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Pope Francis I, groovy social media savvy and seemingly unconventional new leader of the Roman Catholic religion has put Purgatory in the news, with his offer of indulgences to those who follow the Pope's tweets. Although I have been an atheist almost my entire life, I have had plenty of exposure to Protestant doctrine, other religious traditions, and I have studied the history of the Reformation in Europe during the 1500's. But I've had very little exposure to specifically Roman Catholic doctrine, particularly on Purgatory. The story of the Pope's tweets motivated me to tickling the Google to see what I could find out about Purgatory in Roman Catholicism. I already knew from history that the Doctrine of Purgatory and the selling of indulgences were major points of contention during the Reformation. Come out into the tall grass if you want to know what else I learned.

According to Catholic doctrine, Purgatory is sort of Heaven's Shower Room, where, redeemed and forgiven, but nevertheless unclean, souls abide undergoing purification and awaiting the admission of their purified souls to Heaven. I learned this from a really readable website called Catholic Answers, "one of the nation’s largest lay-run apostolates of Catholic apologetics and evangelization."  Here is how Catholic Answers describes Purgatory:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines purgatory 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"
BTW, please, to anyone who actually knows something about this subject, please correct any mistakes I make or report here, in the comments. Thanks.

Many Protestants don't recognize the existence of any kind of Purgatory, believing instead that their salvation affords them a direct admission to Heaven. A heated dispute over Purgatory between the Catholics and some Protestants didn't end after the Reformation fractured European Christians. It is still going on today. This is reflected in the defensive character of the Catholic Answers article on Purgatory, as in these examples:

One argument anti-Catholics often use to attack purgatory is the idea that the Catholic Church makes money from promulgating the doctrine. Without purgatory, the claim asserts, the Church would go broke. Any number of anti-Catholic books claim the Church owes the majority of its wealth to this doctrine. But the numbers just don’t add up.


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.


Some Fundamentalists also charge, as though it actually proved something, "The word purgatory is nowhere found in Scripture." This is true, and yet it does not disprove the existence of purgatory or the fact that belief in it has always been part of Church teaching

I recommend the entire article. It bulges with insight and irony. Meanwhile, the news story today is, basically, that the new fashioned Pope Francis I claims he can still shorten the time souls must undergo purification before they can be allowed to go into the purity of Heaven. He is adhering to ancient doctrine.

Meanwhile, Protestant souls are shoving past the more fastidious Catholic souls and are entering Heaven without showering. I've seen a lot of the same people doing that at the public swimming pool. Ick.

The most interesting part to me, though, was the discussion in the article about praying for the dead. Catholic Answers argued that prayer for a deceased soul is pointless unless Purgatory exists:

Prayers are not needed by those in heaven, and no one can help those in hell. That means some people must be in a third condition, at least temporarily.
Any soul finding itself in Purgatory needs to be careful, though. According to St. Paul, those soul purification showers are hot, hot, hot:
Paul tells us that, when we are judged, each man’s work will be tried. And what happens if a righteous man’s work fails the test? "He will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire" (1 Cor 3:15).
I hope no one is offended by the shower room metaphor. Once I read the discussion of Roman Catholics doctrine says about forgiven souls bound for Heaven, but still unclean and requiring fiery purification, a mental image of God's Shower Room took hold of my thinking on this subject. The other strong image for me is of the ongoing intellectual and doctrinal disputes still raging between Rome and some Protestants, more than 400 years after the Reformation. Personally, I don't have a dog in that fight. But, I find it interesting to observe.

Do you believe in Purgatory?

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (24+ / 0-)

    "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness." John Kenneth Galbraith

    by LeftOfYou on Sat Jul 20, 2013 at 12:16:41 PM PDT

  •  sorry i voted before I saw the pie option (5+ / 0-)

    Politics is like driving. To go backward put it in R. To go forward put it in D.
    Drop by The Grieving Room on Monday nights for support in dealing with grief.

    by TrueBlueMajority on Sat Jul 20, 2013 at 12:23:25 PM PDT

  •  Purgatory is . . . (15+ / 0-)

    . . . having the House of Representatives controlled by Republicans.

