Where in the heck did Catholics come up with purgatory?

By Tom Quiner

Who ever knew the word purgatory was so highly charged?

I ran a quote by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on the subject over the weekend. It generated some heat.

One guy was really over the top:

“Purgatory is already an invention … it has already been invented by satan, and the roman catholic so called church propagate that lie, to this day… since it was started as a cash cow for the vatican..along with indulgences.”

The other came from a writer I highly respect with a more balanced query:

“Fascinating. Biblically, we stand before God completely justified by the once-for-all atonement of Christ. The process of being made holy happens on earth and is known as sanctification- being made like Christ. Could you direct me to the scriptural support for purgatory, if you have a chance? Many thanks.”

As a convert to Catholicism, I once embraced a Protestant theology that suggested a ‘once-for-all atonement.’ I certainly am no theologian, but my understanding of Catholic teaching on purgatory is, in fact, based on sacred scripture, which I will touch on momentarily.

I have to be careful when referencing Protestant theology, because there really is no such thing. Protestantism is a conglomeration of some 40,000 different variations, a number that is growing as the non Catholic church continues to splinter.

I don’t say this critically, I say it as a fact. As I have stated repeatedly in this blog, I have great respect for much of Protestantism. Protestant outreach to the needy in the name of Christ is truly impressive.

But the very thing some revile in the Roman Catholic Church, papal authority, is the very thing I have come to appreciate in the Church.

The very thing the secular culture berates about Roman Catholicism, a top-down teaching authority, is one of the most compelling appeals of the Church to me. Catholics know what the Truth is. Methodists, by contrast, hold a meeting every four years where “truth” is determined by a popular vote.

I have a problem with a theology that says, for example, that homosexuality is a sin one year, and something to be applauded the next.

One more thing about some flavors of Protestantism: sola scriptura. Some Protestant teachers claim that ‘scripture alone,’ that is, the Bible, contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness.

Catholics ask, “where does scripture say that?” It doesn’t. In fact, the Bible didn’t even exist for the first few hundred years of Christianity. Catholics believe scripture is the witness of the Church, not the other way around.

So what about purgatory? What is it?

The Catechism of the Catholic (the official teaching of the Church) defines it as a …

“purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven,” which is experienced by those “who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified” (CCC 1030). It notes that “this final purification of the elect . . . is entirely different from the punishment of the damned” (CCC 1031).

Scripture makes it clear that nothing unclean can stand before God in heaven:

“and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those [a]whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” [Rev. 21:27]

Some Protestants say that the word “purgatory” is never used in scripture. They are correct, although nor are the words “Trinity” and “incarnation.” Nonetheless, purgatory is suggested in 1 Peter 3:19:

“in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison,”

St. Paul refers to purgatory in 1 Cor 3:15 for those whose work “fails the test:”

“He will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire”

This passage surely doesn’t refer to hell, since one can’t be saved in hell.

This passage surely can’t refer to heaven, since there is no suffering (fire) there.

Catholic teaching says it refers to purgatory.

Some Catholic thinkers liken purgatory to a process, rather than a place. I like the way Catholic radio personality and author, Al Kresta, puts it as he addresses Protestant concerns:

“Someone might object, “But aren’t we forgiven in Christ? What remains to be done?” Forgiven, yes; transformed, not yet. While God loves us the way we are right now, he loves us too much to let us stay that way. He accepts us where we are in order to move us to where he is.

We often die with an unhealthy attachment to sin. At the hour of our death, our souls may not be fully fixed on evil but neither are they fully fixed on the perfections of God. We aren’t unrepentant, just unperfected.

How are we to enter heaven in which can dwell no unclean thing (Rev 21:27)? How are we to dwell with a God whose eyes are too pure to behold iniquity (Heb, 4:13, Lev 11:44, 1 Pet 1:16)? How are we to enjoy fellowship with a God infinite in perfections when we lack perfection (Mt 5:48)?”



  1. chicagoja on November 3, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    They made it up, like the rest of their dogma.

    • quinersdiner on November 3, 2014 at 1:16 pm

      In light of the scriptural support cited, that is certainly not the case. Thanks for writing.

  2. Shawn Pavlik on November 3, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    From Rev 21:27, from above ” only those [a]whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” I have accepted Christ, I have been written in the Lamb’s book of life. Therefore, no need for purgatory.

    Isaiah 53.5: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Jesus paid it ALL.

    • quinersdiner on November 3, 2014 at 1:20 pm

      Agreed. Catholic theology, which was universally accepted by all of Christendom until Protestant reformers suddenly rejected it, suggests, though, that final purification is needed for entrance into heaven, that EVERYONE who reaches the state of purgatory is in fact on the way to heaven. I like the way Catholic writer Al Kresta explains it:

      “We might compare purgatory — or the final purification as I like to call it — to the antechamber of heaven. Imagine that you, a lame beggar, have received an invitation to the king’s wedding supper. The invitation specifies that you arrive healthy, clean and in your best attire. The king’s mansion is far away and can only be reached over perilous terrain. You fear you don’t have the stamina, wardrobe or courage to present yourself successfully.

      Nevertheless, the king has called you. So you set off, growing in anticipation of intimate communion with the king and his guests. Along the way, your travel is full of travail. Yet it strengthens you. The rigorous exercise rids you of a respiratory condition you feared might disqualify you, and your atrophied leg begins to generate new muscle. The mud and briars, however, ruin your best clothes.

