Purgatory is a state in which those who die in venial sin or those who die without having fully satisfied for their sins undergo a purification in which they are completely cleansed from all remaining stains of sin. Forgiveness of sins takes away eternal punishment, or hell. Yet temporal punishment still remains. If one dies without fully expiated his sins, those sins must still be fully expiated before he enters heaven. Purgatory involves some degree of pain, and the living can assist the dead with their prayers. All other popular beliefs about purgatory, such as the existence of purgatorial fire, or that purgatory is a place in which time passes, is not part of the official Catholic teaching on purgatory.
Protestants deny the existence of purgatory, and claim that since the Bible speaks only about heaven and hell, they are the only two places or states in the afterlife. But this is not true. The Bible also speaks of a place popularly called the Limbo of the Fathers (Acts 2:34, Eph 4:8-10, 1 Pet 4:6), where the just resided until the time that heaven was opened by Christ (1 Pet. 3:19). This was often referred to as the world of the dead, or the world below (Deut. 3:22, Ps. 16:10. 18:6, 55:16, 86:13, 116:3, 139:8; Prov 9:18, 23:14; Is. 5:14, 14:9; Ezek. 31:16-17, 32:21-27). This place was neither heaven nor hell.
Did Limbo continue to exist after the redemption, or was a place like Limbo established after the souls there went to heaven? "At the name of Jesus, every knee should bend of those in heaven, on Earth, and under the Earth" (Phil. 2:10). "And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all therein, saying, ‘To him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might for ever and ever!'" (Rev 5:3,13). Who are those "under the Earth"? They cannot be demons or those in hell, since God refuses to receive prayer, praise, and worship from the unrepentant sinner (Ps. 66:18, Prov. 1:28-30, Is. 1:15, 59:2, Jer. 6:20, Amos 5:21-24, Mic. 3:4, Mal. 1:10, John 9:31, Heb. 10:38). They also cannot be the souls in Limbo, since they had gone to heaven, unless they had to stay and expiate their sins, just as souls in purgatory have to. Limbo may have continued to exist as purgatory, where souls had to be "loosed from their sins" (2 Mac. 12:39-46).
Protestants argue that the Good Thief went straight to heaven. This, they say, proves that purgatory does not exist. But "paradise" in this verse (Lk 23:43) does not refer to heaven, since after His death, Jesus did not ascend to heaven (this would take place 40 days later; (Acts 1:3,9-11; cf. Jn 20:17), but rather he "descended to the dead," to quote the Apostles Creed: "He went to preach to the spirits in prison" (1 Pet 3:19); "The gospel was preached even to the dead (1 Pet. 4:6); (See also Eph 4:8-10). Thus "paradise" in this verse referred to the place where Christ was. Even if the Good Thief went straight to heaven, it would not be because there was no purgatory, but because he received the baptism of desire at the moment of death and therefore had both eternal and temporal punishment remitted.
Protestants, in their opposition to purgatory, misquote Paul as saying "To be absent from the body is to be present with Christ" (2 Cor. 5:6). But what Paul really said was, "We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord." This is different. If someone said, "I want to leave work and be at home," that would not mean that the moment he left home he would be at work. It would take some time to get there. What Paul is saying is that as long as he is in the body, he will not be in heaven. Only by leaving the body (or by dying) can Paul go to heaven. But Paul did not imply by this that as soon as he left the body, he would be in heaven. He is just saying that as long as he is alive, he can not possibly be "with the Lord."
Protestants also attack purgatory by saying that the Catholic Church invented and sustains this belief because it makes huge sums of money from the doctrine. Apparently, the target here is that the Church makes money off of masses for the dead. This is true. Because those who "work at the temple are supported by the temple" (1 Cor. 9:13-14), people who request masses for the dead usually pay the priest a stipend. However, this stipend is usually no more than ten dollars, and even then, some do not pay it. The priest, not the Church, gets the stipend, and he certainly does not get rich off of five dollars per Mass.
