Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

The Purgatory

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The word purgatory is derived from the Latin word "purgare" which means to make clean or to purify. According to the Roman Catholic Church, the purgatory is a place or condition of temporal punishment. The concept of purgatory started in 1215 at Latran council, 1274 at Leon council, 1431 at Florence council, and 1545-1563 at Trent council. It started in the 13th century and was enforced by the 15th century. The Council of Trent (1545-1563 CE) states, "We constantly hold that purgatory exists, and that the souls of the faithful there detained are helped by the prayers of the faithful." The Coptic Orthodox Church with all the Oriental Orthodox, the Eastern Orthodox and the Protestants churches reject the concept of purgatory

Roman Catholics Belief
Roman Catholics believe that not all sins are equal before God, nor can anyone claim that the daily faults of human weakness will be punished with the same severity as that of serious violation of God's law. On the other hand, whosoever comes into God's presence must be perfectly pure for in the strictest sense His "eyes are too pure, to behold evil" (Hab 1:13).

The Church of Rome has taught, that there are three places for the departed souls:

  1. The souls who departed from this world, pure and free from every taint, namely, the souls of saints, immediately enter the regions of bliss.

  2. The souls of those dead in mortal sin, or in original sin, go straight to punishment.

  3. The souls of those who after their baptism have sinned, sincerely repented and confessed their sins, but were unable to bring forth fruits of repentance sufficient to atone for their sins, these souls are purified by the fire of purgatory some sooner, others slower, according to their sins; and then, after their purification, depart for the land of eternal bliss. Those constitute the majority of the people. The prayers of the priest, liturgies, and deeds of charity lead much to their purification.

In the New Testament as well as in the Old Testament, almsgiving, fasting, and in general penitential acts are the real fruits of repentance (Mt 3:8; Lk 3:3). The whole penitential system of the Catholic Church testifies that the voluntary notion of penitential works has always been part of true repentance and the Council of Trent reminds the faithful that God does not always remit the whole punishment due to sin together with the guilt. God requires satisfaction, He will punish sin, and this doctrine involves as its necessary consequence a belief that the sinner failing to do penance in this life may be punished in another world, and so will not be cast off eternally from God.

Purgatorial Fire: The belief in the existence of real fire is common. Besides the separation of the soul from the sight of God, there is the other punishment from fire. The pain of those who after this life will compensate for their faults by purgatorial flames will be more intolerable than any one can suffer in this life.

The punishment of purgatory is temporary and will cease, at least with the Last Judgment. Temporary punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by others after death, by others both now and then; but all of them before that last and strictest judgment.

Prayers and sacrifices are offered for souls held in purgatory that "God in mercy may forgive every fault and receive them into the bosom of Abraham". Those souls who were not good enough to be entitled to eternal happiness but on whose behalf sacrifices are offered, go to the purgatory were they are for the time being shut out from the sight of God. Catholics claim that the purgatory is biblical.

They quote verses from the Holy Bible as proof for their claim.

  • "If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire" (1 Cor 3:15). Actually, St. Paul mentioned this verse while discussing matters of service and ministers, not punishment and judgment. He was talking about his service and Apollo's comparing the service with farming and building (1 Cor 3:5-9). The fire is for the work not for the servant (1 Cor 3:12-15). Note that the fire mentioned here is for everyone while purgatory is only for a certain kind of people. The fire is for testing not as purgatory for punishment and suffering. The fire will burn the work made of hay, wood and straw while supposedly the fire of the purgatory purify a person and prepare him to enter a better place.

  • "And the LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?" (Zech 3:2). A brand plucked from the fire does not refer to the fire of purgatory since Joshua was alive on earth, but it refers to the sin he committed along with the entire nation. St. Peter says "Now "If the righteous one is scarcely saved, Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?" (1 Pet 4:18). The word 'saved' here means if he repented and regretted not serving properly.

  • "Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come" (Mt 12:32). Catholics refer to 'The age to come' as forgiveness will take place in purgatory. This is incorrect since 'age to come' refers to a time not a place. Forgiveness in this age is clear from the sayings of our Lord "Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Mt 18:18) and "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (Jn 20:23). Forgiveness in the age to come is meant for one who repented but did not get the opportunity to confess his sin and receive the absolution, either because he was traveling away from his confessor father or departed from this world suddenly before having the chance to confess. God in His great mercy will accept the repentance of this person without admitting him to the 'purgatory' or expose him to suffering for forgiveness and suffering do not go together.

