The Bible teaches
...(1) that some sins are forgiven in the next world; (2) that some souls are saved in the next world "by fire"; (3) that it is useful and beneficial to pray for the dead; (4) there will be degrees of punishment and reward.
- Sins forgiven in the next world.
- Matt. 5:25-26 Be at agreement with thy adversary betimes, whilst thou art in the way with him: lest perhaps the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. 26 Amen I say to thee, thou shalt not go out from thence till thou repay the last farthing.
- Matt. 12:32: And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of Man it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, NEITHER IN THE WORLD TO COME.
(Some sins can therefore be forgiven after death.)
- Saint Augustine (De Civ. l. xxi. c. 13.) and Saint Gregory (Dial. iv, c. 39.) gather, that some sins may be remitted in the world to come; and consequently that there is a purgatory, or a middle place. Saint Augustine says thse words would not be true, if some sins were not forgiven in the world to come; and Saint Gregory says, we are to believe from these words in the existence of the fire of purgatory, to expiate our smaller offences, before the day of judgment. Saints Isidore and Venerbale Bede say the same.
- Saint Bernard, speaking of heretics, says, they do not believe in purgatory: let them then inquire of our Saviour, what he meant by these words.
- Matt. 18:23-35 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened to a king, who would take an account of his servants.
24 And when he had begun to take the account, one was brought to him, that owed him ten thousand talents.
25 And as he had not wherewith to pay it, his lord commanded that he should be sold, and his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.
26 But that servant falling down, besought him, saying: Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
27 And the lord of that servant being moved with pity, let him go and forgave him the debt.
28 But when that servant was gone out, he found one of his fellow servants that owed him an hundred pence: and laying hold of him, throttled him, saying: Pay what thou owest.
29 And his fellow servant falling down, besought him, saying: Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he paid the debt.
31 Now his fellow servants seeing what was done, were very much grieved, and they came and told their lord all that was done.
32 Then his lord called him; and said to him: Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all the debt, because thou besoughtest me:
33 Shouldst not thou then have had compassion also on thy fellow servant, even as I had compassion on thee?
34 And his lord being angry, delivered him to the torturers until he paid all the debt.
35 So also shall my heavenly Father do to you, if you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts.
- Luke 12:47-48 And that servant who knew the will of his lord, and prepared not himself, and did not according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.
48 But he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. And unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required: and to whom they have committed much, of him they will demand the more.
- Apoc. 21:27 There shall not enter into it any thing defiled, or that worketh abomination or maketh a lie, but they that are written in the book of life of the Lamb.
- Some souls are saved in the next world "by fire".
- I Cor. 3: 13 and 15: Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. 15. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, YET SO AS BY FIRE.
- It is useful and beneficial to pray for the dead.
- 2 Machabees 12:46 It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins.
(This is one of the Old Testament books omitted from the Protestant Bible - even the Jews accept this one).
- Ecclus. 7:32 A gift hath grace in the sight of all the living, and restrain not grace from the dead.
- There will be degrees of punishment and reward.
- Rom 14:22 Every one of us will render an account for himself to God.
- Matt. 12:36 Of every idle word men speak, they shall give account on the day of judgment.
- Luke 12:48 but of every one to whom much has been given, much will be required; and of him to whom they have entrusted much, they will demand the more.
Early Church Fathers
Jews, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox have always historically proclaimed the reality of the final purification. It was not until the Protestant Reformers came in the 1500s that anyone denied this doctrine. As the following quotes from the early Church Fathers show, purgatory has been part of the Christian faith from the very beginning.
Some imagine that the Catholic Church has an elaborate doctrine of purgatory worked out, but basically there are only three things that are essential components of the doctrine: (1) that a purification after death exists, (2) that it involves some kind of pain, and (3) that the purification can be assisted by the prayers and offerings of the living to God. Other ideas, such that purgatory is a particular "place" in the afterlife or that it takes time to accomplish, are speculations rather than doctrines.
- The Acts of Paul and Thecla
"And after the exhibition, Tryphaena again received her [Thecla]. For her daughter Falconilla had died, and said to her in a dream: 'Mother, you shall have this stranger Thecla in my place, in order that she may pray concerning me, and that I may be transferred to the place of the righteous'" (Acts of Paul and Thecla [A.D. 160]).
