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Catholic view of Purgatory ... Is it real?

michael_legna's picture

True repentance requires willingness to make amends

JStaller said -
In your first post, you cited 1 Corinthians 3.12-15, which states:

1 Corinthians 3.12-15 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by 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 shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

This verse is a prime example of what I as a Protestant would (no polite way to say this, my apologies) misinterpretation by association. Paul uses hell-like imagery, and associates the pain of flame with purification.

Oh I understand the imagery and I do not take it as literal. In fact the analogy of fire is also being related back to the refiners fire where dross is burnt out of a sample to leave only purified gold. The Catholic Church does not teach nor require the belief in real flames (even in hell let alone purgatory). The suffering in both is spiritual and is only compared to ghenna etc as an analogy to drive home the point of the suffering.

JStaller said -
From time immemorial (actually I’d bet we could pinpoint when it happened if we really wanted to) this verse has been associated with purgatory because the imagery is genuinely reflective of a purification process. However, as you have probably noticed, Protestants are quick to point out that this verse is not about internal spiritual purification, but rather about the purification of “every man’s work.”

I think they are misreading the section of verse then, because the works are not being purified. Think about the analogy of refining gold.

What is burnt away - the dross, not the gold. The gold is saved and pulled from the fire when the process is complete. Sure the sample is smaller having suffered loss of the mass that was constituted by the dross, but it is the pure desired material now.

What is burnt away in 1 Cor 3? The works not the man. The man is saved and pulled from the fire when the process is complete. Sure the man has suffered loss of that which was constituted by the works of stubble, but he is the pure desired person now ready to enter into heaven.

JStaller said -
And the “work” in question, we know from the immediately preceding verses, is the erection of doctrine, or perhaps the continuation of conversion:

1 Corinthians 3.10-11 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

But this work is done by every man, not just Paul. We all accept doctrines and live our life by them (or not) and these doctrines themselves may or may not match the Gospel. For all these works, the acceptance of doctrines and how we live up to those we accept or not are works which will be tried by this fire of purification.

Those who accept wrong doctrines (even if they live up to them) will have works that will not stand the test of the fire.

Those who accept the true Gospel and did not follow its associated doctrines will have works that will not stand the test of the fire.

Those who accept the true Gospel and do follow its associated doctrines will have works that do stand the test of the fire.

Of course most of us will fall between two of these options, being a mix of them in terms of how well we obey the doctrines we believe are most correct. But then we only need to look at a couple of other verses which show how we risk being handled based on our disobedience to the true Gospel to see how important this issue is.

2Th 1:8 In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:


1Pe 4:17 For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?

If our disobedience goes so far as to make it such that we only give lip service to the true Gospel we cannot expect to have been judged to have built on the foundation of Christ and thus never go through this purification and instead face fiery indignation instead.

JStaller said -
The ‘spirit’ of this scripture is a reminder to the Corinthians that this or that particular messenger is not the test of truth, but rather the message and its enduring qualities that reveal the truth of the gospel; it doesn’t matter if Apollos, Cephas, or Paul disagree; the right doctrine will stand the test of time, and be justified by its survival of difficulty.

Are you interpreting the day will reveal it as a test of time? That the enduring of the Gospel message over the centuries is proof of its truth? This is hardly a proof (of something we both know and agree to be true) because there are many other religious messages from other cultures which pre-date the Gospel message and they are not true. The length of time something has been consider true does not affect its real truth.

Besides once again these truths are held by all men, even they are not promulgated by each and everyone of us. Every man has his own understanding of the Gospel and behaves accordingly as his faith and strength of will allows obedience. So we are not talking here just about those who publicly build upon a foundation or even try to present another. We are talking about each man and his system of personal belief and his personal level of obedience and sanctification. Each and every man who builds on the correct foundation goes through this trial by fire, this purification; and the only time it makes sense for this to happen is after death when our level of repentance and obedience can be judged. As verse 8 says:

...every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.

JStaller said -
The verses in question (10-15) don’t mention Apollos or Paul specifically, but they do present Paul’s solution to the infighting and factionalism that has risen from the preferential attitude of the Corinthians;

Here are verses 10-15:
1 Cor 3:10-15 10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. 11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13 Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. 14 If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

How in the world can this be taken as Paul's solution to infighting?

Does Paul suggest how these works are tested and burnt away? In your interpretation of trial by enduring through time, you would have Paul recommending we wait them out to see who is right. That level of patient tolerance for false doctrine is seen no where else in all of Scripture.

Does Paul suggest just how the person with good works is to be rewarded for being on the right side of this infighting?

Using fire as a metaphor for enduring through time just doesn't make any sense to me at all, and I am not aware of it being used anywhere else in Scripture.