      When you arrive, the king’s steward looks at the invitation and, pleased, says, “I can see you are in the king’s good graces.” He tries to usher you in for inspection before you are seated, but you demur. “Is there a place,” you ask, “where I can shower and wash my clothes?”

      The steward says, “Of course. We’ve provided all you need.” He then lays out bathing oils and the robes you are to wear. Before you know it, you are indeed fit for a king.”

  3. oarubio on November 3, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    The problem started when the originally good-intentioned reformers wanted to deal with the abuse of indulgences and ended up throwing out Wisdom, Maccabees and a few other books of the canon of Scripture.

    I heard a great explanation of the need for purgatory recently. I believe it was Fr. Pacwa who had the same debate. He asked the person, who did not accept purgatory, was he perfect now? Of course, the answer is “no.” Then, will that person be perfect in Heaven. Naturally, “yes.” Then, the cleansing must happen to the individual between this earthly life and eternal life in Heaven.

    • quinersdiner on November 3, 2014 at 2:03 pm

      Tony, I always enjoy Fr. Pacwa’s plain speaking and clear teaching. Thanks for sharing this.

  4. lovelifeandgod on November 3, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    Interesting. I consider myself a non-denominational Christian, but I used to be much more skeptical about Catholic doctrines. You’ve opened my mind a bit.

    • quinersdiner on November 3, 2014 at 3:26 pm

      Thank-you. I am one who had misperceptions on the Church, both before, and even after I converted to Roman Catholicism. I have made a sincere effort to learn the teachings of the Church. I have discovered that there are very good reasons for everything the Church believes. I have come to appreciate the fusion of faith and reason in these teachings. Do you have doctrinal concerns about the Roman Catholic Church? Please, fire away. Although I’m no theologian, I will try to give a clear response if I’m able, or refer you elsewhere if I’m not sure. Thanks for responding.

      • lovelifeandgod on November 3, 2014 at 3:53 pm

        As have I. I became a Christian nearly a year ago through reading the works of C.S. Lewis and other Christian apologetic writings. There is a rhyme and reason within the Christian faith that speaks to me like striking harmonic chords on my piano. And even though in the past I made countless strides to try and be a “better” person, the transformation I’ve undergone since coming to Christ is literally miraculous.

        Hmm, one of my other major questions about Catholic doctrine is about praying to/with saints. I understand it’s not intended as worship, but does the Bible mention physically living believers praying to physically dead believers?

        • quinersdiner on November 3, 2014 at 4:19 pm

          I’m a piano player myself, so I totally relate to your music metaphor.

          Regarding intercession of the saints, my prayer life is far richer as a Catholic than as a Protestant, because I have more “prayer tools” at my disposal, so to speak. For example, I compose faith-based musicals. My most recent is a musical based on “The Wedding at Cana.” I have actively asked the Blessed Mother, Saint John Paul the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Therese of Lisieux to pray for the success of this project (success being defined as bringing people closer to Christ). I do not pray TO them, I ask them to pray WITH me and FOR me, just as I might ask you to pray with me or for me. (By the way, will you?)

          The saints are every much alive as you I, only in a different place (heaven vs. earth). They are perfected. I am not. The veil between heaven and earth is thin in some regard. This veil is not an impediment to prayers. It is also a 2-way street. I pray for the souls in purgatory, a place/process I very much expect to go through on my journey to heaven.

          I will address this idea of the intercession of the saints in another blogpost this week. It is a rich, beautiful teaching of the Church. It took me many years to fully embrace this teaching. If I can accelerate this process for you, then I’ll know my blog is serving a good purpose. Thanks for writing.

          • lovelifeandgod on November 3, 2014 at 7:01 pm

            Okay, that makes sense. I just needed the clarification (ie. praying with the saints rather than praying to them).

            Honestly, I’m looking for anything to enrich my own prayer life, and if God guides me towards Catholicism, then I’m totally up for it. And I’d be happy to pray for you and your work. In fact, I’m quite interested in those musicals you say you’ve written.

  5. churchbus71andetc on November 3, 2014 at 8:45 pm

    First of all I want to say, though I am not Catholic, I enjoy reading your blog and I often facebook some of the cartoons. When it comes to abortion and the direction of our govt. I agree with you whole heartedly. I am Baptist –we do not consider ourselves Protestant though you might–We believe this scripture–“And it is appointed unto a man once to die but after this the judgment.” Hebrews 9:27 KJV In other words man goes to his eternal home at death. If he has accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior he immediately is welcomed into heaven. Why? Not certainly because he is sinless–even Paul said–in my flesh dwelleth no good thing. The reason is that at the moment that we place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ His Holy Spirit comes to indwell us and we are a new creation–on the inside. We were dead in trespasses and sin but we are made alive unto him. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of the regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Titus 3: 5 ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith, and not that of yourselves; it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians2:8,9 Because there is no good work which we can do and sin will always dwell in our flesh we can never hope to have our flesh renewed–centuries in purgatory couldn’t do that only a saving faith in Jesus will redeem us from this body of sin and death. “If any man be in Christ , he is a new creature(creation) old things are passed away and behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ–“II Cor. 5:18 I don’t believe in purgatory because I don’t believe that a person needs to some how reach a sinless state to enter heaven–because that is impossible–A person , on accepting Christ as their Savior–becomes the righteousness of God in Him–II Cor. 5:21 God Bless

    • quinersdiner on November 3, 2014 at 9:39 pm

      Thanks for the thoughtful response.