The Catholic Doctrine of Purgatory
by William Robinson




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The Catholic Doctrine of Purgatory
William Robinson
Mercer University

In developing an compelling argument about the origins, beliefs, functions and history of purgatory such a subject deserves the most extensive research because the practice is one that is sacred and controversial however this is a theological idea that has ancient roots and is well-attested in early Christian literature therefore it isn't within my intentions to be very opinionated but more so to offer factual data on the doctrine of purgatory.

What Is the Doctrine of Purgatory?
The Catholic doctrine of purgatory is centered on the belief that Purgatory is the intermediate state between heaven and hell where those of the dead, who have not sinned greatly enough to warrant hell, but have not yet purified them enough in goodness to enter into heaven, go to prepare and purify themselves of sin. (Hughes 2008). According to The Birth of Purgatory by Jacque Le Goff, Purgatory is “an intermediary world” in which some of the dead are subjected to a trial that could be shortened by prayers and other spiritual assistance of those still living. According to The Divine Crucible of Purgatory by Mother Mary of St. Austin, there are several points that are absolutely essential in the understanding of purgatory. Those points are that there is a Purgatory, those in Purgatory are in a state of grace, meaning that they will eventually be purified and enter into heaven, they suffer or undergo purifications to satisfy the justice of God for sins committed in their lives, the faithful on earth can shorten their time by offering prayers and the sacrifice of the Holy Mass. In St. Patrick's Purgatory: Pilgrimage Motifs in a Medieval Otherworld Vision, by Carol G. Zaleski it is stated that "In Lough Derg, a lake in the Irish county of Donegal, there is an island, sacred to both pre-Christian and Christian Celts, which achieved fame in the Middle Ages as a goal for pilgrims and an entrance to purgatory. Here, according to tradition, St. Patrick found a way to convert the pagan Irish through a graphic demonstration of the pains of the damned and joys of the blessed.

St. Patrick believed that this purification process could attained by Earthly means therefore not excepting the whole true idea of purgatory but creating a place of pre- purgatory between Heaven and Earth. Also to provided further evidence I believe it is important to note that specifics of the physical and mental process in which was practiced on the island. Thousands of pilgrims traveled to the "Purgatory of St. Patrick" where, locked inside its cave like cell, some would see extraordinary visions extending their pilgrimage into the other world. Those who survived the ordeal were said to be exempt from the pains of purgatory after death. (Zaleski 1985). Saint Patrick’s Purgatory seemed to experience a state purgatory on earth however though it seemed to be only a prerequisite process. Regardless of the different views of purgatory each authors has the same opinion that it is a place of being purified from one sins.

Why is Purgatory Important?
However with having the understanding that purgatory is the quality of cleansing or purifying and also by Catholic views a place or state of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners who are expiating their sins before going to heaven, Why is it so important? Purgatory holds such importance for humanity because it presents a third option to heaven (total holiness) and hell (total evil) – and offers a different view into the mind of God and how He works to perfect the souls of man through this intermediate world. Perhaps purgatory is best represented by The Divine Comedy of Dante, wherein the poet Virgil takes an imaginary journey into the Inferno (Hell), Paradisio (Heaven) and Purgatorio (Purgatory). By so doing, Virgil meets those along the path who have warranted various destinies and thereby shows us our own destiny as we identify ourselves along the way. Dante "Inferno poem" says purgatory is a state of not being evil enough for hell or good enough for Heaven. So you’re stuck between the two, however you do not yet receive any real punishment. Saints have described Purgatory as a place of suffering and a place of purification. In order for souls to attain to the holiness required to stand in the presence of God, acute self-examination must be undergone. Self-examination is painful yet necessary for such a high attainment to be achieved.

Old and New Testament Support
The Catholic doctrine of purgatory supposes the fact that some die with smaller faults for which there was no true repentance, and also the fact that the temporal penalty due to sin is it times not wholly paid in this life. (Hanna 1911). The Catholic doctrine of Purgatory is also supported by the old and new testament.
In the Old Testament the tradition of the Jews is put forth with precision and clearness in 2 Maccabees. Judas, the commander of the forces of Israel,
making a gathering . . . sent twelve thousand drachmas of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sin of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection (For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead). And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them. It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins. (2 Maccabees 12:43-46)
At the time of the Maccabees the leaders of the people of God had no hesitation in asserting the efficacy of prayers offered for the dead, in order that those who had departed this life might find pardon for their sins and the hope of eternal resurrection. (Hanna 1911).
In the New Testament there are several scriptures used by Catholics that point to a process of purification after death. Thus, Jesus Christ declares (Matthew 12:32): "And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come." According to St. Isidore of Seville (Deord. creatur. c. xiv, n. 6) these words prove that in the next life "some sins will be forgiven and purged away by a certain purifying fire." St. Augustine also argues "that some sinners are not forgiven either in this world or in the next would not be truly said unless there were other [sinners] who, though not forgiven in this world, are forgiven in the world to come" (City of God XXI.24). There are also other theologians that agree and support this interpretation. A further argument is supplied by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15:

"For other foundation no man can lay, but that which is laid; which is Christ Jesus. Now if any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay stubble: Every man's work shall be manifest; for the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire; and the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is. If any man's work abide, which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work burn, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire."
While this passage presents considerable difficulty, it is regarded by many of the Fathers and theologians as evidence for the existence of an intermediate state in which the dross of lighter transgressions will be burnt away, and the soul thus purified will be saved. In additions to Holy Scripture, there are Apocryphal books, which were left out of Holy Canon, as well as Lost Books of the Bible. It is the Apocryphal book entitled The Maccabees that contains the integral beginnings of the doctrine of purgatory. In an obscure passage, the narrator states that it is a good thing to pray for the dead. In these few word lie the complex and fascinating origins of the doctrine of Purgatory. (Hughes 2008).

Audacity and Irony
Herman Melville once said "It is not down on any map; true places never are." There has been speculation whether purgatory exist because there isn't any scriptural evidence. "Purgatory, whatever else one may think of it, is an audacious cosmo-otherworldly logical project. Indeed, the church's otherworldly speculations are all speculations are all audacious: heaven, hell, the various forms of limbo. None is quite audacious: heaven, spelled out in Scripture, although any may be found there by one determined to find them. But purgatory may be the least obviously scriptural. Nor is it derived from other religious sources; the Greco-Roman realm of the dead, like the biblical Sheol, is unitary, a single place in which dead souls rest without change. One might from such sources derive hell, perhaps even heaven—but not purgatory. Whether one is dogmatically committed to understanding purgatory as a part of the depositum fidei, or is convinced by Jacques LeGoff that the doctrine, if not the place itself, was "born" in a specific place and time - Paris, the decade after 1170 — one cannot avoid the observation that purgatory is an uniquely Christian phenomenon." (Church 424)
From the patristic era through the Middle Ages, purgatory became linked to an array of liturgical practices: suffrages for the dead, the celebration of All Souls Day, and penance in its many forms, including pilgrimages. All these were interpreted as means by which souls might have their stay in purgatory reduced. As Stephen Greenblatt has demonstrated, popular stories of ghosts and visions, such as the, Gast of Gy and St. Patrick's Purgatory, were means by which the still-the novel theory of purgatory could be integrated not only into academic theology but also into the popular culture of Western Christianity. More overtly artistic works later built upon these popular formulas. The most famous is Dante, whose purgatory vastly exceeds in elaboration any teachings of the church.


References:

  • Skotnicki, Andrew "GOD’S PRISONERS: PENAL CONFINEMENT AND THE CREATION OF PURGATORY". Modern Theology. Vol. 22 Department of Religious Studies, Manhattan College, Bronx, NY 10471, USA. p85-110. <http://web.ebscohost.com.swilley-proxy.mercer.edu


Article Analysis: GOD’S PRISONERS: PENAL CONFINEMENT AND THE
CREATION OF PURGATORY
Focus:. The Gregorian reform of the eleventh century created the conditions for significant changes in the social and ideological structure of Western Civilization. With discussing two important concepts to emerge from that period and the similarities that exist between them: the prison and Purgatory each is a place of temporal confinement whose aim is the reform of the inmate for the purpose of fruitful reintegration into a sacred community. Their primary point of contact during their long period of incubation was monasticism: itself a place of voluntary incarceration that provided the spatial contours and structural regimen for the universal penal edifice.


Prision
Purgatory
Temporal Confinement
The relation between prison and Purgatory hinges on the substantive changes brought to the practice of confinement by the early Church with its
employment of time as an agent of conversion. This striking marriage of
retributive and reformative impulses traces its lineage to the practice of penance and the particular way it was appropriated in the monastic setting. In conjunction with these carcereal developments, the monasteries were also
instrumental in sowing the imaginative seeds for the shape of the world after
death. (85)

Above all, however, it was a legal revolution. It established for the Church a universal code of law, a centralized authority, and a system of legal accountability culminating in the normalization of the prison. Canon law then became the model for secular legal systems and their employment of cellular detention as the fundamental disciplinary
apparatus in Western societies.
(86)

