A Discussion Stuck in Limbo

Dear Reader: The following is a fictional conversation written to initiate discussion on an important topic concerning different traditions of the Christian faith. This article is not meant to be a divisive but to spark informative, honest and respectful discussion. One author happens to be Protestant and the other Roman Catholic. We are good friends (so far), go to the same church (somehow), and do not intend to ignite another “holy war” (yet). Instead, we thought this would be an entertaining and humorous way to discuss serious issues of doctrine.


John Paul and Luther Van Calvin, two 16th century commoners, mysteriously find themselves on the campus of the University of Chicago during the University’s club fair orientation. They are unsure of what age of history they are in but through a series of discussions with the locals (and each other), they may soon find out.

Luther Van Calvin: (yawns) Now indeed by the mysterious sovereignty of God I find myself awake in such a peculiar location! (glancing around at the U of C campus) Is this the long awaited Paradise? Pardon me, sir, I see you find yourself in a similar predicament. My name is Luther Van Calvin. Tell me, why are there so many young people roaming about, bustling here and there in such chaotic disarray?

John Paul: I am not sure where we are. Perhaps a type of learning institution. You and I seem to be the few God-fearing people in this place. My name is John Paul. I wonder what all these booths are for? It seems that they are having some kind of club information day. “The Marijuana for Michigan” club? Hmm…Some of these clubs seem questionable. I wonder if the Magisterium has approved of them. Wait a minute, I see your carrying around your Gutenberg Bible. Does that mean you are a Reformer?

LVC: ….Indeed, I do carry with me the Word of God, and I give thanks to the Lord that because of you I am not without a fellow Christ-loving companion…(scanning the booths)…And yet I fear…this place…truly must not be Paradise for His chosen elect. I sense traces of the Fall still lingering in this place…

University of Chicago Student #1: Who are you guys? And interesting outfits you guys got on. Are you hipsters? So, hey, would you sign my petition to save the environment?

LVC: From what does the environment need saving?

University of Chicago Student #2: Are you kidding me? Are you like still in the Dark Ages, man? You know, there was that recent gulf of Mexico oil spill, global warming, off-shore drilling… We are totally destroying this earth for future generations!

LVC: Humans do seem to be treating creation as badly as you say. However, it would seem that humans are the ones who first need to be saved, no?

UofCStudent #1: What? Saved? You mean, like saved from our “sins” or “hell” or something? Oh man, here we go with those Christian fundamentalists again… You know what, forget it. I’ll go talk to that guy over there (walking away and addressing another student).

JP: Interesting… So these young people do not believe in eternal damnation, nor do they fear God’s final judgment. Hopefully they haven’t strayed too far from Christ. Surely there’s a chance for them enter heaven and receive purification through the fires of Purgatory.

LVC: Purgatory? Brother, I do not doubt your sincerity of heart, but here you are badly mistaken on that point. For the Holy Scriptures speak nothing of the sort.

JP: Really? But Revelation teaches that nothing unclean will enter heaven (21:27), and Hebrews tells us that without holiness we cannot see God (Heb 12:14). Alas, I must not be as holy as the Reformers, for even though I have loved Christ since I was a child, I still commit venial sins. Purgatory is meant to cleanse me of this remaining dirt by the fire of God’s love. What a blessing! Praise God!

LVC: Indeed, the Scriptures to which you refer indicate the necessity of being cleansed of our sins to come into God’s holy presence. But it only indicates the necessity of being cleansed and not the necessity of a special place which you call Purgatory. Indeed, if anything, it is a special Person, not a special place that does this purifying work. And the Scriptures clearly say that it is the blood of Christ that cleanses us from our sin (1 John 5:7-10; Heb 10:19), not the fires of Purgatory. Shouldn’t we be worried that the idea of Purgatory will detract from Christ’s work on the cross for our sins? Brother, I fear you are adding to scripture which the book of Revelation firmly condemns.

JP: I would never do such a thing! Nor would I take away from scripture (winking at Luther Van Calvin). The emphasis in Purgatory is also a Person and not a place. The tradition of the Church has always conceptualized Purgatory as a process in which we encounter the consuming fire of our God (Hebrews 12:29). Both Saint Peter and Saint Paul spoke of such a process where we would be purified by fire (Peter 1:6-7; 1 Cor 3:15). Can the wonderful light of God detract from God? Purgatory is just a process by which you are clothed with the fire of God in preparation for the wedding feast. What guest would enter his gracious master’s home without proper attire (Matt 22:11-14)?

LVC: Indeed, but this proper attire is already given to us when we clothe ourselves with Christ (Rom 13:14). I wonder, my dear friend, whether you are confusing Purgatory with the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. All the Scriptures from which you quote about the consuming, purifying fire of God refers to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Remember it was the Spirit-like tongues of fire that descended on the believers on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13), and John the Baptist refers to the work of the Spirit as fire (Lk 3:15-18). Although I agree with you that this fiery, consuming, purifying work of the Spirit is a process, I do not think Scripture gives us evidence to think of Purgatory as a place of any kind.

JP: But brother, the passages are specifically referring to an afterlife. Have you ever considered Matthew 12:32 where Jesus says that a word against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven in this age or in the next age to come? What age could that be if there is no forgiveness in heaven?

LVC: The Age to Come is not referring to Purgatory, brother, but more likely the period of end times when Christ returns. For when Christ returns, 1 John 3:2-3 says that when he appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see him as He is. The Apostle John does not say that when he returns, we first go to Purgatory for purification and then we shall be like our Lord Jesus; it simply says that we will be like Christ — which the Apostle Paul says will happen in a flash, in a twinkle of an eye (1 Cor 15:52). Unless you think that during that brief moment of a twinkle of an eye, we undertake a momentary trip to Purgatory.

JP: You know your Bible well. But keep in mind that the Greek, ” in the next” (en to mellonti) generally refers to the afterlife (see, for example, Mark 10.30; Luke 18.30). But I suppose it could mean the Second Coming. What about when Jesus asked us to come to terms with our opponents or we would be handed over to the judge and thrown into prison where we would not get out until we have paid every last penny (Matthew 5:26;18:34; Luke12:58-59)? Or the story about the unmerciful servant who was sent to a prison and not released until he payed back what he owed (Matt 13:32-34)? What else could this prison be? Surely there is no escape from hell, and obviously we wouldn’t want to escape from heaven, as there are no debts to be paid in heaven. So, logically, purgatory must surely exist.

LVC: Remember, brother, that Jesus is speaking in parables to communicate a spiritual truth and does not necessarily describe something literal with every detail in the parable. The point of the parables you quote is the truth of God’s judgment for those who don’t repent. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a literal prison that collects every last penny. Jesus simply communicates that sin requires punishment. And you are correct in the sense that our sin does need to be paid. But, fortunately, our Lord Jesus paid our sin-debt in full when he said on the cross, “It is finished.” No need to pay any more pennies there. Brother, it is finished! (John 19:30).

JP: Yes, not all parables are meant to be taken literally. But if Purgatory wasn’t meant to be taken literally, then why did Jesus use the same image in so many descriptions of the afterlife? Why would he bother differentiating between the two types of afterlife (neither of which refer to hell) in multiple passages? For example, the story of the master who beats the slaves but allows them to live. Or when St. Peter talked about Christ preaching to the spirits in prison? (1 Pe 3:18; 4:6) Peter uses the word prison, the exact same word Jesus used.

LVC: Hmm…I confess the 1 Peter passage is a difficult one to interpret (1 Pe 3:18), and at first glance it does appear to provide support for your position. But I believe this prison of the spirits refers to Hades. This reminds me that when we recite the Apostle’s Creed, we affirm that Jesus descended into Hades. I am not exactly sure what Hades is, but this could be the Paradise of the dead where the Old Testament saints were located before the coming of Christ. They were all awaiting the Messiah’s promised coming until Christ, after his crucifixion, descended to them in Hades and bore witness to them the Gospel.

JP: So you do grant that there might be a place that is not heaven, nor hell, but some intermediary place which I call Purgatory but which you call Hades?

LVC: Yes, tentatively, but I would not martyr myself over this belief. And you too have to grant, however, that nowhere in this passage does St. Peter talk about this prison as being a place where people are trying to pay off their sins, or “pay every last penny.” It may be a prison in the sense that the spirits of Old Testament saints were held there before Christ, but such a prison of Hades must no longer be necessary in the era of Christ. For now that Christ finished the work of salvation, we can say like Apostle Paul that when we die, we are “absent from the body” but will be “present with the Lord”! (2 Cor 5:8)

JP: Brother, I have to honestly say that you are completely misinterpreting Scripture. I should say a rosary for you.

LVC: Indeed, the basis of both our positions all rest on a particular interpretation of Scripture. We seem to be at an impasse. You defend your position with Scripture; I defend mine with Scripture. We each accuse the other of misinterpreting Scripture. Who then gets the final word? Who is the final arbiter?

JP: That is why we need a Magisterium, don’t you think?

LVC: Good question, brother. Let’s discuss that next time. For now, Let us simply open up it up for discussion at UBFriends. Does Purgatory exist?


