Did the Early Church Teach Purgatory?

By COGwriter

While Roman Catholics teach a doctrine about a place called purgatory, neither the Continuing Church of God nor the Eastern Orthodox do.

One of the reasons there is debate on this matter is that the term "purgatory" itself is not listed in the Bible nor is it listed as a specific place.

Was the teaching about purgatory something that the apostles and earlier professors of Christ taught or was it something that developed over time? Does God have have a plan to help those that did not become saints in this life?

This article hopes to answer those questions.

Purgatory From the Orthodox and the Catholics

Here is some information about its alleged purpose from The Catholic Encyclopedia:

Purgatory (Lat., "purgare", to make clean, to purify) in accordance with Catholic teaching is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God's grace, are, not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions. (Hanna, Edward J. Purgatory. Transcribed by William G. Bilton, Ph.D. Purgatory. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XII. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

But the Bible tells of no such place. Nor is the word 'purgatory' in the Holy Scriptures.

Here are statements from two Orthodox bishops:

Today most if not all Orthodox theologians reject the idea of Purgatory (Ware T. The Orthodox Church. Penguin Books, London, 1997, p.255).

Disavowing a belief in the Western "Purgatory," our Church believes that a change is possible during this intermediate state and stage (Aghiorgoussis, Maximos. The Dogmatic Tradition of the Orthodox Church. Copyright:  © 1990-1996. http://www.goarch.org/en/ourfaith/articles/article8038.asp  viewed 12/25/07).

The Catholic Encyclopedia correctly states:

The modern Orthodox Church denies purgatory…(Hanna, Edward J. Purgatory. Transcribed by William G. Bilton, Ph.D. Purgatory. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XII. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Yet some modern Catholics seem to want to blur the distinction between what was actually believed as the following Roman Catholic bishop-approved writing titled The Roots of Purgatory quoted below demonstrates:

Jews, Catholics, and the Eastern Orthodox have always historically proclaimed the reality of the final purification. It was not until the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century that anyone denied this doctrine. As the quotes below from the early Church Fathers show, purgatory has been part of the Christian faith from the very beginning…

"And after the exhibition, Tryphaena again received her [Thecla]. For her daughter Falconilla had died, and said to her in a dream: ‘Mother, you shall have this stranger Thecla in my place, in order that she may pray concerning me, and that I may be transferred to the place of the righteous’" (Acts of Paul and Thecla [A.D. 160])…

"[T]hat very night, this was shown to me in a vision: I [Perpetua] saw Dinocrates going out from a gloomy place, where also there were several others, and he was parched and very thirsty, with a filthy countenance and pallid color, and the wound on his face which he had when he died. This Dinocrates had been my brother after the flesh, seven years of age, who died miserably with disease. . . . For him I had made my prayer, and between him and me there was a large interval, so that neither of us could approach to the other . . . and [I] knew that my brother was in suffering. But I trusted that my prayer would bring help to his suffering; and I prayed for him every day until we passed over into the prison of the camp, for we were to fight in the camp-show. Then . . . I made my prayer for my brother day and night, groaning and weeping that he might be granted to me. Then, on the day on which we remained in fetters, this was shown to me: I saw that the place which I had formerly observed to be in gloom was now bright; and Dinocrates, with a clean body well clad, was finding refreshment. . . . [And] he went away from the water to play joyously, after the manner of children, and I awoke. Then I understood that he was translated from the place of punishment" (The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity 2:3–4 [A.D. 202])...(Catholic Answers. The Roots of Purgatory. NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors. Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004 . IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827 permission to publish this work is hereby granted. +Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004. http://www.catholic.com/library/Roots_of_Purgatory.asp viewed 12/25/05).

Not quite—neither the Orthodox nor the Jews teach the Roman Catholic version of purgatory.

Furthermore, neither the Acts of Paul and Thecla nor The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity are truly accepted as writings of “early Church Fathers,” but instead the passages above offered as proof for purgatory suggest demonic visions to this writer. 

No serious scholar that I am aware of believes that the Apostle Paul had involvement with Thecla.  And even Catholic scholars have wondered if the Perpetua story was a development of the Montanists, a group that the Catholics condemned in the early third century (see Chapman J. Montanists. The Catholic Encyclopedia).  Thus to suggest that “purgatory” itself was believed even by Roman Catholics from the beginning does not seem to have legitimate support.

Neither Did Early Christians Nor Greco-Roman Church Leaders Teach Purgatory as Commonly Understood

Early Christians believed that God had a plan that would offer salvation to everyone not called in the Church age to be given that opportunity after the white throne judgment--this was based upon sacred scripture (see Universal Offer of Salvation: There Are Hundreds of Verses in the Bible Supporting the Doctrine of True Apocatastasis). They believed in a doctrine that I have labeled as true apocatastasis.  They believed that due to the judgment in Revelation 20:11-13, people would be offered salvation who had not rejected it.  And as numerous previous quotes in this text have demonstrated, many objected to purgatory prior to the Protestant Reformation.

The Catholic Encyclopedia itself admits that early Christians did not teach its current concept of its purgatory doctrine:

Some stress too has been laid upon the objection that the ancient Christians had no clear conception of purgatory, and that they thought that the souls departed remained in uncertainty of salvation to the last day...There are several passages in the New Testament that point to a process of purification after death. Thus, Jesus Christ declares (Matthew 12:32): "And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come"...(Hanna, Purgatory. The Catholic Encyclopedia).

So what was taught in the second century?

Essentially after the judgment, it was believed that unsaved humans (those who did not become saints in this life) who did not knowingly reject God’s way of life would have 100 hundred years to live (in accordance with Isaiah 65:20) and that nearly all would then accept God’s offer of salvation. There was also nothing resembling All Saint's Day nor All Souls' Day taught by second century Christians, though some apostates may have kept to related pagan practices (see also All Saints' Day, the Day of the Dead, and All Souls' Day).

