Does Common Sense Demand a Purgatory?
“COMMON sense demands a purgatory.” Those words are attributed to H. Page Dyer, a Protestant clergyman of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, by Our Sunday Visitor, October 26, 1952. Thus, in support of purgatory, this Catholic weekly not only quotes the early church “fathers”, Jewish authorities and the Bible but also non-Catholic clergymen and authors. Similar arguments are found in the Catholic Encyclopedia and The Faith of Our Fathers, by Gibbons.
Before examining the claim that common sense, the Word of God and tradition prove the existence of a purgatory, let us note what the teaching of purgatory really is. According to Cardinal Gibbons purgatory is “a middle state of temporary punishment, allotted for those who have died in venial sin, or who have not satisfied the justice of God for sins already forgiven. [The Catholic Church] also teaches us, that, although the souls consigned to this intermediate state, commonly called purgatory, cannot help themselves, they may be aided by the suffrages of the faithful on earth. The existence of purgatory naturally implies the correlative dogma—the utility of praying for the dead—for the souls consigned to this middle state have not reached the term of their journey. They are still exiles from heaven and fit subjects for Divine clemency”.
This suffering, according to such Catholic authorities as Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Gregory the Great, is “more severe than any a man can suffer in this life”. In fact, some even hold “that the least punishment of purgatory exceeds the greatest punishment of this life”. Also that “purgatory is a real Sub-Hell. The sense pains of Purgatory equal those of Hell, which means the temperature is the same in both regions”.—Our Sunday Visitor, November 26, 1945.
COMMON SENSE VERSUS PURGATORY
Does common sense demand a purgatory? Does the purgatory teaching make sense? Let us see. In the first place note that, according to Catholic teaching, it is not the human body, but an intangible, nonmaterial entity known as the “soul” that goes to purgatory to experience its “sense pains”. But how can that which is not temporal, since the soul at death is supposedly divested of all its temporal properties, suffer temporal punishment? Does common sense demand that?
And does common sense demand that we suffer, who knows how long, more severely than it is possible for man to suffer in his human organism, for sins that are recognized as only “venial sins”? Think of all the possible kinds of suffering, being burnt at the stake, slow death by cancer, the kinds inflicted on heretics during the reign of the inquisition and at the present time by Communist police authorities, and know that the least suffering in purgatory is still worse than that. Does that make sense?
And does common sense demand that the length of stay in purgatory largely depend upon the prayers, or suffrages, of the loved ones they left behind? If one has non-Catholic friends and relatives who do not believe in purgatory and therefore do not pray for him nor have masses said on his behalf, he of course will get no assistance from them, and so must he stay in purgatory until he has paid the last penny, as it were?—Matt. 5:26, Cath. Confrat.
And why discriminate against youth? One may die in youth, while having his fling. Think of all the years he suffers and will have to suffer, more than he could possibly suffer upon earth; while another, by living to a ripe old age, when the passions of youth have been spent, has then time to reflect, do penance and prepare himself for purgatory. Does common sense demand that?
Today a big majority of professed Christians, Catholics as well as Protestants, show by their actions that they are in fact ‘lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God’. Is God going to welcome in heaven millions of creatures who love pleasure more than they love him, and who will choose him only when faced with the alternative of suffering? Does common sense demand that kind of Christianity?—2 Tim. 3:1-7.
And is it common sense to hold that one of the most prominent teachings of the Christian religion is nowhere mentioned by name in the Bible? If so much depends upon prayers for the dead, why did neither Jesus nor any of his apostles and disciples as much as mention the subject once? What disservice to the poor souls in purgatory, what negligence, if the purgatory teaching is indeed true!
Common sense demands a purgatory, we are told, because without it there are only two places for the immortal soul to go at death, heaven or a hell of eternal torment; and since nothing defiled can enter heaven and God is of purer eyes than to behold evil, the great majority would not be able to go to heaven and would therefore be doomed to a hell of torment, if there were no purgatory. Besides, just as man makes the punishment fit the crime so God in justice would do the same, and therefore common sense and justice alike demand a third, intermediate state, where length of suffering will be determined by the extent of one’s sins.—Hab. 1:13; Luke 12:47; Rev. 21:27.
It is a well-known axiom that anything can be proved if one starts out on a wrong premise. If man has an immortal soul that is separate and distinct from his body and which at death must live somewhere, and if apart from purgatory the only alternatives were heaven or hell, then it might be argued that common sense demands a purgatory.
GOD’S WORD VERSUS PURGATORY
But does the Bible teach that man has a soul separate and distinct from his body that lives on after he dies? Does it teach that man is conscious after death? Does it teach that there is such a place as a burning hell of eternal torment? No!
Clearly the Bible says that at creation “man became a living soul”. That the lower animals are souls. That “the soul that sinneth, the same shall die”; and that the King of kings and Lord of lords “only hath immortality”.—See Genesis 2:7; Numbers 31:28; Ezekiel 18:4; 1 Timothy 6:16, Dy.
Further, according to God’s Word, hell is not a place of torment but the common grave of mankind. That is why we find in the Douay Version the Hebrew word sheol rendered not only 63 times “hell” but also once “pit” and once “death”; and why Msgr. Knox’s version repeatedly reads “place of death” where the Douay reads “hell”. In death man is like the lower animals, we are told at Ecclesiastes 3:19-21, and therefore, “Whatsoever thy hand is able to do, do it earnestly: for neither work, nor reason, nor wisdom, nor knowledge, shall be in hell, whither thou art hastening.”—Eccl. 9:10, Dy.