  1. david bychkov

    No :)

  2. Joe Schafer

    John and Gerardo: Thanks for this entertaining and informative article. Although I was raised in the Catholic church and was taught the doctrine of Purgatory, no one ever tried to explain to me how that doctrine could be supported by the Bible. And Protestants simply dismissed it as ridiculous and unbiblical. Although I do not believe in Purgatory, I now realize that it is wrong for me to simply dismiss an idea that I do not agree with as being unbiblical without actually listening to the supporting arguments.

    As I understand it, the idea of purgatory was not formulated until the 13th century. After the first millennium, the medieval western church developed a legal/forensic understanding of the gospel based on the idea that every sin committed incurs a fixed amount of wrath, a spiritual debt that must somehow be paid before a soul can enter paradise. The roots of this understanding come from the Bible — mainly from Romans, but also from the parables mentioned in this article. The Bible presents many views of the gospel. The gospel is a multifaceted jewel, and it deserves to be examined and re-examined from every angle. For reasons that I do not understand, the western church latched on to one particluar view of the gospel to the exclusion of the others. They developed complex ideas of divine retributive justice that included purgatory, limbo, and levels/stages of hell as described by Dante. They took some genuinely biblical ideas and extrapolated way too far, building a theological structure that could no longer be supported by plain reading of the whole Bible. And that theological system bore bitter fruit in the form of abusive practices of the Roman church in the late middle ages, such as the selling of indulgences. The eastern Orthodox church never accepted the idea of Purgatory, and the Protestant Reformers rejected it as well.

    Few people whom I know are asking whether Purgatory exists. But many (including many sincere and highly dedicated Christians) are wrestling with the more basic idea of hell. They are wondering how it is possible for an all-knowing and all-loving God to create people, knowing that some of them will be consigned to eternal punishment. That is not a simple question, and the quick/easy answers that we like to give are not satisfying to thoughtful people who genuinely agonize over this issue.

    In my opinion, there is a great deal of misunderstanding of what the Bible actually teaches about the afterlife, due in part to the limitations of the English language and problems of translation. Jesus used two different words — Hades and Gehenna — which have very different connotations. Gehenna carries the imagery of fiery punishment, and Hades does not. But the KJV rendered both of these Greek words as “hell,” and our understanding of that English word is colored by Dante and medieval systems of thought which were not known to the authors of the New Testament.

    A very interesting video by New Testament scholar N.T. Wright on this subject can be found here:


    • Hi Joe, thanks for your comment. If I may, I would like to offer a reply.

      To say that the Catholic position on the afterlife is too legalistic is to say that the bible’s description of the afterlife is too legalistic. The Catholic Church has strongly emphasized the familial language of the bible and the relationship between God and man, while at the same time, conserving the legalistic language as well. So the Roman church latched onto both views but did not exclude any.

      By contrast, it seems me that the reformers ignored many of the passages that spoke about a type of punishment in the afterlife (e.g. the book of Maccabees) because it did not mesh well with 15th century reformer theology. As for the Orthodox church, it denies purgatory but it would be rather unfair to say that that they don’t believe there is a middle place between heaven and earth. The Orthodox church has been rather inconsistent in its way of putting forth its belief. It has always talked about this middle place between heaven and earth precisely because they did not know how to reconcile some of the passages presented above and those in 2 Maccabees 12:43-46. They refused to call this middle place purgatory or acknowledge there is a purification by fire but they don’t deny a middle place.

      So it seems to me that the reformers deny certain biblical passages that are inconsistent with their beliefs, the Orthodox church is inconsistent in it’s teaching a middle place and the Catholic Church affirms those passages that appear to support and deny a belief in purgatory. It combines them in an amazing way which balances the legalistic and familial elements of the bible. For example, some say the view of purgatory is too legalistic but the Catholic Church’s view on praying for the dead (which is intrically tied to purgatory) is too familial. Many believe there are two bodies of Christ one on earth and another in heaven. Whereas the Catholic Church has always affirmed the intimacy shared among all those who are saved by Christ whether living or dead.

      Also, while the doctrine of Purgatory was not formulated until the middle ages, it was widely believed by some of the earliest bishops of the church. Origin wrote, “For if on the foundation of Christ you have built not only gold and silver and precious stones (1 Corinthians 3); but also wood and hay and stubble, what do you expect when the soul shall be separated from the body? Would you enter into heaven with your wood and hay and stubble and thus defile the kingdom of God; or on account of these hindrances would you remain without and receive no reward for your gold and silver and precious stones? Neither is this just. It remains then that you be committed to the fire which will burn the light materials; for our God to those who can comprehend heavenly things is called a cleansing fire (P.G., XIII, col. 445, 448).”

      The fact that purgatory had such wide acceptance by some of the earliest leaders of the church does not prove the veracity of the doctrine of course, but it does give one a historical context for this belief. It wasn’t made up by some rascal bishops in the middle ages who wanted to make money. Also, the doctrine itself did not “bear bitter fruit.” The teaching on indulgences is quite biblical and held a long tradition in the Catholic church – I wont get into the details here. Just because certain bishops inappropriately used the doctrine does not make the doctrine bad. One has to separate bad or perverse application of doctrine from bad doctrine. Just because man abuses his free will to sin doesn’t mean that the doctrine of free will is false. We can’t throw out the baby with the bath water.

      But I like the way John decided to end the debate. By affirming that both positions use a biblical argument. So who has the last say? I would answer that it would be the very group that had the authority to put the bible together in the first place. But that is a debate for a different day..

  3. Joe Schafer

    Hi Gerardo,

    Thank you for this reply. I appreciated the fact that, in your original article, you did not try to build the arguments for Purgatory on that short passage from 2 Maccabees. That’s one of the main arguments that I had heard from the Roman Catholic church in the past. But that passage from 2 Maccabees doesn’t explicitly talk about Purgatory, and it’s found in a book that Protestants do not regard as canonical.

    I did not say, nor did I wish to suggest, that Purgatory was made up by rascal bishops who wanted to make money. I do think that the doctrine was an honest attempt to explain some difficult concepts. But I still think that it’s an extrapolation beyond what the Bible explicitly teaches.

    Is it really fair to say that Purgatory had “wide acceptance by some of the earliest leaders of the church”? Some (John Henry Newman, for example) claimed that the *essence* of the idea was taught by some church fathers, including Origen. But no one seems to have spoken of Purgatory as a place distinct from heaven and hell until the 11th century. At least that’s what Wikipedia says.

    Thanks again for a stimulating discussion.

    • Hi Joe, I know you weren’t saying that the doctrine was made up for ill reasons. No worries.
      If we stick to the bible alone, I guess the question is: are Catholics extrapolating beyond what the bible explicitly teaches or are Protestants trying to implicitly reconcile reformer theology at the cost of denying scriptural truth. Personally, the passages I cite seem quite explicit in their teaching or purgatory. Even if I try, I can’t see it any other way

      I would be interested in getting your view on what Jesus meant when he said that everyone would pay every last penny before they got out. I mean, Jesus indeed pays for our sins but if we die with venial sin, without confession or making an act of contrition, how can we expect to get into heaven if nothing unclean can enter it? If I commit a venial sin, I am clearly unclean. In fact, I am more unclean because I commited the sin in full knowledge of the Love of Christ and his sacrifice for my past transgressions.

      So it seems we have #1 passages that speak about Jesus paying the price and #2 passages where Jesus (the savior) himself, say’s there will be a suffering process we will have to go through in order to get out. Obviously there is no escape from hell and heaven is not a prison. How do you reconcile these considering that Jesus himself who knew what he would do for man, said it.

      Consider for example, 2 Samuel 12:13-14 where David – though forgiven – is still punished. Clearly forgiveness and a lack of punishment are not synonymous. When we punish our children after we forgive them, we do it because we think there must be some good in it do we not? What parent would hit there kid just to relieve their anger. Instead, he hit’s or punishes their kid because he see’s some inherent good in that. Say for example, your son breaks your neighber’s window. As a good father, you take him over to his house and make him apologize for breaking the window. And after he receives forgiveness, you might even encourage him to mow his lawn or something. Or say your son steals your car. You may forgive him, but you still expect him to bring back the car! So I think this is more in line with what the Catholic church teaches the purging fires of purgatory are meant to do. They are to burn away your temporal punishment. They don’t secure your salvation. Christ has already done that. The mere fact that one is in purgatory is proof that you they are saved by the blood of Christ. But one still incurs temporal punishment and Purgatory is meant to perfect souls by paying this temporal punishment through suffering – and being united with Christ in his passion. And purgatory is also meant to remove their inclination to sin.

      Many, but not all the church Fathers spoke about purgatory indirectly. Not that they said, “there is this and that place.. where this and that takes place.” But that many of the church Father’s spoke about praying for souls who had passed away. Why pray for them if they are joined with Christ? In fact, some of the early Christian Catacombs have prayers on the walls that talk about praying to Christ for the dead. Again, what is the function of this if one is either in hell already or in heaven already?

  4. Hi Gerardo,

    This two-way conversation between us has gotten to be very long, and I would rather not continue it here on UBFriends, because I don’t want to dominate the discussion board with my own comments; I would much prefer to hear what other people have to say.

