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Pugatory is a belief that is unique to the Roman Catholic Church. Other Christian denominations reject the concept. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that purgatory is a place or state of punishment or purification that occurs after death for Christians before they can enter heaven. It is not hell, because hell is a permanent state - eternal separation from God. Purgatory is only a temporary state, and once purified, the Christian enters heaven.

The word "Purgatory" comes from the Latin word purgare, meaning "to purify."

Purgatory is intimately connected to a few other Catholic ideas: substitutionary atonement, indulgences, and prayers for the dead.

History and Doctrine

Though there are some Scriptural verses which Catholics use to argue the doctrine of purgatory (such as 1 Corinthians 3:11-15), support chiefly comes from Tradition. The first Church Father to speculate about purgatory was Augustine of Hippo, who quoted Matthew 12:32 and said "that some sinners are not forgiven either in this world or in the next would not be truly said unless there were other sinners who, though not forgiven in this world, are forgiven in the world to come." This idea was primarily conjecture for Augustine, and it was not instituted as church doctrine until the papacy of Gregory the Great (590-604). For Gregory, purgatory was a place where souls offered satisfaction to God for sins committed, which was a prerequisite for entering heaven.

After the rise of Scholasticism and the introduction of the substitutionary theory of atonement by Anselm of Canterbury, the doctrine of purgatory underwent a gradual change. Since Anselm affirmed that the crucifixion of Jesus was sufficient to offer satisfaction to God, repentance has taken a higher priority in all of Catholic life and doctrine, including that of purgatory. Thus there is now an element of repentance tied in with purgatory; souls in purgatory are offered a chance to repent of the sins they did not repent of in physical life.

Catholics affirm that God metes out temporal punishment even to believers (see, for example, Numbers 20:11-12). They also believe that sins are forgiven if and only if they are repented of (Isaiah 55:7, Luke 17:3-4). Catholics do not treat sin as a collective entity that one can dispose of in whole; if one repents of one sin but not of another, then one is not fully repentant and thus not fully forgiven. Since God cannot behold evil (Habbakuk 1:13), Catholics claim it follows that one must be fully repentant of all sins before entering heaven. Since it is unlikely that one will be able to fully repent of all sins in this life, they argue, purgatory is offered as a place to do that, instead of eternal damnation.


C.S. Lewis, Letters To Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, chapter 20, paragraphs 7-10, pages 108-109

Our souls demand Purgatory, don't they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, 'It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy'? Should we not reply, 'With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I'd rather be cleaned first.' 'It may hurt, you know' - 'Even so, sir.'


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