WHAT IS PURGATORY?
By Kathy Schley
First I will explain what Purgatory is NOT. Purgatory is not for the damned, nor a second chance to be saved. Purgatory is for the saved for the final stage of purification. Purgatory is not another place between earth and Heaven. Nor is "time" experienced in Purgatory the same ordinary time experienced here on earth. That is, time in the afterlife does not work the same as it does here on earth. We know one day on earth is 24 hours. But one day in the afterlife may seem like a split-second. Nevertheless, we pray for those in Purgatory that their time in Purgatory will be shortened and reach perfection to be in full union with God more quickly (whatever time may be in the afterlife).
Now I will explain what Purgatory IS. Purgatory is not another place, but a state of the FINAL stage of "purification" (or sanctification") that began here on earth. This final stage of purification (sanctification) is God's final work on our soul through His sanctifying grace. It is God's sanctifying grace that transforms our soul fitting for Heaven and to bring us into that perfect union and perfect relationship with God--a transformation that He began on our soul here on earth. Jesus, in the Beatitudes, tells us "only the PURE in heart will see God." (Mt. 5:8) Are we "pure" in heart when we leave this earth? While our soul has grown in holiness in God's sanctifying grace, corruption remains on our soul and we remain as sinners. And Scripture tells us "no sin is allowed in Heaven." (Rev. 21:27). St. Paul tells the Hebrews the spirits of just men in Heaven "have been made PERFECT." (Hebrews 12:23). So there has to be a final stage of purification (sanctification) between leaving this earth and entering Heaven that we must undergo to be cleaned up completely in God's sanctifying grace for a pure heart so we can see God fully. St. Paul says in this life we only see God in a dim light, but in Heaven we will see God fully. (1Cor. 13:12). Being that sin is darkness and not of God, any sin on our soul robs our sight of seeing God in His "full" Glory.
We are not in Heaven experiencing eternal bliss if cannot see God in His "full" Glory and are not "fully" united in Him.
During past debates with non-Catholic Christians I have been told that Christians who leave this earth will instantly be in Heaven experiencing eternal bliss. That is, we roll right into Heaven immediately after rolling off from our deathbed. During these debates I'm quoted 2Corinthians 5:8 of St. Paul saying, "We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord." This was suppose to prove to me that from the moment we leave our body we are instantly at home in Heaven with the Lord and there is no such thing as a Purgatory in between. But that is not what St. Paul is saying. If we look at his words he says we would "rather".... St. Paul is expressing a "desire." Let me make an example. At work this evening (and using St. Paul's words with a slight change) I'm saying to myself, "I would rather be away from this place and at home with the family." Does this mean from the moment I clock out I am at home with my family? Unfortunately, not so. After I clock out I still have to drive home for 25 minutes and stop at red lights on the way, and sometimes at the gas station if I want to make it home. So St. Paul making the same expression isn't saying there is nothing to be done between leaving our body and being home with the Lord. St. Paul instead is only expressing his "desire" to be away from his body to be home with the Lord. Now if we look at St. Paul's following statements in the following verses, 9,10 and 11 (of which was never quoted to me to keep St. Paul's teaching in context) we see our experience when we become absent from our body and home with the Lord. We see "JUDGEMENT." St. Paul says in his following statement, verse 9, "So whether we are AT HOME or away, WE MAKE IT OUR AIM TO PLEASE HIM." And in the next verse (verse 10) he says, "For we must all appear before the JUDGEMENT SEAT before Christ, so that each one may receive good OR EVIL according to what he has done in the body." And in the next verse (verse 11) he says, "Therefore knowing THE FEAR of the Lord, we persuade men; but what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience." If we look at St. Paul's exact wording in verse 8 and also look at his following statements in the following verses 9, 10 and 11, we clearly see God's continued work on our soul as we stand before Him. These Scriptures in context does not indicate that from the moment we leave our body we are instantly experiencing eternal bliss at home with the Lord. As soon as we become absent from our body we appear before the Lord for JUDGEMENT on the way to eternal bliss. This pre-judgment after leaving the body is our purgatorial experience where God reveals our soul to us. Jesus says "ALL" will be revealed and "NOTHING" will be covered up. (Luke 12:2-3) Jesus also says we will not get out of this prison [state] until "we paid the last penny." (Matthew 5:25-26).
St Paul also says, "Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble, each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. IF ANY MAN'S WORK IS BURNED UP, HE WILL SUFFER LOSS, THOUGH HE HIMSELF WILL BE SAVED, BUT ONLY THROUGH FIRE." (1Cor. 3:12-15) What is this "fire" God will test our works with? This fire is God's fiery love. It is God's love that brings transformation to our soul, here on earth and in Purgatory. John the Baptist says Jesus will baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Matthew 3:11). The Holy Spirit also appears as a "Holy fire" to the disciples at Pentecost and fills the disciples with Himself (Acts 2:1-4). And the Nature of God is "Love". God is LOVE (1John 4:8). St. Paul says "do not quench the Spirit." (1Thessalonians 5:19). To "quench" means to extinguish. We do not want to extinguish (put out or bring to an end) God's fiery love He gives to us through His Holy Spirit. It is God's fiery love that transforms our soul. Malachi also tells us this "fire" of God purifies our soul. "For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and sliver, till they present right offerings to the Lord" (Malachi 3:3). St. Paul tells us the same thing that this "fire' God will test our works with is purification. (1Cor.3:12-15). We also see in Proverbs 17:3 of God's fire purifying our soul. "The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tries hearts."