The main argument Protestants have against Purgatory is that, according to them, Jesus paid the price for all our sins by dying on the cross. Purgatory, they say, implies that Christ's sufferings were not sufficient. Of course, the Catholic Church teaches that Christ's sufferings were sufficient. But Paul writes: "I find my joy in the suffering I endure for you. In my own flesh I fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ" (Col. 1:24). Christ's sufferings are said to be "lacking" because God demands that we suffer for our sins even after they have been forgiven. But it is the merits of Christ that make our own sufferings capable of satisfying sins. What it comes down to is Christ does all the work, even though we participate in that work. Christ's sufferings are sufficient, but they are applied to us over time, and through such things as the sacraments, indulgences, and through our penances.
Protestants say that God does not demand satisfaction for sins. But when David sinned, he was told that "The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die" (2 Sam. 12:13-14). David, even after being forgiven, had to suffer temporal punishment. Protestants argue that this changed with Christ's sacrificial death, but the New Testament nowhere states this. Hebrews 12 reads: "Do not disdain the discipline of the Lord nor lose heart when he reproves you; For whom the lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he receives . . . For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?" (Heb. 12:5-7). The Bible only says that Christ has wiped out the eternal punishment for our sins–hell.
Protestants reject the doctrine of purgatory mainly because they do not find the doctrine explicitly in Scripture. It is true that the word "purgatory" is not found in Scripture, but neither are the words "trinity" or "incarnation." But that does not mean that those concepts are not Biblical. In fact, purgatory is a Biblical concept.
The Bible speaks about sins that "will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come" (Matt. 12:32). This implies that sins can be forgiven in the "age to come," which would by necessity refer to purgatory. Matthew 5:25-26 reads: "Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny." In this passage and in Luke 12:59, "prison" refers to purgatory (just as it referred to Limbo–1 Pet 3:19), and those who will be delivered, but only after they have expiated their sins in full (or "paid the last penny"). Psalm 66:12 reads: "Thou didst let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet thou hast brought us forth to a spacious place." "Fire" and "water" are prophetic of purgatory and baptism. The parable of Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) mentions the "bosom of Abraham." Hebrews 12:14 states: "Strive for . . . that holiness without which no man will see God." Notice, he is telling Christians that they must still strive for holiness because only when they do will they be able to "see God." This implies that many are not yet "holy" enough for the Beatific Vision, and must spend some time in purgatory. The passage from 1 Corintians 3:11-15 reads: "For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw--each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire." The "Day" spoken of here is the day that each man dies and is judged (Heb. 9:27), the particular judgement. The person being judged is someone who is in the state of grace, because the foundation was Jesus Christ. So the person is saved, but has to "suffer." This is a reference to purgatory. Another significant passage is 1 Corinthians 15:29: "Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?" To be baptized in the Scriptures often meant to do penance (Luke 12:50; Mark 10:38-9). So the early Christians did penance for the souls of the faithful departed, which would only make sense if they believed in purgatory, because if they were in hell, it would do no good to pray for them and do good works on their behalf. And 2 Timothy 1:16-18 reads: "May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me; he was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me eagerly and found me - may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day - and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus."Onesiphorus appears to be dead at the time St. Paul writes this letter to Timothy (see 2 Timothy 4:19, where Paul sends greetings not to Onesiphorus, but only to his family). If that is true, then Paul is praying for the dead.
We see this concept of praying for the dead most strongly in 2 Maccabees: "For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin" (2 Macc. 12:44-45). Judas believed these men died in godliness (v. 45), meaning he knew they would someday rise to everlasting life. Judas also knew that before they could rise from the dead, they needed to expiate their sins. Therefore, Judas prayed for the men (v. 44), so they would be "delivered from their sin" (v. 45). Prayers are not needed by those in heaven, and they can't help those in hell. This means that they had to be in a third state, at least temporarily, and had to have their sins expiated before they could rise from the dead when the gates of heaven would be opened to all men. Belief in prayer for the dead is still held among the Jews, who pray for eleven months after one's death.
But Protestants ask, why is purgatory necessary? Purgatory is necessary because "nothing unclean shall enter (heaven)" (Rev. 21:27). Anyone who has not expiated his sins in full is still "unclean." He needs to expiate his sins in order to enter heaven. Therefore, a soul, even if it is "cloaked with the righteousness of Christ" is still unclean, and therefore, purgatory is necessary. The soul itself must be clean, because even if a soul is covered, it remains unclean. In heaven, we will not sin. On Earth, we do sin. So between death and heaven we must be purified, and that purification is purgatory.