    Hell is having the House and Senate controlled by Republicans.

    The Innermost Circle of Hell is having the House, Senate, and White House controlled by Republicans.

  •  Recced and tipped for this alone: (9+ / 0-)
    Meanwhile, Protestant souls are shoving past the more fastidious Catholic souls and are entering Heaven without showering.

    "Differences in political opinion are as unavoidable as, to a certain point, they may perhaps be necessary." George Washington

    by civil wingnut on Sat Jul 20, 2013 at 12:54:15 PM PDT

  •  Remembering through the eyes and ears of a child, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LeftOfYou, gffish, historys mysteries

    purgatory was a very boring waiting room.  Remembering my grandfather's generation praying for the souls of the dead in case they were in purgatory and of course masses for the dead.

    Do not adjust your mind, there is a flaw in reality.

    by Shrew in Shrewsbury on Sat Jul 20, 2013 at 01:05:34 PM PDT

  •  The problem with many supernatural horror films (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gffish, historys mysteries, kurt

    is that the premise is often based on some specific Christian belief of devils, angels, motal sins, purgatory, heaven and hell, demonic possesion endend only by men in long dresses, etc. Without that baggage nothing is left but the special effects and often laughable bad acting.

    Tea Baggers Unite and follow that lemming.

    by OHdog on Sat Jul 20, 2013 at 01:22:15 PM PDT

  •  ever been to the Daily Kos (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LeftOfYou, grover, houyhnhnm

    During a presidetial primary?

    Then you know purgatory.

  •  Purgatory is (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gffish, LeftOfYou, historys mysteries

    sitting through six seasons of Lost.

    Chechnya: Russia's North Carolina.

    by NE2 on Sat Jul 20, 2013 at 01:39:08 PM PDT

  •  I always saw it as a waiting room where the only (6+ / 0-)

    magazines were Golf Digest and Better Homes and Gardens.

  •  Purgatory - another christian idea co-opted from (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    a non-christian religion.

    "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's the thing you know for sure that just ain't so." Mark Twain

    by Expat Okie on Sat Jul 20, 2013 at 01:43:30 PM PDT

  •  I haven't even thought of the concept of Purgaory (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gffish, cynndara, Rashaverak

    in years. I don't think I've heard it mentioned in Church or Catholic school since Vatican II. Of course, since the powers that be in Rome are trying to take us back in time, I'm not surprised they are resurrecting it.

    Oh for crying out loud!

    by 4mygirls on Sat Jul 20, 2013 at 01:50:58 PM PDT

  •  Praying for the dead (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gffish, myboo, Rashaverak

    has for its main benefit the potential achievement of catharsis for the one doing the praying.

  •  Purgatory may or may not have been invented (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FG, SixSixSix, LeftOfYou, kurt, semiot

    for the purpose of selling indulgences (although that's certainly been its main purpose throughout Church history); however, it's probably more pertinent to note that it explains why Roman Catholics include the first two Books of Maccabees in its Old Testament canon.  There, and only there, in Roman Catholic scripture is the notion of the usefulness of purchasing restitution for the sins of the dead articulated (2 Maccabees 12:38-46).

    Another curious feature of Purgatory: You can knock off part of your anticipated time in Purgatory prayer as well: Ejaculate "My Jesus, mercy!" or "My Lord and my God!" at consecration at Holy Mass, and you're credited 300 days against your forthcoming time in Purgatory.  Of course, in Her infinite wisdom Holy Mother Church does not tell you how much Purgatory time a given sin incurs, or what a mean/median term in Purgatory amounts to.  So save the ejaculations and go for the plenaries -- Holy Mass, Holy Communion, Confession, and a Rosary at nine consecutive First Friday masses wipes out all of your restitution needs! -- as long as you die before sinning again . . .