    Because you asked me a very specific question, however, I fear it would be impolite not to answer. The question is about what Jesus meant when he spoke about paying back every last penny.

    In the parable of the unmerciful servant (Mt 18:21-35), Jesus’ main point is that we have to grant forgiveness to others as God has forgiven us. The number of times that Jesus said we are to forgive (whether it is 77 times, or 70×7=490 times) is so large that it means we are to forgive without limit. The amount of money owed by the wicked servant (10,000 talents) was an unimaginably huge sum of money which could never, ever be repaid. Jesus is using a hyperbole to indicate that God forgives without limit, and by receiving his grace we are compelled to extend the same kind of unlimited grace to others. Unforgiving attitudes, holding grudges, and keeping score of others’ wrongs are antithetical to the gospel and hinder our relationship with God. The end of the parable, in which the wicked servant is turned over to jailers to be tortured, is a minor detail which adds urgency and color; it is part of vivid storytelling, but it is not necessarily teaching doctrine; not every detail of every parable is meant to be turned into doctrine. Or it could reflect the fate of a person who is truly unsaved because he has rejected the gospel of grace, as evidenced by his unmerciful behavior toward others.

    The other two passages you mentioned (Mt 5:25-26 and Lk 12:58-59), which are very similar to each other, are not necessarily allegorical. Jesus is telling us in a very straightforward way to settle our conflicts with other people as soon as possible, granting and receiving forgiveness in his name, and to be reconciled to them. Refusing to do so hinders our relationship with God and limits our ability to experience his forgiveness.

    These passages all teach the same basic truth: forgiving others and being forgiven by God are so inextricably linked that we cannot have one without the other. The same gospel that restores our vertical relationship with God must also restore our horizontal relationships with one another. This is the same truth that is taught in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

    His point is that, if we are truly Christian, we are compelled to pursue reconciliation and love for others in this present world as our first priority. Reconciliation with others is an even higher priority than worship (Mt 5:23-24). Using these passages to build a doctrine of Purgatory goes way beyond that context and, in my opinion, deflects attention from the actual teaching that Jesus wanted his audience to receive.

    Thanks again for the stimulating discussion. I will refrain from posting more comments now. God be with you.

  5. Some points about the above discussion:

    1) No where in the New Testament is the Apocrypha quoted, and it is not in the Jewish canon either for good reason, the Jews did not consider those books to be inspired OT literature.

    2) The doctrine of purgatory necessitates a dividing of particular sins into venial and mortal in God’s eyes, but this is not taught in Scripture. James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking ALL of it.” And in Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin is DEATH…” not temporary purgatory. “The soul who sins is the one who will DIE” -Ezekiel 18:4 Therefore if Jesus hasnt forgiven you of ALL of your sin, you will not suffer temporarily but permanently in hell.

    3)Purgatory denies the accounts in the Bible of what happened to the Rich man and Lazarus (who was taken to heaven by the angels when he died without any reference to purgatory, and one would think that if such a place existed, Jesus might have mentioned it explicitly there), and also the account of the thief on the cross next to Jesus, whom Jesus told would be in heaven that same day.

    4)Paul said that he wished to depart and be with Christ which is better by far…he also neglected to say “but after 15 years or so of hellish burning first.”

    5)Jesus bore ALL of the punishment for our sins on the cross “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the PUNISHMENT that brought us PEACE was on him,and by his wounds we are healed.” -Isaiah 53:5…And that is why “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” -Romans 8:1

    6) The selling of indulgences to escape from purgatory in the 16th century (And at other times) was a most terrible sin of the Catholic church, because they tried to sell the Grace of God for money, not to mention with the full blessing of the “infallible” pope on top of it as well. (and another question, who decides how much time each venial sin will land you? Is it by the imagination of the particular priest? Or how is that quantified and defended Biblically?)

    7) Hebrews 9:22 says, “…the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Like John said above, it is the blood of Jesus that cleans us from our sins, I have been cleansed by the Blood of the Lamb who took my punishment completely when he died on the cross for me. His Punishment brought me peace with God! As Charitie Bancroft wrote: “Before the throne of God above, I have a strong and perfect plea, the Great High Priest whose name is Love, who ever lives and pleads for me. My name is graven on his hands, my name is written on his heart, I know that while in Heaven he stands, no tongue and bid me thence depart! Behold him there the Risen Lamb, my perfect spotless righteousness, the Great unchangeable I Am, the King of Glory and of Grace. One in Himself I cannot die, my soul is purchased by his blood, my life is hid with Christ on high, with Christ my Savior and my God!”

    • Here is my response to your points:

      1) See Hebrews 11:35b as a reference to 2 Maccabees 7:1-29. I can give you more if you would like. Jews did not consider the “apocryphal” books to be inspired UNTIL 100AD (Council of Jamnia). This was not the case before. Apparently Martin Luther took it upon his own authority to reject and remove several of the books of the Cannon that were held as sacred scripture for 1200 years. Go figure..I guess the Pope is not infallible but Martin Luther is. Anyone who tells you that the Catholic Church added books to the Cannon is lying to you. Please read reliable history and avoid believing Chick tracts.

      2) See John 5:16-17 “If you see your brother or sister committing what is not a mortal sin, you will ask, and God will give life to such a one – to those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin that is mortal; I do not say you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not mortal.”

      Also, we are told by the Bible that some sin will merit greater punishment than others (see Matthew 11:22, 24; Luke 10:12, 14). I am sure you have your own interpretation. But you cannot say that scripture does not teach (what strongly appears to be) a differentiation of sin.

      3) How is this possible? If anything, the story of the rich man and Lazarus AFFIRMS purgatory or at the very least a place separate from heaven. Please read the passage again.

      4) Paul also neglected to say that the God is composed of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Shall we apply your reasoning here as well?

      5) See Colossians 1:24 “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the Church.”

      6. Selling indulgences was a sin committed by SOME clergy. More reason why I am grateful that our Lord, the Holy Spirit, has preserve the Catholic Church from teaching error. The Catholic Church’s teaching authority is immaculate as indicated by 1 Timothy 3:15. You should be grateful for this authority the next time you read your Bible. But the topic of papal infallibility is really off topic so I wont address your insulting comments any further.

      7) Amen and Amen. I have no qualms with this. Again, it is the Catholic Church’s infallible teaching Authority, guided by the Holy Spirit, that allowed you to quote Hebrews and not the gospel of Thomas.

    • Hey guys, the tone of this discussion needs some improvement. Thus far, we have not had to delete any comments for violating the commenting policy. But this last comment comes very close to getting axed. Can we disagree without being disagreeable?

    • Yes we can. As soon as I submitted the reply I regretted doing so. My apologies. I’ll try avoid getting riled up over people’s comments.

  6. Thanks Gerardo. The online forum is probably not the best way to deal with such topics as it does not adequately show the whole person behind the remarks. Since I know you so well and know how gracious and thoughtful you are in person in discussing such topics with me, I read the last “controversial” comment and was mostly amused: “Ah, there goes my buddy Gerardo.” But I can see how others can take offense.

    I see that since I co-authored this post I should take some responsibility and comment. I actually don’t care either way whether there is a Purgatory. Well, I hope its obvious that my opinions are best expressed by Mr. Luther van Calvin above. My original intent with this post is how Christians from various traditions can get beyond the well-worn theological debates (like Purgatory) in which we each spout bible verses at each other with great passion and emotion, and instead to look for commonalities in which we can advance the Church’s mission on earth, despite our diverse Christian traditions. But the problem I keep facing is how one mediates the differences that originate from differing interpretations of the same Scripture. It keeps vexing me and makes me re-think the doctrine of sola Scriptura, but not necessarily throwing me back into the arms of the Catholic Church.

    In either case, this issue is a discussion for another day. But true unity begins with what you just exemplified with your last post, Gerardo. A humility to recognize where we’ve fallen short, a commitment to seek peace among brothers, and a resolve to fully understand even more than trying to be understood (to paraphrase St. Francis’ famous prayer).

    • Thanks John. I appreciate your charitably willingness to look beyond my tone.

      In many respects, the agnosticism expressed by Luther Van Calvin is quite healthy in speculate points like purgatory or guardian angels. Personally, I am a bit confused as to why purgatory should be such a difficult topic to accept. What does it really mean to accept purgatory? The doctrine does not take anyway away from the existence of heaven, one’s salvation or the merits that Christ gained for us. All it really says is that in order to enter the wedding banquet, one must be made clean (which Christ’s blood does) and and not have the desire/tendency to sin (which purgatory does). Even Saint Paul admitted that he struggled with the prospect of sin. I doubt that anyone would argue that Saint Paul is not in heaven. And yet, I wonder if Saint Paul did not rejoice at the prospect that God’s consuming fire would burn away his remaining desire to sin.

      My intent in this article was to show that many Catholic beliefs are indeed quite biblically supported. Whether one believes a particular biblical interpretation is another thing but I really don’t like it when people assume that certain doctrines are unbiblical. Like when people say, “where in the bible does it say that we should confess our sins to a priest?!” When I hear this, I always wonder how people could possibly overlook John 19:21-22.

