The Church Fathers launched a heavy defense on the concept of purgatory when several Christians in the East refused to acknowledge its divine origin. Tertullian for example wrote in The Soul that the “spirits in prison” mentioned in the writing of St. Peter refers to the place of middle state, in short, purgatory, where the souls will undergo the final stage of sanctification. He was arguing that a place exists where Jesus can speak to the “spirits in the prison. ” If the prison refers to Hell, then biblical contradictions would arise.
This would be resolved if we assume that there is the existence of a place of purification. St. Gregory of Nyssa, on his Sermon on the Dead (383 A. D. ) said that after the death of a person, knowledge between vice and virtue are well delineated, of which he/she may share the divine essence only upon exposure to the purifying fire. The implication: in order for the soul to gain eternal life, he must be removed from the effects of sin, possible only through the process of purification. St. Cyril of Jerusalem in his Catechetical Lectures in 350 A.
D said that the dead, including the great prophets, patriarchs, men chosen by God are fallen asleep, and that the sacrifices offered to them would benefit their souls, so that perfection may be attained. It was, in essence, the same interpretation of purgatory as with the other Church Fathers. The assumption of many Protestants that the concept of purgatory was invented in the Middle Ages to finance the projects of the Catholic Church is an absurd idea. Purgatory – A Tradition of the Catholic Church
Not only the concept of purgatory relevant in the teachings of the Church Fathers, it was also incorporated to the general teachings of the Catholic Church. In the Council of Lyons (1274), it was declared, “We believe … that the souls, by the purifying compensation are purged after death”; in the Council of Trent (1545-1563), it was also declared,” We constantly hold that purgatory exists, and that the souls of the faithful there detained are helped by the prayers of the faithful” (Flanagan and Schihl 3).
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 1031 reads, “The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of cleansing fire. As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire.
He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. “ It should be understood that this tradition of the Church was built on the beliefs of the early Christians through the guidance of the Church Fathers. It was not simply a random act of doctrine formation. The Church Fathers were one in their belief that a place for the Elect, where their works will be tested by the purifying fire simply exists.
In anyways, it should be noted that besides the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church also believes in the existence of purgatory, apparently because they share almost the same Christian traditions. Misconceptions of Purgatory – Area of Attack by Protestants Many Protestants and fundamentalist argue that if purgatory existed, this will ran counter to the redemptive act of Jesus Christ in the cross, for if the purgatory was capable of removing sin, then Christ’s death was futile. Note here that Protestants assume that purgatory can actually remove sin.
In the teachings of the Catholic Church as had been mentioned earlier, Christ’s death removed us from the bondage of sin; the purgatory only removed from us the effects or stains of sin so as to attain perfection. Removing the stains of sin is very remote from removing sin. The former infers that sin had already been removed, the other the act of removing the thing itself. This false notion of purgatory has had been the point of attack of Protestants to convert countless Catholics.
Protestants also argued that the concept of purgatory erases the process of sanctification, for the dead can depend on the living for their eventual release in the “third” condition through prayers. This is not an accurate view of purgatory. The purgatory is the final act of sanctification, of which the Christian is made holy. It is true that Christ’s death on the cross accomplished all out salvation for us, but this does not settle the question how this redemption is applied to us (Brom 3).
The Scriptures clearly held that the process of sanctification is a long process, of which the Christian must be made holy, and of which the final stage of sanctification is purgatory. These areas of attack coupled with the Protestants’ desire to erase the concept of purgatory, or more accurately ignored, in the Bible had been matched with evangelical vigilance from Catholic theologians. The arguments presented by these Catholic theologians proved to be costly to Protestants and fundamentalists for the simple reason that they were unable to prove the unauthenticity of the sources.
Brom, Robert Bishop of San Diego. IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827, 2004. atechism of the Catholic Church, Section 1031. 1992. URL http://www. ourcatholicfaith. org/purgatory. html. Retrieved August 9, 2007. Catholic Answers. Purgatory. URL http://www. catholic. com/library/purgatory. asp. Retrieved August 9, 2007 Catholic Encyclopedia. Proofs of Purgatory. URL http://www. newadvent. org/cathen/12575a. htm#III. Retrieved August 9, 2007. Flanagan, Paul and Robert Schihl. Catholic Biblical Apologetics. Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, 1986.