The Acts of Paul and Thecla (Acts of Paul and Thecla [A.D. 160]) "And after the exhibition, Tryphaena again received her [Thecla]. For her daughter Falconilla had died, and said to her in a dream: 'Mother, you shall have this stranger Thecla in my place, in order that she may pray concerning me, and that I may be transferred to the place of the righteous'".
Abercius (Epitaph of Abercius [A.D. 190]) "The citizen of a prominent city, I erected this while I lived, that I might have a resting place for my body. Abercius is my name, a disciple of the chaste shepherd who feeds his sheep on the mountains and in the fields, who has great eyes surveying everywhere, who taught me the faithful writings of life. Standing by, I, Abercius, ordered this to be inscribed; truly I was in my seventy-second year. May everyone who is in accord with this and who understands it pray for Abercius".
The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity (The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity 2:3-4 [A.D. 202]) "[T]hat very night, this was shown to me in a vision: I saw Dinocrates going out from a gloomy place, where also there were several others, and he was parched and very thirsty, with a filthy countenance and pallid color, and the wound on his face which he had when he died. This Dinocrates had been my brother after the flesh, seven years of age, who died miserably with disease . . . For him I had made my prayer, and between him and me there was a large interval, so that neither of us could approach to the other. . . . and [I] knew that my brother was in suffering. But I trusted that my prayer would bring help to his suffering; and I prayed for him every day until we passed over into the prison of the camp, for we were to fight in the camp-show. Then . . . I made my prayer for my brother day and night, groaning and weeping that he might be granted to me. Then, on the day on which we remained in fetters, this was shown to me. I saw that that place which I had formerly observed to be in gloom was now bright; and Dinocrates, with a clean body well clad, was finding refreshment. . . . [And] he went away from the water to play joyously, after the manner of children, and I awoke. Then I understood that he was translated from the place of punishment".
Tertullian (Monogamy 10:1-2 [A.D. 216]) "A woman, after the death of her husband ... prays for his soul and asks that he may, while waiting, find rest; and that he may share in the first resurrection. And each year, on the anniversary of his death, she offers the sacrifice".
Cyprian of Carthage (Letters 51:20 [A.D. 253]) "It is one thing to stand for pardon, another thing to attain to glory; it is one thing, when cast into prison, not to go out thence until one has paid the uttermost farthing; another thing at once to receive the wages of faith and courage. It is one thing, tortured by long suffering for sins, to be cleansed and long purged by fire; another to have purged all sins by suffering. It is one thing, in fine, to be in suspense till the sentence of God at the day of judgment; another to be at once crowned by the Lord.".
Lactantius (Divine Institutes 7:21:6 [A.D. 307]) "But also, when God will judge the just, it is likewise in fire that he will try them. At that time, they whose sins are uppermost, either because of their gravity or their number, will be drawn together by the fire and will be burned. Those, however, who have been imbued with full justice and maturity of virtue, will not feel that fire; for they have something of God in them which will repel and turn back the strength of the flame".
Gregory of Nyssa (Sermon on the Dead [A.D. 382]). "If he have inclined to the irrational pressure of the passions . . . he may afterward in a quite different manner be very much interested in what is better, when, after his departure out of the body, he gains knowledge of the difference between virtue and vice and finds that he is not able to partake of divinity until he has been purged of the filthy contagion in his soul by the purifying fire".
John Chrysostom (Homilies on 1 Corinthians 41:5 [A.D. 392]) "Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice [Job 1:5], why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them".
Augustine (Sermons 172:2 [A.D. 411]) "But by the prayers of the Holy Church, and by the salvific sacrifice, and by the alms which are given for their spirits, there is no doubt that the dead are aided, that the Lord might deal more mercifully with them than their sins would deserve. The whole Church observes this practice which was handed down by the Fathers: that it prays for those who have died in the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ...It is not at all to be doubted that such prayers are of profit to the dead."; (Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Charity 18:69 [A.D. 421]) "That there should be some fire even after this life is not incredible, and it can be inquired into and either be discovered or left hidden whether some of the faithful may be saved, some more slowly and some more quickly in the greater or lesser degree in which they loved the good things that perish, through a certain purgatorial fire"