Irenaeus, most likely learned of this 100 year doctrine from Bishop Polycarp.  And although he may not have understood it correctly, Irenaeus (circa 180 A.D.) mentioned that the Gentiles will be called during this hundred year time:

Daniel also says this very thing: "And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of those under the heaven, is given to the saints of the Most High God, whose kingdom is everlasting, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him." And lest the promise named should be understood as referring to this time, it was declared to the prophet: "And come thou, and stand in thy lot at the consummation of the days."

Now, that the promises were not announced to the prophets and the fathers alone, but to the Churches united to these from the nations, whom also the Spirit terms "the islands" (both because they are established in the midst of turbulence, suffer the storm of blasphemies, exist as a harbour of safety to those in peril, and are the refuge of those who love the height [of heaven], and strive to avoid Bythus, that is, the depth of error), Jeremiah thus declares: "Hear the word of the LORD, ye nations, and declare it to the isles afar off; say ye, that the LORD will scatter Israel, He will gather him, and keep him, as one feeding his flock of sheep...

And yet again does he say the same thing: "Behold, I make Jerusalem a rejoicing, and my people [a joy]; for the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying. Also there shall not be there any immature [one], nor an old man who does not fulfil his time: for the youth shall be of a hundred years; and the sinner shall die a hundred years old, yet shall be accursed. And they shall build houses, and inhabit them themselves; and shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them themselves, and shall drink wine. And they shall not build, and others inhabit; neither shall they prepare the vineyard, and others eat. For as the days of the tree of life shall be the days of the people in thee; for the works of their hands shall endure" (Irenaeus. Adversus haereses, Book V, Chapter 34, Verses 2-3,4).

Even though he did not understand it fully, in the early third century, Origen of Alexandria (who the current Pope Benedict XVI praised) also seemed to understand that the Bible taught that salvation would be offered to all. 

Here are some quotes from Origen:

...the good Father has not entirely deserted those who have fallen away from Him (Origen. Commentary on the Gospel of John (Book I). Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 9. Edited by Allan Menzies, D.D. American Edition, 1896 and 1897. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

It is to be borne in mind, however, that certain beings who fell away from that one beginning of which we have spoken, have sunk to such a depth of unworthiness and wickedness as to be deemed altogether undeserving of that training and instruction by which the human race, while in the flesh, are trained and instructed with the assistance of the heavenly powers; and continue, on the contrary, in a state of enmity and opposition to those who are receiving this instruction and teaching. And hence it is that the whole of this mortal life is full of struggles and trials, caused by the opposition and enmity of those who fell from a better condition without at all looking back, and who are called the devil and his angels, and the other orders of evil, which the apostle classed among the opposing powers. But whether any of these orders who act under the government of the devil, and obey his wicked commands, will in a future world be converted to righteousness because of their possessing the faculty of freedom of will, or whether persistent and inveterate wickedness may be changed by the power of habit into nature, is a result which you yourself, reader, may approve of, if neither in these present worlds which are seen and temporal, nor in those which are unseen and are eternal, that portion is to differ wholly from the final unity and fitness of things (Origen. De Principiis, Book I, Chapter 6, verse 3.  Online edition Copyright © 2008 by Kevin Knight).

...and thus, through the numerous and uncounted orders of progressive beings who are being reconciled to God from a state of enmity, the last enemy is finally reached, who is called death, so that he also may be destroyed, and no longer be an enemy. When, therefore, all rational souls shall have been restored to a condition of this kind, then the nature of this body of ours will undergo a change into the glory of a spiritual body. For as we see it not to be the case with rational natures, that some of them have lived in a condition of degradation owing to their sins, while others have been called to a state of happiness on account of their merits; but as we see those same souls who had formerly been sinful, assisted, after their conversion and reconciliation to God, to a state of happiness (Origen. De Principiis, Book III, Chapter 6, verse 6).

While we in the real Church of God would not word it quite that way, these quotes do show that the idea that God has a plan that will give the unrepentant an opportunity after this present age is not a new concept.

Jerome said that Origen taught a view:

...that which asserts that in the restitution of the world each thing will become what it was originally created;...that the souls of men will become such as they were originally formed; that is, by the reforming process will become not angels but that which God originally made them, so that the just and the sinners will be on an equality (Jerome. Apology Against Rufinus: Addressed to Pammachius and Marcella from Bethlehem, A.D. 402., Book I, Chapter 27. Online edition Copyright © 2008 by Kevin Knight).

And that is what the term apocatastasis basically means—it means a time of restoration.  A time is coming when the earth will be restored so that just like in the Garden of Eden, humans will have an opportunity to accept or reject God’s way of life.

Besides Origen, there were others who wrote that salvation would not be limited to only a few.  Here is some of what bishop Ambrose of Milan wrote in the late fourth century:

Isaiah also, proclaiming the resurrection to the people, says that he is the announcer of the Lord’s message, for we read thus: “For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken, and they shall say in that day.” And what the mouth of the Lord declared that the people should say is set forth later on, where it is written: “Because of Thy fear, O Lord, we have been with child and have brought forth the Spirit of Thy Salvation, which Thou hast poured forth upon the earth. They that inhabit the earth shall fall, they shall rise that are in the graves. For the dew which is from Thee is health for them but the land of the wicked shall perish. Go, O my people, and enter into thy chambers; hide thyself for a little until the Lord’s wrath pass by.” How well did he by the chambers point out the tombs of the dead, in which for a brief space we are hidden, that we may be better able to pass to the judgment of God, which shall try us with the indignation due for our wickednesses. He, then, is alive who is hidden and at rest, as though withdrawing himself from our midst and retiring, lest the misery of this world should entangle him with closer snares, for whom the heavenly oracles affirm by the voices of the prophets that the joy of the resurrection is reserved, and the soundness of their freed bodies procured by the divine deed. And dew is well used as a sign, since by it all vital seeds of the earth are raised to growth. What wonder is it, then, if the dust and ashes also of our failing body grow vigorous by the richness of the heavenly dew, and by the reception of this vital moistening the shapes of our limbs are refashioned and connected again with each other? And the holy prophet Ezekiel teaches and describes with a full exposition how vigour is restored to the dry bones, the senses return, motion is added, and the sinews coming back, the joints of the human body grow strong; how the bones which were very dry are clothed with restored flesh, and the course of the veins and the flow of the blood is covered by the veil of the skin drawn over them. As we read, the reviving multitude of human bodies seems to spring up under the very words of the prophet, and one can see on the widespread plain the new seed shoot forth...

