. How amazing that what Christ's suffering on the cross could not effect, the alleged repetition of that suffering reenacted on Catholic altars can accomplish.
Moreover, the sufferings of others also are said to reduce the time needed for purging in purgatory. The stigmata of Padre Pio and the sufferings of the 'saints' can thus accomplish what the sacrifice of Christ on the cross could not. Here it is again: 'Following in Christ's steps, those who believe in Him have always... carried their crosses to make expiation for their own sins and the sins of others.' Christ's cross could only forgive but could not purge sin;
[Comment: interesting contradiction - how can one be forgiven of sin yet still not purged from sin????]
yet the crosses carried by others can purge sin and thus can do more than the cross of Christ!
So the doctrine of purgatory contains a fatal contradiction. It declares that one must suffer in order to be purged of one's sins; yet at the same time it says one need not suffer if certain rules are followed. The major means of escaping suffering is through the repetition of the Mass, but there are many others. The reduction or elimination of suffering in purgatory is also effected through 'indulgences.'