Are Latins Heretics?

Regarding purgatory, what the Catholic Church has defined dogmatically is not nearly as much as some seem to think. It boils down to this:

…the Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Ghost, has, from the sacred writings and the ancient tradition of the Fathers, taught, in sacred councils, and very recently in this oecumenical Synod, that there is a Purgatory, and that the souls there detained are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, but principally by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar…*

This sounds great, but I don’t believe this is supported by RC teaaching. The RC teaches that Purgatory is a place for the expiation not of sin itself but for the temporal punishment remaining to sin that has not been expiated in this life. The topic is a bit clearer when you look at the definition of an indulgence, which is essentially an application of the merits from the RCC’s storehouse of merits to a person in Purgatory to relieve the Purgatorial resident from such temporal suffering. To say “Not a punishment at all” is outside the teaching of the RCC. To say “More than simply a punishment” would be consistent.

The Church doesn’t teach this.

And because this isn’t what the Church teaches I wouldn’t call it a theologumen at all but instead a misconception because all sin carries the consequence of seperation from God. In effect we punish ourselves.


It is only Dogma that Purgatory exists. It pleases God to leave the means a mystery and to His discretion and as such is not part of the dogma.

Let us understand that dogma is irreversible and our ways and time are not Gods ways and time.

Though we have many instances in scripture allegorically speaking of the expiation of sin as a fire that isn’t to be taken in the literal sense of fire as we know it in this plane of existence but something different as is described by the yearning quoted from St Catherine. Or of Gold thats purified by fire. Only the fire in hell is consuming.

There is a deeper understanding of the expiation, the reasons for it, and the time frame involved that doesn’t correspond with natural human reasoning and this is where many get confused.

The reason for the expiation is that we are creatures and become attached to temporal things. It is possible that we may desire God yet still remain attached elsewhere. We are mercifully purged of these attachments so that we may be wholly united to God in heaven where no attachment apart from God is possible.

No one can say there is any relevance to a time frame as we know time here on Earth. Our whole lives may be as an instant in eternity and so may be the purgation. The best we know in that regard is that our prayers are efficacious for the dearly departed should they need them as surely not all will.


1031 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 a 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. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.

1472 To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the “eternal punishment” of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin.

**A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain. **

The temporal punishment of sin is the consequence for it. We do not blame God for our transgressions. We are responsible for them. When we sin we separate ourselves from God and we are responsible for the consequences; i.e.: temporal punishments.

Our God is not a punishing God. It is us that separate ourselves from Him.

Look at the parent - child relationship as an example; our child does something wrong that they can not get out of on their own. They suffer a temporal consequence for their action; a consequence that may be mitigated or eliminated entirely by our help or the intercession of someone else. However, what is to prevent a reoccurrence of the transgression if the condition that resulted in the wrong doing is still present? It is that condition that must be expiated by the parent if not done so by the child him/herself. The parent doesn’t do this as a punishment but as a help to prevent the child from injuring themselves again.

Thus we encounter the struggle against concupiscence and are lead along the road to conversion in a battle of spirit and flesh. If successful we merit no further expiation.


My understanding is that Purgatory is outside of time, and that the reference to “temporal punishment” refers to the need to expiate the worldly effects of sin. It is temporal both in that it refers to this worldly effect, and in that it is not permanent - not eternal. If Purgatory is outside the time stream, it does not make sense to discuss spending a given amount of time in Purgatory. The fact that the temporary and eternal natures of these states of existence seem contradictory is part of the mystery of trying to understand something that is difficult (perhaps impossible) for the human mind to grasp, and of which we have no direct experience or observations.

Am I correct that Purgatory (like Heaven and Hell) is outside of this existence?

As a side note, I suspect that other traditions may have less developed (or at least less detailed) ideas on Purgatory because they are less focused on the after life. I have always felt that the Westerners in general, inlcuding RCC, pay way too much attention to the specifics and mechanisms after death. To me the mechanics of the afterlife have no effect on my life, I enjoy thinking about them, but is more of an intellectual/philosophical exercise.