this is the privilege not only of a few: “For many shall come from the east and from the west, and the north and the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God,”giving expression to the enjoyment of perpetual rest since the motions of their souls are stilled. We have seen, then, how grave an offence it is not to believe the resurrection; for if we rise not again, then Christ died in vain, then Christ rose not again. For if He rose not for us, He certainly rose not at all, for He had no need to rise for Himself. The universe rose again in Him, the heaven rose again in Him, the earth rose again in Him, for there shall be a new heaven and a new earth (Ambrose of Milan. Book II. On the Belief in the Resurrection, verses 67-69,101-102. Online edition Copyright © 2008 by Kevin Knight).

Even though it is not entirely clearly to them how, most of the Orthodox still teach that most may be saved according to some of its current leaders:

What exactly is the condition of souls in the period between death and the Resurrection of the Body at the Last Day? Here Orthodox teaching is not entirely clear...The majority would be inclined to say that the faithful departed do not suffer at all. Another school holds that perhaps they suffer, but if so, their suffering is of a purificatory but not an expiratory character. Yet a third group would prefer to leave the whole question entirely open: let us avoid detailed formulation about the life after death...There is no terrorism in the Orthodox doctrine of God...several of the Fathers have none the less believed that in the end all will be reconciled to God. It is heretical to say that all must be saved, for this is to deny free will; but it is a legitimate hope that all may be saved. Until the Last Day come, we must not despair of anyone's salvation, but must long and pray for the reconciliation of all without exception (Ware, pp. 255,262).

The theory of apokatastasis has unofficially cost Gregory of Nyssa for many centuries recognition as a theologian of the rank of Basil, Gregory of Nazianzos and John Chrysostom, and was one of the reasons Origen was anathematized. Yet in some ways it can also be found in the theology of Maximos the Confessor, a Father of the Church who has often been considered the measure of orthodoxy in doctrinal matters and the summit of Orthodox theology. The ideas of Maximos can be connected to the concept of apokatastasis in three different ways. First, he has written some passages that pertain explicitly on the apokatastasis. Second, some issues examined in his writings can be connected with the apokatastasis, and this association has been drawn by certain scholars, but Maximos refuses to discuss them in detail, in the apophatic expression he borrowed from pseudo-Dionysios, "honoring the truth by silence". Third, Maximos' entire theological system of cosmic salvation and his views on what exactly is restored in the kind of apokatastasis recognized by the Church, can give us a good insight to his views on the possibility of a final restoration of all...

This kind of restoration presents an interesting point for us: to what extent did Maximos share Gregory's (and Origen's) view of final restoration of all as an eschatological certainty?

First, Maximos seems to compare the restoration of the soul to the resurrection of the body: that would mean that this kind of restoration applies to all and not only to the ones who have progressed sufficiently in the course of virtue. It is an ontological restoration then, something like a consequence of the resurrection of the body. Second, restoration of the souls seems to suggest the annihilation of evil, because the effects of sin are healed. This will be achieved by the expulsion of evil from the souls in the continuation of the ages. Finally, all restored souls will come to know God and see that he is anaitios tês hamartias, not responsible for the existence of sin, which is the same as saying they will know the true nature of good and evil. The "perverted" powers of the soul will then cast off the memories and the effect of evil, and in a way similar to the thought of Gregory of Nyssa, this involves punishment and purification. Maximos leaves the issue there: His restoration account goes as far as to state that every soul will have knowledge of "good things" (agatha – probably the energies of God), but not necessarily participation in them (Andreopoulos A. Eschatology and final restoration (apokatastasis) in Origen, Gregory of Nyssa and Maximos the Confessor. Theandros, An Online Journal of Orthodox Christian Theology and Philosophy. Volume 1, 3, 2004).

The Orthodox leader Maximos died in 662.  Thus, though they lack clarity about it, it appears that leaders within the Orthodox Church have held positions close to the genuine Church of God on the idea that salvation will be eventually offered to all, but not accepted by all. And even today, the Orthodox Church seems to believe in some version of restoration, which has sometimes been termed apocatastasis (see also Acts 3:21, which uses the Greek word apokatastasis). 

Now the idea that those who are in in Hades (which while meaning the place of the dead is believed by modern Roman Catholics to include purgatory) could repent was specifically condemned by the Catholic and Orthodox saint Cyprian of Carthage (who spoke Latin) in the third century:

In hades, there is no repentance...there is no confession in hades.

(Cited in Cleenewerck L. His Broken Body: Understanding and Healing the Schism Between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches (An Orthodox Perspective). Euclid University Consortium Press, Washington (DC), 2007, p. 352).

Thus, the idea of "purgatory" where sinners could be purged of their sins was not taught even by Greco-Roman church leaders.

Purgatory, for the Church of Rome, Started to Emerge in the Late 4th Century

However, from the late 4th century, controversies developed and parts of Origen’s teachings were questioned. 

