Purgatory Now?

Purgatory is one of those interesting theological ideas that Protestants and Catholics wrangle over, not least because it carries rather significant implications for one’s understanding of the work of Christ and salvation. Have our departed brothers and sisters in the faith entered into a time of suffering during which they are prepared for entrance into the presence of God? Or do they enter immediately into paradise made fit for the presence of the Holy One by the blood and righteousness of Christ alone? And what will happen to us? Where will we be found after our deaths? Well, in honor of All Saints’ Day and the hope that is before us, here’s provocative quote from N. T. Wright’s little book, For All the Saints? Remembering the Christian Departed:
In fact, Paul makes it clear here (Rom 8) and elsewhere that it’s the present life that is meant to function as purgatory. The sufferings of the present time, not of some post-mortem state, are the valley we have to pass through in order to reach the glorious future. The present life is bad enough from time to time, goodness knows, without imagining gloom and doom after death as well. In fact, I think I know why purgatory became so popular, why Dante’s middle volume is the one people most easily relate to. The myth of purgatory is an allegory, a projection, from the present on to the future. This is why purgatory appeals to the imagination. It is our story. It is where we are now. If we are Christians, if we believe in the risen Jesus as Lord, if we are baptized members of his body, then we are passing right now through the sufferings which form the gateway to life. Of course, this means that for millions of our theological and spiritual ancestors death will have brought a pleasant surprise. They had been gearing themselves up for a long struggle ahead, only to find it was already over (34-35, italics original).
Purgatory now? Much could be said. What do you think about that? 

8 thoughts on “Purgatory Now?

  1. Matt said “I would not substitue hell for purgatory, though, for the simple reason that …. eternal condemnation”

    That's an excellent argument, you make Matt.

    I take little issue with the idea of describing this present earth as being '*hell* on earth' simply because there are many who believe the present reality is *heaven*. The present reality is God's perfect creation terribly marred and deformed by sin. Man created in the 'image of God' is also so devastated by sin. So, I accept Glen's point in opposition to the idea that this earth – is heaven, since this earth is NOT heaven.

    Creation in its current state is not perfect. We may have been originally placed in heaven (a perfect creation reflecting the righteousness of its creator), but we rejected and corrupted it. The heaven of the eschaton will be a prefect creation again; I believe it will be 're-new' and I recall you favour 'new'.

    Regardless, in the sense that creation is entirely marred, I accept *hell* as an apt description of this, since the only thing worse than the rejection of a perfect God's handiwork, is the rejection of that perfect God himself.

    However, this is not how the bible deals with hell, as you point out. I accept your point that the doctrine of 'hell' is something entirely different, since existence in hell is eternal. Likewise, I also recognize that to assume hell must necessarily reflect 'imperfection' has no biblical basis. (Hell, as a consequence of God's perfect justice, could be perfect, or must be if it's part of a restored order).

    About hell, I know only that I'd like to avoid hell's fury as much as I would, a woman's scorn.


  2. Inasmuch as the justification and sanctification of those who have faith are an anticipatory partaking in eschatological glory, I think I am comfortable saying that the present revelation of the wrath of God is an anticipatory partaking in the eschatological condemnation. That is, if salvation is a matter of inaugurated eschatology, I see no prima facie reason why condemnation is not as well.

    I would not substitue hell for purgatory, though, for the simple reason that in the Roman Catholic understanding of purgatory, all who enter into the post mortem state of purgation will one day enter into glory; none of them will be lost to damnation. The doctrine of Hell is quite different (with the exception of the position promulgated in at least one recent well-known book); the doctrine of Hell has not typically been understood as a purgation in preparation for glory but, instead, the state of eternal condemnation.


  3. Matt, Perhaps N.T. was simply being 'diplomatic'.

    Glen said “Perhaps therefore it's more Protestant to speak of *hell* on earth.”

    Glen, I see no problem with that either. Perhaps therefore it's more Christian to speak of *hell* on earth.

    (But, if truth be told I personally wish the 'protestant' label would disappear into the dustbin of history, along with 'of Apollos' and 'of Cephas' [1 Cor 1:12]. We aren't saved because we are protestants. Rather we are saved because we are Christians (meaning through faith Christ). I'm confident there are 'protestants' who will not be saved, and 'non-protestants' who will be; and so we may say “Let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Protestants or not or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's” in the spirit of [1 Cor 3:21-23]).

    But since it was brought up, Matt it would be nice if you explored the idea that the struggle to maintain biblical doctrine did not start with the reformation, or end with it (as that other post suggests).


  4. Sounds like the baggage surrounds the historical (Catholic?) doctrine of 'purgatory' rather than N. T. Wright's use of it.

    If sanctification is a 'true' doctrine, I have no problem believing we must go through some process to prepare us to stand in the presence of a Holy living God. Likewise, if sanctification is a 'true' doctrine, Christ's role in it is to provide the exemplar we are to be remade in the image of, and the efficient cause given that it is our 'faith in Christ' the Holy Spirit consummates.

    N. T. Wright seems to be agreeing without specifically addressing the controversy of whether or not that process is a consequence of Christ.


  5. Well, the notion of purgatory (either now or later) tends to provoke some Protestants. And the denial of purgatory (later) tends to provoke some Roman Catholics. Thus, the descriptor.

    Further, if it is the case that the Roman Catholic (RC) doctrine somehow fits or prepares the Christian for entrance into the presence of God, then thoughtful Protestant would want to raise the question as to whether that undermines the all-sufficiency of the work of Christ. Further, if the RC doctrine were simply transferred into the present without some emendation, the same questions should be raised. I'm not all that interested in sorting all that out at the moment. I simply point them out as issues that should arise.

    Thanks for your comment and question.



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