In Defense of the Faith |

Dave Hunt

What about Purgatory?

Question: I’ve recently heard some rather persuasive arguments by Catholics for purgatory. First Corinthians 3:12-15 teaches a purification by fire of the believers after death. Hebrews:12:14 declares that without “holiness . . . no man shall see the Lord.” Doesn’t that say we must be made absolutely pure to enter heaven? The same standard seems to be required by the statement: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew:5:8). My assurance of salvation has been shaken. What about such scriptures?

Response: Purgatory is an invention of the Roman Catholic Church and reflects the fact that it offers no assurance of salvation. If it did, that Church would be out of business. In fact, the Catholic who dares to believe Christ’s unequivocal promise of eternal life as a free gift of His grace with nothing left to be done on our part is anathematized. Trent decreed (and Vatican II reproposes):

“If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema.” (Schroeder, Canons, op. cit., Can. 30, p. 46)               

 In contrast, let us consider the teaching of the Bible together with simple common sense. Quite obviously, even if such a place as purgatory existed, no literal fire could purify the soul and spirit. Fire is not the means of moral purification. Furthermore, it is the believer’s works (which he has built upon the foundation of his faith in Christ), not the believer himself, that will be tested by fire:

Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble, every man’s work shall be . . . revealed as by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. (1 Corinthians:3:12-13)

Nor is Paul speaking of literal fire any more than he is of literal wood and gold. He is obviously speaking metaphorically, calling some works wood, hay, and stubble (which fire consumes) and others gold, silver, and precious stones (which fire purifies). There is nothing here (or elsewhere in Scripture) to support Catholicism’s claim that flames in an imagined purgatory purge the individual and thereby expiate his sins. Paul is dealing entirely with the quality of works one has done for Christ and what reward will therefore be received, if any.