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PURGATORY—Q&A

1. Punished after death and still saved (1 Cor. 3:15)

2. Purgatory on earth

3. Challenges from a Protestant on purgatory

4. Baptisms on behalf of the dead (1 Cor. 15:29)

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1. Punished after death and still saved (1 Cor. 3:15)

Phillip: Just reading your justification for the belief in Purgatory but to tell you the truth, I found it unconvincing. Realistically, I believe you must choose to accept Jesus while we are alive, after death, we don't get a second chance. God's willingness to forgive our transgressions "while we are alive" is second chance enough. Purgatory is a fable, along with the deification of Mary & the saints (all believers in Christ are considered saints according to scripture). You must come up with more to convince me that the "faith" I have been raised in is accurate. I would prefer to get my information directly from a Bible that was not changed by Constantine, The Jehovah Witness, The Mormon etc. The Word of God is infallible, the pope is human and thus, very fallible. Sorry to be such a poor sport, but the "faith" has let me down.

A disallusioned Catholic,

Phillip (Toronto, Canada)

J. Salza: Phillip, if you wish to get your "information directly from the Bible," then look to 1 Cor. 3:12-17.  In these passages, Paul is talking about how God judges our works after death by using a string of metaphors (we are God's building; works are good and bad materials, etc.).  Paul says that if a person builds with good materials, he will receive a reward (verse 14).  If he builds with a mixture of good and bad materials, his work is burned up, but he is still saved (verse 15).  If he only builds with bad materials, he has destroyed the temple, and God will destroy him (verse 17).

This passage demonstrates several things.  First, it demonstrates that our works serve as a basis for determining our salvation.  This is contrary to the erroneous Protestant belief that, once we accept Jesus by faith alone, we are saved.  Protestants have no good explanation for why Paul is teaching the Corinthians that our works bear upon our salvation.  Second, the verse demonstrates that, if a person does both good and bad works, his bad works are punished, but he is still saved.  The Greek phrase for "suffer loss" (zemiothesetai) means "to be punished."  This means the man undergoes an expiation of temporal punishment for his bad works (sins) but is still saved.  The phrase “but only” or “yet so” (in Greek, houtos) means "in the same manner." This means that the man must pass through the fire in the same way that his bad works passed through the fire, in order to expiate himself of the things that led him to produce the bad works in the first place.

This demonstrates that there is punishment after death, followed by salvation. The Church calls this purification “Purgatory.” If accepting Jesus as Savior by faith alone during one's life were true, there would be no punishment after death for those who are saved. Your sins would already be washed away. This passage proves that there is punishment and forgiveness after death, followed by salvation.  This biblical teaching of a post-death punishment by fire which is followed by salvation is inimical to Protestant theology.

Phillip, there is nothing new under the sun, other than an ongoing splintering of Protestant Christianity.  If you study the early Church Fathers and medievals, you will see that they were all Catholic.  Don't imbibe this Protestant mentality of "Jesus, the Bible and me."  God gave us His Holy Catholic Church, built upon the rock of St. Peter, to whom Christ gave the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and the authority to bind and loose in heaven what he binds and looses on earth.

Study your Catholic faith by reading Catholic material (fathers, doctors, etc.), not by listening to the typical, polemical, anti-Catholicism that is always historically ignorant, and intellectually groundless. If I can be of further assistance, please write again.

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2. Purgatory on earth

Ellen: Please help me.  My Mom just passed away on April 19 (84 years of age) following surgery and after suffering for two and one-half months – a suffering that reduced her to a point of struggling for her mental faculties, her ability to eat was lost, too weak to speak properly and, as far as what was required of her in the hospital, a complete loss of dignity, privacy, pride.  I saw her will broken and brought to the umpteenth power in humility.  My mother was devoted to the Blessed Mother and the recitation of the rosary all of her life, received visits from the parish priests to hear her confession and to administer the Eucharist as she was homebound.  It is hard for my human mind to conceive the necessity for her to have been required to suffer more for her sins and to be in a place of purification, not yet able to be with the Lord.  The Lord I have lived my life for is a Lord of love and incomprehensible mercy and compassion.  Please help me to understand.  Thank you.

Ellen

J. Salza: Dear Ellen. Thank you for your email.  I will keep your mother in prayer.  I had the same experience with my grandfather.

The Church teaches that purgatory is a place where those, assured of their eternal salvation with Christ, go for a final purification, IF they need it. Certainly, your mother's suffering here on earth was a purification for her, and only God knows whether her soul was prepared to enter the eternal bliss of the Blessed Trinity at the moment of her death.  She certainly could have been ready because of her sufferings on earth. Purgatory is a state after death where God both forgives venial sins, and purifies us from the temporal punishment due to our sins already forgiven.  Again, only God knows the state of the soul at death.

But you shouldn't worry; you should pray for your mother.  She was certainly blessed to receive the sacraments during her illness. She also had a devotion to the Blessed Mother.  These are incredible blessings which prepared her for heaven.  Let's all hope we are that blessed. Also, remember not to view purgatory negatively.  God gave us purgatory because of His incomprehensible love and mercy that you beautifully describe.  It is the dressing room for heaven.  Those in purgatory will be with Christ forever. Thanks again for writing.

Grace be with you.

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3. Challenges from a Protestant on purgatory

Kevin: I have reviewed your page on purgatory and find it to be full of false teaching. For example, you say on your website: “Matt. 12:32 - Jesus clearly provides that there is forgiveness after death. Forgiveness is not necessary in heaven, and there is no forgiveness in hell. This proves that there is another state after death, and the Church for nearly 2,000 years has called this state purgatory.” However, Matthew 12:32 Makes no reference to forgiveness after death.  It simply states that "anyone who speaks against the Son of Man will be forgiven..."