Specifically near then, Augustine started to come up with ideas that sound like modern purgatory.  Eventually he and others challenged apocatastasis.  Notice that The Catholic Encyclopedia admits that various early leaders taught apocatastasis, that Augustine and others challenged it, and that purification was associated with apocatastasis:

St. Gregory recurs to the same thought of the final annihilation of evil, in his "Oratio catechetica", ch. xxvi; the same comparison of fire which purges gold of its impurities is to be found there; so also shall the power of God purge nature of that which is preternatural, namely, of evil. Such purification will be painful, as is a surgical operation, but the restoration will ultimately be complete. And, when this restoration shall have been accomplished (he eis to archaion apokatastasis ton nyn en kakia keimenon), all creation shall give thanks to God, both the souls which have had no need of purification, and those that shall have needed it…

The doctrine of the apokatastasis is not, indeed, peculiar to St. Gregory of Nyssa, but is taken from Origen…

 It was through Origen that the Platonist doctrine of the apokatastasis passed to St. Gregory of Nyssa, and simultaneously to St. Jerome, at least during the time that St. Jerome was an Origenist.

From the moment, however, that anti-Origenism prevailed, the doctrine of the apokatastasis was definitely abandoned. St. Augustine protests more strongly than any other writer against an error so contrary to the doctrine of the necessity of grace…

We note, further, that the doctrine of the apokatastasis was held in the East, not only by St. Gregory of Nyssa, but also by St. Gregory of Nazianzus as well; "De seipso", 566 (P.G., XXXVII, col. 1010) grace…

In any case, the doctrine was formally condemned in the first of the famous anathemas pronounced at the Council of Constantinople in 543: Ei tis ten teratode apokatastasis presbeuei anathema esto (Batiffel, Pierre. Transcribed by Elizabeth T. Knuth. Apocatastasis. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Thus it appears that the protests of Augustine eventually led to the condemnation of the doctrine of apocatastasis but the retention of purging/purification within Roman circles.  The Greek churches, however never abandoned apocatastasis nor did they ever adopt the Roman purgatory.

Yet, concerning purgatory, a relatively recent Catholic bishop-approved article claimed:

Fundamentalists may be fond of saying the Catholic Church "invented" the doctrine of purgatory to make money, but they have difficulty saying just when. Most professional anti-Catholics—the ones who make their living attacking "Romanism"—seem to place the blame on Pope Gregory the Great, who reigned from A.D. 590–604…

Whenever a date is set for the "invention" of purgatory, you can point to historical evidence to show the doctrine was in existence before that date. Besides, if at some point the doctrine was pulled out of a clerical hat, why does ecclesiastical history record no protest against it?

…where are the records of protests?

They don’t exist. There is no hint at all…

It is no wonder, then, that those who deny the existence of purgatory tend to touch upon only briefly the history of the belief…(Catholic Answers. Purgatory.  NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors. Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004. IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827 permission to publish this work is hereby granted. +Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004, http://www.catholic.com/library/Purgatory.asp  viewed 12/23/07).

History indicates that the above assertions are not quite accurate.

First of all, there seems to be no records of any major protest about the millennial teaching being abandoned by both Jerome and Augustine, hence having limited records of protest does not prove something did not change (see Did The Early Church Teach Millenarianism?).

Secondly, history records that there was a condemnation of apocatastasis. Yet at that time, many Roman leaders realized that scripture did indicate that the opportunity for salvation did not clearly end at the first death. 

Notice the following from The Catholic Encyclopedia:

Certain Scriptural texts, e.g., I Cor. xv, 25-28, seem to extend to all rational beings the benefit of the Redemption, and Origen allows himself to be led also by the philosophical principle which he enunciates several times, without ever proving it, that the end is always like the beginning..The universal restoration (apokatastasis) follows necessarily from these principles (Prat F. Transcribed by Anthony A. Killeen. Origen and Origenism. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

There are several passages in the New Testament that point to a process of purification after death. Thus, Jesus Christ declares (Matthew 12:32): "And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come." According to St. Isidore of Seville (Deord. creatur., c. xiv, n. 6) these words prove that in the next life "some sins will be forgiven and purged away by a certain purifying fire." St. Augustine also argues "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" (De Civ. Dei, XXI, xxiv). The same interpretation is given by Gregory the Great (Dial., IV, xxxix); St. Bede (commentary on this text); St. Bernard (Sermo lxvi in Cantic., n. 11) and other eminent theological writers (Hanna, Purgatory. The Catholic Encyclopedia).

And if what Irenaeus and Origen taught earlier was not going to be doctrine, then the Romans figured that something needed to fill in.  Hence came more discussion of purgatory and of its emergence within Roman pontifical circles.

Gregory the Great speaks of those who after this life "will expiate their faults by purgatorial flames," and he adds "that the pain be more intolerable than any one can suffer in this life" (Ps. 3 poenit., n. 1) (Hanna, Purgatory. The Catholic Encyclopedia). 

This is quite different than what Origen taught, as Origen taught that somehow people would be purified on earth (which is consistent with the 100 year period referred to in this chapter, though Origen seems to refer to Zechariah 5) (Origen. Contra Celsus, Book VI, Chapter 26).

While it is clear that by the seventh century, purgatorial ideas were being taught, the idea was not taught so clearly to alienate the Greeks as they did not separate from the Romans until 1054 A.D.  But those associated with the Churches of God quickly saw problems with it.

Not surprisingly, the book Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma states that the Cathari and Waldenses (who preceded the Protestants by centuries) were amongst the earliest who were against the Roman teaching on purgatory:

The reality of purgatory was denied by the Cathari, the Waldenses (Ott L.  Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma.  Nihil Obstat: Jeremiah j. O’Sullivan.  Imprimatur: +Cornelius Ep. Corgagiensis ei Ap. Amd. Rossensis, 7 October 1954.  Reprint TAN Books, Rockford (IL), 1974, p. 482).