Its earthly analogue and inspiration was the penitentiary, or prison, which had been undergoing a startling reconceptualization
that began with the first monastic rules and culminated in the aftermath of the Gregorian revolution in its modern structural form, a
form it maintains, in essence, to this very day. (86)

Prisons and the social portrait of those who inhabit them are essentially products of human imagination.6 As the imagination of Western believers was tutored over the centuries to imagine the prison and prisoner in the harsh but redemptive format of the monastic cell, the configuration and meaning of the other-worldly prison began to take shape. (86)
The relation between prison and Purgatory hinges on the substantive changes brought to the practice of confinement by the early Church with its
employment of time as an agent of conversion. This striking marriage of
retributive and reformative impulses traces its lineage to the practice of penance and the particular way it was appropriated in the monastic setting. In conjunction with these carcereal developments, the monasteries were also
instrumental in sowing the imaginative seeds for the shape of the world after
death. (85)

An entire literary genre of visions and travels to the netherworld developed early in the common era. These stories of cosmic voyages and
pilgrimages into places of turmoil and regret for earthly misdeeds came to
echo the configuration, the temporal sequence, and the redemptive hope of monastic incarceration.1 Finally, with the creation of a universal and binding system of law in the post-Gregorian era, the Church enacted the decrees mandating the ecclesiastical practice of penal confinement, and recognizing the cosmic place of confinement known as Purgatory: God’s prisoners being tried, punished, and redeemed in each. (85)

The metaphor for the Gregorian revolution was Purgatory—itself a juridic, legal structure, a subterranean prison that fundamentally altered the idea of time and the
geography of the world after death. (86)

Those atoning for sin in this life and the next came, in effect, to share the same time zone.8 In this legal cosmos, the prison took on transcendent dimensions: it
became an institutional metaphor for a world transformed, for sinners chastened, and for a purified army of penitents ready to share in the benefits of
heaven. (86)

Implications: Whether one can draw a direct causal line between the near simultaneous
emergence of Purgatory and the prison is still open to scholarly debate. Regardless of whether that question is, or even can be settled, the similarities between the two penal colonies abound. They suggest a mutual coherence of time, place, law, punishment, and redemption. They link the real images of repentant and purified offenders on earth with complementary
pocalyptic images of divine justice and


Article Analysis: THE POETICS OF PURGATORY

Focus: Michael G. L. Church presents the argument of the audacity and irony of purgatory. That this religious system is a creation of spirited interpretation and one of penance. Church concluded at the end of his article his resolution that the most credible in its claims about God. We are free to choose our own purgatory, and I will choose the purgatory of grace.

AUDACITY AND IRONY
Spirited Interpretation
Penance

“The church's otherworldly
speculations are all audacious: heaven, hell, the various forms of limbo. None is quite spelled out in Scripture, although any may be found there by one determined to find them.” (424)

“One might from such sources derive hell, perhaps even heaven—but not purgatory. Whether one is dogmatically committed to understanding purgatory as a part of the depositum fidei, or is convinced by Jacques LeGoff that the doctrine, if not the place itself, was "born" in a specific place and time. One cannot avoid the observation that purgatory is an uniquely Christian phenomenon.” (424)

As Stephen Greenblatt has demonstrated, popular stories of ghosts and visions, such as the Gast ofGy and St. Patrick's Purgatory, were means by which the still-novel theory of purgatory could be integrated not only into academic theology but also into the popular culture of Western Christianity.” (425)


“From the patristic era through the Middle Ages, purgatory became linked to an array of liturgical practices: suffrages for the dead, the celebration of All Souls7 Day, and penance in its many forms, including pilgrimages. All these were interpreted as means by which souls might have their stay in purgatory reduced.” (425)

Purgatory, the middle place of departed souls, has long exercised influence upon the spiritual and artistic life of the West, and upon the worship life of Western Christianity.” (425)
“The birth of purgatory, as well as its death, is inextricably involved with the history of penitential discipline. That history has been the subject of great and contentious debate.8 James Dallen offers a feasible version. He describes the metamorphosis of penance from a public, ecclesial, social action to a private, individual, moral one. As he describes it, ecclesiastical penance, as distinct from the initial metanoia of the individual convert, begins in the apostolic era as the community's means of healing itself. “(426)

Notorious sinners, by failing to live up to the community's standards, wound not so much themselves or God (which would be the later understanding), as rather the church. By giving these sinners the opportunity to admit their fault (exomologesis), to leave the community, and then according to a series of ritualized steps return to it, the "assembly made itself whole and holy once again." This reflects, for instance, Polycarp's advice that his readers not cast out notorious sinners, but "reclaim" them "so that you may preserve the whole of your community intact." (426)