      I really doubt such a silly article such as this would really change anyone’s mind on purgatory. =)

      Like you said, it is not that big a deal. However, I do hope that this article will atleast encourage people to look up a Catholic response to why we believe such and such instead of automatically assuming that certain beliefs are not biblically supported or to assume that their faith tradition is the norm and Catholics are the weird one’s.

      Sola scriptura is definitely a difficult one for me to grasp as well. Maybe the Pope will extend an invitation to evangelical protestants who are fed up with all the divisions to join the Catholic church but keep their faith tradition. =)
      If he did it for Anglicans, why not for evangelicals? Think about it, as a bible loving evangelical, you would be joining the original “bible church”. =)

      Plus, your bible would be so much bigger! All your evangelical friends would be so jealous that you get to read extra books. In exchange, evangelicals could introduce better music. We Catholics can’t sing. =(

  7. Gerardo, I can honestly say with no ill intent, that many of the scripture references you quoted in your reply to me have nothing to do with the subsequent argument you make…I am totally confused about why you put them there. What does Hebrews 11:35 have to do with 2 Maccabees 7:1-29 (other than that both talking about suffering people)? What does the Gospel of John 5:16-17 have to do with the 1John passage you quoted right after it? Or was that a typing mistake?

    I also take issue with your claim that 1Timothy 3:15 is talking about the Roman Catholic Church. I am sure that you would admit, there have been bad Popes even unbelieving Popes in history, no? Pope Urban VI complained that he did not hear enough screaming when Cardinals who had conspired against him were tortured! Pope Paul IV who reigned as pope during the time of “Bloody Mary” in England taught the following about the Jews: “As it is completely absurd and improper in the utmost that the Jews, who through their own fault were condemned by God to eternal servitude, can under the pretext that pious Christians must accept them and sustain their habitation, are so ungrateful to Christians, as, instead of thanks for gracious treatment, they return contumely, and among themselves, instead of the slavery, which they deserve…”

    Now, I know that Luther and others also said very bad things about the Jews, but we Protestants do not say that everything Luther teaches is infallible, Should Pope Paul IV’s words still be thought of as inspired teaching?

    Wouldnt you agree that the Church is made up of all believers in Christ and not just the Roman Catholic ones? When a church continues in Christ’s word, it keeps its identity as His church, but when it fails to abide in His word, it is not longer regarded as His Church. Let me ask you a question that I would love for you to answer openly, Do you believe that salvation is found only within the Catholic Church? And if so, do you consider the non-catholics here to be heretics or pagans?

    Oh, one more thing, sorry to be long winded and scattered, but you never addressed my point about the theif on the cross being in Heaven the same day he died, ok thats it for now!

    • Hi David, this is just my suggestion, but this discussion is starting to take an unintended turn toward a certain type of discussion I was hoping to avoid through this post. You raise important questions, but probably these questions are probably best left to private emails between you and Gerardo. Maybe the Admin disagrees with me, but that’s just my opinion. Thanks for your interest, though.

    • Ill take the time to respond to your relevant points:

      1) The thief on the cross. The passage says that Jesus said to him: “I tell you the truth today you will be with me in paradise.” Notice that there is no comma after the word truth. Meaning that it is equally likely that the passage could have said, “I tell you the truth today, you will be with me in paradise.” Also, if the thief was with Jesus that very day with him in paradise, then why is it that Jesus said to Mary in John 20:17 that he had not yet ascended to the Father on the third day? Didnt he promise the thief that he would be with him on the very day of the crucifixion and not three days later? Lastly, just because it might be the ordinary way for some people to go through purgatory before entering heaven, doesnt mean that God cant take extraordinary exceptions. He can do whatever he wants. How do you get to Alaska? You will would probably answer “flying ofcourse.” That doesnt mean you can’t take an extraordinary way there, say.. driving. God is not bound by the means that we are made aware of. I hope this makes sense.

      Now let me quickly respond to your other questions but I hope we can continue this conversation through email.

      When I refer to the Pope’s teaching authority I am referring to what has been dogmatically defined and proclaimed ex cathedra. How do you know what meet’s this criteria? Look at all the ecumenical councils and the Cathechism. If you try to find bad teaching the best you will be able to do is SPECULATE on 1-2 incidents in the course of the Church’s 2,000 year teaching history. That alone should be enough to make you pause and convince you that it has been protected by the Holy Spirit. I agree, there have been some terrible Popes!

      We know of no other means of salvation outside the Catholic church. This does not mean that one has to be a baptized Catholic to be saved. It means that all salvation is accomplished by Christ through his church – which is his body. “Through him, with him and in him.” But this is really a mystery that goes beyond my immediate understanding. Please see the Catechism on the topic of baptism by desire for more info.

      Are non Catholics, such as yourself, a part of the Church? Yes, provided that you keep the Faith and Love Christ.

      But how is this possible since you are not Catholic? Again, it goes beyond my understanding. See the Catechism.

      Are you a heretic for not being Catholic? No. Archbishop Fulton Sheen said that 99% of people hate the Catholic church for what they THINK it teaches. Only 1% hate it for what it actually teaches. You and I have a long way before we properly understand what the Catholic church teaches. Please email me and we will continue this conversation. God Bless you and your curious search for answers.

    • Hi, I just saw read this comment and wanted to add (I know I’m very late) that the thief did indeed go to Heaven, at least according to the Catholic Church. He is St. Dismas. And there’s a parish church up in Waukegan named after him.  

      God bless.

    • I must say one more thing. Jesus says the phrase “I tell you the truth” with some promise after that  phrase  78 times in the New Testament. he never says “I tell you the truth today” with the word “today” appearing as a part of that common phrase that  he uses. His promise to the thief in Luke 23:43 was that he would be in heaven that day. To twist it any other way is to mishandle and misapply  the text.

    • GerardoR

      Julia, I think we all agree that he went to heaven. The question was whether he was glorified instantly right before he died and then went to heaven or whether he went through a final glorification process after he died before going to heaven. The whole debate is starting to sound like a debate on how many angels can dance on the head of a needle.Joe, why dont you just accept purgatory? =D

      I should point out that Saint Dismas feast day was yesterday (March 25th) and a couple of interesting facts according to wikipedia:
      According to tradition, the Good Thief was crucified to Jesus’ right hand and the other thief was crucified to his left. For this reason, depictions of the crucifixion often show Jesus’ head inclined to his right, showing his acceptance of the Good Thief. In the Russian Orthodox Church, both crucifixes and crosses are usually made with three bars: the top one, representing the titulus (the inscription that Pontius Pilate wrote and was nailed above Jesus’ head); the longer crossbar on which Jesus’ hands were nailed; and a slanted bar at the bottom representing the footrest to which Jesus’ feet were nailed. The footrest is slanted, pointing up towards the Good Thief, and pointing down towards the other.

    • No debate, Jesus clearly said that the thief (who was not “good” by the way Gerardo, he was justified by Grace through Faith in Jesus Christ  alone actually) would be in heaven that same  day.

  8. Ok sorry, I wanted to say to Gerardo though, that I am glad that he refers to the Bible to defend his positions even though I profoundly disagree with them. I know so many Catholics who do not know their Bible at all so I commend him for that. I think that there should be more Catholics like Gerardo!

  9. LorencoLal

    I need to contact site admin urgently. Can you understand me?
    Hope for answer

  10. This is a feeble and shameless attempt to try to move this post up and make the Top 10 Most Commented Post.
    I found this video discussion on Protestantism and Authority very interesting, particularly since this problem continually vexes me as a Protestant. (I’m submitting this video so that no one thinks that my partner-in-crime and co-author is trying to convert us all to Catholicism.)

    • John,
      The video seems a bit off topic. Maybe you can post the video in another thread or start a brand new one where you discuss what you agree and disagree with the video?

  11. GerardoR

    Hi All,
    In an effort to  resurrect  this topic, I thought I would ask the following question regarding purgatory:
    Is there a yearning in your heart to feel sanctified and not just be declared justified?  

    If a close friend invited you to a wedding feast, would you feel  comfortable  attending with only a wedding invitation but not the right attire? Or would you rather have the invitation and the proper clothing to wear to such a wonderful event?  
    God Bless

  12. Hi Gerardo,

    Speaking for myself, I am very thankful that God loves me as I am, that he has accepted me as I am, a very weak and corrupt person. The fact that he loves me right now, in the state that I am in, is the starting point of my relationship with God.

    But I know that I won’t be fully happy until I am changed and purified of my sins; until I shed this mortal body of flesh and am given a new resurrection body; until those whom I love are changed also, so we can enjoy relationships with one another in the fullness of love without sin; and until this world is also purged of its sin and decay and recreated in the glory that God intends.

    So the answer to your question is: No, I would not be comfortable at the wedding supper of the Lamb unless I were wearing proper attire, unless everyone is wearing proper attire, and unless the whole environment were as beautiful as it ought to be.

    So the next question is: What is the process by which God will bring this about? Will the glorification of myself, of all the saints, and of the world to come be brought about by a fiery process of suffering and purging, or will it be a sudden gift, or will it be some of both? Suffering-based sanctification is taking place in our lives right now. Will that suffering, combined with the shedding of our mortal bodies at death, be the point where God draws the line and says, “Enough sanctification, now I am ready to glorify”? Personally I think so, and I cannot find much evidence in the Bible to the contrary. But I am open to other opinions.

