Pass this on


Purgatory is a doctrine taught by the Catholic Church. We cover some of the  biblical reasoning for this teaching, and consider the related Jewish practice of prayers for the dead (important because Jesus and most of the Apostles were practicing Jews), and finally we include some relevant quotes from the early Christian Church Fathers  from the first couple of centuries AD.

First what is Purgatory? An Analogy

Purgatory is considered a place or state of purification for saved souls forgiven by Jesus of eternal punishment yet needing further expiation (for unsatisfied temporal punishment). The incomplete expiation of a repentant sinner is analogous to that of a child breaking a neighbour’s window and who then says sorry to the neighbour who forgives the child for breaking their window.  although the child is forgiven, the window still needs repairing … sooner or later. The ‘repairing’ of this damage to the soul is done by the repentant sinner doing penance (ie doing prayer, and/or certain Christian acts of asceticsm such as fasting and/or charitable acts) ideally in this world but if the repair is incomplete when we expire, the saved soul will need purification in the next world to the full satisfaction of God – for nothing unholy can enter his Kingdom. All who enter Purgatory have died in a state of grace and are therefore saved and are assured a place in Heaven when God deems that their soul is entirely pure. The Catholic faithful alive on earth (church militant) are encouraged to pray for those in purgatory (church penitent) so that their souls may by God’s mercy be purified swiftly and enter heaven expediently (church triumphant).

(Today Catholics rather like the Jews of Jesus’ time (see Jewish prayers and the Jewish biblical book of Maccabees below) pray especially for their loved ones appealing to God’s tender mercy. One communal prayer typically  said before Catholic Mass for the repose of a soul(s) is  ‘Eternal rest grant upon [name] O Lord and  let perpetual shine upon them, may [name] and the souls of all the faithfully departed through the mercy of God rest in peace amen’).

Biblical reasoning for Purgatory.

The first thing to say is the term ‘Purgatory’ is not in the bible but neither is the term ‘Holy Trinity’ or ‘Incarnation’ or ‘Pope’ these are terms adopted by the early Christian church as short hand to reference their respective theologies.

Christ in the New Testament refers to the sinner who “will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matt. 12:32), suggesting that one can be freed after death of the consequences of one’s sins. Similarly, 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). Now this loss, this penalty, can’t refer to consignment to hell, since no one is saved there; and heaven can’t be meant, since there is no suffering (“fire”) there. The only explaination for this passage is the Catholic doctrine of purgatory.

Then, of course, there is the Bible’s approval (the catholic canon for the OT as determined in the 4th century church councils) of prayers for the dead: “In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the dead to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin” (2 Macc. 12:43–45).

What the Jews think about prayers for the dead

From Wikipedia

Prayers for the dead form part of the Jewish services. The prayers offered on behalf of the deceased consist of: Recitation of Psalms; Reciting a thrice daily communal prayer in Aramaic which is known as Kaddish. Kaddish actually means “Sanctification” (or “Prayer of Making Holy”) which is a prayer “In Praise of God”; or other special remembrances known as Yizkor; and also a Hazkara which is said either on the annual commemoration known as the Yahrzeit as well on Jewish holidays.

The form in use in England contains the following passage: “Have mercy upon him; pardon all his transgressions … Shelter his soul in the shadow of Thy wings. Make known to him the path of life.”[1]

El Maleh Rachamim is the actual Jewish prayer for the dead, although less well known than the Mourner’s Kaddish. While the Kaddish does not mention death but rather affirms the steadfast faith of the mourners in God’s goodness, El Maleh Rachamim is a prayer for the rest of the departed. There are various translations for the original Hebrew which vary significantly. One version reads:

source https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer_for_the_dead

Furthermore The early church cannon of the Old Testament (still used today by the Catholic Church) includes the books of Maccabees 1 and 2, catholicsm believes these books were used by jesus and his fellow Jews of the time in the Jewish Bible the Septuagint, see above for more on Maccabees.

What the early Christians said about purgatory.

