Purgatory: Scripture and Tradition


Purgatory isn't explicitly mentioned in Scripture. But can be found implicitly in it, and in light of the Sacred Tradition.

Heaven and Hell are eternal destinations:
"And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." Matthew 25:46

However the bible seems to mention a temporal destination for those who still have debts to pay before going to Heaven:

"Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny." Matthew 5:24-26

Here Matthew 5 is suggesting, that such prison is not eternal. The interpretations I've seen on this verse however are not always the same. Some say its hell. Ive seen Tertullian interpreting this as hell, while Cyprian of Carthage speaks of this prison as a state or place of purgation for your sins as the following quote shows:

"it is one thing, when cast into prison, not to go out thence until one has paid the uttermost farthing [Matt 5:26, Matt 18:34]; another thing at once to receive the wages of faith and courage. It is one thing, tortured by long suffering for sins, to be cleansed and long purged by fire; another to have purged all sins by suffering. It is one thing, in fine, to be in suspense till the sentence of God at the day of judgment; another to be at once crowned by the Lord" (Letters 51[55]:20 [AD 253])
-Cyprian of Carthage

Other verses to consider:

"But nothing unclean will ever enter it...." Rev 21:27
"It" meaning heaven. This means that a person even with the slightest fault cannot enter Heaven.

"Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven,** either in this world or in the world to come." Matthew 12:32**

Here Jesus seems to imply that sins can be forgiven in the world to come. If so, then there must be a 3rd place other than Heaven or Hell, since sins cannot be forgiven in either of these; not in hell because the person is damned and needs not forgiveness, and not in Heaven where no sin can enter. Here is St. Augustine's interpretation:

"But temporary punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by others after death, by others both now and then; but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But of those who suffer temporary punishments after death, all are not doomed to those everlasting pains which are to follow that judgment; for to some, as we have already said, what is not remitted in this world is remitted in the next [Matthew 12:32], that is, they are not punished with the eternal punishment of the world to come." (City of God, 21:13 [A.D. 426]).


"It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins." 2 Macc 12:46

The above verse comes from the second book of the Maccabees. While protestants do not have it as scripture, they must nevertheless recognize it as historical, because some Jews did (and do) believe in a purification (a purgation) which takes place after death. When a Jewish person’s loved one dies, it is customary to pray on his behalf for eleven months using a prayer known as the mourner’s Kaddish (derived from the Hebrew word meaning “holy”). This prayer is used to ask God to hasten the purification of the loved one’s soul. The Kaddish is prayed for only eleven months because it is thought to be an insult to imply that the loved one’s sins were so severe that he would require a full year of purification. It is further prayed on the death anniversary of the loved one. The practice of praying for the dead has been part of the Jewish faith since before Christ. Catholics inherited this practice, and we pray for our departed ones so that our God may loose them from their sins.

"We read in the books of the Maccabees [2 Macc. 12:43] that sacrifice was offered for the dead. But even if it were found nowhere in the Old Testament writings, the authority of the Catholic Church which is clear on this point is of no small weight, where in the prayers of the priest poured forth to the Lord God at his altar the commendation of the dead has its place" (The Care to be Had for the Dead 1:3 [A.D. 421]).
- Augustine

"Then we make mention also of those who have already fallen asleep: first, the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, that through their prayers and supplications God would receive our petition, next, we make mention also of the holy fathers and bishops who have already fallen asleep, and, to put it simply, of all among us who have already fallen asleep. For we believe that it will be of very great benefit to the souls of those for whom the petition is carried up, while this holy and most solemn sacrifice is laid out". (Catechetical Lectures 23:5:9 [A.D. 350]).
*-Cyril of Jerusalem


And finally, this Scripture passage:
“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be savedeven though only as one escaping through the flames.” 1 Corinthians 3:10-15

Paul says this person will be saved through fire and by “suffering Loss”. The Greek word for “suffer loss” is zemiothesetai “ζημιωθήσεται”, and has its verbal root in zemioo “ζημιόω”. This has a wider meaning than “suffer loss”. It can mean punishment.

Interestingly enough, in the septuagint, “zemioo” is used only in reference to punishment. this person will be punished with fire, and yet will be saved. This then, cannot be hell. For hell is eternal punishment, not temporal. Further, no one in hell can be described as “saved”.

Here Is show the interpretation of 3 Fathers:

“If a man departs this life with lighter faults [venial sins], he is condemned to fire which burns away the lighter materials, and prepares the soul for the kingdom of God, where nothing defiled may enter [Revelation 21:27]. For if on the foundation of Christ you have built not only gold and silver and precious stones *; but also wood and hay and stubble, what do you expect when the soul shall be separated from the body? Would you enter into heaven with your wood and hay and stubble and thus defile the kingdom of God; or on account of these hindrances would you remain without and receive no reward for your gold and silver and precious stones? Neither is this just. It remains then that you be committed to the fire which will burn the light materials; for our God to those who can comprehend heavenly things is called a cleansing fire. But this fire consumes not the creature, but what the creature has himself built, wood, and hay and stubble. It is manifest that the fire destroys the wood of our transgressions and then returns to us the reward of our great works.” (Homilies on Jeremias 13: 445, 448 [A.D. 244]).
-Origen of Alexandria

“There is no doubt that…[there are] lesser sins [venial sins] which, as I said before, can scarcely be counted, and from which not only all Christian people, but even all the saints could not and cannot always be free. We do not, of course, believe that the soul is killed by these sins; but still, they make it ugly by covering it as if with some kind of pustules and , as it were, with horrible scabs, which allow the soul to come only with difficulty to the embrace of the heavenly Spouse……we shall have to remain in that purgatorial fire as long as it takes for those above-mentioned lesser sins to be consumed like wood and straw and hay [1 Cor 3:12]. But someone says: ‘It is nothing to me how long I stay there, so long as I go on finally to eternal life.’ Let no one say that, beloved brethren, because that purgatorial fire itself will be more difficult than any punishment that can be seen or imagined or felt in this life.” (Sermon 179 [104]: 2 [A.D. 542])
- Caesarius of Arles

“‘Lord, rebuke me not in Your indignation, nor correct me in Your anger’ [Psalm 38:1]…In this life may You cleanse me and make me such that I have no need of the corrective fire, which is for those who are saved, but as if by fire…for it is said: ‘He shall be saved, but as if by fire’ [1 Cor 3:15]. And because it is said that he shall be saved, little is thought of that fire. Yet plainly, though we be saved by fire, that fire will be more severe than anything a man can suffer in this life.” (Explanations of the Psalms 37:3 [c. AD 392])
- Augustine

For a more better explanation of Purgatory, please check out my video “Purgatory” on Youtube:

English Version:

Spanish Version:


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