PURGATORY: The doctrine of purgatory is associated with that of the Intermediate State (q.v.). Its reference to fire was derived from the use of fire in the Bible as a symbol of purification (Mal. iii. 2; Matt. iii. 11; I Pet. i. 7) and of punishment (Matt. xxv. 41; Mark ix. 44, 49). The doctrine first began to be broached in the third century. Clement of Alexandria (Pd., iii., Strom., vii.) speaks of a spiritual fire in this world; and Origen held that it continues beyond the grave (Hom. on Num. xxv.), even Paul and Peter must pass through it in order to be purified from all sin (Hom. on Ps. xxxvi.). Augustine, relying on Matt. xii. 32, regarded the doctrine of purgatorial fire for the cleansing away of the remnants of sin as not incredible. Gregory the Great (604) established the doctrine. Thomas Aquinas (qu. lxx. 3), Bonaventura (Compendium theologi, vii. 2), and Gerson (Sermo, ii., De defunctis), and other great men of the Middle Ages held that the fire of purgatory was material. At the Council of Florence (1439) the Greek church laid down the idea as one of the irreconcilable differences between them and the Latin church. The Cathari, the Waldenses, and Wyclif opposed the doctrine.
The teaching of the Greek Catholic Church is thus stated in the "Longer Catechism" (adopted 1839; cf. Schaff, Creeds, ii. 504):
Q. 376. What is to be remarked of such souls as have departed with faith, but without having had time to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance? This, that they may be aided toward the attainment of a blessed resurrection by prayers offered in their behalf, especially such as are offered in union with the oblation of the bloodless sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ, and by works of mercy done in faith for their memory. Q. 377. On what is this doctrine grounded? On the constant tradition of the Catholic Church, the sources of which may be seen even in the Church of the Old Testament. Judas Maccabæus offered sacrifices for his men that had fallen (II Macc. xii. 43). Prayer for the departed has ever formed a fixed part of the divine Liturgy, from the first Liturgy of the apostle James. St. Cyril of Jerusalem says, "Very great will be the benefit to those souls for which prayer is offered at the moment when the holy and tremendous sacrifice is lying in view" ("Mystagogical Lectures," v. 9). St. Basil the Great, in his Prayers for Pentecost, says that "the Lord vouchsafes to receive from us propitiatory prayers and sacrifices for those that are kept in Hades, and allows us the hope of obtaining for them peace, relief, and freedom."
The Roman Catholic doctrine is as follows (Schaff, Creeds, ii. 198-199):
Whereas the Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Ghost, has, from the Sacred Writings and the ancient tradition of the Fathers, taught in sacred councils, and very recently in this ecumenical synod, that there is a purgatory, and that the souls there detained are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, but principally by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar: the holy synod enjoins on bishops that they diligently endeavor that the sound doctrine concerning purgatory . . . be believed, maintained, taught, and everywhere proclaimed by the faithful of Christ.
The doctrine was elaborated by Bellarmine (1621) in De purgatorio, in which proof was adduced from I Kings xxxi. 13; II Kings i., iii.; II Macc. xii. 40 sqq.; Tob. iv. 18; Matt. xii. 32; I Cor. iii. 11, and from the Fathers, the councils, and reason, and the conclusion is reached that the fire of purgatory is material (ignem purgatorii esse corporeum).
The doctrine of purgatory as now taught in the Roman Catholic Church is that souls which depart this life in a state of grace but guilty of venial sins or liable to some punishment after the guilt of sins is forgiven, are subject to a process of cleansing before entering heaven. The souls detained there are helped by the prayers of the faithful. These souls probably pray to God in behalf of those who are still known to them on the earth, and they inspire living men to offer prayer in their behalf. But what the location of the place is, what is the nature or quality of the pains, or the duration of the purifying process, or what the methods in which the mediation of the living is applied are questions to which the Church affords no answers. The difficulty that the detention of those who enter purgatory just previous to the final judgment is too short for purification, is met by the suggestion that pure spirits are not under ordinary conditions of time, and that all things are present together in the eternity of God.
C. A. BECKWITH.