Since purgatory is not a biblical reality, it would make sense that those with true Church of God would oppose such concepts. Actually, the Waldensians considered purgatory to be a doctrine of Antichrist, and the following appears to be from the 12th century:

"Antichrist is a falsehood, or deceit varnished over with the semblance of truth, and of the righteousness of Christ and his spouse, yet in opposition to the way of truth, righteousness, faith, hope, charity, as well as to moral life. It is not any particular person ordained to any degree, or office, or ministry, but it is a system of falsehood, opposing itself to the truth, covering and adorning itself with a show of beauty and piety, yet very unsuitable to the church of Christ, as by the names, and offices, the Scriptures, and the sacraments, and various other things, may appear. The system of iniquity thus completed with its ministers, great and small, supported by those who are induced to follow it with an evil heart and blind-fold—this is the congregation, which, taken together, comprises what is called Antichrist or Babylon, the fourth beast, the whore, the man of sin, the son of perdition. His ministers are called false prophets, lying teachers, the ministers of darkness, the spirit of error, the apocalyptic whore, the mother of harlots, clouds without water, trees without leaves, twice dead, plucked up by the roots, wandering stars, Balaamites and Egyptians.

"He is termed Antichrist because being disguised under the names of Christ and of his church and faithful members, he oppugns the salvation which Christ wrought out, and which is truly administered in his church—and of which salvation believers participate by faith, hope, and charity. Thus he opposes the truth by the wisdom of this world, by false religion, by counterfeit holiness, by ecclesiastical power, by secular tyranny, and by the riches, honours, dignities, with the pleasures and delicacies of this world. It should therefore be carefully observed, that Antichrist could not come, without a concurrence of all these things, making up a system of hypocrisy and falsehood—these must be, the wise of this world, the religious orders, the pharisees, ministers, and doctors; the secular power, with the people of the world, all mingled together. For although Antichrist was conceived in the times of the apostles, he was then in his infancy, imperfect and unformed, rude, unshapen, and wanting utterance. He then wanted those hypocritical ministers and human ordinances, and the outward show of religious orders which he afterwards obtained. As he was destitute of riches and other endowments necessary to allure to himself ministers for his service, and to enable him to multiply, defend, and protect his adherents, so he also wanted the secular power to force others to forsake the truth and embrace falsehood. But growing up in his members, that is, in his blind and dissembling ministers, and in worldly subjects, he at length arrived at full maturity, when men, whose hearts were set upon this world, blind in the faith, multiplied in the church, and by the union of church and state, got the power of both into their hands.

"Christ never had an enemy like this; so able to pervert the way of truth into falsehood, insomuch that the true church, with her children, is trodden under foot. The worship that belongs alone to God he transfers to Antichrist himself—to the creature, male and female, deceased—to images, carcasses, and relics. The sacrament of the eucharist is converted into an object of adoration, and the worshipping of God alone is prohibited. He robs the Saviour of his merits, and the sufficiency of his grace in justification, regeneration, remission of sins, sanctification, establishment in the faith, and spiritual nourishment; ascribing all these things to his own authority, to a form of words, to his own *works, to the intercession of saints, and to the fire of purgatory. He seduces the people from Christ, drawing off their minds from seeking those blessings in him, by a lively faith in God, in Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit, and teaching his followers to expect them by the *will and pleasure and works of Antichrist. (A Treatise concerning Antichrist, Purgatory, the Invocation of Saints, and the Sacraments" as shown in Jones, William. The history of the Christian church from the birth of Christ to the xviii. century, Volumes 1-2, 3rd edition. R.W. Pomeroy, 1832. Original from Harvard University, Digitized, Feb 6, 2009, pp. 337-340) 

In the thirteenth century, the famed Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas wrote the following:

Nothing is clearly stated in Scripture about the situation of Purgatory, nor is it possible to offer convincing arguments on this question. It is probable, however, and more in keeping with the statements of holy men and the revelations made to many, that there is a twofold place of Purgatory. One, according to the common law; and thus the place of Purgatory is situated below... Another place of Purgatory is according to dispensation: and thus sometimes, as we read, some are punished in various places, either that the living may learn, or that the dead may be succored, seeing that their punishment being made known to the living may be mitigated through the prayers of the Church.

Some say, however, that according to the common law the place of Purgatory is where man sins. This does not seem probable, since a man may be punished at the same time for sins committed in various places. And others say that according to the common law they are punished above us, because they are between us and God, as regards their state. But this is of no account, for they are not punished for being above us, but for that which is lowest in them, namely sin (Aquinas T. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Appendix II, Article 1. Second and Revised Edition, 1920. Nihil Obstat. F. Innocentius Apap, O.P., S.T.M., Censor. Theol. Imprimatur. Edus. Canonicus Surmont, Vicarius eneralis. Westmonasterii. APPROBATIO ORDINIS Nihil Obstat. F. Raphael Moss, O.P., S.T.L. and F. Leo Moore, O.P., S.T.L. Imprimatur. F. Beda Jarrett, O.P., S.T.L., A.M., Prior Provincialis Angliæ).

Even though it taught purgatory, clearly the Roman Church did not have an absolutely clear position on purgatory in the 13th century.  But Aquinas taught that purgatory would be quite painful:

I answer that, In Purgatory there will be a twofold pain; one will be the pain of loss, namely the delay of the divine vision, and the pain of sense, namely punishment by corporeal fire. With regard to both the least pain of Purgatory surpasses the greatest pain of this life…

Therefore it follows that the pain of Purgatory, both of loss and of sense, surpasses all the pains of this life (Aquinas T. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Appendix I, Article 1.).