"The citizen of a prominent city, I erected this while I lived, that I might have a resting place for my body. Abercius is my name, a disciple of the chaste shepherd who feeds his sheep on the mountains and in the fields, who has great eyes surveying everywhere, who taught me the faithful writings of life. Standing by, I, Abercius, ordered this to be inscribed; truly I was in my seventy-second year. May everyone who is in accord with this and who understands it pray for Abercius" (Epitaph of Abercius [A.D. 190]).
"[T]hat very night, this was shown to me in a vision: I saw Dinocrates going out from a gloomy place, where also there were several others, and he was parched and very thirsty, with a filthy countenance and pallid color, and the wound on his face which he had when he died. This Dinocrates had been my brother after the flesh, seven years of age, who died miserably with disease . . . For him I had made my prayer, and between him and me there was a large interval, so that neither of us could approach to the other. . . . and [I] knew that my brother was in suffering. But I trusted that my prayer would bring help to his suffering; and I prayed for him every day until we passed over into the prison of the camp, for we were to fight in the camp-show. Then . . . I made my prayer for my brother day and night, groaning and weeping that he might be granted to me. Then, on the day on which we remained in fetters, this was shown to me. I saw that that place which I had formerly observed to be in gloom was now bright; and Dinocrates, with a clean body well clad, was finding refreshment. . . . [And] he went away from the water to play joyously, after the manner of children, and I awoke. Then I understood that he was translated from the place of punishment" (The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity 2:3-4 [A.D. 202]).
"[T]hat allegory of the Lord [Matt. 5:25-26] . . . is extremely clear and simple in its meaning . . . [beware lest as] a transgressor of your agreement, before God the Judge . . . and lest this Judge deliver you over to the angel who is to execute the sentence, and he commit you to the prison of hell, out of which there will be no dismissal until the smallest even of your delinquencies be paid off in the period before the resurrection. What can be a more fitting sense than this? What a truer interpretation?" (The Soul 35 [A.D. 210]).
"We offer sacrifices for the dead on their birthday anniversaries" (The Crown 3:3 [A.D. 211]).
"A woman, after the death of her husband ... prays for his soul and asks that he may, while waiting, find rest; and that he may share in the first resurrection. And each year, on the anniversary of his death, she offers the sacrifice" (Monogamy 10:1-2 [A.D. 216]).
- Cyprian of Carthage
"The strength of the truly believing remains unshaken; and with those who fear and love God with their whole heart, their integrity continues steady and strong. For to adulterers even a time of repentance is granted by us, and peace [i.e., reconciliation] is given. Yet virginity is not therefore deficient in the Church, nor does the glorious design of continence languish through the sins of others. The Church, crowned with so many virgins, flourishes; and chastity and modesty preserve the tenor of their glory. Nor is the vigor of continence broken down because repentance and pardon are facilitated to the adulterer. It is one thing to stand for pardon, another thing to attain to glory; it is one thing, when cast into prison, not to go out thence until one has paid the uttermost farthing; another thing at once to receive the wages of faith and courage. It is one thing, tortured by long suffering for sins, to be cleansed and long purged by fire; another to have purged all sins by suffering. It is one thing, in fine, to be in suspense till the sentence of God at the day of judgment; another to be at once crowned by the Lord." (Letters 51:20 [A.D. 253]).
"But also, when God will judge the just, it is likewise in fire that he will try them. At that time, they whose sins are uppermost, either because of their gravity or their number, will be drawn together by the fire and will be burned. Those, however, who have been imbued with full justice and maturity of virtue, will not feel that fire; for they have something of God in them which will repel and turn back the strength of the flame" (Divine Institutes 7:21:6 [A.D. 307]).
- Cyril of Jerusalem
"Then we make mention also of those who have already fallen asleep: first, the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, that through their prayers and supplications God would receive our petition; next, we make mention also of the holy fathers and bishops who have already fallen asleep, and, to put it simply, of all among us who have already fallen asleep, for we believe that it will be of very great benefit to the souls of those for whom the petition is carried up, while this holy and most solemn sacrifice is laid out" (Catechetical Lectures 23:5:9 [A.D. 350]).
- Epiphanius of Salamis
"Useful too is the prayer fashioned on their behalf, even if it does not force back the whole of guilty charges laid to them. And it is useful also, because in this world we often stumble either voluntarily or involuntarily, and thus it is a reminder to do better" (Medicine Chest Against All Heresies 75:8 [A.D. 375]).
