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 two years ago. 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 Church (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. Oliver on November 4, 2016 at 12:40 am

    I have to respectfully disagree. I will not defend Protestantism. I will defend Biblical Christianity as I understand and practice it.

    I want to start with your argument about how “truth” is determined. You claim that Papal authority allows Catholics to “know truth,” whereas Methodists go with group think basically. Is my understanding of this accurate? Because I instantly run into a problem: if leaving it up to sinful men won’t work for the Methodist, how will it work for the pope?

    You’ve published articles about how you don’t always agree with the pope. You wonder why homosexuality can be a grave sin one year and a thing to be exalted the next, but the current pope of the Catholic church is a social and economic liberal. Putting a fallible man at the head of the church seems to me like a bad idea.

    Let’s talk about scripture. I do believe that the scripture alone contains all the knowledge needed for salvation. As for where the Bible says this:

    2 Timothy 3:16 – “All scripture is breathed out by God, and is profitable for teaching, for reproductive, for correction and for training in righteousness.”

    Proverbs 30:6 – “Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and prove you a liar…”

    The Bible as the collection of books that we have today certainly did not exist for the first hundred years of Christianity, but all of the separate books certainly did. “The Bible” as we know it today is simply a collection of those books that have existed since about the beginning if not slightly after Christianity.

    So where does truth come from? I would never trust anyone except God. He’s made it clear that the Holy Scriptures are his method of communicating with us. I let the scriptures dictate right and wrong, and no committee or pope.

    So then it is clear that I can’t trust the catechism for information about purgatory.

    Let’s address your scripture references.

    1 Peter 3:19, I believe, is quoted out of context. Let’s look at the whole deal:

    “18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison…”
    It appears to be referring to Jesus’ walk on EARTH, wherein, to fit with Paul’s point, Christ was an example to the people who where, at that time, disobedient.

    It’s interesting to see in the verse right before it that Paul is very specific about how many times all of our sins need to be forgiven: once. There’s no talk about a process. Certainly God refined our souls over the course of our life through trials and the like, but there’s nothing here to suggest that we aren’t entirely covered by the blood of Christ the moment we accept His gift.

    I believe that your 1 Corinthians reference is in the context of trials on this earth, not the final judgment. If you realize Paul’s analogy to the purification of precious metals just one or two verses earlier, you see that it makes much more sense for it to be in the context of earthly trials. He’s talking about our character.

    The Bible definitely alludes to the Trinity, but much more clearly. The most blindingly obvious, in my humble opinion:

    Genesis 1:26 a: “Then God said, “Let US make man in our image…”

    There are others, like when Jesus promises to send the “Helper” and the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove, with Jesus and the Father both present and accounted for.

    My point here is that I believe if the Bible were to allude to something as allegedly fundamental as purgatory, it would be a little more specific.

    And much less, in my mind, can limited men take any of those references you provided that may possibly, if (and you’ll excuse my directness) taken out of context, provide a faint allusion to purgatory and write a whole bunch of paragraphs with specific details about it in a catechism.

    I appreciate your willingness for discussion. Thank you.

    • quinersdiner on November 4, 2016 at 11:20 am

      I’m loving the conversation. I’ll follow up with more this weekend. Thanks for the response. Very good stuff.

    • Sentient Christian on November 4, 2016 at 2:54 pm

      To :- Oliver

      I would like to politely ask why you state that ” I will not defend Protestantism. ” ?
      True protestants are in fact Bible believing Christians and it is very much a part of Biblical Christianity.

      I would be interested in your answer to this please.I’m not trying to be picky with you, just very interested.

      Thank you in advance.

      • Oliver on November 4, 2016 at 4:07 pm

        Of course!

        Most people would, and probably rightly so, put me under the Protestant umbrella. My main point for differentiating is because I don’t want my beliefs to be put under a man-made title.

        If I say, “I’m a Protestant!” Someone else could say, “Oh, so you’re a Methodist!” Or “Oh, you’re a Presbyterian!”