One Catholic scholar, E. Duffy, felt that in 1300 Pope Boniface VIII enriched the Church of Rome through the granting of a particular indulgence to the masses:

Boniface is a mysterious man, proud, ambitious fierce...It was Boniface who declared the first Jubilee or Holy Year in 1300, when tens of thousands of pilgrims converged on Rome to gain indulgences, adding enormously to the prestige of the papacy…(and in the process enriching the Roman basilicas, where the sacristans were said to have had to scoop in pilgrim offerings with rakes). This promise of ‘full and copious pardon’ to all who visited Peter and the Lateran after confessing their sins was the most spectacular exercise of power of the keys since Urban II issued the first Crusade Indulgence… Boniface…displayed some of the worst traits of clerical careerism, enriching his relatives at the expense of the Church, and waging a relentless was against family’s traditional rivals (Duffy, Eamon. Saints & Sinners: A History of the Popes. Yale University Press, New Haven (CT), 2002, p. 160).

Indulgences are granted to allegedly reduce time in purgatory. Vatican coffers have received a lot of money from people who give donations to have priests pray for themselves or loved ones to hopefully have less time in purgatory.

Interestingly, when the Catholic Inquisitor Bishop Bernard Guidonis was disposing of those the Catholics refer to as heretics in the 14th century, he noted that some believed the following:

Again, they say that after Antichrist's death these spiritual individuals will convert the entire world to the faith of Christ; and the whole world will be so good and benign that there will be no malice or sin in people of that period, except perhaps for venial sins in a few of them; and all things will be common as far as use is concerned; and there will be no one who offends anyone else or encourages another to sin. For there will be the greatest love among them, and there will be one flock and one pastor. According to some of them this period and condition will last for one hundred years. Then, as love fails, malice will creep back in and slowly increase until Christ is, as it were, compelled to come in universal judgment because of it (Gui B. From the Inquisitor's Manual of Bernard Gui [d.1331], Chapter 5. Early 14th century, translated in J. H. Robinson, Readings in European History, (Boston: Ginn, 1905).

Thus, the idea that the Church of God long has taught that God would offer salvation to all is apparently documented, not only in the pages of the Bible, but through some of the writings of its enemies.

Also notice the following from The Catholic Encyclopedia:

The doctrine of apokatastasis viewed as a belief in a universal salvation is found among the Anabaptists...(Batiffel, Pierre. Transcribed by Elizabeth T. Knuth. Apocatastasis. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Universal salvation, it should be pointed out in this context, is not that God will save everyone, but that God will truly offer salvation to everyone who ever lived. 

Partially because of objections from the Protestant reformers, the Roman Catholics called together the Council of Trent in the mid-16th century, to define certain doctrines.  Here is how it defined the purgatory doctrine:

“Whereas the Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Ghost, has from the Sacred Scriptures and the ancient tradition of the Fathers taught in Councils and very recently in this Ecumenical synod (Sess. VI, cap. XXX; Sess. XXII cap.ii, iii) that there is a purgatory, and that the souls therein are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, but principally by the acceptable Sacrifice of the Altar; the Holy Synod enjoins on the Bishops that they diligently endeavor to have the sound doctrine of the Fathers in Councils regarding purgatory everywhere taught and preached, held and believed by the faithful” (Denzinger, "Enchiridon", 983) (Hanna. Purgatory. The Catholic Encyclopedia).

The more modern Catechism of the Catholic Church, while claiming it had roots in tradition, admits that purgatory was not clearly defined until to councils in the Middle Ages.  Notice what it teaches:

The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect…The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent…This teaching is also based on…Sacred Scripture…Maccabeus…

The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance on behalf of the dead: Let us help and commemorate them…Let us not hesitate to help those that have died…(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1031,1032, p. 291).

It should be noted that the Church of Rome ties purgatory in with a holiday they have called All Soul's Day (see also All Saints Day, the Day of the Dead, and All Soul's Day).

Indulgences

Neither the terms "purgatory" nor "indulgences" are found in the Bible. But they are doctrines that the Church of Rome has often tied together.

Notice the following:

Why Catholic Indulgences Are Making a Comeback
TIME - Feb 22, 2009

It sounds too good to be true. Now, for a limited time — the year of St. Paul, to be specific, which ends in June — say a prayer, pop by a designated church and qualify for an indulgence that deducts time from your scorching sojourn in the cleansing fires of purgatory.

Indulgences (no relation here to bubble baths or truffles) have been part of Catholic doctrine since the Crusades. When the Church offered them for sale in the 1500’s — call it mercy for money — religious reformer Martin Luther protested…

The pardons have fallen by the wayside in the past few decades, but they’re being revived in conjunction with a new emphasis on the importance of charity in Christian life. Catholicism, with 67 million followers in the U.S., is big on formulaic repetition of the Hail Mary and Our Father variety. But the Vatican is starting to move away from that and toward, according to the church’s Manual of Indulgences, a “greater zeal for the exercise of charity.”

…At the core of indulgences is sin, which can lead to either eternal punishment… or time spent in purgatory, a place of suffering where imperfections are scrubbed away in preparation for entering heaven. Confession erases eternal punishment, but temporal punishment remains. Plenary, or full, indulgences are the equivalent of a get-out-of-purgatory-free card. Partial indulgences simply shorten your stay…

Indulgences are a handy marketing tool for the Church, a way of encouraging people to amp up their spiritual life. But figuring out exactly what they are and how they work can be confusing. “It brings people who aren’t Catholic up short,” said David Steinmetz, a professor of the history of Christianity at Duke Divinity School.

The rules can confound even believers. William Damkoehler, an actor from Rhode Island, learned about indulgences as a kid in Catholic school. As an adult, he’s bewildered by them. “It seems like the Church is trying to get business back by offering rebates,” he says.