  • "That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth" (Phil 2:10). Catholics claim that those under the earth are souls captured for a period of time in a place, in core of the earth. God prepared it for the purification of those who departed from this world while at fault that prevent them from entering the kingdom of heaven. St. John Chrysostom comments on this verse saying, every knee of those in heaven means the angels and the saints; those on earth means the living faithful on earth and those under the earth are the devils who submit to our Lord Jesus Christ willingly or unwillingly. Other commentaries say, this verse symbolizes the whole creation. St. John the beloved says, "And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: "Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!" (Rev 5:13).

  • "On the next day, as had now become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kindred in the sepulchers of their ancestors. Then under the tunic of each one of the dead, they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was the reason these men had fallen. So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; and they turned to supplication, praying that the sin that had been committed might be wholly blotted out. The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened as the result of the sin of those who had fallen. He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin" (2 Maccabes 12:39-46). Here we agree with the Catholic Church that this passage is a proof for the Resurrection and the belief in the prayer for the departed and offering sacrifices on their behalf. However, this passage does not mention anything related to the purgatory or forgiveness of sin through the purgatory. Those are people who believed in the resurrection and prayed for their departed, collected donations and sent them to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices for them.

The Coptic Orthodox View on the Purgatory

1. Purgatory is against the doctrine of Atonement and Redemption

Roman Catholics believe that purgatory is a place where "we atone for our sins" while atonement is the work of our Lord Jesus Christ alone. The Basis of the doctrine of Atonement and Redemption is that man is incapable of paying for the Divine Justice no matter how much he does, he suffers, or is punished.

The Holy Bible says,

  • "Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed" (Rom 3:24-25).

  • "If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world" (1 Jn 2:1-2).

  • "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 Jn 4:10).

2. Purgatory is against the doctrine of Salvation

Salvation is only by blood and only the blood of Christ. The blood of Christ is the only purge. "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 Jn 1:7). 'All sin' refers to every kind of sin mentioned by the Catholics the mortal, the venial or any other. The only condition is repentance "confess our sins" "walk in the light" (1 Jn 1:7,9). St Paul says, "But with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption" (Heb 9:12). Purgatory is an insult to the work of the Cross for we say that on the Cross appeared the Divine Love "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son" (Jn 3:16) How would that love agree with the pain of purgatory for forgiven sins and unintentional sins?

To believe in the purgatory is to believe of a partial salvation as if Christ came to save us from the shame of sin not from its penalty.

3. Purgatory is against the sacrament of repentance

Repentance blots sin, God forgives it and does not remember it.

  1. "Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out" (Acts 3:19).

  2. "I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, and like a cloud, your sins" (Isa 44:22).

  3. "And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, nailed to the cross" (Col 2:13,14).

  4. "I, even I, am He Who blots out transgressions for My own sake and I will not remember your sins" (Isa 43:25).

The Coptic Orthodox view on the Prayer for the Departed

We pray for those who departed from this world not because we believe in the purgatory but following St. Paul who prayed for Onesiphorus saying, "The Lord grant to him that he may find mercy from the Lord in that Day" (2 Tim 1:18). In that Day meant in the Day of Judgment, as he said "Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing" (2 Tim 4:8). St. Paul was not asking for mercy in the purgatory but on the Day of Judgment when he stands before the Just Judge. We pray for the departure that God may grant them rest in the place of waiting for the Day of Judgment has not come yet. Those departed are awaiting without worry or unrest. The litany for the departed does not mention the purgatory at all. We pray saying, "Sustain them in a green pasture, by the water of rest in the paradise of joy, the place out of which grief, sorrow and groaning have fled away" This is definitely not the description of the purgatory for the purgatory contrarily is a place of grief, sorrow and groaning.

Our Church absolves the soul of the departed during the prayer. She absolves her from all the sins she committed while in the flesh. We say to God, 'this soul has departed from us absolved by the church. We do not retain any sin for her...we intercede for her for You O Lord know the weakness of man.

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