From Catholicism to Christianity Part 5: Purgatory



RCC requires “temporal punishment” must be paid for sins:

I remember growing up how many votive candles I lit for my deceased relatives to be released from purgatory. Back then it cost 25 cents or a dollar, depending on the size of the candle. When I got older and had more money, I could pay the priest $25 or more to say a Mass for a dead relative. These acts plus saying the rosary and performing good deeds earn  “indulgences “ for the living or the dead.

The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) requires “temporal punishment” must be paid for sin:

Roman Catholicism believes that even though a sin has been forgiven, punishment must still be paid [1473].

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that “an indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven which…may be applied to the living or the dead” (1471).

This “temporal” punishment can be paid through acts of penance in this life, such as saying the rosary or doing good deeds, or it can be paid in the next life in purgatory [1030-1032,1472].

Only the church can dispense these indulgences. Indulgences are absolutely contrary to Scripture because they undermine the total cleansing of Jesus’ blood. By stating that indulgences are needed to further cleanse the sinner, indulgences make man’s actions of higher worth than Jesus’ blood.

The [Catholic] church affirmed the existence of purgatory at each of the last three ecumenical councils including Vatican II. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes purgatory as a place of “cleansing fire” [1031]

Belief in the existence of purgatory is also expressed at every Mass. During the Liturgy of the Eucharist, prayers are offered for the dead. Usually the Mass itself is also offered for someone suffering in purgatory.

Biblical response:

The Scriptures teach that Jesus “released us from our sins by His blood” (Rev 1:5). They make no mention of acts of penance, indulgences, or a place such as purgatory through which the penalty of sin can be satisfied. If a sinner must pay the temporal punishment for his sins, that is the equivalent of saying that Jesus’ blood was insufficient.

Biblical salvation has no need of a place such as purgatory. Look at the complete finality of the following verses:

1Jn 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Heb 1:9 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. [ed. He sat down because His work was finished – the price for sin was all paid].

Heb10:14 because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

Heb7:25-28 Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

26 For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; 27 who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever.

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (There is no temporal punishment remaining for which the believer must atone.  Jesus paid it all: He Himself is the atonement for all our sins).

The Bible  states that “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness for sin” (Heb 9:22). “Since these sins have been forgiven, there is no further offering for sin” (Heb 10:18).

There is no such word nor any such concept as purgatory nor indulgences in the Bible. There is, however, repeatedly the concept of “it is finished.”

Col 2:13-14 13 having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped [blotted] out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

“Blotting out the handwriting… The allusion is probably to a written contract, in which we bind ourselves to do any work, or to make a payment, and which remains in force against us until the bond is cancelled. That might be done, either by blotting out the names, or by drawing lines through it, or, as appears to have been practiced in the East, by driving a nail through itAnd took it out of the way – Greek, ‘Out of the midst;’ that is, he wholly removed it.

Nailing it to his cross – As if he had nailed it to his cross, so that it would be entirely removed out of our way. The death of Jesus had the same effect, in regard to the rites and institutions of the Mosaic religion, as if they had been affixed to his cross. It is said that there is an allusion here to the ancient method by which a bond or obligation was cancelled, by driving a nail through it, and affixing it to a post.”  (Barnes Commentary)

The following historical facts demonstrate the surprising consequences of selling indulgences:


St. Peter’s Basilica was being rebuilt, but there was no money. [Pope] Leo decided to solve the problem in time-honored fashion. On this day March 15, 1517, he declared that anyone who contributed to [St. Peter’s Basilica] would be granted an indulgence. Although in theory, an indulgence was only a remission of penalties meted out in this world by the church, in practice, it was hawked as if it covered the actual guilt of sins and could release souls from Purgatory. The gist of the indulgence was as follows:

“…[I] absolve you …from all thy sins, transgressions, and excesses, how enormous soever they be…and remit to you all punishment which you deserve in purgatory on their account and I restore you…to the innocence and purity which you possessed at baptism; so that when you die the gates of punishment shall be shut… and if you shall not die at present, this grace shall remain in full force when you are at the point of death.”

Sent to preach the indulgence in Germany was a Dominican named Tetzel. Tetzel got above himself in his promises, implying that the indulgence even covered the future sins which the buyer was now harboring in his heart. Frederick the Wise refused to allow the indulgence to be preached in his territory of Saxony, mostly because he was reluctant to allow Saxon coin to leave his financially-depleted realm. Tetzel came as near the border of Saxony as he could. Folk from Wittenberg crossed over and bought the prized papers.

Sparking the Reformation

Afterward a few doubted the efficacy of the writs. They solicited the opinion of a middle-aged monk named Martin Luther. Luther refused to confirm their value. Instead, in an accepted tradition, he posted theses for debate on the door of Wittenberg castle church where a large crowd was expected. The sequel is well known. From those Ninety-Five theses, the Reformation was born when [Pope] Leo refused to see a problem with the disgraceful sales.

                      THE LAST WORD

It is only fitting that the Bible itself should have the determining word on the question of indulgences and indeed it does:

Ps 49:7-9  7 yet not one of them, though rich as kings, can ransom his own brother from the penalty of sin! For God’s forgiveness does not come that way. 8-9 For a soul is far too precious to be ransomed by mere earthly wealth. There is not enough of it in all the earth to buy eternal life for just one soul, to keep it out of hell.

 Salvation is bought by the blood of the Lamb of God not by monetary indulgences or good works. Only Jesus saves. It is that simple.

Work cited:

Annotated bracketed references to Catholic doctrine were obtained from the current official Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Austin Flannery edition of Vatican Council II: The Concilar and Post Concilar Documents.

Barnes, Albert.  Notes, Explanatory and Practical, on the Epistles of Paul to the Ephesians, Philippians, & Colossians. Routledge, Warne, 1860.

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