What the section does say is we are to be careful what we build on - with the implication that we should only build on the foundation of Christ and His Gospel. Paul being a wise master builder (because of God's grace) only spreads the true Gospel. He really has no choice, since it is impossible to lay any other foundation.

Others (meaning all men - not just Apollos etc. - because verse 8 tells us all labor) build on that foundation, or not. We as followers of Christ build on that foundation through obedience to the Gospel. Some of our labors are gold and silver (when we are obedient) and others are hay and stubble (when our acts miss the mark of the Gospel).

At some point these works will be tested as if by fire (using the metaphor of refining precious metals). Some of them will be burnt away, and we will suffer loss. Others will survive and we will receive a reward.

Replacing works with doctrines and testing with enduring time as a means to resolve conflicts offers no room or meaning to suffering loss or receiving rewards or being saved.

JStaller said -
just because verses 10-15 aren’t stamped with the names of specific individuals, we can’t make the mistake of ignoring the context of the offered solution; Paul is not offering a solution to the salvation of individuals; he is offering a solution to a difference between either persons or doctrines, and probably both.

But the section of verse does use the word SAVED, it does not use the word solution to a difference between doctrines.

JStaller said -
This may not be the official Catholic interpretation, and other Protestants may nuance the explanation differently, but unless I, for other reasons, am obligated to submit to another explanation regarding this scripture, I see no reason to read the verse differently. Can you think of one?

I think I have shown above that this reading does not account for many of the ideas within these verses. I also expect as we go along that it is not consistent with both logical issues of how we relate to Christ as our foundation and other verses of scripture which discuss the purification process you admit exists. Perhaps if you addressed the questions I put forward in one of my most recent posts we could move on to them as well as hear your rebuttals to the arguments I have presented here in response to your interpretation.

JStaller said -
More evidence presented in favor of purgatory:

Matt 7.24-27 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not; for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.

I came across this in an ancient post that was actually a response of yours to an objection of mine.

To be honest, I’m not sure why you cited the close to the Sermon on the Mount as evidence for purgatory. To me, it seems like a straightforward analogy intended to persuade Jesus’ listeners to accept Jesus’ Messianic claims about the reestablishment of Israel. In fact, the entire Sermon on the Mount seems very much about the Kingdom from the Heavens, and not at all about a painful waiting room outside a metaphysical afterlife. … I suppose we could debate exactly what “heaven” is, but that’s not the question at hand…

I think it is only a supplementary support for the interpretation I give for 1 Cor 3. It is intended to show that the foundation Paul refers to being built upon is Christ and His message - the Gospel. It is meant to prempt arguments such as the foundation being doctrines developed by men etc.

The model I use is pretty straight forward -
Jesus is the foundation
If we build on that foundation we are saved
If we build on our own foundation we are not saved
Those who do build on that foundation will still have their works tried
Some of those works will survive and some will not
After the process we are purified and can enter heaven (the presence of God) because we do not defile

The reference in the Sermon on the Mount is all about building on the foundation of Christ so we will not be washed away (lost to damnation). It is about how our works (building on a rock - or on sand) relate to that foundation and will be tested at some point.

I do not see it as a reference to reestablishment of Israel or the kingdom from the heavens at all, perhaps you could enlighten me as to what you mean.

JStaller said -
Another passage often used as support for purgatory is also taken from the Sermon on the Mount, and the parallel sermon in Luke:

Matthew 5.25-26 (NIV) Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

I’ve seen this interpreted to mean that the judge is God, the adversary Satan, and the officer Jesus. I’ve see it interpreted to mean that Satan is the officer, and the adversary Jesus. I’ve seen it interpreted a number of ways. But if we’re going to spiritualize the allegory, rather than (as is generally acceptable) reading it as a brief teaching on the inevitability of paying the price for hardness of heart, I would spiritualize it in the direction of government, casting Rome as the officer, since Jesus argued that government could have no authority unless God granted it, making government—appropriately, since it stacks up with Pauline writing, as well—an agent or officer of God.

The reason it is spiritualized to God as the judge is because of the context leading up to it. The not doing away with the law in verses 17-19, the need for our righteousness to exceed that of the Pharisees in verse 20, the emphasis on the spirit or intent of the law over the letter of the law in verses 21-22, the reference to the love of our brother being as important to God as offering worship directly to Him is in verses 23-24. The whole idea of suffering loss and making reconciliation for past error in the after life is related to the analogous idea of being cast into a cell where you work off the payment of penalty in a worldly system of justice.

It would be a strange lesson indeed to move suddenly from references of the law and love of brother and entering heaven to a literal reading of worrying about earthly laws or even references to Roman civil authority. The change in context is too sever in my mind.

Your reference to the idea that government would have no authority unless God grants it is from a complete different section of scripture so I think you are stretching to see it as applying here when the surrounding context is so clearly linked to a discussion of salvation and obedience.

