Is purgatory doctrine or dogma?
Dogma–the teaching on Purgatory was expressed at the Council of Florence, and the Council of Trent.
But if it’s dogma, how come Eastern Catholics don’t all subscribe to it?
All individual Eastern Catholics, or on the level of official Church teaching? I don’t think you will find an Eastern Catholic Church that denies Purgatory on the level of official teaching coming from the bishops.
It is indeed a dogma, having been initially defined at the Council of Florence (cir. 1487? I believe) and then reaffirmed at the Counsel of Trent.
Eastern Catholics do believe and accept the concept of purgatory. They just are uncomfortatble using that word (i.e. “purgatory”)
As a general rule, all Eastern Christians do not use the word “Purgatory.” This includes both Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians. The word “Purgatory” is specific to the Latin tradition, and carries some specific historical baggage that makes Eastern Christians uncomfortable.
In the Medieval West, many popular theologians defined Purgatory as a specific place, where people essentially sat around and suffered. Some theologians went so far as to imply that a literal fire burns those who suffer in Purgatory. It was also popular to tally periods of time that people spent in purgatory for various offences. It is worth noting that contemporary Roman Catholic theology has (thankfully) moved beyond this approach, to a more Patristic understanding of Purgatory.
In the Catholic understanding, only two points are necessary dogma concerning “purgatory”: 1) There is a place of transition/transformation for those en-route to Heaven, and 2) prayer is efficacious for the dead who are in this state.
The Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches agree with the Latin Church fully on both of these points. In practice, they routinely celebrate Divine Liturgies for the dead, and offer numerous prayers on their behalf. They would not do so if they did not agree with the above two dogmatic points.
But again, they do not use the word “Purgatory” for two reasons. First, it is a Latin word first used in the Medieval West, and they use Greek words to describe heirr theology. Second, the word “Purgatory” still carries specific Medieval baggage that they aren’t comfortable with.
It is noteworthy that the Byzantine Catholic Church has never been required to use the word Purgatory. The act of reunion with Rome, “The Treaty of Brest,” which was formally accepted by Pope Clement VIII, does not require them to accept the Western understanding of Purgatory.
Article V of the Treaty of Brest states “We shall not debate about purgatory…” implying that both sides can agree to disagree on the specifics of what the West calls “Purgatory.”
In the East, they tend to have a much more positive view of the transition from death to Heaven. Rather than “Purgatory,” they prefer to call it “the Final Theosis.” This refers to the process of deification, in which the remnants of our humans nature are transformed, and we come to share in the divine life of the Trinity. Rather than seeing this as a place to “sit and suffer,” the Eastern Fathers of the Church described the Final Theosis as being a journey. While this journey can entail hardships, there are also powerful glimpses of joy.
Thank you Deacon Jeff. That was a very informative post.
You are very welcome. Being in Pittsburgh, we experience a fair amount of overlap/contact between the Western and Eastern rites. In fact, one of my Latin Deacon brothers works for the Byzantine diocese and one of the Eastern Rite Deacons works for the Roman Catholic Diocese.
As JPII said, the Eastern and Western traditions are the two lungs of the Church. It should breathe with both.
A Dogma is a defined Doctrine, as taught by the Church . It has always been believed since the beginning of the Catholic Church and has to be believed by every Catholic. In the Catacombs there are inscriptions of prays for the dead. R.I.P is really a prayer that the person will ‘rest in peace’. God Bless, Memaw
That’s very nice to hear! I’ve always appreciated what JPII said about the Eastern and Western traditions.
Indeed, very informative. For what it’s worth Cardinal Ratzinger in his book Eschatology and also as Pope Benedict in Spe Salvi describes Purgatory more similarly to the Eastern view you describe here, describing it not as a “sit and suffer” event, but an encounter with Christ that melts us into the mold that is himself, which he draws from the smelting of metal described in 1 Cor. 3:10-15.
Here’s from an Eastern Catholic Bishop in a Q/A
It is not about purgatory but about truth and how it should be accepted with respect to the differences between the east and the west. It is a powerful document that is well worth reading. Thanks.
I’ve quoted Bp John many times in the past. IMV, he explains things extremely well.
particularly when he points out from that link
" Catholic is Catholic and truth is truth. We cannot pose as “Orthodox united to Rome” only for what suits us. I do mean it when we pray every day, at the Divine Liturgy, for “unity of faith and the communion of the Holy Spirit.”
There is no ‘Eastern truth’ vs ‘Western truth’. Truth is one. It may be articulated according to various cultural expressions, but truth is super-cultural. Truth should not be restricted by “party line” positions. We should accept or reject ideas for their worth and not for an artificial attachment to a given “identity.” The Church teaches truth. If something is true, it would be absurd to say “Oh, we don’t believe that in the East.” This seems to be where we get short-circuited in ecumenical “dialogue.” All too frequently, such “dialogue” seems to presuppose a relativism where you speak “your truth” and I’ll speak “my truth” and we’ll just leave it at that. A sort of ecumenical schizophrenia.
Here are two relevant canons from OUR Eastern Catholic Church Law:
c. 597 CCEO: “The Roman Pontiff, in virtue of his office (munus), possesses infallible teaching authority if, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the Christian faithful who is to confirm his fellow believers in the faith, he proclaims with a definitive act that a doctrine of faith or morals is to be held.”
c. 599: :A religious obsequium of intellect and will, even if not the assent of faith, is to be paid to the teaching of faith and morals which the Roman Pontiff or the college of bishops enunciate when they exercise the authentic magisterium even if they do not intend to proclaim with a definitive act.; therefore the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid whatever is not in harmony with that teaching.”
This is my first post. I am a Chaldean Catholic.
We do believe in Purgatory and we call it “Mat her”, which is Purgatory in Arabic. I don’t know the proper Aramaic word for it.
My understanding the Catholic Coptic and the Catholic Syriac also believe it in.
Actually we believe in all Dogmas and Doctrines of the Catholic Church without exception including the Primacy of the See of St Peter in Rome.
Thank you all and God Bless
There are Catholics who I’ve spoken to who do not believe this is Dogma. Yes I know, it surprised me as well. They believe that Purgatory exists as the Dogma defines it, but for some reason they don’t believe it as being Dogmatic if that makes any sense.
I’m not sure why they brought Vatican II into the mix, but they believe V2 defined it as just a teaching. I always thought the Council of Trent defined it by it’s language as Dogma and made was made infallible by the magisterium .
Next time you talk to them point them in this direction
From the 25th session of Trent:
Sessio Vigesimaquinta, Twenty-fifth Session,
cœpta die III. absoluta die IV. Decembris 1563.
DECRETUM DE PURGATORIO.
Cum Catholica Ecclesia, Spiritu Sancto edocta ex sacris litteris et antiqua patrum traditione, in sacris conciliis et novissime in hoc œcumenica synodo docuerit, purgatorium esse, animasque ibi detentas, fidelium suffragiis, potissimum vero acceptabili altaris sacrificio, juvari; præcipit sancta synodus episcopis, ut sanam de purgatorio doctrinam a sanctis patribus et sacris conciliis traditam, a Christi fidelibus credi, teneri, doceri et ubique prædicari diligenter studeant.
Whereas 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 œcumenical 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,—the holy Synod enjoins on bishops that they diligently endeavor that the sound doctrine concerning Purgatory, transmitted by the holy Fathers and sacred Councils, be believed, maintained, taught, and every where proclaimed by the faithful of Christ.
That would be a dogmatic decree, I believe.
There’s also a related anathema.
Related Canon 30 from the Council of Trent’s Decree on Justification (Sixth Sesssion, 1547)
Canon XXX.—Si quis post acceptam justificationis gratiam cuilibet peccatori pœnitenti ita culpam remitti et reatum æternæ pænæ deleri dixerit, ut nullus remaneat reatus pænæ temporalis exsolvendæ vel in hoc seculo, vel in futuro in purgatorio, antequam ad regna cœlorum aditus patere possit: anathema sit.
- If anyone says that after the grace of justification has been received the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out for any repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be paid, either in this world or in the other, in purgatory, before access can be opened to the kingdom of heaven, anathema sit “let him be anathema” or excommunicated].