Purgatory & the Thief on the Cross

A friend emails me:

another quick question that hit me saturday night as i defended you catholics to a small crowd in our living room (for 2 hrs we argued praying to saints and liturgical worship), why did jesus tell the thief on the cross that he would be with him in paradise on that day? what about purgatory first?

I replied with a hodge-podge of ideas:

The thief on the cross. I’m not sure I’ve seen him used as an example against purgatory. He is often used as an argument against the necessity of baptism which doesn’t hold because baptism is necessary in the normative sense, when it’s possible. And that baptism of blood (martyrdom) or baptism of desire can be sufficient in extreme cases.

As far as purgatory, purgatory is not necessarily quantifiable in earth-time. (days off vocabulary for purgatory was misleading in this area and is no longer used). So, even if Jesus literally meant “within this 24-hour period, you and I will be in heaven” it wouldn’t be a problem.

But I think there are still other problems with understanding this sentence: was Jesus physically in heaven that same day of earth-time?

One thing I’ve heard is this:

[quote=Luke 23:43]“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

I’ve heard that the comma punctuation is arbitrary and not in the original and could easily mean I tell you the truth today, . . . Interesting…not sure on the scholarly background on that though.

I also read somewhere that “paradise” in this verse has been traditionally understood as “limbo of the fathers” or what in our former circles we called “abraham’s bosom”.

Though he uses a lot of catholic technical jargon here, St. Thomas might provide our answer, if I could understand it:


The affections of the heart are more acceptable to God than external acts. Now man is absolved from both punishment and guilt by means of external actions; and therefore he is also by means of the heart’s affections, such as contrition is.

Further, we have an example of this in the thief, to whom it was said (Luke 23:43): "This day shalt thou be with Me in paradise," on account of his one act of repentance. 

It seems to me that he is saying this true contrition of the theif’s heart might require no further penance. therefore making purgatory unnecessary?

Any corrective or further info ya’ll could give me would be helpful! Thanks!

Jesus granted him a plenary indulgence. :slight_smile:

“Paradise” has often been considered part of Purgatory (read The Divine Comedy). Think about it: Paradise is not likely to be in heaven since Jesus does not ascend “to his Father” until 40 days after the Resurrection.

In the Creed we speak of Jesus descending to the dead, or to Hell in some translations. I have always been taught that what that meant was that Jesus descended and liberated those good and holy people who had died before Him. It would seem to me that the translation “I tell you this today, you shall be with me in paradise” makes more sense in light of Catholic teaching regarding where Jesus went and what He did before rising from the dead.

Does this make sense? Or is it more confusing?

Jesus can do whatever he likes whenever he wants to. Maybe the theifs Pergatory was served on that Cross. Dont think that being crucifyed is a walk in the park people.

Hi Ron,

what God says goes.:slight_smile:


…why did jesus tell the thief on the cross that he would be with him in paradise on that day? what about purgatory first?

The Church does not teach that purgatory requires time.

And, as has been mentioned, “paradise” does not necessarily mean “heaven”.

I just had a thought. Could the thief have been one of Jesus’ “apostles” in teaching the gospel in hades? No way to know in this life, of course, but an interesting speculation.


Given that the thief received the baptism of desire while dying on the cross, there wasn’t much opportunity for him to sin between being baptized and dying. I daresay he skipped Purgatory entirely.

  • Liberian

Someone asked Fr. Serpa that same question. He pointed out that the thief died a terribly painful death on the cross before he went to paradise with Christ. It is an example of purgatory, or the purging of sins before one enters into Heaven.

I never thought of this as a possibility! Nice. :slight_smile:

This is the most intelligent post IMHO.

This man is a Saint. He died next to Our Risen Lord on a cross next to him.
Our Lord promised him something that only he can do. I would think it very plausible that St. Dismus got to be with him in that time, but we will not know now, and only hope to know one day.

MercyGate “Think about it: Paradise is not likely to be in heaven since Jesus does not ascend “to his Father” until 40 days after the Resurrection.”

What a great point. Join that with 1 Peter 3:18-21, and you will see that “paradise” did not mean heaven, but some temporary state. That might be Purgatory, Abrahams bosom, or something else we do not know for sure. We do know that Jesus did not mean heaven for the good thief. Another point much has been said about baptism of desire and the good thief [St. Dimas] going to heaven without baptism. Was he circumcised? My point is that the Christian era did not start until Pentecost. (I understand the arguments about the Church starting with the piercing of Jesus side, but I agree with the date at Pentecost). So, it did not matter that St. Dimas was baptised or not he would not have been saved under the sacrament of baptism, but like all those who came before. Of course it might very well have been that he was baptised Jesus disciples baptised many. The thief could have fallen away and then repented. That is if you want to stay with the concept that he needed baptism. We just do not know that much about the situation and God can justify whom He wants.

Not read all the threads but Jesus who is God could have spared him that awful slow death so maybe it was a purgation.

This thread has been dormant for 7 years. We are not to resurrect old threads. You can start a new thread if you want to discuss this topic.

This is intriguing, Ive never thought about that before.

I think we all assume Jesus went straight to heaven (paradise) right after dying on the cross, so if he told the other guy he would be WITH HIM in paradise that day, one has to guess he was going to be with Jesus, wherever he went after dying on the cross. Im going to guess they both went straight to heaven though…right away.

Also the mention above about no time is also important, we all know time does not exist after death, so a person could not actually spend a certain amount of time somewhere, when time itself does not exist, but going any further is likely impossible for us, as we cannot comprehend ‘NO TIME’ we think of everything in terms of ‘how long’, and using time in general, after death, it will not be like this though.

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