JStaller said -
I would suggest that Jesus’ initial audience, and Matthew’s/Luke’s original readership, would have seen this as a plea for traditional nationalists to forgive the debt of the Gentiles/sinners before God decided to favor the adversary, ie, the Gentiles/sinners.

I don't think they would at all. I think they would have seen the Sermon on the Mount as an instruction on the proper way to understand and do God's will. The Sermon on the Mount is a road map to salvation. It talks about the nature of those who will be saved and what they must do in response to the offer of a new economy of salvation. Christ offers a clarification of the Old Law which precedes Paul's statement of contrast of the letter and Spirit of the law and the fulfilling of all the law through love.

JStaller said -
This agrees with topic subject of the Sermon on the Mount, which opens with, “The kingdom of heaven belongs to the spiritually bankrupt,” and closes with an analogy to support the claim that Jesus is the Door into the Kingdom. It also agrees with a great number of Jesus’ parables, including the parable of the Prodigal Sons, the Unjust Steward, the Two Servants, and Lazarus and the Rich Man;

I don't see your understanding of the SOTM aligning with these parables at all - but then since you only claimed this and did not offer an interpretation of the parables themselves I probably don't share you interpretation of them either. For instance the parable of the Prodigal son is all about losing salvation through leaving the Father and then regaining it upon returning, I don't see anyway that can be made to match your ideas of the SOTM. We will have to get into each of these I suspect in quite a bit of detail.

JStaller said -
it also aligns with Jesus’ habit of insisting that “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” Matthew 5.25-26, I suggest, is not an argument for purgatory, but a plea for Israel to abandon his hopes of collecting on the hefty debt owed him by the nations, before God decided to favor the nations by destroying Israel (via the Roman army, the officer of God). “Make peace, not war,” might be a comparable slogan :)

No I don't see any basis for this idea at all, you will have to offer some support for it before I can even hope to appreciate where you get that from.

JStaller said -
I realize that you might be interested in identifying the ‘adversary’ in question as Satan, and in truth you might legitimately put Satan behind the threat presented to Israel in the form of the Gentile world. If, based on similarity of the language used in other contexts, you want to pursue “Satan” as the adversary in question, then we might consider just what the ‘debt’ is, and we would also have to consider why the judge would favor the Satan, Instead of Jesus’ audience.

No the adversary is the one you have offended, the brother here on earth you may have injured and never repented of or even if you did you never made restitution for, so the repentance was not real. Or it can be put more spiritually by saying the law or even Moses is our adversary, because our offenses against love (by not properly and fully repenting) are a breaking of the law and it is Moses who accuses us before God if we act in a way that exposes we do not have the love of God within us.

John 5:45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust.

JStaller said -
Quickly put, God, being just, could only favor the adversary if the adversary’s enemy (Israel) is in the wrong; the Gentiles don’t owe Israel; Israel owes the Gentiles! Israel was called to be a light, and instead became darkness. This failure is the cause of debt, the debt of covenantal transgression that Jesus satisfied on the cross, giving birth to the Kingdom of the Heavens, the Israel of God. Jesus paid the ‘uttermost farthing’ on the cross, satisfying the penalty of sin generated by the Law of God, Who is the Judge of nations.

Jesus paid the penalty of eternal death on the cross but we still have to make restitution and be reconciled to our brother in order to have truly repented of our sins. It is this temporal punishment, not eternal, that we are responsible for.

JStaller said -
Again, my intention is not to undermine Catholic faith or teaching, but rather to explain my own perspective; I hope you understand that I am comfortable with Catholics who believe in purgatory, and that I don’t count belief in purgatory as the unpardonable error :).

And for me the non-acceptance of Purgatory is not a huge issue either, except as it relates to having a completely consistent doctrinal understanding of the Gospel. And if you deny the concept of Purgatory it is easier to deny the concept of infused righteousness, sanctification playing a role in righteousness, and works having any value at all and then it is all too short a slide into denying works play a role in accepting the free gift of salvation. I fully accept that the idea of purgatory is (not directly but indirectly) inconsistent with the idea of salvation by faith alone, but that is precisely why it is important to be able to defend it and teach it to those who hold to this error.


Your idea that it is only those who build doctrines who are tested I think artificially narrows the discussion as we all build doctrines in the sense that our individual understanding and obedience to that understanding is to us a doctrine.

With regard to your interpreting the day will reveal it as those doctrines which stand the test of time are acceptable is not acceptable to me.

The idea that the reference to being saved as if by fire is merely a metaphor for Paul's solution to resolving differences between doctrines also makes no sense to me.

Your linking so much of scripture to Israels debt to the Gentiles is a new twist on verses I have always understood in relation to salvation. I know you have not had a chance to fully develop them and their basis before me so I withhold my judgment on them but so far I don't see them as well supported by the context of the scriptures as the payment of temporal restitution is.