    Your question alludes to the parable of the wedding banquest in Matthew 22. In that parable, I  heard that  it is generally assumed (because of the custom of the times) that the wedding clothes were provided by the king. The people invited off the street didn’t have to pay for them. All they had to do was be willing to take off their own clothes and receive the new clothes from the king as the gift. I see that as a powerful analogy for what God wants to do for me. All my life I have built up a persona for myself based on my own achievements, wealth, efforts, and self-generated aura of holiness  . That was my false identity, my false religious self, that needs to be shed. Although I still cling to those things, God wants me to take them off and put on the clothes that he provides, a new identity and sense of self-worth that comes only from the fact that I am his creation, a child of God whom he loves. To the extent that I allow God to take those old clothes off of me and put on my new clothes in this life, it will a good thing. But all those old clothes will be completely taken off when I die. Because, as they say, “You can’t take it with you.”  Won’t death itself rid me of that stuff?  The only things that we can carry into the world to come are, as Paul says, faith, hope and love, and the greatest of them is love (1Co 13:13).

    • GerardoR

      Wow.. well put. You bring up an interesting distinction between sanctification ending after death versus continued in the afterlife. I guess when I think about it that way, I can’t help to remain even more affirmed in the idea that there is a state of purgatory. Many of us would wish we could die in a state of  ecstasy  free of 1)  sins and 2) the inclination to sin. But the reality is that most of us do not die this way.

      Sure, we might say that while I sinned even on the day of my death, Christ has payed for my sins, but that doesnt change the fact that we have sinned against our savior and  redeemer who shed his precious blood on the cross.  

      Also, the fact that we continue to have an inclination to sin suggests that something is incomplete in us. While you may think that after death (outside of purgatory), Christ glorifies us and completes that process, I am more inclined to think that Christ completes that work by inviting us into that intersection where suffering and love collide. Inviting us into the deep mystery of the cross through purgatory.  

      C.S. Lewis has an amazing visual image of this. Although he may not have been think of purgatory when he wrote this, I think it applies quite well:

      “We are to be re-made. All the rabbit in us is to disappear—the worried, conscientious, ethical rabbit as well as the cowardly and sensual rabbit. We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of fur come out; and then, surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy.”
      (from the essay Man or Rabbit).

      This, I think, captures the essence of purgatory. When the redeemed child of God is finally complete and his old clothes are removed and prepared with new clothes made of glory.

    • Thanks for the quote by C.S. Lewis. I’ll need to read that essay.

      So I have a question for you. Why do you think that the shedding of the old, sinful, false self is not fully accomplished when we die and leave this world? I guess this is a question about the nature of the human being, about soul versus body, etc.

      I am beginning to realize that a great deal of what needs to be put off — the sinful, corrupt nature — is not just found in  me as an individual, but is present in my relationships with others, in the church, in society and even the physical world. The three stages of salvation — justification, sanctification, and glorification — are not just about me, but about the world. It’s getting harder and harder for me to think about these things at a purely individual level. The picture of single, disembodied souls suffering in purgatory seems — well, it seems so darned individualistic that it misses a great deal of what the gospel and God’s redemptive history are really about.

  13. Judging on current controversies in the evangelical community, perhaps we should have started a discussion not on whether there is a purgatory, but whether there is even a hell.
    I doubt Luther van Calvin and John Paul would even debate this point. Random question: anyone know which early Christian father seemed to suggest that God might redeem even hell? Was it Origen?

    • GerardoR

      That is one thing Luther Van Calvin and John Paul have in common. Both hell preachers. =)

  14. GerardoR

    Wonderful post Joe! You are describing what it means to be in communion of Saints. Indeed, we are all connected since we are his body. That is why the distinction between asking someone on earth to pray for you and someone in heaven should not be there. I have seen it as nothing but a thin veil that seperates the Church Militant from the Church Triumphant. Hopefully this will also give you some perspective on the practice of indulgences and retributive suffering.  

    In response to your question, I think that the shedding of the old sinful self is not accomplish when we die precisely because there is a soul. If we, as Christians, believed in dualism we might say that we leave behind the corrupt body and free the  radiant  spirit that was been enslaved to the sin of the body. And indeed, there are many gnostics who believed this precise thing. But as Christians, we believe in a  mysterious  union between the body and the soul which is why they will be reunited on the last day. Hence, if a sinful man dies and leaves behind his body, why should we expect him to “leave behind the old sinful self? The soul is the self as well. If he was a sinner while a live, he is also a sinner when his spirit is  separated  from his body.

    Ofcourse, when we bring Christ into the picture, we are presented with a sinful man whose sins are forgiven, hence, his soul is also white as snow. However, the problem is that forgiven man whose sins are forgiven, might still have an inclination to sin while he is alive. Therefore, if he has this inclination to sin while he is alive, he will carry this with him into the after life which is what purgatory is meant to free him of. Again, we do not leave behind sin or the inclination to sin since our soul is immortal and there is a union between body and soul.  

  15. “Again, we do not leave behind sin or the inclination to sin since our soul is immortal and there is a union between body and soul.” Are you saying that we cannot be changed in an instant by the power of God, “in the twinkling of an eye,” as Paul said? (1Co 15:52)

    • GerardoR

      That passage is refering to the ressurection of the body and the instant victory of Christ over death. But even IF it was  referring  to the  sanctification  process that goes on after our earthly death, we know that there time is a very diffrent if not, absent story in heaven all together. For we are told that a million years are like a second to God.
      This relates back to the point that was made earlier about Jesus telling the thief (today you will be with me in paradise). Even if we want to interpret it as that literal day (which creates problems), earthly time is something that is absent in the afterlife so it doesnt take away from the experience of purgatory.  

      So again, i think we should really get away from thinking that purgatory is such and such years. Indulgences “pay for days in purgatory” but the word “days” are used very loosely. Because we have no other word to describe a specific experience without  referring  to time.  I guess we might say, our stay in purgatory is an experience that diffrent people will experience differently depending on your attachment to sin. But that makes it sound as if purgatory is something qualitatively diffrent for each person. Words just fail to describe the qualia of the afterlife.

    • Hi Gerardo. Thanks for the ongoing conversation. I have noticed that Catholics and Protestants alike focus a great deal on heaven as the ultimate, eternal destiny of human beings. But in my reading of the New Testament, I see that our true home is earth. The resurrection at the last day (i.e. at the second coming of Christ) corresponds to a recreation of this world, putting the world under the feet of Christ and those who will reign with him. Souls in heaven are awaiting the resurrection of the body and the freeing of the earth from its present curse and bondage so that they can return and reign with Christ. Is that your understanding too?

      Another related thought. I know that God lives in eternity, with him a thousand years are no different from a day, etc. But it seems to me that human beings are not like God in that respect. We were made to inhabit bodies and live in space-time. That limitation is intrinsic to what we are. The second coming of Christ will mark the end of the present era of world history and the beginning of another, but until that moment the clocks keep ticking, and I see no evidence in the Bible that time will not continue without interruption into the new era and thereafter. I have heard many people speak of human afterlife and eternity as if time itself will disappear from human experience. But where does that idea come from? Where’s the evidence?

      My hunch is that the post-resurrection life and world will be a lot more similar to the present than many people now think. This earth is a beautiful place, custom made for human beings, and human beings were custom made for earth. All has been damaged by sin, of course, but much goodness remains, and I think God wants to restore, refurbish and perfect what remains, rather than wiping out everything and making something entirely different.

    • Hi Joe,
      Yes, this is my understanding also. It is true that we all focus on heaven as if it was our final destination and can sometimes overspiritualize our essential being. So your right, our essential being will be a reunion with the body in preparation for the wedding feast on the new earth.
       As for humans in heaven experiencing time, that is tough to answer but I think it is fair to say that we should not be use our current limitations to describe what the  Church triumphant experiences.
       I mean, in some respects, theologians would describe time as perceived reality (in a sequence of events)
      That undergoes some type of change from one instance to another. If heaven exist on a different plane of reality, outside of space and time, then I think the rules kinda go out the window. It is possible that, time does not exist, that time does exist but in a difference quality (e.g., one each year is a heaven second), that time exist but it is simply something God and the Church triumphant looks down upon but don’t actually experience. It seems like any kind of speculation of time in heaven naturally brings up questions of the inherent qualities of change. Is change Good? Is it bad?
       It is tough. I guess as a Catholic, I have to consider the Mass in speculating about time. Some would say that Jesus sacrifice took place 2,000 years and is now longer present. But during the consecration of the Eucharist, Catholics are taught to believe that Jesus sacrifice is represented (NOTE: I am not say re-sacrificed). This tells us something about how non existence of linear events out there in heaven. Ofcourse, this quality could be something unique to God alone but it fascinates me what the consecration is said to represent. An event in history, is always present in heaven and for one moment during the Mass, heaven touches earth and the infinite creator in his infinite Love, makes himself really present. I always imagine Jacobs latter. =) That is why many people relate the Mass to revelations.
       Anyway, my point is that Catholic teaching touches upon some of the areas your bringing up and makes certain suggestions but I am unsure how far we can carry them or what else we know about time for the Church triumphant.
       Yeah, my reading of revelations suggest that God will in fact restore the earth and not exactly wipe it out and make something new. It seems more his style to restore what was previously good and distinguish what is Good from what is bad. Ofcourse, much of what I say in this post is speculation. =)
      What do I know.

