Common Misunderstanding: Catholics invented purgatory well after the Apostolic Age to enhance the power of the papacy and raise money for Rome.
Response: Although the doctrine of purgatory is not explicitly set out in the Bible, there is considerable scriptural warrant for it and immense documentation for it among the earliest fathers of the Church.
Sources: Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism; James Cardinal Gibbons (Cardinal of Baltimore), The Faith of Our Fathers; The Catechism of the Catholic Church
Definition: “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation: but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.” (CCC 1030-31).
The Witness of Scripture: The foundations are found in the Old Testament as well as in the New.
2 Mc. 12:43-46 “He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to 2000 silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection in mind; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin.”
Mt. 12:32 “And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (This implies that that there are sins that will be forgiven in the world to come”)
1 Cor. 3:13-15 Saint Paul tells us that “every man’s work shall be manifest” on the Lord’s. “The fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide (if his works are holy), he shall receive a reward. If any man’s works burn (if his works are faulty and imperfect), he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet as by fire” This is clearly consistent with a purgation after death before entering heaven. Thus, 1 Pet 1:7 The Corinthians passage demonstrates that the testing may well be not in this life but after death. That makes this passage with its reference to “testing” consistent with this interpretation.
1 Pet 3:19 shows that intermediates are not anti-scriptural. “In it he (Jesus) went to preach to the spirits in prison who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited…”
1 Jn. 5:17 “Not all sin is deadly.” This shows that not all sin sends you to hell. But you cannot go to heaven without being totally perfect. This implies an intermediate state, necessary for purification. See Rev 21:27 “Nothing unclean shall enter heaven.”
The Witness of Tradition: The Early Church Fathers indicate that this was considered apostolic teaching. They demonstrate that this belief in purgatory and prayers for the dead clearly goes back to the Apostles.
St. John Chrysostom: “It was not without good reason ordained by the Apostles that mention should be made of the dead in the tremendous mysteries, because they knew well that they would receive great benefit from it.”
Tertullian (2nd Century): “The faithful wife will pray for the soul of her deceased husband, particularly on the anniversary day of his falling asleep (death). And if she failed to do so, she hath repudiated her husband as far as in her lies.” (Prayers for a deceased person would be useless without a doctrine of purgatory).
Eusebius the historian (4th Century): described the funeral of Constantine the Great, how the multitude of people, with tears and much lamentation offered up prayers and sacrifices for his soul. And that Eusebius had reported that Constantine had built a large church in Constantinople so that the faithful might remember him there and pray for him after his death.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem(4th): “We commemorate the holy fathers, and bishops, and all who have fallen asleep from amongst us, believing that the supplications which we present will be of great assistance to their souls, while the holy and tremendous sacrifice offered up. . . So we in offering up a crown of prayers in behalf of those who have fallen asleep, will obtain for them forgiveness through the merits of Christ.”
St. Ephrem(4th): “I conjure you, my brethren and friends, in the name of that God who commands me to leave you, to remember me when you assemble to pray. Do not bury me with perfumes. Give them not to me but to God. Me, conserved in sorrows, bury with lamentations, and instead of perfumes assist me with your prayers; for the dead are benefitted by the prayers of saints.”
St. Monica: “Lay this body anywhere; let not the care of it anyway disturb you. This only I request of you, that you would remember me at the altar of the Lord, wherever you be.” & St. Augustine then prays for his deceased mother.
From Gibbons: “You see that praying for the dead was not a devotion cautiously recommended by some obscure or visionary writer, but an act of religion, preached and inculcated by all the great Doctors and Fathers of the Church, who are the recognized expounders of the Christian religion” (p. 178).
Evidence from early Liturgies: The earliest liturgies from Apostolic times to the present in both Eastern and Western Churches, including schismatic Eastern Churches, have the practice of praying fro the dead and in authorized Jewish prayer books one still finds prayers indicated for departed souls.
Did the Catholic Church invent the doctrine of purgatory around the time of Gregory the Great (506-604)? A. No. First, the many Fathers from earliest times show it was earlier, indeed, Apostolic. 2. Graffiti has been found on the walls of the catacombs where for the dead were recorded. 3. Non-inspired writings, such as the Acts of Paul and Thecla, (2nd) refer to the Christian custom of praying for the dead. There was no protest of this doctrine until the time of the Reformation.
People who object to these doctrines do not rely on history but are in reaction to the medieval excesses or to the fact that one does not find this exact word, “purgatory”, in Scripture.
Fundamentalists often state that God does not demand expiation after sins are forgiven. (Tell that to David because after God forgave his sins of adultery and murder, he had to suffer for them. (2 Sam. 12:14 – see Keating, p. 195) Jesus won forgiveness and takes care of all that. To a fundamentalist, purgatory is superfluous because he believes that sins are “covered” (ignored). Purgatory makes sense only if you must really be made clean, not just declared clean. For a fundamentalist, salvation is effected by accepting Christ as one’s personal Savior and being “declared” clean.
Another argument says that the Roman Catholic Church makes money off this “convenient” doctrine. There has been misunderstanding and misuses of this doctrine throughout history. In the present very little money is obtained through Mass stipends, etc.
Conclusion: Understood correctly, the doctrine of purgatory is a most consoling application of God’s mercy.
Where do indulgences fit into this? See CCC 1471
"An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints."
"An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin." The faithful can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead.”