The essence of plenary, or complete, indulgences is tricky to nail down. They’re granted if you meet specific criteria: go to confession, receive communion, pray for the Pope, visit a particular shrine. How do you know you actually got an indulgence? Faith. http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1881152,00.html

However, precisely when the doctrine of indulgences came about is not clear. It seems to have started to come about in the 7th or later centuries:

In a later period (eighth century to twelfth) it became customary to permit the substitution of some lighter penance for that which the canons prescribed. Thus the Penitential of Egbert , Archbishop of York, declares (XIII, 11): "For him who can comply with what the penitential prescribes, well and good; for him who cannot, we give counsel of God's mercy. Instead of one day on bread and water let him sing fifty psalms on his knees or seventy psalms without genuflecing..."...

The practice of substituting the recitation of psalms or the giving of alms for a portion of the fast is also sanctioned in the Irish Synod of 807, which says (c. xxiv) that the fast of the second day of the week may be "redeemed" by singing one psalter or by giving one denarius to a poor person. Here we have the beginning of the so-called "redemptions" which soon passed into general usage. Among other forms of commutation were pilgrimages to well-known shrines such as that at St. Albans in England or at Compostela in Spain. But the most important place of pilgrimage was Rome. According to Bede (674-735) the "visitatio liminum", or visit to the tomb of the Apostles, was even then regarded as a good work of great efficacy (Hist. Eccl., IV, 23). At first the pilgrims came simply to venerate the relics of the Apostles and martyrs; but in course of time their chief purpose was to gain the indulgences granted by the pope and attached especially to the Stations. Jerusalem, too, had long been the goal of these pious journeys, and the reports which the pilgrims gave of their treatment by the infidels finally brought about the Crusades. At the Council of Clermont (1095) the First Crusade was organized, and it was decreed (can. ii): "Whoever, out of pure devotion and not for the purpose of gaining honor or money, shall go to Jerusalem to liberate the Church of God, let that journey be counted in lieu of all penance". Similar indulgences were granted throughout the five centuries following (Amort, op. cit., 46 sq.), the object being to encourage these expeditions which involved so much hardship and yet were of such great importance for Christendom and civilization...

On the one hand there was the danger that the payment might be regarded as the price of the indulgence, and that those who sought to gain it might lose sight of the more important conditions. On the other hand, those who granted indulgences might be tempted to make them a means of raising money: and, even where the rulers of the Church were free from blame in this matter, there was room for corruption in their officials and agents, or among the popular preachers of indulgences. This class has happily disappeared, but the type has been preserved in Chaucer's "Pardoner", with his bogus relics and indulgences. While it cannot be denied that these abuses were widespread, it should also be noted that, even when corruption was at its worst, these spiritual grants were being properly used by sincere Christians, who sought them in the right spirit, and by priests and preachers, who took care to insist on the need of true repentance. It is therefore not difficult to understand why the Church, instead of abolishing the practice of indulgences, aimed rather at strengthening it by eliminating the evil elements...

One of the worst abuses was that of inventing or falsifying grants of indulgence. Previous to the Reformation, such practices abounded and called out severe pronouncements by ecclesiastical authority, especially by the Fourth Council of the Lateran (1215) and that of Vienne (1311). After the Council of Trent the most important measure taken to prevent such frauds was the establishment of the Congregation of Indulgences. A special commission of cardinals served under Clement VIII and Paul V, regulating all matters pertaining to indulgences. The Congregation of Indulgences was definitively established by Clement IX in 1669 and reorganized by Clement XI in 1710. (Kent, William. "Indulgences." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 23 Feb. 2009 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07783a.htm>)

But while the crusades are given credit for the need for indulgences, it needs to be understood that original Christians would not participate in carnal warfare (Military Service and the Churches of God: Do Real Christians Participate in Carnal Warfare?), hence it was only those that changed from the original Christian teachings who would be interested in other changes, like indulgences.

Perhaps it should be mentioned that although Protestant reformers like Martin Luther objected to both purgatory and indulgences, they failed to look at early Christianity as they condemned original practices such as the age to come doctrine associated with apocatastasis (see Hope of Salvation: How the Continuing Church of God Differs from Protestantism).

And that is a dilemna for many in Western societies. They realize that the Church of Rome has added many non-biblical practices to its faith, while also realizing that what the Protestant reformers put forth was also not original Christianity. But, those who are willing to look into their Bibles and history will realize that the true Church of God has existed from the time of Christ, did not add additional doctrines such as indulgences, and did not take away original doctrines such as the Greco-Romans have.

Now, it may be of interest to note that many consider that a certain appeal to the 'trinity' of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is so important that it will result in the granting of indulgences. Notice:

In a Card, or Fly-leaf, issued by the Popish priests of Sunderland, now lying before me, with the heading "Paschal Duty, St. Mary's Church, Bishopwearmouth, 1859," the following is the 4th admonition given to the "Dear Christians" to whom it is addressed:

"4. And never forget the acts of a good Christian, recommended to you so often during the renewal of the Mission. Blessed be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I give you my heart, my life, and my soul. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, assist me always; and in my last agony, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, receive my last breath. Amen."

To induce the adherents of Rome to perform this "act of a good Christian," a considerable bribe is held out. In p. 30 of Furniss' Manual above referred to, under the head "Rule of Life," the following passage occurs: "In the morning, before you get up, make the sign of the cross, and say, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul. (Each time you say this prayer, you get an indulgence of 100 days, which you can give to the souls in Purgatory)!" I must add that the title of Furniss' book, as given above, is the title of Mr. Smyth's copy. The title of the copy in my possession is "What every Christian must Know." London: Richardson & Son, 147 Strand. Both copies alike have the blasphemous words given in the text, and both have the "Imprimatur" of "Paulus Cullen." (Hislop A. Two Babylons. 1858. Loizeaux Brothers, 2nd American edition 1959, p. 89)

Christians are not to consider that Joseph or Mary are any type of mediator. The Bible is clear that there is just one Mediator--and that is Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).

Specifically in the 21st century, the Church of Rome offers indulgences to eliminate time in purgatory to people see the pope or even who will follow him on social media if they will also go to confession and mass once (see Vatican offering ‘indulgences’ to reduce time in ‘purgatory’ for following Pope Francis on Twitter, etc.).