  16. GerardoR

    One way of thinking about our hold to inclinations to sin (e.g., Concupiscence  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04208a.htm) and the role of purgatory is to refer back to the story of exodus. If we look at the story of exodus, we see a strong  topology  with what Christ did for us. For example, the people were in bondage to pharoh just as we are in bondage to sin. The only way to be freed from bondage is the plague of death of which we are saved from it by sacrificing AND eating the flesh of the Lamb (not eating the lamb was not an option for the Jews). Just so, we are freed from bondage of sin by the sacrifice of the lamb of God AND by eating the flesh of the Lamb. I could go on and on and on..  

    But my point is this, once God freed people from Egypt, they were happy for a while but began to grumble and complain and wish they were back in egypt. This is indicative of our own life when we are saved from our sins by Christ, we are tempted to “go back” to bondage. So the fact that God rescued them from bondage of egypt and yet they still wanted to go back suggests this to me: That God  got them out of egypt (ie., saved them) but he had not gotten egypt out of them (they still held  Concupiscence or an internal desire to return to sin).

    Hence, we are told that those who endure TILL THE END will be saved (Matthew 24:13; 1Corinthians 24-27). This tells us that certantly God works with us to remove the desire to return to sin across our life time. And one might say that this process stops once we are dead. But the teaching on purgatory is essentially telling us that God continues to work in us even after we die. He wants to get  Egypt  out of our heart by purging us with the fires of his Love.

    Another way of thinking about it is this: Imagine your dating a girl who is in Love with a prior man she dated but she remains faithful to you. Well on the one hand, its great she never returned to the man but on the other, something is just not right if she keeps feeling inclined to do so. This is especially true if you are going to marry her (the marriage feast of the lamb). If you are getting married, then you want her to definately not think of this other man. Hence, God in purgatory shines us with his Love so as to burn away all of prior love to sin. We are his now and we will soon join him in the wedding feast so it is vitally important that we no longer hold on to our prior inclinations so that we can wear the right outfit for the wedding.  

    Sorry if I give so many goofy examples. I just feel that it is important to highlight that there is a vital distinction between sin (mortal/venial) and the inclination to sin. And for that matter, also the temporal punishment due to sin. I know this can be issues evangelicals are not use to considering but I think we know from experience that they exist. We know that despite being saved from sin, we are still inclined to sin. I think purgatory gives an excellent account of how God prepares us for the wedding feast during AND after our earthly life.

    • I understand these analogies and they are not goofy at all. They are very helpful to understand why salvation does not end with God declaring us justified and forgiven, and why we need to be sanctified in this world and glorified in the next. But I don’t see them as evidence for a purgatory in between. I still think that the God of Creation is perfectly able to recreate us without that intermediate step.

  17. GerardoR

    Joe, I am not arguing that he cant. In fact, I am arguing that he does. I am saying it is done in a process that spans our entire life and part of our afterlife.

    I think you would atleast grant that even after we are forgiven, we are still inclined to sin correct?
    I think we can use that as common ground right?  

    You mentioned God can recreate us without an intermediate step. I agree. But that recreation process is  in itself  a step after we initially accept Jesus Christ.  I would assume you would then agree that God, after we die, does something that even our inclination to sin is removed. I would agree with that statement and would call that something santification from life and after death (purgatory).  

    While I agree that some people place their faith in Jesus and are instantly transformed to never be inclined to sin, I would say that is quite rare. Thus, I think sanctification process is something that happends throughout our life and after death. You seem to think it only happends during life. I respect that. It shows that we are in agreement that a santification process happends but that we disagree on whether it continues in the after life.

    • OK,I understand now what you are saying. I never heard of anyone putting their faith in Jesus and having their inclination to sin taken away instantly, except perhaps in a very limited way.

    • GerardoR

      Great! Yeah, I have never met anyone who claimed that either. Though I believe the Catholic Church teaches that Mary, in being free from original sin at her conception which was merited through Christ, was also free from the stain of original sin. Hence, I believe it is claimed that Mary was free from corrupt concupiscence but not of course from natural  concupiscence. Yes, I know most protestants don’t believe that Mary was saved from original sin at conception. That’s a discussion for another day.  

      I guess that is the distinction I am trying to make. Sin (say lust) vs. stain of sin (inclination to lust) and eternal punishment (hell) vs. temporal punishment (purgatory).  

      The Catechism has an interesting definition of  concupiscence:  
      “Etymologically, “concupiscence” can refer to any intense form of human desire. Christian theology has given it a particular meaning: the movement of the sensitive appetite contrary to the operation of the human reason. The apostle St. Paul identifies it with the rebellion of the “flesh” against the “spirit.” Concupiscence stems from the disobedience of the first sin. It unsettles man’s moral faculties and, without being in itself an offense, inclines man to commit sins.”

  18. GerardoR

    You know, I just realized that this is the most viewed discussion on the website. And yet, it is being discussed primarely by you and I. JohnY, you cant author a thread and not comment. =D

    • It’s the most viewed discussion on the website because I intentionally set our discussion article as the default webpage whenever I go online. I have ways to beat the system. By the way, please keep the commenting going! We can do it!   :) j/k

    • david bychkov

      I was wrestling with this question. Who this discussion could be so popular? Now everything became clear :)

    • I was kidding – I didn’t really do that. But I confess I thought about doing that. Must be my Concupiscence to pride.

    • GerardoR

      John, yup you got it. =)
      See, just because your saved doesnt mean you dont think about wicked things. Jesus told us that even thinking of  adultery  should be considered  adultery. I know that is hyperbole (or maybe not) but I think it signifies the strong neccesity to desire sanctification in our present life and the life to come.

    • For those math majors out there, think of heaven and hell on different ends of a nice bell curve graph. What if sanctification in the life to come is not accomplished by purgatory, as Gerardo R suggests, but more like an infinite development of spiritual growth (the good end of a bell curve) where in heaven you are asymptotically becoming more like Christ in every way. So it is static in the sense that eternity is like reaching infinity, but dynamic in the sense that we are constantly growing in an infinite way, though never quite reaching Christ except asymptotically (who represents the end of infinity). Conversely, one wonders if hell is like that, but in the opposite sense (infinitely choosing against God and separating oneself from God) asymptotically, except on the other side of the bell curve. (I have to give credit to my former Bible teacher for this insightful musing that has stuck with me ever since).
      I am not a math major – so Father forgive John Y, for he knows not what he is doing (or conjecturing)

    • GerardoR

      Hmm.. I dont know if I like that. First, because I dont know what the word  asymptotically means. And second, because the entire point of purgatory is to prepare one for entering heaven where we are told that nothing unclean enters. Should we relegate this only to the sins we have  committed  or to our hearts as well? I believe we are made perfect once we enter heaven and our gift for that is the beatific vision.

  19. There. Gerardo, I’ve said something. Happy? Gratuitous comment to up our ranking.

  20. GerardoR

    Hi Everyone,
    I recently read a wonderful description of Purgatory by Scott Hahn, a protestant convert to  Catholicism. I will present it here for further discussion.”

    The Bible shows how many times God revealed himself in fire to his people in order to renew his covenant with them: as a ‘fire pot and flaming torch’ with Abraham in Genesis 15; in the burning bush with Moses in Exodus 3; in the pillar of fire with Israel in Numbers 9; in the heavenly fire which consumed the altar sacrifices with Solomon and Elijah in I Kings 8 and 18; in the ‘tongues of fire’ with the apostles at Pentecost in Acts 2 …

    When Hebrews 12:29 describes God as ‘a consuming fire’, it isn’t necessarily referring to his anger. There’s the fire of hell, but there’s infinitely hotter fire in heaven; it’s God himself. So fire refers to God’s infinite love even more than his eternal wrath. God’s nature is like a raging inferno of fiery love. In other words, heaven must be hotter than hell.
    No wonder Scripture refers to the angels who are closest to God as the Seraphim, which literally means ‘the burning ones’ in Hebrew. That’s also why Saint Paul can describe in I Corinthians 3:13 how all the saints must pass through a fiery judgment in which ‘each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire
    Clearly, he’s not talking about the fire of hell, since they’re saints who are being judged. He’s talking about a fire that prepares them for eternal life with God in heaven; so the purpose of the fire is manifest: to reveal whether their works are pure (‘gold and silver’) or impure (‘wood, hay, and straw’).
    Verse 15 makes it clear that some saints who are destined for heaven will pass through fire and suffer: ‘If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.’ The fire is there for the purpose of purging saints. That means it is a purgatorial fire; one that purifies and prepares the saints to be enveloped in the consuming fire of God’s loving presence forever.

    What are your thoughts on this?

