I have been reading quite a bit lately on matters concerning the Catholic church and its doctrine. Scott Hahn has several books that are currently in my library, and I am in the process of reading the last of them. One of the issues I have read about concerns the dogma of Purgatory.
Having joined the Catholic church on April 3, 1999, I set about to learn as much as I could about church doctrine and dogma. I have pretty much resolved all of the issues that I had with church teachings save one; the dogma of Purgatory. I cannot quite wrap my head around this one. I have read quite a bit concerning Purgatory and even seen the scriptures that point to the doctrine, but somehow it just keeps going against the grain of what I have been taught my entire life concerning salvation. In my way of reckoning things when a person dies, they go straight to heaven where they face their final judgement, heaven or hell. If the person is found worthy by the blood of Christ to enter heaven then heaven is their final destination and they are allowed to enter into the glory of Christ of God the Father in heaven. If not, then hell is their final resting place where they are tortured by fire forever.
In Catholic theology, a person who is deemed worthy of heaven may still have some old attachment to sin that must first be purged before they enter into the presence of God in heaven. That person is sent to Purgatory where they undergo a process by which all attachment to sin is purged from their being. Once the process is complete they are then allowed to enter God’s presence in heaven where they remain for eternity as a saint of God. Several scriptures are cited as proof of this doctrine such as 2 Maccabees 12:45, 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 and Matthew 12:32. In the first verse, Judas Maccabeus sends an offering to Jerusalem to have sacrifices offered for the sins of the dead. This action clearly implies that it is possible for the sins of the deceased to be atoned for after their death. In the second passage from 1 Corinthians, it states in so many words that after a person dies all of their works will be will be tried as by fire and will either be purified, as with gold and silver or burned up, as with hay or straw. If the works are purified the person will receive a wage, but if they are burned up the person will suffer loss although he himself will still be saved (vv. 14-15). Finally, in the third passage from Matthew, it states that all blasphemies will be forgiven except for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit which will not be forgiven in this age nor in the age to come. This verse, too, clearly implies that some sins can be forgiven after death in the age to come and some cannot.
I can understand how the church can see these verses as pointing to Purgatory although the doctrine is not fully developed in scripture and must depend at least somewhat on sacred Tradition to explain it more fully. However, this explanation of these verses is not what I was taught as a child and into my adulthood in the Protestant church. The Protestant Bible does not even contain the book of 2 Maccabees. It, along with six other books, was removed by Martin Luther during the Reformation. In Protestant teaching, the fire is used simply to imply an evaluation of one’s works and not, as in Purgatory, something punitive.
As a Catholic, I am obligated to believe all teachings considered dogma, as Purgatory is considered. Since all of the teachings of the church I have investigated have been shown to be true, I will give the church the benefit of the doubt on this one issue, but as I stated in the beginning, I still have some difficulty wrapping my head around this one.