Acts of Paul and Thecla


And after the exhibition, Tryphaena again receives her. For her daughter Falconilla had died, and said to her in a dream: “Mother, thou shalt 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 just” (A.D. 180).


Clement of Alexandria


The believer through discipline divests himself of his passions and passes to the mansion which is better than the former one, passes to the greatest torment, taking with him the characteristic of repentance for the faults he may have committed after baptism. He is tortured then still more, not yet attaining what he sees others have acquired. The greatest torments are assigned to the believer, for God’s righteousness is good, and His goodness righteous, and though these punishments cease in the course of the expiation and purification of each one, “yet” etc. (Stromata 6:14 [A.D. 202]).




If a man departs this life with lighter faults, he is condemned to fire which burns away the lighter materials, and prepares the soul for the kingdom of God, where nothing defiled may enter. For if on the foundation of Christ you have built not only gold and silver and precious stones (I Cor., 3); but also wood and hay and stubble, what do you expect when the soul shall be separated from the body? Would you enter into heaven with your wood and hay and stubble and thus defile the kingdom of God; or on account of these hindrances would you remain without and receive no reward for your gold and silver and precious stones? Neither is this just. It remains then that you be committed to the fire which will burn the light materials; for our God to those who can comprehend heavenly things is called a cleansing fire. But this fire consumes not the creature, but what the creature has himself built, wood, and hay and stubble. It is manifest that the fire destroys the wood of our transgressions and then returns to us the reward of our great works. (Homilies on Jeremias 13: 445, 448 [A.D. 244]).




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 (Epitaph of Abercius [A.D. 190]).




The faithful widow prays for the soul of her husband, and begs for him in the interim repose, and participation in the first resurrection, and offers prayers on the anniversary of his death (Monogamy 10 [A.D. 213]).


Cyprian of Carthage


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 (Letters 51[55]:20 [A.D. 253]).


Cyril of Jerusalem


Then we make mention also of those who have already fallen asleep: first, the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, that through their prayers and supplications God would receive our petition, next, we make mention also of the holy fathers and bishops who have already fallen asleep, and, to put it simply, of all among us who have already fallen asleep. For we believe that it will be of very great benefit to the souls of those for whom the petition is carried up, while this holy and most solemn sacrifice is laid out (Catechetical Lectures 23:5:9 [A.D. 350]).




We beseech you also on behalf of all the departed, of whom also this is the commemoration (after mentioning the names) Sanctify these souls, for You know them all; sanctify all who have fallen asleep in the Lord and count them all among the ranks of your saints and give them a place and abode in your kingdom (Anaphora 13:5 [A.D. 350]).


Basil the Great


I think that the noble athletes of God, who have wrestled all their lives with the invisible enemies, after they have escaped all of their persecutions and have come to the end of life, are examined by the prince of this world; and if they are found to have any wounds from their wrestling, any stains or effects of sin they are detained (Homilies on the Psalms 7:2 [ante A.D. 370]).


Epiphanius of Salamis


Furthermore, as to mentioning the names of the dead, how is there anything very useful in that? What is more timely or more excellent than that those who are still here should believe that the departed do live, and that they have not retreated into nothingness, but that they exist and are alive with the Master. And so that this most august proclamation might be told in full, how do they hope, who are praying for the brethren as if they were but sojourning in a foreign land? Useful too is the prayer fashioned on their behalf  (Against all Heresies 75:8 [A.D. 374-377]).


Gregory of Nyssa


If a man … after his departure out of the body, 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 (Sermon on the Dead [A.D. 383]).


John Chrysostom


Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice [Job l: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 (Homilies on First Corinthians 41:5 [A.D. 392]).
Ambrose of Milan


Give perfect rest to thy servant Theodosius, that rest which thou hast prepared for thy saints… I have loved him, and therefore will I follow him into the land of the living; nor will I leave him until by tears and prayers I shall lead him wither his merits summon him, unto the holy mountain of the Lord (Funeral Sermon of Theodosius 36-37 [A.D. 395]).




Temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by some after death, by some both here and hereafter, but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But not all who suffer temporal punishments after death will come to eternal punishments, which are to follow after that judgment (The City of God 21:13 [A.D. 419]).


