I Corinthians 3 is the scriptural justification, such as it is, for Purgatory.

10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. 14 If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If the work is burned, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.

Blake, the gate of Purgatory

The idea makes some psychological sense. Someone with her heart in the right place might not deserve Hell, but might not yet be fit to enter the presence of God: so be sent to freeze and quake in frigid purgatorial fires, which cleanse her.

However, it reinforced Christianity as a tool of social control. Obey, or however harsh life is here, you will suffer more after you die. In The Karamazov Brothers, Lena, rebelling against the stultifying conventionality which has labelled itself the Christian way has no words for any alternative but evil and wickedness; so in her desperation she cries out to be evil. Living in Christian love should be freedom, but her Orthodoxy is slavery.

Blake, Light carrying Dante, Purgatorio canto 9

The doctrine of purgatory made the Church corrupt. Noble men, who used force and feudal law to compel peasants to work to feed them, who spent their time in armour on horseback murdering other peasants, accumulated wealth to endow chantry chapels, where monks would say masses so that their souls would spend less time in Purgatory. American conservative Evangelicalism is not the first time Christianity has made God weep. Blake, Purgatory, Dante entering the fire

And. There are moments in life when human beings are tested, individual and national Days of Judgment, which Jesus called being “born again” and Paul here calls passing through the fire: metaphors of pain balanced by the rewards offered, “seeing the Kingdom of God”, or being the temple where God dwells.

Why should I care what happens after my death, when I am alive? Humans create ideas of reward and punishment imposed by God, while Jesus and Paul teach of the ordinary consequences of our actions, enforced by objective reality.

Blake Purgatorio, the way into Heaven

13 thoughts on “Purgatory

  1. But let’s not be too quick to judge. I was reading about how the uncle of William the Conquerors, after a career of murdering rivals, left everything and went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem to make up for his sins… probably the idea of Purgatory played a role. Wouldn’t you want to do the same?


    • Which uncle? Guillaume the bastard’s dad Robert rebelled against his uncle the duke of Normandy, Richard III, and besieged Falaise. Richard then died in mysterious circumstances, with Robert being suspected of doing him in.

      Partly it is a matter of what possibilities a mind can compass, what roles a culture can conceive. But no. Doing something which he believes will benefit his own soul, but does not benefit anyone else- it is selfish, and not usefully Christian. There would be privations and dangers on pilgrimage, but there were privations and dangers in those cold Northern castles too.

      Henry VI of England, a weak king, may or may not have founded the school Eton and King’s College. That seems far more worthwhile to me, though a long time after Guillaume, with better possibilities available.


  2. You know, it’s interesting. I’ve always looked at Purgatory as the first step towards Universalism, abominable as it is. I think we, as humans, find the idea of God being Holy as wonderful UNTIL we realize that Holiness requires justice AS WELL AS love. In other words, we LOVE the idea of God being all-loving, but we HATE the idea of God requiring perfect justice. That is abhorrent to us. We want to believe that God is wishy-washy, and will just one day say, “Oh, okay. You weren’t obedient and didn’t accept the sacrifice that was made on your behalf, but that’s okay. You all just come on up to Heaven and forget about Hell.”


    My point is, Purgatory gives God the “grey area” that we have become so comfortable inhabiting. It’s not Heaven, it’s not Hell…it’s the in-between. And we love the “grey area” except that it can be our ultimate undoing.


    • Welcome, and thank you for commenting. It is delightful to meet you.

      Use every man after his desert, and who shall ‘scape whipping? I am Universalist, and intrigued that you would call that abominable. That is such a strong word. This is the quote which made me sympathise with Hitler:

      Now nothing remains. Nothing spared me. No allegiances are kept, no honour lived up to, no disappointments that I have not had, no betrayals that I have not experienced, and now this above all else. Nothing remains. Every wrong has already been done me. He did his best to serve humanity as seemed good to him, and betrayal was the thanks he gets. After the Hell he suffered on Earth, God would not be just, to condemn him to hell for eternity.

      I agree with you that the grey area is a bad thing, and I must strive to escape it, but if other people appear not to, who am I to judge?


      • I tend to speak in strong terms, rather unapologetically (as you can tell from many of my blog posts).

        Universalism, I believe, is the “Hey I want the good, but I really don’t like the bad, so I’m just going to ignore it.”

        I believe it weakens our God to ascribe to Him love without every other quality that He is due.

        In addition, it is completely incongruent with Jesus death and resurrection. If there was no Eternal punishment, then Jesus coming to earth and His crucifixion were utterly needless, which makes Him incredibly ridiculous and perhaps the ultimate masochist.


  3. Let me also rewrite Hitler’s statement, because his logical lacks a great deal.

    Now nothing remains (that I know of). Nothing spared me (that I know of). No allegiances are kept, no honour lived up to, no disappointments that I have not had, no betrayals that I have not experienced (that I know of), and now this above all else. Nothing remains (that I know of). Every wrong (that I can conceive) has already been done me.

    We are pretty arrogant to think that we, as humans, have “seen it all.”


  4. And finally, because I tend to think in “chunks,” I think the main disconnect is that Universalists view Hell as a “wrong.” It’s not a “wrong.” It’s justice. God demands perfection. And when we couldn’t achieve perfection, He made the inexplicable decision to offer Christ as a substitutionary sacrifice. All we had to do was swear our allegiance to Him.

    Many choose not to. Hell is a natural consequence.


        • You see I don’t think it is. I find it horrible and ridiculous, the idea that God created a sacrifice to Godself. If God created the sacrifice, why would God need the sacrifice to be made?

          Have a look at this article on Peter Abelard. Christ is our example, expressing Love that would not resist.

          Here is what Paul had to say:

          Rom.6[6] We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.

          1Cor.1[13] Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
          [23] but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,

          1Cor.2[2] For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
          [8] None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

          [4] For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but in dealing with you we shall live with him by the power of God.

          Gal.2[20] I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

          Gal.3[1] O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?

          Gal.5[24] And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

          Gal.6[14] But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.


          • Well, first of all, God didn’t create Jesus. God is Jesus, and vice versa. Second, I don’t see a single thing in the verses you provided that indicates that God sent Jesus to die just for jollies.

            And I’m not sure why Jesus would have sweat droplets of blood and ask God to let the cup pass from Him if there were any other way.

            Any other way to what???

            I find it bizarre that the cross would be viewed as a cosmic Valentine’s Day card to humanity. Yes, it is the ultimate expression of love. But it HAD a purpose aside from that.

            We humans get so uncomfortable when pondering divine logic, because it does seem “horrible and ridiculous.” But, we are finite, and He is infinite. His ways are higher than ours. Again, how arrogant of us to think that we have Him ALL FIGURED out. That kind of thing is the very epitome of the hubris of humanity.


            • Well, which of us has the human logic? It is God’s love which is beyond human logic. Read the Prodigal Son again. Irritating about “creating” Jesus- I don’t know why I made that slip.


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