Yes I think so. Though, the worldly effects of sin can be overcome in this life and for what we should strive to achieve. Also, part of the teaching on purgatory is that its not an eternal state at all but only a temporary process on the way to heaven should the Lord deem it necessary.

As a side note, I suspect that other traditions may have less developed (or at least less detailed) ideas on Purgatory because they are less focused on the after life. I have always felt that the Westerners in general, inlcuding RCC, pay way too much attention to the specifics and mechanisms after death. To me the mechanics of the afterlife have no effect on my life, I enjoy thinking about them, but is more of an intellectual/philosophical exercise.

I don’t think it is not a only a western practice to contemplate our existance beynd this life and has been done by Christians since before the beginning of the Church. After all we lift our minds and hearts to heaven every time we pray.

Why it is more developed in the Church is because of the teaching of the Fathers beginning down through the ages.



Just a few points of clarification.

  1. The Orthodox have not cut themselves off from the true Church. Dominus Jesus and every other magisterial document since the Second Vatican Council makes this perfectly clear. Our communion with them is wounded, but not absolutely ruptured. They are indeed Sister Churches, truly apostolic and fully Catholic in their sacramental life. That they cannot exercise a unified magisterium is due in large part to their own difficult internal polity, but like you to a certain extent, I also see the imperfect communion with the Petrine See of Rome as being an underlying cause.

  2. The Latin Church is not more developed theologically than the East. Your post seems to imply this (or perhaps I am misreading it), which is completely inaccurate. Both East and West developed along their own theological trajectories in various directions - some legitimate, others not. That certain dogmas of the West were canonically and infallibly sanctioned by the Pope of Rome and by councils received and approved by him is not an indicator of the superiority of the Western tradition. I’ll remind you that the lion share of patristic and orthodox theology originated in the East, not the West.

  3. The Orthodox Churches have not completely lost their teaching authority. They are, by nature, apostolic Churches with apostolic bishops and patriarchs going back to the origins of Christianity itself. The Holy Spirit is still active sacramentally in these Churches, so lets not presume He is not active magisterially (understanding my other points in #1).

  4. Eastern Catholics believe the same faith as the Pope of Rome and any other Catholic Christian. Unlike some Westerners, however, we do not “hang on his every word” as if he is the only voice of the Church to speak. We listen with a heart full of openness and prayer, and especially when he speaks as the teacher of all Christians and the head of the college of Bishops, with thoughtful assent. We also listen to our Patriarchs and hierarchs, since their voice is one in the great symphony of Catholic pastoral teaching and they have, by virtue of their headship, direct pastoral responsibility for us. That is the nature of our communion with Rome.

Finally, in keeping with the title of this thread, no Eastern Catholic can legitimately hold that the Latin Catholic Church is in formal or material heresy. That said, it does not mean that the teachings - even official dogmatic statements - are above critique or clarification. Very often, there are aspects of those Catholic teachings that are one sided and weak in “catholic” content. Even those who claim to be Eastern Catholic and hold to the view that the additional councils following the first seven were simply Western synods and not ecumenical councils (I do not hold to that position, BTW) are not asserting that the Latin Church is in heresy.

God bless!



Pope Benedict has reiterated Catholic teaching this year that the Orthodox Churches DO NOT possess the fullness of the Catholic Church and that they are defective in certain areas.

But that does not in any way deny anything that I have said above. The recent clarification of Dominus Jesus this year afffirmed their status as Sister Churches in the one true Church of Christ. Their existence as Churches and their communion with us, while profound and intimate, is wounded and defective. The document also seems to point to a defect in the Church’s own realization of catholicity by being separated from the Orthodox Churches and they with us. IOW, we should not be too comfortable being in the “true Church”. We are wounded too since there are brethren who are one with us in almost every respect who are nevertheless not in communion with us.

The problem is that we have all inherited a history and an ecclesiological situation that was not of our making - both Catholic and Orthodox. Like a good physician, Pope Benedict is reminding both the Orthodox and those in the Catholic communion that our individual and joint woundedness needs healing.

Pope benedict is neither polemical nor does he compromise. He helps us to deal honestly with the situation as it is ours to face and handle.