In our purgatorial experience there is a suffering we will experience as God purges our soul with His fiery love. St. Paul tells us, away from the Lord [on earth], and at home with the Lord [during prejudgment], "we make it our aim to please Him" and "we know the fear of the Lord." (2Cor. 5:9,11). This "fear" we have of the Lord is the fear of being made aware of the grievance we brought upon the Lord in our sins. We grieve because we caused the Person we love to grieve. And this "suffering," as many non-Catholics believe, does not make Christ's perfect sacrifice insufficient. Purgatory is the final stage of purification (sanctification) of which began here on earth. Because of Jesus' sacrifice we have the Holy Spirit to sanctify us and bring us closer to God in perfect union, in perfect love, and into a perfect relationship. As we grow in the Lord in sanctifying grace we experience suffering as God reveals our sins to us that brings us into grievance and repentance. St. Paul to the Hebrews tells us, "For the Lord disciplines whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?...For the moment all discipline seems painful rather pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:6-7,11) There is a suffering to reaching perfection, to a pure heart, in able to see God fully, and also be made into that perfect Image of God as His child.
As we have seen in the Scriptures we can not see God "fully" until, through His sanctifying grace, has finished His work on our soul, having brought our soul to a complete transformation to a pure heart. Although the word "Purgatory" is not found in the Scriptures, the doctrine of Purgatory (the final stage of purification or sanctification) is rooted in Scripture. Non-Catholics have also asserted that the doctrine of Purgatory is an invented teaching that was instituted by Gregory I in 593 A.D.. Not only do we see the doctrine of Purgatory rooted in Scripture, but we also see the doctrine held by the early Church fathers' writings centuries before Gregory I.
"In short, inasmuch as we understand "the prison" pointed out in the Gospel to be Hades, and as we also interpret "the uttermost farthing" to mean the very smallest offence which has to be recompensed there before the resurrection no one will hesitate to believe that the soul undergoes in Hades some compensatory discipline, without prejudice to the full process of the resurrection, when the recompense will be administered through the flesh besides. "
(Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul, Chapter 58, 210 A.D.)
"And do not think, dearest brother, that either the courage of the brethren will be lessened, or that martyrdoms will fail for this cause, that repentance is relaxed to the lapsed, and that the hope of peace is offered to the penitent. The strength of the truly believing remains unshaken; and with those who fear and love God with their whole heart, their integrity continues steady and strong. For to adulterers even a time of repentance is granted by us, and peace is given. Yet virginity is not therefore deficient in the Church, nor does the glorious design of continence languish through the sins of others. The Church, crowned with so many virgins, flourishes; and chastity and modesty preserve the tenor of their glory. Nor is the vigour of continence broken down because repentance and pardon are facilitated to the adulterer. It is one thing to stand for pardon, another thing to attain to glory: it is one thing, when cast into prison, not to go out thence until one has paid the uttermost farthing; another thing at once to receive the wages of faith and courage. It is one thing, tortured by long suffering for sins, to be cleansed and long purged by fire;35 another to have purged all sins by suffering. It is one thing, in fine, to be in suspense till the sentence of God at the day of judgment; another to be at once crowned by the Lord."
(Cyprian, Letters 51:20, 253 A.D.)
"If a man distinguish in himself what is peculiarly human from that which is irrational, and if he be on the watch for a life of greater urbanity for himself, in this present life he will purify himself of any evil contracted, overcoming the irrational by reason. If he has inclined to the irrational pressure of the passions, using for the passions the cooperating hide of things irrational, he may afterward in a quite different manner be very much interested in what is better, when, after his departure out of the body, he gains knowledge of the difference between virtue and vice and finds that he is not able to partake of divinity until he has been purged of the filthy contagion in his soul by the purifying fire."
(Gregory of Nyssa, Sermon on the Dead, 382 A.D.)
"Let us then give them aid and perform commemoration for them. For if the children of Job were purged by the sacrifice of their father, why dost thou doubt that when we too offer for the departed, some consolation arises to them? since God is wont to grant the petitions of those who ask for others. And this Paul signified saying, "that in a manifold Person your gift towards us bestowed by many may be acknowledged with thanksgiving on your behalf." (2
Corinthians chapter 1, verse 11) Let us not then be weary in giving aid to the departed, both by offering on their behalf and obtaining prayers for them: for the common Expiation of the world is even before us. Therefore with boldness do we then intreat for the whole world, and name their names with those of martyrs, of confessors, of priests. For in truth one body are we all, though some members are more glorious than others; and it is possible from every source to gather pardon for them, from our prayers, from our gifts in their behalf, from those whose names are named with theirs. Why therefore dost thou grieve? Why mourn, when it is in thy power to gather so much pardon for the departed?"
(John Chrysostom, Homily 51:8 on the First Corinthians, 392 A.D.)