    Dogs from the street can have all the desirable qualities that one could want from pet dogs. Most adopted stray dogs are usually humble and exceptionally faithful to their owners as if they are grateful for this kindness. -- H.M. Bhumibol Adulyadej

    by corvo on Sat Jul 20, 2013 at 02:36:34 PM PDT

  •  Purgatory has no scriptual justification, but (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gffish, FG, quarkstomper, kurt, cynndara, Rashaverak

    I suspect that the Catholic Church invented the idea because the ruthless binary choice between eternal bliss and eternal torture does not correspond to the reality of the human race.  Most people are in the grey area between saint and monster, and the idea of Purgatory allows for that reality.  In that respect, the Catholic Church is ahead of the Protestant denominations in compassion for the human race, even if the theology has to be invented out of thin air.

    Of course the oveerall problem with orthodox Christian doctrine is the idea that you have to have the right theological belief about Jesus or suffer eternal torment.  This contradicts the idea that God is benevolent and loves the human race.  The even greater problem is that I cannot see any reason to believe any theology corresponds to any external reality, hence I am an agnostic.

    The short story by J. R. R. Tolkien, "Leaf by Niggle", is a very interesting exploration of a Catholic afterlife.

    "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." Bertrand Russell

    by Thutmose V on Sat Jul 20, 2013 at 02:38:32 PM PDT

  •  Venial Sin (5+ / 0-)

    I was taught (St. Mary's, Lynn, MA), that sins were either mortal  or venial. Dying with a mortal sin on your soul was the expressway to hell.

    Dying with a venial sin unconfessed meant a sentence to purgatory.

    Purgatory was hell with a release date. I did the nine first fridays so I have a pass. But I've since quit the catholic religion so I'm on the highway to hell.

  •  Nuns taught that Purgatory was... (4+ / 0-)

    similar to Heaven but without God. Since no person is perfect, every Catholic could expect to spend a little time there-- unless you could afford to buy "indulgences" or pay a whole lot of nickels to light candles in church.
    However, this is a Catholic thing because non-Catholics are not allowed in the Catholic heaven. If not baptized, your best chance is going to Limbo (but that's another story altogether). I always liked the idea of another Heaven for people who didn't care what others' personal beliefs were. After all, there are no churches (or banks) in Heaven.

    •  Much of this is old school: (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Limbo is gone  and Pope Francis says Heaven isn't an exclusive Catholic club.  

      © grover

      So if you get hit by a bus tonight, would you be satisfied with how you spent today, your last day on earth? Live like tomorrow is never guaranteed, because it's not. -- Me.

      by grover on Sat Jul 20, 2013 at 03:51:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I was a craddel Catholic, and purgatory was taught (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cynndara, Rashaverak

      to us by the nuns that it was a holding area in between heaven and hell and you had to go there if you did commit a or some venial sins.. Yup. Then you had to do a lot of praying there in order to expedite out of there to heaven.. Guess that is the simplest way to put it for those who are non Catholic.

      But speaking of Purgatory, back in the early 1300's Dante wrote the Divine Comedy which included Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. I loved reading it. Really gives one great insight to the Catholic Church . That said, it wasn't until the 1600's when the Protestants decided they didn't need a damn purgatory and left it out of their new religion. I see that as either you live a self righteous life
      like they do today, or you burn in hell. No forgiveness allowed. Kind of like today.

      I left the Catholic church many years ago after decades of trying to rid myself of all the guilt they instilled in to me. But always like the way the Catholic religion used to be,  as far as forgiveness goes. You can always go to confession and be forgiven by the priest for your sins, and start anew the next week with a clean slate.. At least the priests didn't condemn you to hell for partying, drinking, smoking and fornicating, only forgiven as well as a number of Hail Mary's and Our Father's to say...:)

    •  similar to Heaven but without God. (0+ / 0-)

      No, Purgatory was similar to Hell, a place of flames and punishment, but not eternal.  Merely a jail sentence that would end someday.