- Gregory of Nyssa
"If a man distinguish in himself what is peculiarly human from that which is irrational, and if he be on the watch for a life of greater urbanity for himself, in this present life he will purify himself of any evil contracted, overcoming the irrational by reason. If he have inclined to the irrational pressure of the passions, using for the passions the cooperating hide of things irrational, he may afterward in a quite different manner be very much interested in what is better, when, after his departure out of the body, he gains knowledge of the difference between virtue and vice and finds that he is not able to partake of divinity until he has been purged of the filthy contagion in his soul by the purifying fire" (Sermon on the Dead [A.D. 382]).
- John Chrysostom
"Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice [Job 1:5], why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them" (Homilies on 1 Corinthians 41:5 [A.D. 392]).
- John Chrysostom
"Weep for those who die in their wealth and who with all their wealth prepared no consolation for their own souls, who had the power to wash away their sins and did not will to do it. Let us weep for them, let us assist them to the extant of our ability, let us think of some assistance for them, small as it may be, yet let us somehow assist them. But how, and in what way? By praying for them and by entreating others to pray for them, by constantly giving alms to the poor on their behalf. Not in vain was it decreed by the apostles that in the awesome mysteries remembrance should be made of the departed. They knew that here there was much gain for them, much benefit. when the entire people stands with hands uplifted, a priestly assembly, and that awesome sacrificial Victim is laid out, how, when we are calling upon God, should we not succeed in their defense? But this is done for those who have departed in the faith, while even the catechumens are not reckoned as worthy of this consolation, but are deprived of every means of assistance except one. And what is that? We may give alms to the poor on their behalf" (Homilies on Philippians 3:9-10 [A.D. 402]).
"There is an ecclesiastical discipline, as the faithful know, when the names of the martyrs are read aloud in that place at the altar of God, where prayer is not offered for them. Prayer, however, is offered for other dead who are remembered. It is wrong to pray for a martyr, to whose prayers we ought ourselves be commended" (Sermons 159:1 [A.D. 411]).
"But by the prayers of the Holy Church, and by the salvific sacrifice, and by the alms which are given for their spirits, there is no doubt that the dead are aided, that the Lord might deal more mercifully with them than their sins would deserve. The whole Church observes this practice which was handed down by the Fathers: that it prays for those who have died in the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, when they are commemorated in their own place in the sacrifice itself; and the sacrifice is offered also in memory of them, on their behalf. If, then, works of mercy are celebrated for the sake of those who are being remembered, who would hesitate to recommend them, on whose behalf prayers to God are not offered in vain? It is not at all to be doubted that such prayers are of profit to the dead; but for such of them as lived before their death in a way that makes it possible for these things to be useful to them after death" (ibid., 172:2).
"Temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by some after death, by 'some both here and hereafter, but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But not all who suffer temporal punishments after death will come to eternal punishments, which are to follow after that judgment" (The City of God 21:13 [A.D. 419]).
"The prayer either of the Church herself or of pious individuals is heard on behalf of certain of the dead, but it is heard for those who, having been regenerated in Christ, did not for the rest of their life in the body do such wickedness that they might be judged unworthy of such mercy [as prayer], nor who yet lived so well that it might be supposed they have no need of such mercy [as prayer]" (ibid., 21:24:2).
"That there should be some fire even after this life is not incredible, and it can be inquired into and either be discovered or left hidden whether some of the faithful may be saved, some more slowly and some more quickly in the greater or lesser degree in which they loved the good things that perish, through a certain purgatorial fire" (Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Charity 18:69 [A.D. 421]).
"The time which interposes between the death of a man and the final resurrection holds souls in hidden retreats, accordingly as each is deserving of rest or of hardship, in view of what it merited when it was living in the flesh. Nor can it be denied that the souls of the dead find relief through the piety of their friends and relatives who are still alive, when the Sacrifice of the Mediator [Mass] is offered for them, or when alms are given in the Church. But these things are of profit to those who, when they were alive, merited that they might afterward be able to be helped by these things. There is a certain manner of living, neither so good that there is no need of these helps after death, nor yet so wicked that these helps are of no avail after death" (ibid., 29:109).
As nothing defiled can enter Heaven (Rev. 21-27), there must necessarily exist a state of cleansing or purgation usually called "purgatory."