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12 Questions about Purgatory

 Purgatory, what is it? where is it? who believes in Purgatory? and how long do the souls sent there stay? These are just a few of the most common questions concerning Purgatory. Most people have heard of Purgatory and know it is a place or realm somewhere between earthly life and the afterlife. In this brief post we will look at twelve of the most common questions about Purgatory and try to give some simply and straight forward answers.

1. What is Purgatory - In a nutshell, Purgatory is a place where souls are sent to be purified before entering heaven. In some faiths it is believed that when a person dies who has given their life to Jesus but still have unconfessed sins, they must spend time in Purgatory. This is a time for final purification before entering the eternity of heaven. 

2. Is the idea of Purgatory strictly a Catholic thing? - The Catholic church does believe and teach that Purgatory does exist. It is not however the only religion that believes in Purgatory. Interestingly, Islam has something similar to Purgatory. There are also other denominations of Christianity who believe in Purgatory. The Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches as well as some parts of the Anglican and Lutheran churches have teachings close to the concept of Purgatory.

3. Do Protestants believe in Purgatory? - For the most part the Protestant church does not believe in Purgatory. Protestants believe that once judgement happens, which takes place at death, the person goes directly to heaven or hell, there are no other options or temporary stop overs.

4. If you go to Purgatory, can you still go to hell? - No, souls who are sent to Purgatory are guaranteed their place in heaven and their ultimate home is not in question. People who are in Purgatory are ones who had faith in Jesus, they simple were not completely purified at the time of their physical death.

Painting of Purgatory

5. Does everyone spend time in Purgatory? - No. Even the denominations who believe in Purgatory do not believe all people are destined for Purgatory. Some people go directly to heaven.

6. Is Purgatory a physical place? - No - Purgatory is a spiritual place. Souls are sent here prior to the resurrection of their physical bodies.

7. Is Purgatory a place of suffering? - The very idea of purification instills the image of fire. It is unclear how purification will take place, but it would seem some suffering will be involved. It has been pointed out that since all souls in Purgatory will eventually reach heaven, the suffering is offset by the joy of knowing they will spend eternity in heaven.

8. How long do people stay in Purgatory? - This would of course depend on how much purification is required. It is also completely unknown what the cost would be or how the price would be calculated. In the middle ages a Spanish theologian estimated the average Christian will be required to spend between 1,000 and 2,000 years in Purgatory. 

9. What does the word Purgatory mean? - The word Purgatory comes from the Latin word 'Purgatorius', which becomes the word 'purifying'. 

10. Is Purgatory still taught by Catholics? - Purgatory remains a part of Catholic teachings but there has been no emphasis on the idea of Purgatory since the Second Vatican Council which was held in 1962. This means an entire generation has grown up without any direct teaching about Purgatory.

11. Is Purgatory in the Bible? - The word or term Purgatory does not appear in the Bible. There is also not any mention of a intermediary place for souls between earth and heaven. This in itself should not be taken to mean the idea of Purgatory is in no way Biblical.

12. Why do some faiths believe in Purgatory? - In select Biblical verses believers are encouraged to pray for the dead. This has led to the belief in Purgatory. After all, if a person has been condemned to hell, your prayers cannot help them. If they have been given a home in heaven, they do not need your prayers. Therefore, since the Bible tells you to pray for the dead, there must be a third option other than heaven or hell where your prayers are needed. 

The Catholic church references to 2 Maccabees 12:43-46 to prove there is a place between heaven and hell where people who have sinned are awaiting resurrection, or entry into heaven. [2 Maccabees is considered one of the Apocrypha books and not accepted by all Christians as Holy Scripture.] 

"And making a gathering, he sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection. (For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead,) And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up to them. It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins." 2 Maccabees 12:43-46

The Book of 2 Maccabees is in the Catholic canon, but is not included in the Protestant Bible. For this reason, most Protestants do not accept the idea of Purgatory, or the need to pray for the dead. Without this passage from 2 Maccabees, is there any other Biblical references to Purgatory or of the practice or need to pray for the dead? There are many Biblical references pointed to which could, if interpreted in a certain way, lead one to believe in a place such as Purgatory. However, I cannot find any Biblical text which states there is an intermediary place for souls to temporarily reside or instructions to pray for the dead. 

As for any Biblical reference, if you do not accept the passage from 2 Maccabees either as scriptural, or as inspired text, there is little if any Biblical passage that mentions Purgatory. Because the Catholic church accepts 2 Maccabees as a part of the canon and the Protestant church does not, there should be no surprise at the differences in theology. Which is right? What is the right thing to believe in? That is for each individual to decide based on which books you believe should be included as Holy Scripture or if other books outside of the Bible can or should have an influence on your beliefs.

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