      Limbo was similar to Heaven but without God.

  •  I like this logic :\ (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gfv6800, Rashaverak
    Prayers are not needed by those in heaven, and no one can help those in hell. That means some people must be in a third condition, at least temporarily.
    ...or, prayer for deceased souls is simply a mistake, but that option is not considered.

    Mark E. Miller // Kalamazoo Township Trustee // MI 6th District Democratic Chair

    by memiller on Sat Jul 20, 2013 at 03:28:13 PM PDT

  •  Purgatory is the metaphysical Inland Empire. (0+ / 0-)

    Some beautiful parts and stuff to do, but mostly just dismal shit.

  •  Maybe a parallel with the Tibetan Book (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    of Liberation through Hearing (popularly: Book of the Dead) might offer some insight into the idea of Purgatory.

    The idea behind the book is you die, but you've lived well enough that the possibility of Liberation (from the cycle of birth and death) is still a possibility. So people read instructions to you (using the body or personal artifacts as sort of a "telephone line") telling you to endure the discomfort of the purifying Clear Light (aka Reality devoid of Concepts).

    The discomfort coming from the fact that the deceased is still attached to various appetites and fixations of life, and the fear that giving them up means it's all over. And that discomfort and fear impels one to, in reflex, run to a place to hide, and that appealing cave appears and bingo! there you are born as a sheep-herder or king or frog again.

    Sort of echoed in popular culture "occult" films with "go toward the Light."

    When I was young, we were taught that if there was something we wanted (or didn't want) and we were suffering from that, we had the option to "offer that up for the souls in purgatory." Stop moaning, endure, and dedicate the effort involved for the benefit of our fellows.

    So, putting it all together, I can't express exactly what this all means, but I think you can get a feeling of the whys and wherefores of Purgatory.

    How following the Pope's tweets is related, I can't imagine.

    Actual Democrats is the surest, quickest, route to More Democrats

    by Jim P on Sat Jul 20, 2013 at 03:55:10 PM PDT

  •  purgatory: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    the means to scare fairy tale believers into spending more money on a fraudulent enterprise.

    What we call god is merely a living creature with superior technology & understanding. If their fragile egos demand prayer, they lose that superiority.

    by agnostic on Sat Jul 20, 2013 at 05:25:46 PM PDT

  •  If you have to ask . . . (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    you're pretty damn lucky. Some of us live there.  A little compassion, please.

    Light is seen through a small hole.

    by houyhnhnm on Sat Jul 20, 2013 at 06:13:25 PM PDT

  •  Like Limbo-where unbaptised babies use to go..I (0+ / 0-)

    dare say purgatory is just an old selling point to get more sheep, I mean followers. Religion is like a life insurance policy...lots of those have gone bankrupt...or one cannot collect... you decide.

    "Time is for careful people, not passionate ones." "Life without emotions is like an engine without fuel."

    by roseeriter on Sun Jul 21, 2013 at 12:30:48 AM PDT

  •  Purgatory is the sixteen years ... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ... in which your child or children discover television and then take to learn to develop a taste for programs you don't find mind-shatteringly dull.  

    By the way, I got the pun in your title, and as an atheist, I'm not offended by your "shower metaphor." In fact, I don't think that you or I could've imagined much less executed a better modern-day religion parody device than the purgatory tweet.

    I would tip you, but the man took away my tips.

    by Tortmaster on Sun Jul 21, 2013 at 02:48:17 AM PDT

  •  It is the current Untied States of America (0+ / 0-)

    nosotros no somos estúpidos

    by a2nite on Sun Jul 21, 2013 at 06:42:05 AM PDT

  •  Hmmmmm (0+ / 0-)

    I've generally found that semi-formal "short answers" written for laymen are the very WORST source for information about anything, from theoretical physics to medical information and definitely through theology.  These are all complex fields, and the "dumbed down for dummies" approach does NOT convey the subtleties and serious rationale behind cardinal theorems.  When I wanted to learn Catholic theology, I had to return both of the introductory manuals given to me by the priests, and borrow a theology textbook from a first-year seminarian.  Remember that those short-answer websites and handbooks are written to address the average twelve-year-old.  OF COURSE they seem childish and naive.