        I’m neither.

        However, if I sum up my beliefs by saying, “I believe what the Bible, the word of God, tells me,” then there’s less room to wiggle around my words. And I’m held accountable to the only standard that matters to me: God’s word.

        No Luther, no Calvin. I adhere only to God’s own words.

        Of course, that puts me under the Protestant umbrella in a lot of people’s eyes, which is fine. I just want it to be clear that I put all my faith in the Word of God, and not any man-made system.

        For me to defend all of Protestantism would be dangerous. Indeed, it’s a human concept with the baggage that sinful people bring. Heck, I don’t want to try to defend anything that doesn’t explicitly have God’s seal on it.

        Thank you for the chance to clarify, I hope not to have offended.

        • Sentient Christian on November 4, 2016 at 8:44 pm

          No offence taken.
          I have no objection to being referred to as Protestant, but I actually see it the same way as you do.
          I don’t like or follow denominations. It’s too easy for people to label you.
          Catholics love labels that they can stick on you.
          I’ts great to be able to talk to another Christian that thinks that way.

    • Patrick E. Devens on April 21, 2017 at 8:30 am

      The Bible no where says that it alone is Christian authority. 2 Timothy 3:16 does not say that it alone is sufficient. It says it is profitable.

      • Oliver on April 21, 2017 at 10:54 am

        Fair enough; it also says that it’s breathed out by God. And the more pointed verse, especially when used in conjunction with 2 Timothy, is Proverbs 30:6.

        It’s not at all to say that going to Christian writers and thinkers is unbiblical, it’s just that all of their words should be taken carefully, making sure they are supported by scripture.

  2. R.H. (Rusty) Foerger on November 4, 2016 at 11:05 am

    Hi Tom, I appreciate the tone and direction of the discussion, though I would disagree with your conclusions, I can see how the passages you cited can be read from a different angle that allows for the “purgatory” idea. Thanks for writing.

  3. Sentient Christian on November 4, 2016 at 12:20 pm

    The false doctrine of purgatory undermines the ‘ finished ‘ work of Jesus Christ on the Cross and essentially undermines sound Biblical doctrine. KJV

    Purgatory is actually an invention of the Catholic so-called church, and it is certainly a cash cow for the Vatican. You will not find that doctrine in the Scriptures.

    Scripture was in existence in the 1st century, ever since Paul and the other Apostles wrote letters to the Churches. Local Pastors would, of course, get these letters copied and send them on to other churches.

    Your posting is Catholic sophistry.

    • quinersdiner on November 4, 2016 at 1:53 pm

      Your response is certainly not in keeping with the comity of the conversation that is ongoing on this subject. Nonetheless, thanks for sharing your opinion.

      • Sentient Christian on November 4, 2016 at 1:56 pm

        It is NO opinion.

        • quinersdiner on November 4, 2016 at 2:28 pm

          It certainly is since there are differing views. Your very statement is an opinion.

          • Sentient Christian on November 4, 2016 at 2:30 pm

            If you had even the most basic understanding of Scripture, you would certainly know that it is NO opinion.

            Don’t play the semantics / sophistry game with me.

          • Sentient Christian on November 4, 2016 at 3:02 pm

            Oh well..That’s your opinion.

      • karensiena on November 5, 2016 at 4:22 pm

        To Sentient Christian: All I can say is WOW. You have a lot of anger.