  21. I’m surprised no one has brought up suffering, which I think  is very important in the discussion on Purgatory. As far as I can tell, Catholics emphasis suffering much more than Protestants. We see suffering as redemptive. To understand why, we have to first ask what causes suffering. Catholics believe that much suffering is the result of our will going up against God’s will. Our pride, our dreams, our needs begin to define us, and we suffer when things don’t go as planned. Suffering is redemptive in that it teaches us to “die to self” so that Christ can shine through us. But suffering is only redemptive when we allow it to be. Otherwise it can lead to bitterness, depression, or anger against God. I have a hard time seeing the afterlife simply as us letting God change our clothes. I agree that the first step is us making the very difficult decision to allow God to sanctify us. But that decision is so difficult precisely because it is extremely painful. And that redemptive pain and suffering is what Purgatory is about.

    It’s true that what i’ve described above happens during this life, but I don’t think the sanctification can end here. After we die, we see the result of all our actions to their farthest consequences. I don’t think I can even imagine what that would be like. I get glimpses when I sit in a chapel preparing for Confession. As I reflect on the things I have done or failed to do, the shame is often overwhelming. An outsider might say that my sins are not very serious, and maybe they are not by contemporary social standards, but through prayer the Holy Spirit reveals them as they truly are in the sight of God and that’s enough to send chills down my spine. Just as we cannot imagine or fathom God’s brilliance, neither can we fathom the effects of our every action. And it is probably by God’s mercy that we cannot

    • GerardoR

      WE briefly mentioned suffering but we didnt put as well as you did. You nailed it on the head when you mentioned the will for that is what  concupiscence  is, disordered desire which has as its home the will of man.  

      I think the confession example is excellent. Why should you or me feel any shame? From our conception, we are about to have our sins forgiven by Christ through a priest who either knows our sins already or cant even see us. But I think approaching that moment of  preparation  when we are getting ready to receive Christ grace is painful in light of the good we know we failed to do. I think this sentiment is capture well by Paul when he said  work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God working in you (Phil 2:12).

      Perhaps that is what purgatory is like. God showing us the full measure of his Love for us and we realizing the full measure of it. I mean, he showed us that in his cross but how many of us cry every time we think of that? I imagine there are no barriers to fully realizing who we are and who Christ is and did for us in purgatory.  I mean, I think we can all imagine that first time when we were hit deeply by the realization that Christ died for us and we can all remember how painful that is in light of our own sins. It is not a one time thing so if f anyone hasnt, they are bound to experience within their life time. My point is that those moments are a small reflection of the full scale bomb that will go off when we compare the deapths of Gods Love against our own wickedness. Peter Kreeft often likes to suggest that when we realize that we will beg God that he purge us first.

  22. Oops, I see that people have mentioned suffering. But it’s still not exactly on the point I was trying to make. In response to what Joe said, I don’t think we can view suffering/sanctification as distinct from glorification. They are the same, though I’m having a hard time articulating how. Perhaps Gerardo can chime in :)

    • GerardoR

      With respect to sanctification, we see that Scripture speaks of sanctification both as anaccomplished fact and therefore in some sense an event and also as an ongoing process in the life of the Christian. We see that we have it in our earthy life when St. Paul says that you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6:11). And he can speak of the Corinthian believers in corinth that they had been sanctified. (1 Cor 1:2).

      However, the Church also teaches that it is a process and we can see both of these as true even in a single verse: For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified (Heb 10:14).Part of the reason why I think the Church teaches that we have it and are in a process of fully obtaining it is because of the sacraments. Anglicans (and I think Lutherans) share this with Catholics in believing that the sacraments are sanctification channels.

  23. GerardoR

    What would be a protestant understand of Luke 12:47-48 – where it is said that when the Master comes (at the end of time), some will receive light beatings and some heavy beatings but will live. This state is not heaven or hell, because in heaven there are no beatings, and in hell we will no longer live with the Master.

    Even if it is not scriptural evidence for purgatory, I have always wondered how protestants understand this parable.  

    Also, I dont think we ever had a good discussion explicit discussion on 1 Corinthinas 1:10-14. I brought it up before but purposely left it out of discussion. But now I am curious how you all would understand this passage.

  24. GerardoR


    Hi Everyone,
    This thread is slowing down so I thought I would formalize the argument in a  succinct manner that will make it easy to dialog and hopefully finally come to some conclusions.    
    I hope you will all agree that the following three premises are fair:  

    1. Jesus forgives us for our sins if we repent from our sin and accept him as our Savior.  
    2. But clearly, even though some of us are forgiven and some of us may never sin again after accepting Jesus, we still have the inclination towards sin (Concupiscence).
    3. Hence, even though we are justified, Christ works towards  sanctifying  us throughout our life time.  
    4. However, when we die, most of us die with the inclination  towards sin.  
    5. But we are told that nothing unclean can enter heaven (Revelations 21:27)

    6. Therefore, when we die, God completes his work of  sanctification by somehow  making us perfect. After all, Hebrews 12:23 talks about the souls of *JUST* men “made perfect.”

    Would this be a fair summary? If so, my question to you, my fellow Christian brethren is, why not purgatory? I feel my summary is logical and biblically supported so I am  genuinely  confused at this point as to why not purgatory?  

    Is it fear that giving into one thing might lead you into accepted other  questionable  doctrine via the ol foot in the door technique  (i.e., indulgenses, praying to the saints)? You dont have to accept the teaching on indulgences  or praying to the saints if you accept purgatory.  

    Or is it that you still just cant see why purgatory is biblical. if so, I would love to hear what part of my argument summary you disagree with.  

    Please let me hear what you guys think, especially you JohnY! And dont give me the ol “meh.. perhaps but it is not essential” argument. You always use that against me. =D
    I am not asking if it it is essentially or not I am asking if the teaching seems reasonable and biblically supported despite your hesitation.  

    Also, if it is not essential and it is not offensive, then shouldnt that be more reason why one should feel free to embrace the doctrine? I want to hear either :
    1) Sure, I guess purgatory makes sense and i can see it’s validity though


    2) NO! I still dont agree because I object against premise #….  

    Is anyone on here (who previously didnt believe) convinced?
    God Bless!


  25. Gerardo, I bet most regular readers of this website would NOT object to 1-6 at all–at least generally speaking. (Some Holiness folks or Wesleyans might object to #2 believing that they can achieve perfect sanctification in their lifetime, as Joe mentioned.) Anyway, for the sake of argument, I’m basically with you all the way to the end of #6. It is your implicit conclusion after statement 6) that I jump off the bus and let you move on alone toward your predictable Catholic destination. You said, “Therefore, when we die, God completes his work of  sanctification by somehow  making us perfect…” And then you basically conclude implicitly: #7) The way that God WILL complete the work of sanctification at our death IS going to be the process of purgatory (for those still with the sinful inclinations at the time of their death)
    And I’m just saying, “No, Gerardo, I’m not convinced that there is such a tight connection between your last statement and statement #7 if I understand what you are arguing. I will grant you, that I suppose it could be that way, but as I’ve said to you over and over and over and over again that I’m not convinced based on Scripture that this idea of Purgatory, as you understand it, is supported by Scripture–simple as that. As the original discussion between the two 16th century fictional characters tries to communicate, no matter what Scripture verse you bring up, I will have an alternative interpretation supporting my initial intuition on this. And as a practicing “moral intuitionist”, I only use moral reasoning in so far as it supports my pre-existing intuitions on this matter. (ha ha! just kidding–inside joke there) And yes, it is hard emotionally since I grew up with my intuitions already formed against it because of my early Protestant upbringing. But I’d like to think that I’m willing to follow Truth wherever He leads (as I believe you are trying to do as well)
    Let’s face it – I really do believe Scripture is not all that clear on what this sanctification process after death will look like in detail, whether instantaneous, or whether we’re purgatorized a bit, or whether we sort of pick up where we left off even in our glorified state such that the sanctification process STILL continues asymptotically toward Christ. In other words, an eternal growing process in which every day in eternity I become more and more like Christ in the sense that I keep coming closer to a line on the graph (Christ the Holy Asymptote) until the “perfect” distance between Christ and I progressively reaches zero, but only when I reach the end of infinity. I know. I made no sense there. But I confess, I find the last option a very exciting theoretical one, although I have absolutely no scriptural basis for that option either, other than wistful hope that I truly hope eternity is like that: always growing infinitely, always becoming more like Christ day by day such that the next day is better than the previous, and every day in heaven is a surprise to see how I’ve become a little more conformed to the image of Christ and on day #1 of eternity and on day #1000 of eternity and day #1,000,0000,000,000 of eternity–just experiencing an eternal growing process that never ends! Yeah!
    Or maybe it’s all three options? A little of instanteous sanctification to get us to one level, purgatory to another level, and asymptotic growth the rest of the way? Now I’m really sounding like a heretic –
    So Gerardo, let’s face it. This discussion is at the tired point where it is has either reached the “second death”, waiting to annihilated, or waiting to be redeemed. Let’s move on, buddy. We need about 50 more comments to be on the Top of the Most Commented List, and somehow I think 25 comments from me and 25 comments from you, and 1 magnanimous gift comment from reigning champion David L — doing all that just doesn’t feel like a true accomplishment.
    But if you show an ultrasound picture of your daughter, perhaps that will get all the hidden women readers of UBFriends to emerge out of hiding and submit 500 comments to this post: You know things like, “Awww….. :p ”   or “So cute!!!!!!!!!” or “John likes this–thumbs up! (x100)”. Oh wait. No, that’s just my sister on Facebook.

