Are the dead in Purgatory aware that they are in the afterlife?

Can you be ‘unaware’ you are dead once you have died (as seems to be the case in CS Lewis’s ‘Great Divorce’ (at the beginning))…
Or are you aware of your situation, even if in Purgatory?

Yes of course. Our intellect remains intact, possibly elevated supernaturally by direct contact with God even before entrance into the beatific vision. But certainly we are aware, we receive the particular judgment and then enter heaven, receive purification before beatific vision, or enter hell.

Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” is a wonderful book, giving one much to ponder. But, it’s important to keep in mind two facts: first, it’s only an allegory, and second, it’s not magisterial teaching (nor is it based, strictly speaking, on magisterial teaching). So, while it gives us opportunity to ask very interesting questions, it’s not meant to ‘teach the faith’, so to speak.

The Church does not teach that we lose our consciousness at death; some Christians believe in the notion of ‘soul sleep’, but that is not the teaching of the Catholic Church. The souls in a state of purgation are unable to “pray themselves out of purgatory,” but there’s no notion that they’re unconscious. (Note that I’m not talking of a state of consciousness that proceeds from bodily function; those in purgation are clearly not embodied, so they do not have the sensory faculties that they did when alive.)

However, you seem to be asking about a consciousness that is in denial or being deceived – that is, a state in which we are aware that we exist, but not aware of our state. That is not part of the teaching of the Church, either. It’s part of the allegory that Lewis weaved, though – it helped set the stage for the way in which his story might progress.

Moses and Elijah appear to be aware and alert. So do the saints in Heaven under the altar. Lazarus is awake, aware and alert (and that’s a direct teaching from Jesus).

So yes, the persons in Purgatory are awake, alert, and know what is happening.

I also don’t understand your question about believing in an afterlife. The whole point of the Christian faith is to bring people to God to enjoy the afterlife with Him. Your question doesn’t make sense.

Note that none of these are considered to be in purgatory, though: the saints in heaven are, well, in heaven! Lazarus is in the ‘bosom of Abraham’, as are, we would expect, Moses and Elijah (prior to the resurrection of Jesus). :wink:

Two issues here.

I don’t think you could miss being dead. The hideous trauma and grief that is death is so all-consuming and alarming (can’t breathe! Limbs won’t move! Skin cold… etc) that it is unmistakable.

Also, you couldn’t help but be aware that your dear old human soma, which had been the core of your consciousness and concern, was gone (although you would certainly receive an analogous external being, proper to the “afterlife”, that would restore your knowing and perception).

And why, if one rejected belief in an afterlife, would one remain Christian at all? Turning cheeks and walking extra miles bear no necessary reward in this life, after all. And if our LORD remained dead, why care about His teachings anyway? Morally, HE said nothing that had not been said many times before.


The nature of Purgatory, is that we (along with the sins we did not give over to Jesus and are a part of us still) are being confronted by God. This requires more awareness of our conditions and state than we even have here and now.

1 Corinthians 13:12 RSVCE:

"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. "

I think we should look at Purgatory as a part of God’s judgment, not some waiting hall, or unknown labrynth.

I don’t recall the dead not being aware they were dead in “The Great Divorce”. They did not realize they were in hell (purgatory), but they knew they were dead. I am pretty sure.

Here is the first in a series about this:

Lewis’ protagonist meets someone who remembers throwing himself under a train. And certainly Michael’s mother knew she was dead, for she knew Michael had died, and she expected to see him (though she was disappointed).

While some are distressed at the ghostly character of their embodiments (pneumatikon soma interrupted??) nobody in the novel seems to have missed their death.


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