    Purgatory is a concept that developed to deal with the evolution of Christian ideas about life after death.  The reason it doesn't appear in the Bible is that at the time of Jesus, the Jews didn't really HAVE a concept of life after death.  The whole Heaven idea was rather blurry itself.  If you re-read the NT, you'll see that most of the speakers assume Resurrection in a literal, physical sense.  Until then, the dead Believer is just dead.  This wasn't a big deal when Christians expected the Resurrection to occur, if not in their (short, due to martyrdom) lifetimes, Real Soon Now.  As the decades dragged on and the Second Coming was put off indefinitely, Christian leaders had to do some more serious thinking about what exactly was going on.  That's when they borrowed the idea of a glorious afterlife in the sky (Heaven was a real place in the 4th century) from contemporary pagan ideas.  And that caused its own problems.

    By the time of Emperor Julian (c. 360), Christians were increasingly subject to the criticism l got from my mother, herself a victim of Protestant Revivalism: the divine gift of redemption for serious sins was just UNFAIR.  A man could spend a lifetime in rape, theft, murder, and incest (consider Constantine), confess and receive absolution on his deathbed, and be immediately admitted into Heaven.  Another man could have been baptized at sixteen, regularly confessed, done penance, and received Communion, but die by chance after committing some minor sin without getting to a priest first, and be condemned to Hell.  A just and benevolent God would have set up some system to sort this out.  So the Christian theologians set about reasoning what that system might be.  

    You can tell that this problem became a problem right around when the East and West Empires were splitting up, because the Catholic and Orthodox Churches both came up with similar solutions, but they describe them differently.  The Catholics invented Purgatory.  The Orthodox claim that everyone who isn't a Saint (which, by the way, is a rank RECOGNIZED by the Church, but not created by it -- the Orthodox are explicit that many saints exist that the Church has never realized; saints are simply those who are so pure and full of God's Grace that they DO immediately wind up in Heaven) goes to Hell, which is the cold, dark, dismal holding bin where a soul waits it out until Final Judgement.  Lakes of fire and demon-whips don't come out until after God has done the last sorting, and until then, prayers for the Dead can help them to repent and seek divine Grace (or attract the attention of a Saint in Heaven, who might visit them and help them out).  The Western Church, meanwhile, sent only the absolutely incorrigible to Hell, which was conceived as the Lake of Fire and Brimstone and immediate torture.  But the majority of the dead, again, got sent to the holding bin, here styled Purgatory, where they wait either for the Final Judgment, or get sufficiently repented and purified to drift up to Heaven.

    As someone else pointed out, this isn't too different from the TIbetan concept of the "bardo" state, where the soul is suspended between life, rebirth, or Enlightenment, working through the consequences of decisions made and negative emotions.  As a young pagan, I was told by my first teacher that "everyone goes to Hell first", that would be the Orthodox concept of Hell-as-holding-bin.  Later I tended to style it as Purgatory according to Western terminology.  Now I might call it Bardo, but in my novels I just refer to it as the Spirit World.  Certainly not everyone who dies goes to Heaven; I've talked to far too many ghosts to believe that.  And when you come down to it, the Cycle of Rebirth can also be seen as Purgatory, the continual work-out  until a soul's final destiny is defined by its actions. "This is not Hell; nor am I out of it," as Marlowe's Mephistopheles puts it.

    Indulgences, however, are a peculiar innovation of Church corruption; at this point quaint and farcical.  A Church which sells indulgences has lost the spiritual power to effect what it purports to offer.

  •  To avoid having to do time in Purgatory, (0+ / 0-)

    ask the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to make a novena for you... at least once a year.

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