The Pre & Post Reformation Bible

Pass this on

For the first few centuries after Christ, There was no Bible! The early church only had a hodge podge of various scriptures some were to later be selected to form the bible, but this was not decided until the 4th century AD, first at the Church Council of Hippo [A.D. 393], and then again re-confirmed at the Church Council Of Carthage [A.D. 397].

Today the index of New Testament stories hasn’t changed for Catholics or any other mainstream Christian faith, there are still 27 books exactly the same as was decided in the 4th Century Councils. The same cannot be said for the Old Testament index, for whilst remaining intact for the Catholic Church, the Protestant bible had 7 books removed by Martin Luther (he wanted to remove more books but Protestants settled for removing 7). The books removed were consider apocryphal (which means ‘hidden’, the protestants believed them to be useful but not the essential inerrant word of god, and indeed the earliest King James Protestant bible had them included in an apocryphal section, today many protestants have gone a step further and removed the apocryphal section altogether). Catholics call the 7 books the deuterocanonical books, and they were in the Jewish Septuagint the old Jewish Bible that Jesus and the Apostles read from, these books are as follows: Tobit. Judith. Wisdom (also called the Wisdom of Solomon), Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus),Baruch,Maccabees I, II. Part of the reasoning (beyond disagreements with Catholic theology) for protestants removing the books were that there didn’t appear to be any Hebrew translations, but when the Dead Sea scrolls were found early this century this was proved incorrect, there were found fragments in Hebrew from the 7 books.

Ecumenism today is helping all faiths regardless of their bible canon or tradition to focus more on what we have in common, we certainly have a lot in common …. Christians agree on most of the OT and all the New Testament canon, and many of the early doctrines (which we see throughout this site) formed from the biblical books. Yet according to scripture … “ALL SCRIPTURE is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work”. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 one may ask the question then ‘which bible has All the scripture? The early church fathers/Catholic Church Bible or the Protestant Bible?’

Early Church Fathers Quoting From The Catholic Deuterocanonical Books

Clement Bishop of Rome

By the word of his might [God] established all things, and by his word he can overthrow them. “Who shall say to him, ‘What have you done?’ or who shall resist the power of his strength?” [Wisdom 12:12] (Letter to the Corinthians 27:5 [A.D. 95]).


For they remembered also the words of Jeremias writing to those over whom that captivity was impending: “And now you shall see borne upon (men’s) shoulders the gods of the Babylonians, of gold and silver and wood, causing fear to the Gentiles. Beware, therefore, that you also do not be altogether like the foreigners, and be seized with fear while you behold crowds worshipping those gods before and behind, but say in your mind, our duty is to worship You, O Lord” [Baruch 6:3-5] (Scorpians Antidote 8 [A.D. 211]).


But they make use also of other testimonies, and say, Thus it is written: “This is our God, and there shall none other be accounted of in comparison of Him. He hath found out all the way of knowledge, and hath given it unto Jacob His servant (son), and to Israel His beloved. Afterward did He show Himself upon earth, and conversed with men.” [Baruch 3:36-38] (Against Noetus 2 [A.D. 205]).

Ireneaus of Lyons

And Jeremiah the prophet has pointed out, that as many believers as God has prepared for this purpose, to multiply those left upon earth, should both be under the rule of the saints to minister to this Jerusalem, and that [His] kingdom shall be in it, saying: [quotes Baruch 4:26 et seq.] “Look around Jerusalem towards the east, and behold the joy which comes to you from God Himself… For God shall go before with joy in the light of His splendor, with the pity and righteousness which proceeds from Him” [Baruch 4:36-5:9] (Against Heresies 5:35:1 [A.D. 189]).

