I once read an excellent defense of the doctrine of Purgatory, it was very convincing - except one thing - it depended on an acceptance of a legalistic view of the mortal/venal sins view held by the Catholic Church, and not many others.
As for myself it isn’t that I don’t believe in purgatory or a purgatory like state, it is that I see believing in it as unimportant to salvation, and since my Church has no teaching there, I see no point in accepting it.
So I suppose if you wanted to convince me of purgatory you’d first have to show me why my belief/disbelief in the matter, well, matters.
Purgatory is a final state of cleansing before Heaven. The idea is that even if you confessed your sins in this life and were forgiven, your soul is still tainted by it. Imagine getting a stain on your clothes, and only mostly washing it away. Nothing unclean can enter Heaven, so there’s an “extra stop” after being saved, but before actually getting into Heaven.
At our parish we recently saw a documentary movie called “Purgatory:The Forgotten Church” it really gives some convincing evidence that there is life after death. purgatoryforgottenchurch.com Here is a link to a trailer to the film and some other info how to order it in DVD.
I was taught in my catechesis in the Orthodox Church that there is a purification after death of our passions, i.e. our attachments to sin. If we can accomplish this in our lives on earth then this purification will be unnecessary. This process may be considered a form of suffering in the sense that we are unwilling to give up our sins, and experience this as loss. An example would be like the rich man that Our Lord tells to sell all that he has and follow him. If he came to faith in Christ but remained attached to his wealth, he would find this process painful. My only disagreement with the Catholic doctrine of purgatory is idea of temporal punishments, which is alien to the Orthodox tradition. This is not dogma however, but only one way western theologians have explained the teaching. The Catechism of the Catholic Church simply says: “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”
I’d say that I believe in a minimalist doctrine of ‘purgatory’. Something along the lines of:
Christ forgives those who are truly sorry for their sins. Weak human beings may often be truly sorry but fail to manifest this sorrow in true conversion of life, etc. Christ, in his infinite and loving mercy may, at the point of death and judgement, perfect and complete the imperfect penitence of the contrite sinner, enabling him to enjoy communion with God in paradise.
Try being s sports fan in western New York State sometime!
Seriously, I’ve read good argument that Purgatory is a physical place, and not just some “spiritual state” or some such. My guess is that it shouldn’t matter to us or the suffering souls. We should pray and sacritice for them regularly and often.
The Catholic mortal/venial sin distinction is not a legalistic one but an anti-legalistic one. It is an admission that not every single act that is not in perfect accordance with the eternal law of God merits eternal punishment in God’s eyes. In simple terms, a venial sin is a sin which does not turn man away from his last end, which is God. This is an important distinction because otherwise we would be forced either to admit with the Protestants that all sins (or even all actions whatsoever) no matter how slight merit eternal damnation because no sin is venial or admit with the universalists that everyone will be saved no matter what because no sin is mortal.
There are also legalistic understandings of sin (which are not the basis of the venial/mortal sin distinction), but that does not mean that they are wrong. The Bible is replete with imagery of God as judge, the law, punishment, covenants and so on. The notion that a doctrinal teaching is false because it is “legalistic” is a misguided notion. Evidently God did not find legal terminology inadequate when inspiring the Holy Scriptures. Who are we to say we know better than Almighty God?
Your understanding of purgatory doesn’t sound any different than I have been taught in the Catholic Church. Certain parties make a fuss about the notion of temporal punishment but I think it is really less controversial than you might have been led to believe. I would read through the relevant sections of the Summa Theologica and see if they address any of your concerns. I might post some excerpts later if I have time.
I don’t think that verse is ever used as a prooftext for purgatory. If anything it seems to be referring to the Limbo of the Fathers. Two of the most common prooftexts for purgatory are from 2 Maccabees and 1 Corinthians.
And so betaking themselves to prayers, they besought him, that the sin which had been committed might be forgotten. But the most valiant Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves from sin, forasmuch as they saw before their eyes what had happened, because of the sins of those that were slain. And making a gathering, he sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins 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 12:42-46)
For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 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. (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)