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What is Purgatory?

Updated on May 2, 2011

Purgatory, in Roman Catholicism, is a place, state, or condition after death in which the, soul is purged, or purified, of imperfection before it is admitted to the vision of God. Such souls belong neither to those who go directly to heaven nor to unrepentant sinners, who go to hell. Souls in purgatory have already been forgiven the guilt of their mortal sins and are assured of salvation, but they must still undergo temporal punishment for mortal sins and for venial sins that they did not repent or expiate by means of good works in life.

The church does not officially define the nature of purgatory. The pain suffered by the disembodied souls is interpreted to be the realization that they are not yet with God. The church likewise says nothing officially about the duration of purgatory except that it will end. It does say that souls in purgatory can be helped by the prayers, masses, and indulgences offered for them by the living.

The doctrine of purgatory developed out of the Jewish and early Christian practice of offering prayers and sacrifices for the dead. As it became evident that the momentarily expected Second Coming of Christ was indefinitely postponed, purgatory answered the question of what became of the soul between the immediate judgment after death and the Last Judgment at the end of the world. Medieval church fathers, such as Augustine and Aquinas, elaborated the doctrine.

Popular preachers depicted purgatory as a place of fire and other physical torments. The Eastern churches also believed in a state for souls intermediate between heaven and hell and that souls can be helped by prayer and sacrifice, but it rejected specifically Western conceptions. Protestant churches at the time of the Reformation generally rejected the doctrine of purgatory because it was so closely tied to the doctrine of indulgences.

Hindus and Buddhists, who believe in the transmigration of souls, also believe in heavens and hells where those souls who are not immediately reborn spend time, according to their deserts, before their next incarnation. These are, in effect, the equivalent of purgatory because they are temporal states in the soul's long progress toward eventual salvation.


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    • Mr Knowitall profile image

      Mr Knowitall 6 years ago

      Thanks for the feedback J.S.M! Hopefully it's got you thinking. Thinking is always a good thing!

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Great Hub! Easy to read and very interesting! I am a Catholic but I don't know how I feel about "Purgatory". Really haven't given it much thought, I guess. Well written Hub! It will be interesting to see the future comments that this topic brings! It can be a "hot issue".