Clement of Alexandria

“A fool raises his voice in laughter,” says the Scripture; “but a clever man smiles almost imperceptibly” (Sirach 21:20). The clever man in this case he calls wise, inasmuch as he is differently affected from the fool. But, on the other hand, one needs not be gloomy, only grave. For I certainly prefer a man to smile who has a stern countenance than the reverse; for so his laughter will be less apt to become the object of ridicule (The Instructor of Children 2:5 [A.D. 191])

Those, then, will not escape the curse of yoking an ass with an ox, who, judging certain things not to suit them, command others to do them, or the reverse. This Scripture has briefly showed, when it says, “What you hate you shall not do to another” [Tobit 4:15] (Stromata 2:23 [A.D. 202]).


But that we may believe on the authority of holy Scripture that such is the case, hear how in the book of Maccabees, where the mother of seven martyrs exhorts her son to endure torture, this truth is confirmed; for she says, “I ask of thee, my son, to look at the heaven and the earth, and at all things which are in them, and beholding these, to know that God made all these things when they did not exist” [2 Maccabees 7:28] (On First Principles 2:1:5 [A.D. 225]).

Cyprian of Carthage

And again, where the sacred Scripture speaks of the tortures which consecrate God’s martyrs, and sanctify them in the very trial of suffering: “And if they have suffered torments in the sight of men, yet is their hope full of immortality; and having been a little chastised, they shall be greatly rewarded: for God proved them, and found them worthy of Himself. As gold in the furnace has He tried them, and received them as a sacrifice of a burnt-offering, and in due time regard shall be had unto them. The righteous shall shine, and shall run to and fro like sparks among the stubble. They shall judge the nations, and have dominion over the people; and their Lord shall reign forever” [Wisdom 3:4-8] (Letter 80:2 [A.D. 250]).

Holy Scripture meets and warns us, saying: “And fear not the words of a sinful man, for his glory shall be dung and worms. Today he is lifted up, and tomorrow he shall not be found, because he is turned into his earth, and his thought shall perish” [1 Maccabbees 2:62-63] (Letter 54:3 [A.D 251-253]).


And that you may not take refuge behind a safe wall, bringing forward the Scripture which says, “As for the children of the adulterers, they shall not come to their perfection” (Wisdom 3:16). He will answer you easily, that we often see those who are unlawfully begotten coming to perfection like ripe fruit (The Banquet of the Ten Virgins 2:3 [circa A.D. 311]).


But of these and such like inventions of idolatrous madness, Scripture taught us beforehand long ago, when it said: “The devising of idols was the beginning of fornication, and the invention of them, the corruption of life… for men serving either calamity or tyranny, did ascribe unto stones and stocks the incommunicable Name” [Wisdom 14:13] (Against the Heathen 1:11:1 [A.D 326]).

Hilary of Poitiers

For all things, as the Prophet says, were made out of nothing [2 Macc. 7:28] it was no transformation of existing things, but the creation into a perfect form of the non-existent (On the Trinity 4:16 [A.D. 356-360]).

As you have listened already to Moses and Isaiah, so listen now to Jeremiah inculcating the same truth as they: “This is our God, and there shall be none other likened unto Him, Who has found out all the way of knowledge, and has given it unto Jacob His servant and to Israel His beloved. Afterward did He show Himself upon earth and dwelt among men” [Baruch 3:36-38] (ibid 4:42).

Ambrose of Milan

Justly, then, is he wise who has received of the Lord to know when he ought to speak. Wherefore the Scripture says well: ”A wise man will keep silence until there is opportunity” [Sirach 20:76] (On the Duties of the Clergy 1:2:5 [A.D. 391]).

We have spoken of its beauty, and proved it by the witness of Scripture. It remains to show on the authority of Scripture that there can be no fellowship between it and vice, but that it has an inseparable union with the rest of the virtues. “It has a spirit sagacious, undefiled, sure, holy, loving what is good, quick, that never forbids a kindness, kind, steadfast, free from care, having all power, overseeing all things.” And again: “She teacheth temperance and justice and virtue” [Wisdom 7:22-24] (ibid 2:13:65).

John Cassian

Wherefore, as Scripture says, “when you go forth to serve the Lord stand in the fear of the Lord, and prepare your mind” [Sirach 2:1] (The Institutes 4:37 [A.D. 425-430]).