I don’t think the word he used was defective but deficient.

One means broken and the later means lacking.

His intent in what he said applies to us as well as he referred to the lack of unity between Catholic and Orthodox as the deficiency.

Though we do not wish to purpetuate the schism as some polemical Orthodox do we are just as deficient by it. Catholic Orthodox would not fit into this critique at all as we are in union.


Yes Joab, I agree completely that Orthodox In Communion with Romes-Eastern Catholics possess the fullness of the Church, but the Orthodox Churches not in communion do not. As Catholics we must recognize that the Orthodox, though they may be similar to us in many areas, do allow certain practices that must be considered false teachings (and certainly not different understandings) these obviously include the Orthodox acceptance of divorce and the use of contraception.

I think if one were to say “Yes, Latins are heretics” they would be banned…

I hope Latins aren’t heretics. We have some Mexicans in our parish and I’d hate to alienate them. :slight_smile:

Who says that defining dogmas is necessary? There is this problem in the west that they think that if they study long and hard enough they will eventually gain knowledge of God. But the truth is that knowledge of God can only be had through experience. To further define the faith does not help. We have what we need to know. The purpose of the bishops is not to define dogma.

The Latin West has throughout the centuries, came to a greater understanding of many doctrines and we have, when needed, infallably defined them. This is the working of the Holy Spirit; he has never abandoned the Church and is there to teach and instruct. The Catholic Church will always come to a greater, more deeper understanding of things because of divine guidance. The Orthodox, however, have not come to a greater understanding because they have seperated themeselves from the teaching authority of God.

As far as I can tell atheism is the result of the rational approach in the west. My opinion is that eastern Christian theology is far deeper than any western theology. Western theology has become rigid and dry. Whereas the east of all different brands maintains its lively spirit because its faith is not based on definitions.

Also, people should realise that Eastern Catholics believe exactly what the Pope and his Magisterium teaches. They have the fullness of the faith in the same way that we Latins do. However, the Eastern Catholics may express doctrine in a different way due to different schools of theology within the East. They may not use the word “Purgatory” but they will still believe in its existence.

This depends on who you ask. Some will say that they believe everything the pope teaches and they celibrate feasts like the Immaculate conception but others will reject papal infallibility, the Immaculate Conception, that Original Sin incurrs some guilt that will condemn you to hell, and all councils since the seventh.

Who says that defining them is not? Certainly a good deal of storm and stress could have been avoided were the issues of Monophosytism, Nestorianism, Arianism. Miaphsytism and the like were left as pious options on the table rather than understandings hammered out (and subsequently rejected by some, e.g. Oriental Orthodox, Church of the East) at the Ecumenical Councils of Chalcedon, Ephesus, Nicea and the like.

Really, if there is such minimal value in an effort to achieve clarity of understanding in matters of theology, why be bothered to have suffered all that to begin with?

I am sorry but this is just so much sterotypical charicature-making that is little less than polemic when offered without better reason or argument. The whole “bookworm scholastic west” vs. the “pious all holy East” is a little worn out and, at face value offers little more to discuss.

As prevalent as such cliches are, they ignore the reality of the Orthodox academic theologian in the East who works to create a systematic theological understanding and framework, or the Franciscan friar who leads the severly aesthetic life in poverty that is truly humbling and prayer that can be profoundly simple. To essential contrast the “dry rational west” with the “lively spirited east” is somewhere between slightly insulting and very disingenous. Such slogans or simply cliches are best left at the door.

:smiley: Doesn’t everything? You speak often with certitude of “The Eastern thinking” or “The Eastern approach” or “in Eastern theology”. How do you personally choose which luminaries you will follow or find to be reliable?

I don’t think either “side” can be dismissed. They are both important to the Christian faith. Besides, you know the Scriptures, “a house divided amongst itself cannot stand…” :wink:

Prayers and petitions,

I had a whole response typed up but it got deleted when I tried to post it. This is all I am going to say right now. I am willing to read any author. I don’t just pick and choose what to believe.

I had that happen today too. If you hit the back button, it might still be there. Mine was.

No Latins are not

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit