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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Clarification about purgatory

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Clarification about purgatory

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Clarification about purgatory

I thoroughly enjoy reading Dr. Imbeau’s series, as I do all of his commentaries. He is erudite, yet funny. However, his commentary of June 17 included some errors and misconceptions on Catholic teachings on indulgences and purgatory that I would like to clarify.

The sale of indulgences by certain Church officials is a heinous historical fact. Martin Luther was correct to rail against it. Simony (the sale of spiritual goods) is and has always been forbidden by the Church in its teachings. Unfortunately, some of its leadership failed to uphold their sacred trust.

On the teaching of purgatory, we have to start with the understanding that purgatory is not a second chance of salvation. Salvation is a free gift from God; it cannot be earned. Those who die in His grace will go to Heaven. However, as scripture states in Rev. 21-27, nothing impure can enter Heaven. Purgatory is where those who are not quite pure are purified.

Everyone in purgatory goes to Heaven. Steve states the Church developed the idea about 1100. This is factually incorrect, but it’s a common misconception. The concept of a time of purification after death has existed since before the time of Christ as evidenced in the second book of Maccabees 12:41-45 (part of Sacred Scripture since the Church’s first centuries; removed in the Protestant Bibles by Luther in the 1500s). This concept of after-death purification of sin and consequences of sin is also stated in New Testament passages 1 Corinthians 12:11-15 and Matthew 5:25-26, 12:31-32.

There are many writings in the early Church discussing after-death purification without using the name purgatory. Writings in 160 AD, 190 AD, 202 AD, Tertullian in 211and 216 and Cyril of Jerusalem in 350 AD are just a few of the many sources that I can cite testifying to this.

As far as the Second Council of Lyon formalizing purgatory, the Church historically only formalizes an accepted doctrine when it is being challenged or perverted.

For example, in the Council of Nicaea in 325, the Church formalized the Nicene Creed, which specified that Jesus Christ was “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made” in response to the Arian heresy that claimed that Jesus was simply the greatest creature of God, not God himself. Jesus did not become God due to the council proclaiming it; the council simply defended and clarified a long held truth so the faithful would not be led astray.

The same is true for purgatory. This is a teaching of the Church from which the Church cannot turn away, since it is at the level of Divine Law, not Church Law.

Misconceptions by both Catholics and non-Catholics about Catholic teachings is fairly common.

I mean no ill will, just clarification.

Blessings to all.


Deacon, Diocese of Charleston



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