UCG: What is Purgatory?

Anne Catherine Emmerich Claimed to See Purgatory


UCG sent out an email today related to purgatory titled “What is Purgatory”:

Does the Bible say anything about purgatory? If so, who goes to purgatory, and what happens to them there?

The Catholic Encyclopedia defines purgatory as “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.” This concept is like a place for people not bad enough for hell, but not yet good enough for heaven. The Bible, however, does not speak of anything like purgatory at all.

The Bible is very explicit in what happens immediately after death: “For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing” (Ecclesiastes 9:5, emphasis added). According to the Bible, there is no immortal soul that is whisked off to an eternity in heaven, hell or purgatory—there is only unconsciousness until the resurrections following Jesus Christ’s return to the earth (1 Corinthians 15:51-52; Revelation 20:12-13).

The concept of purgatory also clashes with biblical truth in its assertion that sins can be erased through punishing the sinner. No such idea exists in the pages of the Bible, which contends that only the death of our Savior pays the penalty for sin (Acts 4:12; Romans 5:8). Scripture also teaches that there are no minor sins (James 2:10). Sins cannot be purged by cruel punishment, but they can be forgiven and overcome with the help of a loving Creator.

What about those who die without ever having had an opportunity to repent of their sins? That is likely the reason some hope in the unbiblical doctrine of purgatory. God intends to give everyone an opportunity for salvation…

And that is true.

Actually, the doctrine of purgatory developed amongst Latin Catholics after they began to condemn certain ideas related to the offering of salvation to all (known as apocatastasis).   The Greek Catholics (now known as the Eastern Orthodox) never did accept the Latin idea of purgatory and still to this day have many who believe that God has some type of plan to offer salvation to those who did not intentionally reject salvation.

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 (apocatastasis).  Even Catholic saints, such as Irenaeus, taught this.

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…

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).

The above shows that even into the Middle Ages, the idea of purgatory was unclear, even amongst the leaders of the Church of Rome.

As I mentioned earlier, the Eastern Orthodox never accepted the Roman version of purgatory:

The modern Orthodox Church denies purgatory…(Hanna, Edward J. 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).

Here are statements from two Eastern 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).

Purgatory was essentially adopted after certain teachings associated with Origen were condemned in the 6th century:

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).

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

The Church of God originally taught apocatastasis, not purgatory.  And still does so today.  God is a God of love and does have a merciful plan of salvation.

Some articles for further inquiry may include:

Did the Early Church Teach Purgatory? Is there a place called purgatory? Does God have a plan to help those who did not become saints in this life?
What is Limbo? Is There Such a Place as Limbo? What Happens to Babies When They Die? When did Limbo start being taught? What is the truth about dead babies?
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? Does God’s plan of salvation take rebellion and spiritual blindness into account?
Hope of Salvation: How the Living Church of God differ from most Protestants How the Living Church of God differs from mainstream/traditional Protestants, is perhaps the question I am asked most by those without a Church of God background.
What Can We Learn from Private “Catholic” Prophecies? There have been those claiming Catholicism over the centuries that have accurately predicted many events, as well as have made many errors.  What might Catholic prophecies reveal about the future?  Will an antipope help take over the world?

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