Something Like Indulgences and Praying Out of Purgatory Was Condemned by Plato

In the fourth century B.C., it appears that Plato condemned as frauds leaders that seemed to teach that money could be used to by favor from the gods. Notice what he wrote in his famous work Republic:

And there are quacks and soothsayers who flock to the rich man's doors, and try to persuade him that they have a power at command, which they procure from heaven...that men may be absolved and purified from crimes, both while they are still alive and even after their decease, by means of certain sacrifices and pleasurable amusements which they call mysteries: which deliver us from the torments of the other world, while the neglect of them is punished by an awful doom (Plato. Republic. Classics of World Literature Wordsworth Classics of World Literature Series. pp. 44,45).

Concluding Comments on Purgatory

So what we see is that the early Christian church did not teach the doctrine of purgatory, that apocatastasis was taught in early times, that in the late 4th century apocatastasis was questioned and something like purgatory proposed and refined in later centuries.

Again, let's look at some of what is admitted by even The Catholic Encyclopedia:

Some stress too has been laid upon the objection that the ancient Christians had no clear conception of purgatory...There are several passages in the New Testament that point to a process of purification after death. Thus, Jesus Christ declares (Matthew 12:32): "And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come"...(Hanna, Purgatory. The Catholic Encyclopedia).

St. Augustine also argues "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" (City of God XXI.24). The same interpretation is given by Gregory the Great (Dial., IV, xxxix). (Hanna, Purgatory. The Catholic Encyclopedia).

St. Gregory recurs to the same thought of the final annihilation of evil, in his "Oratio catechetica", ch. xxvi; the same comparison of fire which purges gold of its impurities is to be found there; so also shall the power of God purge nature of that which is preternatural, namely, of evil. Such purification will be painful, as is a surgical operation, but the restoration will ultimately be complete. And, when this restoration shall have been accomplished (he eis to archaion apokatastasis ton nyn en kakia keimenon), all creation shall give thanks to God, both the souls which have had no need of purification, and those that shall have needed it (Hanna, Purgatory. The Catholic Encyclopedia).

From the moment, however, that anti-Origenism prevailed, the doctrine of the apokatastasis was definitely abandoned. St. Augustine protests more strongly than any other writer against an error so contrary to the doctrine of the necessity of grace…(Batiffel, Apocatastassis. The Catholic Encyclopedia).
It is true that there are some similarities between apocatastasis and purgatory. Both teachings indicate that for those that are not saints now, but who have not knowingly rejected the real truth of God, that there is some type of opportunity for salvation. However, the Roman concept is one of major punishment, while the apocatastasis teaching shows a more positive opportunity for salvation. The Bible itself clearly teaches an age to come where salvation will be available (see Universal Offer of Salvation: There Are Hundreds of Verses in the Bible Supporting the Doctrine of True Apocatastasis). 

History suggests that apocatastasis was condemned in the mid-6th century, while something that resembles modern concepts of purgatory were being pronounced by the Roman Bishop Pope Gregory I around 600 A.D.

History also shows that early groups with some ties to the Church of God condemned the idea of purgatory, that the Romans partially base their belief of a book that most Jews/Protestants/COG members do not consider to be scriptural, and that the Romans re-defined the purgatory doctrine in the mid-16th century.  Perhaps I should add here that the passage in Maccabees referred to by many Romans as "proof" of purgatory is not specifically teaching purgatory, but teaches that prayers could be made for the dead.

Interestingly, we also see that the Roman Church officially teaches that giving money (almsgiving) on the behalf of the dead is good. 

Jesus taught that it was very hard “for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25).

Yet, the Roman Church indicates that giving money on behalf of the dead helps them.  Thus if the Roman position is true, it would seem to contradict Jesus’ teaching, as it would seem to be easier for a rich man/woman to get into heaven than a poor one who could not have as much almsgiving on his/her behalf.

The fact is that neither the Greeks (the Orthodox) nor the true Church of God ever adopted purgatory, nor abandoned the teaching of apocatastasis. Purgatory as the Romans teach it, clearly was not an original part of "the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints " (Jude 3). 

The original true Church of God has never taught the doctrine of purgatory, but has instead taught the apocatastasis’ teaching that salvation would be offered to all. 

We in the Continuing Church of God believe:

20 Our God is the God of salvation (Psalms 68:20).

In the 21st century, the Continuing Church of God continues to teach against purgatory and does promote the apocatastasis’ teaching that salvation would be offered to all who ever lived (for more information on this important topic, please see the article titled Universal Offer of Salvation: There Are Hundreds of Verses in the Bible Supporting the Doctrine of True Apocatastasis).

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Thiel B. Ph.D. Did the Early Church Teach Purgatory? www.cogwriter.com/purgatory.htm (c) 2008/2009/2010/2012/2013 1221

Some articles of possibly related interest may include:

Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Continuing Church of God? Do you know that both groups shared a lot of the earliest teachings? Do you know which church changed? Do you know which group is most faithful to the teachings of the apostolic church? Which group best represents true Christianity? This documented article answers those questions.
Some Similarities and Differences Between the Orthodox Church and the Continuing Church of God Both groups claim to be the original church, but both groups have differing ways to claim it. Both groups have some amazing similarities and some major differences. Do you know what they are?

Hope of Salvation: How the Continuing Church of God differ from most Protestants How the genuine Church of God differs from mainstream/traditional Protestants, is perhaps the question I am asked most by those without a Church of God background.
Universal Offer of Salvation: There Are Hundreds of Verses in the Bible Supporting the Doctrine of True Apocatastasis Do you believe what the Bible actually teaches on this? Will all good things be restored? Will God call everyone? Will everyone have an opportunity for salvation? Does God's plan of salvation take rebellion and spiritual blindness into account?