  4. Juliet on November 4, 2016 at 10:20 pm

    So, you think that God will put you into the fire of purgatory to cleanse you from your imperfections? And the popes used to promise that the time spent there would be shorten if only you give him enough money, only they never said how much more shorter it was going to be when the gracious pope will gladly make your torment a little bit shorter, instead of 2000 years maybe 1800 or so? Can you imagine yourself in the flames of purgatory being purified like that? Can you imagine Jesus dying on the cross that horrific death to open the door to God the Father for you but instead of rejoicing always, like Paul said, you just are going to say, sorry Jesus, I need to go to purgatory to cleanse myself first and your death was not needed at all ? So according to your belief, what was the point of the cross? How sad one must be to believe in purgatory? No offence but I am so angry with catholic deception I promised myself and the Lord to expose this falsehood in every way possible. The idea of purgatory is totally ridiculous and offensive to Jesus Christ and His sacrificial death. I do feel sorry for you if your future is in purgatory as you believe. I would never ever betrayed my Jesus like that, instead of going to heaven to be with Him and worship Him for ever, I would be thinking about purgatory. How terrifying that must be, to have such a destination, is that any better than hell itself? There is so many lies in catholic church, it’s just shocking how people can believe that. I was saved ( born again) when I was very young, it happened outside the catholic church as Christianity is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, not religion and the church. It was the most wonderful time in my life, when I met Jesus. Later on I started going to catholic church as all my family went there and there was not another church in that town. Yes, there was one, old evangelical church but we were taught that they were like a sect and only Catholics had a chance to go to heaven, so I could not go there. I was quite happy in catholic church, even if it was very stiff and serious and I could not express my joy there. It lasted for about 5 years, I even met the priest regularly most of the time just to talk about my Jesus as i was totally in love with Him. But nobody ever told me that I needed to study the bible to get to know God, even that priest, so I was just reading books about Jesus, and I did not know the sound doctrine and many other biblical teachings. After a few more years I was gone from the church and my faith was gone as well. I got fascinated with new age. About 15 years later, God called me back, this time it was not that wonderful and easy, but rather very hard and painful, This time I was drawn to study the bible and I fell in love with the word of God, I was in total awe how God was speaking to me and how much He loved people, pleading with them to come back to Him. I have had very powerfully Holy Spirit leading me and teaching me all things, I was delivered from torment of evil spirits that came through new age two years later by Jesus Christ Himself. He was teaching me and the bible, no churches, denominations, popes, priests, etc, I had only the Holy Spirit and God’s word to help me survive that horrible and the most beautiful time. Yes, I did go sometimes to evangelical church but it was kind of addition. When I was reading the bible I noticed that many things I knew from catholic church did not go along with it. It took me a while to understand why Christians should not worship Mary and so called saints. I asked the Lord and He showed me why. The Holy Spirit taught me about praise and how it is a powerful weapon against the devil. He showed me why and how to fast, which I never new in catholic church, except not eating meat on Friday, which was totally meaningless. Everything I know now I was taught by the Holy Spirit not by churches or other people and I cannot even grasp how one can imagine to go to purgatory after death, which is totally against teaching of Jesus Christ and His apostles as it nullifies the death of Jesus Christ. I have never ever even thought I could be going to purgatory, it is the most ridiculous idea and it is an offence to God as He never even taught that. So, what happens with those who will not be holy enough after purgatory, will they go to another place later on called hell, to burnt in other kind of fire for ever? How crazy is that? There is no purgatory, there is no saints to whom you can pray, there is no sinless mother of Jesus to whom you can pray, there is no many other things that catholic church teaches people who do not read their bibles or do not have the Holy Spirit to teach them. I cannot wait to go to heaven to be with my Jesus and gaze at His beauty, as I know He died for me because He loves me with everlasting, amazing love and His blood cleanses me from my sins, otherwise all Christianity would be senseless. No offence but what you are describing is so called carnal Christianity. The process of purification is happening here in this life. JESUS prayed to the Father: SANCTIFY THEM BY THE TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. It is the ongoing work to make people holy and it is your heart desire not to sin when you love Jesus and have Holy Spirit in you. You must be born again to understand things of God. Christianity is not religion and I do not need the pope to teach me, nor do you. Being born again is supernatural event and when this happens your eyes will be opened by the Holy Spirit to know that purgatory does not exist and there are only two places to go, heaven or hell. The way to be with God is only through Jesus Christ, the Savior, no saints, Mary, purgatory, popes, priests, ceremonies, masses etc. Please believe me, my heart is broken over Catholics as my family is also in that church. Catholic church is full of false teachings and people that Jesus called hypocrites, and yes, the bible is the most beautiful and the most important book for a Christian, preserved for us through centuries. ( Do you know what the catholic popes did with Christians and those who translated the bible for common people?) It is remarkable that Catholics do not call themselves Christians but Catholics. May God open your eyes to see the beauty of salvation by Christ Jesus only, the author and perfecter of our faith, the King of Glory and Prince of peace.