  26. Congratulations to Gerardo R for his new baby girl born this week!
    I’m hoping for about a 100 congratulations from this point forward. And no, it was just coincidence I posted this good news specifically on this article page. Pure coincidence. No ulterior motives at all. None whatsoever.
    So commence the congratulations!

    • Brian Karcher

      Congratulations Gerardo!!

    • David Bychkov

      Congratulations, Gerardo! God blessssssssssssssssss!

  27. Great article related to purgatory.

    It is titled: There are no protestants in the marathon. Don’t take it too seriously =)


  28. Me thinks the enormous “popularity” of this article is really a subtle attempt to promote Catholicism ;) Could be wrong though!

    • Hi David,
      I am just as surprised as you about the views of this article. Especially considering that it has the least amount of unique authors commenting on it. Here are my guesses for why it is so well viewed:

      1) JohnY clicks on the page every day and refreshes the page to increase the views as a means of promoting friendly ecumenical dialog. JohnY has actually mentioned doing this on multiple occasions if you read the comments above.  

      2) People (even good Christians) like to watch a good fight and review a good fight. I think this is supported by the fact that most of the articles that critique UBF and other Churches are the most popular.  Why they would not join in on this particular discussion? I do not know. Like I said before, it is curious that this article is the most viewed but least commented on.

      3) Your still fuming about the good ol Catholic biblical smack-down I gave you and can’t help but reread this article over and over in anger. This is my preferred explanation. ; )

      4) The evangelical members of this forum are baffled how much biblical support there is for those whacky catholic teachings – even if they dont buy the argument. 

      5) I myself do something to increase the views of this article in an effort to promote Catholicism. This is a half truth. I do indeed share articles and make comments an effort to promote Catholicism (both consciously and unconsciously).  But why wouldnt I? Everyone in this website tries to endorse their religious framework even if they dont realize. Dr. Toh inadvertently tries to promote a non-denominational framework; JohnY, Dr. Toh and Joe promote ecumenicism; you promote reformation theology and anti-Catholicism. So I agree, I do try to promote Catholicism. We all try to endorse our views whether we realize it or not. There is no such thing as “denomination free” or neutral Christian dialogue. However, I do not click on this website over and over to try to increase the views. I can hear you saying, “those whilly papist will do anything to take away the bible from good Christians.”

      I want people to comment on this article because they are interested not because of something as silly as views. JohnY, I think we should write a follow up article. It has been over a year since this article was published and I think the world of UBFriends is ready to hear more about the adventures of Luther Van Calvin and john Paul.  ^_^ 

    • Well Gerardo, you can lambast protestantism and reformed theology and me for that matter as much as you want to. That is not bothersome to me. Clearly from your last post, it seems like you are trolling this site to spread Catholic propaganda. It is very obvious to me that your goal is to try and convert Protestants to Catholicism. I dont think that is going to happen here bud! UBF is a protestant church if you did not notice, and for all of its problems, I dont foresee the ministry submitting itself to the Pope and Mary adoration and the other Catholic abherrant theological positions laid out on this thread…but as far as I am concerned, go ahead and try!

    • I heard through the grapevine that Luther Van Calvin and John Paul, are going to make an appearance at The Well.
      For the record, I actually do not refresh the pages to increase the viewing stats of this article. I just THOUGHT of doing it. You can come up with a program to do it automatically, anyway, right?

    • Trolling? Marian adoration? Abhorrent theological positions? You have such a pretty way with words. Thank you. Happy New Year DavidL! 

    • John, what do you mean? I am not going to the well. Are you going to put on a play based on this article?! Are you sure the UBF higher ups are going to be okay with that?

  29. Nah, I think it was a sincere but inadequate attempt to try to be witty and clever. Oh well. At least we tried. :)

  30. Gerardo R

    Hi Everyone, thought I would take this discussion on a relevant tangent. What do you all typically believe happens to infants when they die? Do you believe they go straight to heaven or go to some other place to await the second coming of Christ (i.e., limbo)?

    I have to admit, I have always had a lot of trouble with the idea of limbo. Emotionally, I protest. While at the same time, I can’t seem to intellectually wrap my mind around the idea that babies go straight to heaven given original sin.

    One thing is for sure in my heart, I whole heartily disagree with some theologians who speculated that babies would go to hell. In my reasoning, if pagans who have never heard of the name of Jesus can be saved, why not babies? They are the most despised, innocent and cruelly killed in our society. Their lives reflect Jesus own death more than any other human population in my mind. Hence, in my heart, they receive the all saving mercy of God in a great abundance soon after death.

    What are your thoughts on this issue? Something that definitely has kept me up a few nights.

    • Random comment here. Why?

      For the love of the game. Trying to rise in the rankings.

  31. Who is still reading this article? I can’t believe how many views this has… I think we should hold a new debate. I recently watched the documentary Hellbound? It debates the traditional vs. universalism view of hell.

    While I personally found the documentary disingenuous, I think it highlighted the need for genuine discussion on this issue. Or maybe someone can write a movie review.

  32. Hey Gerardo R, nice to see you back. Who is reading this article still? I am. I read it at least three times a day. How else can you get the numbers up?

    • If someone is up for it, I would be willing to co-write a discussion on the Universalist vs. Traditionalist view on hell.

      I hold a traditionalist view so I would be happy to take that position (via John Paul).

      I have a knee jerk reaction to view Universalism as heresy but I would be willing to play the role of a universalist if someone want’s to take on the traditional role.

      John? Brian? Any takers?

    • I don’t have the energy for a discussion about hell right now. I’ll just see everyone in purgatory :)

    • Brian,
      So your saying Rob Bell was totally off and he should publicly repent for endorsing a Universalist position? =)

    • I’m not sure about Rob Bell yet, and I really don’t have any solid theological position to argue from (except that anyone not in ubf is going to hell ;)

      Anyway as an outlaw preacher, I just have some random thoughts:

      1. I cannot think of anyone who deserves hell.
      2. If you ask me who will be in hell, I can’t answer.
      3. I know a lot of people who should be beaten senseless.
      4. I believe hell exists.
      5. I believe heaven exists.

  33. http://www.revangelicalblog.com/blog1/?currentPage=2

    Another shameless attempt to bring GerardoR out of hiding, and of course, to add more views and comments to this page :)

    • Interesting article. I have noticed this myself within the Catholic fold. So many students are not only rediscovering their faith but actually becoming increasingly interested in traditional catholocism. And often time, this isnt because other Christians invited them to take a second look at their faith but because they are sick and tired of our relativistic culture.

      I have read many accounts that suggest one of the most tall tale signs of a protestant who is interested but reluctant to convert is an interest in ecumenism.

      I have also read that another huge stumbling block for protestants (especially pastors) is their conviction that God had previously called them to a particular mission within a protestant Church. Many converts reflect that this calling was difficult for them to process in light of their new calling to join the Catholic Church.

  34. Gerardo, Don’t you think that perhaps, the thrust, motivation and impetus should not be whether or not one remains a Protestant or converts to Catholicism (or vice versa), but that a Christ follower genuinely and sincerely searches their own heart to love God and be wholly devoted to Christ in whatever situation or station of life they presently are in?

    • Atta boy, Dr. Ben. Now that comment should lead to dozens of more comments & views on this article. :)

      It will be interesting how Catholics will respond to the day when Pope Francis opens up communion to “separated Brethren” (Protestants) who believe in the real presence of Christ even though their understanding of “real presence” may not be the typical Catholic understanding. If I see where things are headed, either this Pope or the next ones will head this way.

      There. I did it. Guaranteeing hundreds of more comments on this article, hopefully.

  35. Hi Dr. Toh,
    I hear what your saying. I definately thinka person should sincerely follow Christ in whatever station they are in. But that is a seperate issue from whether people should convert.

    I dont think it is about whether one should convert to protestanism/Catholocism immediately. Rather, I think it is about people following the truth to where it leads them and eventually converting when and where God is calling them.

    As you know, Protestanism is Catholocism stripped down. The corollary would be that Catholicism is protestantism with more stuff. Some come to see the necessity of this extra stuff while others thing it is a nice benefit but not necessary. And yet others think it is unChristian and should be avoided all together.

    John and I have been discussing over email that one may be able to have a more deep and personal relationship with Jesus by allowing him to have a relationship with you through his very own body. Question is, which body?

    I highly doubt it. The Church has made some exceptions for protestants who have communion provided that they believe in the real presence. This is though a perfect example of one of the many gifts by which you can have a more personal relationship with Jesus.

    I do however see reunification happening with the Orthodox within the next 30 years given the increase approach of radical islam and secularization of the world. One the one hand, i think that this Pope can do it since he emphases his unity with the other bishops. On the otherhand, I worry that Pope francis lack of emphasis on liturgy may slow down ecumenical efforts.

  36. John Y
    John Y

    worth watching if you have 3 hours free time to waste (invest)