“Emerging in part from the simmering contest of laxism and rigorism, especially in Rome and North Africa, is a form of liturgical penance which mirrors the rites used for the preparation of new members” (426)

“While there is ample evidence for the existence of canonical penance, the duration of its widespread practice is a matter of significant debate. Western writers even into the Middle Ages treat canonical penance as if it were a living tradition, but—apart from rare instances like Henry IV's appearance in the snow at Canossa— it was effectively a "dead letter [from] the sixth and seventh centuries." (426)

Implications: I think Church made very good arguments for the existence of Purgatory. I agree with the closing suggestion that if we are to become perfect, the change must be brought about in us and without us; that is, the change is to be the work not of man, but of God. Based on my own spiritual beliefs and practices we are free will beings who can only control just so much therefore in the end God wants to know our true love for him through our personal relationship, no middle man.




Article Analysis: St. Patrick's Purgatory: Pilgrimage Motifs in a Medieval Otherworld Vision

Focus: The Catholic doctrine of purgatory is centered on the belief that Purgatory is the intermediate state between heaven and hell where those of the dead, who have not sinned greatly enough to warrant hell, but have not yet purified them enough in goodness to enter into heaven, go to prepare and purify themselves of sin. In Lough Derg, a lake in the Irish county of Donegal, there is an island, sacred to both pre-Christian and Christian Celts, which achieved fame in the Middle Ages as a goal for pilgrims and an entrance to purgatory. Here, according to traditions. Patrick found a way to convert the pagan Irish through a graphic demonstration of the pains of the damned and the joys of the blessed.


Characteristics
Main Idea
Description
Thousands of pilgrims traveled to the "Purgatory of St. Patrick" where, locked inside its cave-like cell, some would see extraordinary visions extending their pilgrimage into the other world. (467)

One cannot say exactly when Lough Derg became a sacred site. The lake lies in the far Northwest of Ireland and is completely ringed by mountains. Considered by Continental writers to be an Ultima Thule, this region must have seemed remote and for- bidding even to Irish natives. The forty-six barren islands and the reddish waters of the lake (Lough Derg means Red Lake) contributed to its mystique. (468)
The legend of the Purgatory rode in on the wave of enthusiasm for St. Patrick, which followed the "discovery" of his relics and their solemn translation to Downpatrick in 1186. (471)

This confusion in the earliest sources has led some to believe that the Purgatory was primarily an Anglo-Norman invention, influenced by Continental fantasies about Ireland rather
than by actual pilgrim age practices. (470)

Jacques Le Goff shows, the notion of purgatory as a place became consolidated. (470)

The most striking feature is the way it links terrestrial to extra-terrestrial topography. The Knight Owen steps through a physical doorway into the other world; he insists that his was not the visionary
experience of an ecstatic. This peculiarity seems to set the Purgatory legend apart from the other Christian tales of rapture and return-from death visions. (472)
Purpose
Those who survived the ordeal were said to be exempt from the pains of purgatory after death. The reports they brought back to the parishes and monasteries of Western Europe greatly augmented the stock of visionary testimony, providing an abundant resource for didactic and allegorical invention. (467)


It is likely that Irish pilgrims used to visit Lough Derg as a Patrician shrine and setting for the religious austerities which were so much a part
of the Celtic Christian spirit (467)
The Tractatus states that the Purgatory is located in Ireland, in a "deserted place" where Jesus showed St. Patrick a pit through which the penitent might descend to the lower world.1 Evidently the Anglo- Norman narrators were content to situate the Purgatory no more precisely than "somewhere" in the wild expanse of Ireland. (470)


Following instructions attributed to St.
Patrick, the prior in charge of the Purgatory attempts to dissuade Owen from risking his life there: "If you were to follow our advice, you would turn back from this plan and correct your life in the world through some other means. For many have entered here who never returned. (473)
Creation
Religious austerities, which were so much a part of the Celtic Christian, spirit. The view of Lough Derg as an entrance to Purgatory may derive in part from Celtic traditions, both pagan and Christian, which situated the other world in the West, on an island, in a hollow hill, or beyond the mist. (468)
The Vision of Thurkill provides persuasive evidence that otherworld journey narratives resemble pilgrimage narratives in content because they resemble pilgrimage in social form and function. The pilgrims who visit Canterbury or Calvary recreates and participate in events of cultural significance-as do all pilgrims in every period and society. So, too, the visit of a solitary knight to St. Patrick's Purgatory is far from being an isolated affair; he must explore a landscape whose contours are culturally
Formed