    For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. ( Hebrews 10:14)

    4 To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

    Jude 24.

    There is no greater joy than to know Jesus Christ and be in love with Him for ever.

    • Marianne Schultz on October 1, 2020 at 10:09 am

      I to was raised in the catholic church. No one could ever say that you can know you will go to Heaven. All you need to do is accept Jesus in to your heart. Believe in him, and all he was and did, ask Him for forgiveness and truly repent of your sins, and you will be saved, It is that simple. I thank God my dear mother discovered that for herself. The church says reading the bible is difficult and only priests can explain it to you. She read if for herself and everything changed. My mom went to the priest and told him about all that she learned. She even was baptized. He then told her she was excommunicated from the church. She said ok and we never looked back. My mom is now in Heaven with my dad and my brother. I am so grateful we found Jesus. He, and He alone saves.

      • quinersdiner on October 1, 2020 at 10:14 am

        I am so sorry you had such a misguided priest. Catholics read the Bible all the time. The Mass is built upon scripture. Catholic Mass uses more scripture than Protestant services. Your simple faith is beautifully expressed. Purgatory is for those of us who still cling to venial sins and need to be ‘cleaned up’ when we die before being presented to our Lord in heaven. Thanks for writing.

  5. karensiena on November 5, 2016 at 3:53 pm

    I think your choice of photos for this blog post is very unfortunate Tom. It mischaracterizes the nature of purgatory. It is not a place of fiery torment.

    I see purgatory as a great gift God gave us to get washed clean before standing face to face with God. It is not a place of torment but a place where we can honestly face our sins and repent of them to get ready to go before the King.

    The souls in purgatory are heading to heaven, and that is where their joy comes from.

    I am very very glad there is a purgatory, because I am pretty sure there are many things I will need to repent of and I would not want to stand before God before looking at them honestly, repenting, and letting the blood of Jesus wash me clean.

  6. bluebird of bitterness on November 7, 2016 at 1:46 pm

    I was raised Evangelical Protestant, although I’ve been an Anglican for the last forty-plus years. My parents, good Baptists that they were, made the fatal error of buying us kids books by C. S. Lewis. Lewis was the one who first put the idea of purgatory into my head, and since then I have always hoped that there really was such a place. I’m pretty sure when the time comes for me to meet my Maker, I’m gonna want a chance to get cleaned up first. 🙂

    • quinersdiner on November 7, 2016 at 2:03 pm

      I didn’t realize Lewis advanced the idea of purgatory until I wrote this controversial blogpost. I think my soul will require quite a bit of scrubbing, but the good Lord knows of my fervent prayer to spend eternity with Him.

    • David Day on September 25, 2020 at 3:31 am

      If I were you dear friend I would get cleaned up now while you are still alive, once you have died, it is to late. Only The Lord Jesus Christ can clean you up, His death on the cross did all the cleaning that is required for you to believe and go to heaven. Look at His life, you will see what I mean. Bless.

      • Marianne Schultz on October 1, 2020 at 8:07 am

        Amen David! Jesus did it all.

  7. Patrick E. Devens on April 21, 2017 at 8:31 am

    Great post. Its all about the difference between Catholic and Protestant views of justification.

    • quinersdiner on April 21, 2017 at 10:46 am

      Thanks, it’s a pretty interesting subject.

  8. Patrick E. Devens on June 26, 2017 at 7:20 am

    Reblogged this on The Catholic Thinker.