A barefoot woman, in the cold and pouring rain, climbs Croagh Patrick in Ireland. A man on his death bed desperately calls for his parish priest to perform Extreme Unction. A couple presses money into the hand of a priest, earnestly asking him to say Mass for a deceased loved one. A teenager crawls on hands and knees through a cathedral, praying fervently at each Station of the Cross. What do all of these people have in common? They are seeking to lessen their time, or the time of their loved ones, in Purgatory.
Is there such a thing? Millions of people influenced by the teachings of Roman Catholicism believe there is. But first, what is Purgatory?
The Catholic Definition
“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect…The tradition of the Church… speaks of a cleansing fire.” (Cathechism of the Catholic Church, III. 1030, 1031).
The Catholic Encyclopedia further explains Rome’s views on this subject: “God requires satisfaction, and will punish sin, and this doctrine involves as its necessary consequence a belief that the sinner failing to do penance in this life may be punished in another world, and so not be cast off eternally from God.”
Purgatory, then, by Catholic definition, is an intermediate state between life and heaven, where the Catholic faithful will suffer until full satisfaction for their faults and sins has been made. This suffering will be by cleansing fire, a torment much worse and more painful than any fire on earth. According to Catholic teaching, the length of this torment varies depending upon how much purification needs to be accomplished, but a soul’s stay in purgatory can be shortened by the penance, sacrifices, and good works of the person before they die, as well as by those of their friends and loved ones who still live. A loved one can help shorten the deceased’s torment by paying priests to say Mass on their behalf. And the Pope can issue indulgences to this effect, as well.
On the surface of these things, one can see why the doctrine of Purgatory appeals to the best hopes of people who are conscious of their own unworthiness and sin. No one truly wants to be eternally lost, nor do they want their loved ones to be. But, when it comes to things of eternal import, we can leave nothing to chance and dare not build our hopes on mere human emotion or wishful thinking. What God reveals in His Word about death and the afterlife is the only truth upon which it is safe to stake our everlasting destiny.
Where Do They Get This From?
Roman Catholic teaching props up its doctrine of Purgatory on a single verse in the apocrypha, on the traditions of early church fathers removed in time from the original apostles (tradition), on false allusions from biblical parables, and from its own councils. They even adduce that both Jews and ancient pagans (two groups most decidedly not Christian) believed in this intermediate state as proof of its validity. All of this, rather than establishing the certainty of it, makes the teaching of Purgatory supra-biblical at best and dangerous at worst. Surely, such a doctrine, if it were gospel truth, would be plainly revealed in the Word of God. But just what does His Word say on this matter?
Death Seals Our Eternal Condition
The Bible teaches that the moment of death firmly fixes the soul’s condition. The righteous enter into eternal rest and peace in God’s presence, and sinners enter into torment.
“And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments…” Luke 16:22-23.
“And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43.
“We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:8.
In addition to this, the Scriptures teach that there is no progression of grace after death. Our eternal destiny is determined by the things we have done while we are in the body.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” 2 Corinthians 5:10.
“And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” Revelation 20:12b.
Christ’s Atonement is All Efficacious
The Word of God emphatically declares that man cannot by his own works atone or satisfy the demands of a holy and just God. Only the sacrifice of the sinless Christ on the cross could pay the penalty of God’s justice. The atonement effected by Christ on our behalf is offered freely to those who come in faith to God by Him.
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” Isaiah 64:6a.
“But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.” Romans 5:8-9.
“For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” Hebrews 10:14. Who, then, are the sanctified? True believers! “But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:11.
“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…If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:7, 9.
“How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Hebrews 9:14.
Most assuredly, these things are true. What need is there then of a future cleansing fire? Belief in purgatory renders the sacrifice of the cross no more powerful than the Old Testament sacrifices of bulls and goats, which could never cleanse the consciences of people. The atonement of God is a perfect plan that redeems the soul from the penalty of sin.
Sin Must Be Taken Care of in This Life
The penalty for sin is spiritual death in this life and the next. Jesus Christ came to deliver us from both the penalty and the power of sin.
“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Hebrews 2:14-15.
“Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. He that commiteth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” 1 John 3:6, 8.
“Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” 2 Corinthians 6:2b.
Christians experience this deliverance from sin in this present life. They do not face a future bleak with a fiery punishment.
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Romans 8:1.
The Issue of Money
The doctrine of Purgatory is tied to money. The purchasing of a priest’s time to say Mass, the money required in making pilgrimages. and the sale of indulgences down through the years demonstrate this very uncomfortable and inexplicable fact. It is inexplicable, because, according to Catholic belief, the Church maintains a treasury of merits, and the Pope can dispense these as he deems appropriate. If this is true, one wonders why this treasury is not emptied forthwith, in the name of common humanity and mercy, to immediately release all souls from the purgatorial state. While it may be true that the poor are not currently required to pay for the saying of Mass, what of requiring anyone to pay? God proclaims pardon and salvation freely to everyone who believes on Christ:
“Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Isaiah 55:1.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8.
A False Hope
What shall we say then to these things? Let God be true, but every man a liar. All false doctrine has one purpose—to keep people from knowing the full extent of the love and power of God that they may be eternally lost. We see abundant proof in the Scriptures that Purgatory is not biblical. Death ends our earthly probation and seals our destiny. Sin must be dealt with fully in this life, and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is the sufficient satisfaction of the justice of God. God offers His salvation and the assurance of eternal life without money, and without price.
Purgatory, then, is a false hope. The Catholic system of religion cannot promise its adherents what the Bible so plainly and freely promises them—freedom from sin and entry upon death into the presence of the Lord.
Precious soul, we urge you to break off your sins and fly to Christ for pardon and victory in this life, that in the life to come you will find eternal peace and rest without fear of torment.