Why I believe in Purgatory

Purgatory is one of those not-very-nice, unscientific, anti-modernist ideas. IF the subject ever comes around liberal Christians (it hardly ever does), it seems like the response is something like, “No one really believes that any more.”

I used to not, either. But now I do.

I wish I could say that I came to my belief because of deep reflection and study, or that I was won over by some theological discourse, or that the truth came to me in prayer, or that I assented in faith to the doctrines of the Church. But none of that is the case.

What did it for me was “Dream of Gerontius” by John Henry Newman.

SOFTLY and gently, dearly-ransomed soul,
In my most loving arms I now enfold thee,
And, o’er the penal waters, as they roll,
I poise thee, and I lower thee, and hold thee.

And carefully I dip thee in the lake,
And thou, without a sob or a resistance,
Dost through the flood thy rapid passage take,
Sinking deep, deeper, into the dim distance.
Angels, to whom the willing task is given,
Shall tend, and nurse, and lull thee, as thou liest;
And Masses on the earth and prayers in heaven,
Shall aid thee at the Throne of the most Highest.

Farewell, but not forever! Brother dear,
Be brave and patient on thy bed of sorrow;
Swiftly shall pass thy night of trial here,
And I will come and wake thee on the morrow.

6 thoughts on “Why I believe in Purgatory

  1. As a Protestant Christian, I was never exposed to the idea of Purgatory. Though I am coming to see the sense of it. If we humans are imperfect, how are we to enter the holy perfect reality of heaven without some sort of cleansing? Like a refiner puts gold through the fire to remove impurities.

    It seems to me that my Methodist brothers and sisters have a similar idea, calling it Christian perfections – and it happens on this side of existence.

    Still, I wonder why purgatory seems to take considerable time – the weeks, months, and years implied by indulgences? I wonder that after-life perfection might be a bit more quick while passing through the pearly gates in the Heavenly customs office.

    • I rather think of Purgatory as a sort of Divine Hospital. healing the sick soul can take time, and I imagine having the evil purged out of you would be rather painful.

      As to time… well, that’s tough, since time is only meaningful in the physical world. So I’ll have to file that under, “I have no idea.”

      • I’ve read that the periods of time mentioned in partial indulgences refer to the period of penance implied on this side of death. So, a 100 day indulgence is not ‘100 days off purgatory’ but 100 days of penance applied to the purgation of your own soul in purgatory or the soul of another of the faithful departed. A plenary indulgence is like an infinite amount of penance (not bad for praying in front of a crucifix on Friday and receiving communion at mass) and thus an act that fully purges. Of course, it is not so much our actions in themselves that do this but our participation in the life of the church and the infinite ‘merits’ of Christ. While there is no time as we know it in purgatory, there is a type of ‘motion’ measured as a increase in holiness. It’d be like a time of pure kairos, with no admixture of chronos.

  2. Anymore, indulgences are classified simply as “partial” or “plenary”, which I suppose sidesteps Joel’s question but seems felicitious.

    Have you read Dante’s Purgatory, Adam?

  3. Somewhere in my reading (mostly women mystics) there was a statement that Protestants spend a lot longer in Purgatory because no one prays or fasts for them, since they do not believe in it. Now that would include many Catholics, it seems.

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