So the argument that common sense demands a purgatory because so many immortal souls at death are neither fit for heaven nor deserving of eternal torment falls flat, since human creatures are souls but do not have souls that can exist apart from a body. Souls are mortal, can die, and sheol, the Bible hell, is the common grave of humanity. True, Jesus in his illustrations and in the Apocalypse links fire with hell in certain Bible translations, but why take the fire literally when we do not take the terms “sheep”, “goats,” “beast,” etc., literally? Clearly such expressions are mere figures of speech. The Bible hope for the dead lies not in their being immortal but in the resurrection.—John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15, Cath. Confrat.
As for the need of purgatorial fires to cleanse us from sins, note the testimony of the apostle John: “But if we walk in the light as he also is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.” “If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all iniquity.” Nor does such forgiveness apply only to our past sins, for John goes on to say: “If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the just; and he is a propitiation for our sins, not for ours only but also for those of the whole world.”—1 John 1:7, 9; 2:1, 2, Cath. Confrat.
SCRIPTURAL PROOF EXAMINED
In endeavoring to prove the existence of a purgatory many Bible texts are quoted. Let us consider the outstanding ones. Foremost is 2 Machabees 12:43-46 (Dy), which tells of one Judas Machabeus sending an offering “to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection. (For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead.) And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness had great grace laid up for them. It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins”.
As regards this proof, first note that neither this book nor any other book of the Apocrypha was accepted by the Palestinian Jews as part of God’s Word, they were not quoted from by either Jesus or his apostles and disciples, and were not regarded as even accurate, let alone inspired, by none other than Jerome, the translator of the Latin Vulgate Bible. However, even if accepted as Scripture this text would not prove the purgatory teaching true for two reasons: First, the dead referred to were Jews who were slain because of their idolatry, and according to Roman Catholic teaching, idolatry is a mortal sin making one subject to eternal torment. Secondly, the quotation shows that it was because of the resurrection hope, not because the dead were alive, but because they were dead until the resurrection, that these prayers were to be offered. Souls in purgatory do not need a resurrection; they are supposed to be alive and at the end of their “spiritual evolution toward perfect holiness” taken to heaven.
It is further claimed that since the Bible gives examples of temporal punishment for sins a purgatory is implied; and for proof the examples of Moses, who was denied entry into the Promised Land, and David, whose first child by Bath-sheba died, are given. (Num. 20:12; 2 Ki. 12:13, 14, Dy; 2 Sam. 12:13, 14, non-Catholic versions) However, in the days of the Law arrangement not only were sins punished temporally but obedience was rewarded temporally. (See Leviticus, chapter 26.) But neither temporal blessings for right doing nor temporal punishment for wrongdoing is held out to Christians, but just the opposite at the hands of the ungodly. (Luke 6:20-26; 2 Tim. 3:12) Moses and David did not have recourse to the blood of Christ Jesus, nor is there any record that they suffered after death.
The Catholic Encyclopedia, endeavoring to prove the principle of purgatory, cites Matthew 3:8; Luke 13:3; 17:3, all of which speak of doing “penance” (Dy), and therefore allowing for the expiation of sins by meritorious works. However, the use of the word “penance” is ill-advised in these texts and so we find modern Catholic versions using the term “repentance” and “repent”.—See Knox, Catholic Confraternity.
Purgatory is also held to be taught by Paul’s words at 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, where he likens Christian works to gold, silver, wood, hay, etc., and then tells that the fire will try each man’s work, and that if a man’s “work burns he will lose his reward, but himself will be saved, yet so as through fire”. (Cath. Confrat.) Are Christians building with literal gold, silver, wood and hay? Of course not! Then why consider the fire as literal? Besides, note that the work of each one, whether he be good or bad, will be tried, also that while the faulty work will be burned, or destroyed, the individual will be saved, yet “as through fire”, not actually fire.
Still another text used to support purgatory is found at Matthew 12:32, where Jesus is recorded as saying: “For him who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit there is no forgiveness, either in this world or in the world to come.” (Knox) Mark’s and Luke’s rendering of this phrase clearly indicate that what Jesus meant was that such sins would never be forgiven. (Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10) Besides, the “world to come” refers, not to the state of the dead, which other parts of the Bible show to be a state of unconsciousness, but to a new system of things, as promised: “And meanwhile, we have new heavens and a new earth to look forward to, the dwelling-place of holiness; that is what he has promised.”—2 Pet. 3:13, Knox.
THE TESTIMONY OF TRADITION
But someone will say, You ignore entirely the testimony of tradition. But, we reply, of what value is tradition if it contradicts God’s Word? For a teaching to be true it must be according ‘to the law and to the testimony’, for ‘God’s word is truth’. Jesus condemned the religious leaders of his day because they sought to nullify God’s commandments by their tradition, and Paul said: “For God is true, and every man is a liar,” if he contradicts God’s Word.—Isa. 8:20, Dy; Mark 7:9; John 17:17; Rom. 3:4, Cath. Confrat.
The mere fact that some early church “fathers” believed something akin to purgatory does not prove that Jesus and his apostles did, especially in the complete absence of any mention of it in the “New Testament”. Did not Paul warn that there would be a falling away? (Acts 20:29, 30, Cath. Confrat.) Peter spoke of some distorting the Scriptures in his day, and John singled out one that was ambitious.—2 Thess. 2:3-7; 2 Pet. 3:16; 3 John 9, Cath. Confrat.
And where did the church “fathers” get the idea of purgatory since it is not to be found in the Bible? From pagan sources. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia the pagans had a belief similar to purgatory. And Professor Hislop gives proof that the ancient Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans believed in it, quoting Virgil, Plato and others.
Common sense does not demand a purgatory. Common sense rejects it!