J. Salza: Kevin, you are incorrect.  Just read the words:  "[He] will not be forgiven
either in this age or in the age to come." Matt. 12:32. The phrase “in the age” (in Greek, en to mellonti) refers to the afterlife (see, for example, Mk 10:30; Lk 18:30; 20:34-35; Eph. 2:1). Jesus is saying that one can be forgiven either in this age (earthly life) or in the age to come (after death).  Those who are in heaven (which is in the age to come) have no need for forgiveness (true), and those who are in hell (which is in the age to come) cannot be forgiven (true).  Therefore, there must be another state in the age to come where we can be forgiven (true).  This is purgatory. If you choose to further dialogue, please address this analysis.

Kevin:  Luke 12:47 Makes no reference to a state outside of heaven or hell.  God will hold us accountable for our actions & duties we performed or failed to perform here on Earth based on our level of spiritual privilege. Those trusted with much will be held to a higher level of accountability before God.  God will judge us based on the light available to the person. (See Romans 2:12)  This part of scripture explains how Gentiles before Christ (servants who did not know better) will not be judged for failing to obey laws they did not possess or have knowledge of, their judgement will be based on other grounds (basically good deeds or moral law). Whereas Jews who had the Mosaic law (the servants who know better) will be held to a different level of accountability.

J. Salza: Your analysis can be considered plausible, but it fails to consider the real import - award and judgment at the second coming of Christ. The Lord is using a parable to describe the end times when the Master comes.  When Christ comes, some will be rewarded in heaven, some will be punished in hell (severely beaten), and some will only be beaten slightly (those who are ignorant of Christ's will).  One can also plausibly analogize this slight beating to the purgatorial fires Paul writes of in 1 Corinthians 3:15. Agreeably, it is not the strongest text on the doctrine of purgatory (there are others such as above and in Corinthians), but it reveals a level of punishment after death, and that not all punishment is severe (eternal).

Kevin: You say: “Luke 16:19-31 - in this story, we see that the dead rich man is suffering but still feels compassion for his brothers and wants to warn them of his place of suffering. But there is no suffering in heaven or compassion in hell. So where is the rich man? He is in purgatory.” The first two words from Luke 16:23 "In hell..." clearly states that the rich man is in hell.  Where does the bible state that compassion can not exist in hell?

J. Salza: You are misinterpreting the word "hell."  In Luke 16:23, hell (in Greek, Hades) does not refer to the place of eternal punishment; it refers to the place of the dead who were awaiting Christ's resurrection (the ancients called it Sheol).  For example, in the Apostles' Creed, we say "Christ descended into hell."  He did not really descend into the hell of eternal fire; he descended into Sheol. It is plausible to conclude that the rich man is in hell. But I believe an equally plausible exegesis is that the rich man represents those who are suffering in purgatory (because he shows the grace of concern for his brothers, and those in hell are deprived of God’s grace for all eternity). Again, this is not a principal text on which the doctrine of purgatory is exemplified from a biblical perspective. Instead, we look to texts such as 1 Corinthians 3:15. Also, your argument presupposes that for some question of faith to be true, it has to be in the Bible.  This is a fallacious argument.

Kevin: Hell will be full of people who are good and compassionate, but who did not proclaim the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, as their Savior & Lord!  You are adding to the Word of God things that do not exist there.

J. Salza: This is also not true.  Hell will be full of people who may have been good and compassionate at some point in their lives, but ultimately rejected the true good, God, and chose hell instead.  Those in hell can no longer be good and compassionate because goodness and compassion are the fruits of God's grace, and those in hell are deprived of those graces for all eternity. Thus, hell will be full of the wicked who rejected God’s gift of salvation. They will be hated by God and suffer for all eternity (cf. Psalm 5:6; 11:5).

I hope this helps.  If you have any further questions, please email.

Grace be with you.

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4. Baptism on behalf of the dead (1 Cor. 15:29)

Patron: I'm a practising catholic looking for more insight on purgatory verses. Could you give me a further explanation for the following: 1 Cor. 15:29-30 - Paul mentions people being baptized on behalf of the dead, to atone for their sins. They must be in purgatory. How have you come to the conclusion that it atones for sins and not that it is a mormon like ritual that 'they' (early pagans) practiced and 'we' (christians) should avoid.

J. Salza: Hello. Paul is explaining our hope in the resurrection by pointing out a practice of the time of baptizing people on behalf of the dead.  He is explaining that this practice evidences a hope of the resurrection, because the dead in Christ are not really dead, but are alive and will rise with Him.  I use this verse to support the doctrine of purgatory because the Church has always taught that our prayers and sacrifices, when offered to the Father through Christ, participate in Christ's own mediation before God.  These prayers and sacrifices can be applied to the deceased to atone for the temporal punishments due to their sins. 

Asking God to apply graces received in prayer, in Holy Communion, and, in this case, baptism on behalf of the dead, show a belief in purgatory (a state after death that cannot either be heaven or hell).  This state cannot be heaven because those in heaven have no need of our prayers since they have already been purified.  This state cannot be hell because those in hell also cannot use our prayers for purification because they have already been eternally damned. Hence, this is another state after death which the Church calls purgatory.

Note also that 1 Cor. 15:29 closely parallels 2 Maccabees 12:43-45 which states that prayers are offered for the dead to forgive them of their sins. This is one of the reasons why Martin Luther removed Maccabees from the Old Testament canon in the 16th century – because it supports the Church’s teaching on purgatory.

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