History of Purgatory

Image of a fiery purgatory in the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry
Image of a non-fiery purgatory (Gustave Doré: illustration for Dante's Purgatorio, Canto 24)

The idea of purgatory has roots that date back into antiquity. A sort of proto-purgatory called the "celestial Hades" appears in the writings of Plato and Heraclides Ponticus and in many other pagan writers. This concept is distinguished from the Hades of the underworld described in the works of Homer and Hesiod. In contrast, the celestial Hades was understood as an intermediary place where souls spent an undetermined time after death before either moving on to a higher level of existence or being reincarnated back on earth. Its exact location varied from author to author. Heraclides of Pontus thought it was in the Milky Way; the Academicians, the Stoics, Cicero, Virgil, Plutarch, the Hermetical writings situated it between the Moon and the Earth or around the Moon; while Numenius and the Latin Neoplatonists thought it was located between the sphere of the fixed stars and the Earth.[1]

Perhaps under the influence of Hellenistic thought, we find another intermediate state entering Jewish religious thought in the last centuries B.C.E. In Maccabees we find the practice of prayer for the dead with a view to their after life purification[2] a practice accepted by some Christians. The same practice appears in other traditions, such as the medieval Chinese Buddhist practice of making offerings on behalf of the dead, who are said to suffer numerous trials.[3] Among other reasons, Catholic belief in purgatory is based on the practice of prayer for the dead.[4]

Descriptions and doctrine regarding purgatory developed over the centuries.[5] Those who believe in purgatory interpret extra-biblical passages such as 2 Maccabees 12:41-46 (not accepted as Scripture by Protestants but recognized by Orthodox and Catholics), and biblical passages such as 2 Timothy 1:18, Matthew 12:32, Luke 16:19-16:26, Luke 23:43, 1 Corinthians 3:11-3:15 and Hebrews 12:29 as support for prayer for the dead, an active interim state for the dead prior to the resurrection, and purifying flames after death.[3] The first Christians looked forward to the imminent return of Christ and did not develop detailed beliefs about the interim state.[6] Gradually, Christians, especially in the West,[6] took an interest in circumstances of the interim state between one's death and the future resurrection. Christians both East and West prayed for the dead in this interim state, although theologians in the East refrained from defining it.[6] Augustine of Hippo distinguished between the purifying fire that saves and eternal consuming fire for the unrepentant.[3] Gregory the Great established a connection between earthly penance and purification after death. All Soul's Day, established in the 10th century, turned popular attention to the condition of departed souls.[3]

The idea of Purgatory as a physical place (like heaven and hell) was "born" in the late 11th century.[7] Medieval theologians concluded that the purgatorial punishments consisted of material fire. The Western formulation of purgatory proved to be a sticking point in the Great Schism between East and West. The Catholic Church believes that the living can help those whose purification from their sins is not yet completed not only by praying for them but also by gaining indulgences for them[8] as an act of intercession.[9] The later Middle Ages saw the growth of considerable abuses, such as the unrestricted sale of indulgences by professional "pardoners"[9] sent to collect contributions to projects such as the rebuilding of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. These abuses were one of the factors that led to the Protestant Reformation. Most Protestants rejected the idea of purgatory, as never clearly mentioned in Luther's canon of the Bible, which excludes the Deuterocanonical books. Modern Catholic theologians have softened the punitive aspects of purgatory and stress instead the willingness of the dead to undergo purification as preparation for the happiness of heaven[3]

The English Anglican scholar John Henry Newman argued, in a book that he wrote before becoming Catholic, that the essence of the doctrine on purgatory is locatable in ancient tradition, and that the core consistency of such beliefs are evidence that Christianity was "originally given to us from heaven".[10]

Christian Antiquity

A procession in the Catacombs of St. Callistus, Rome. The catacombs contain inscriptions that are often prayers for the dead.[11]

Prayer for the dead

Prayers for the dead were known to ancient Jewish practice, and it has been speculated that Christianity may have taken its similar practice from its Jewish heritage.[12] In Christianity, prayer for the dead is attested since at least the 2nd century,[13] evidenced in part by the tomb inscription of Abercius, Bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia (d. c. 200).[14] Celebration of the Eucharist for the dead is attested to since at least the 3rd century.[15]

Purification after death

Specific examples of belief in purification after death and of the communion of the living with the dead through prayer are found in many of the Church Fathers.[16] Irenaeus (c. 130-202) mentioned an abode where the souls of the dead remained until the universal judgment, a process that has been described as one which "contains the concept of... purgatory."[17] Both St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215) and his pupil, Origen of Alexandria (c. 185-254), developed a view of purification after death;[18] this view drew upon the notion that fire is a divine instrument from the Old Testament, and understood this in the context of New Testament teachings such as baptism by fire, from the Gospels, and a purificatory trial after death, from St. Paul.[19] Origen, in arguing against soul sleep, stated that the souls of the elect immediately entered paradise unless not yet purified, in which case they passed into a state of punishment, a penal fire, which is to be conceived as a place of purification.[20] For both Clement and Origen, the fire was neither a material thing nor a metaphor, but a "spiritual fire".[21] An early Latin author, Tertullian (c. 160-225), also articulated a view of purification after death.[22] In Tertullian's understanding of the afterlife, the souls of martyrs entered directly into eternal blessedness,[23] whereas the rest entered a generic realm of the dead. There the wicked suffered a foretaste of their eternal punishments,[23] whilst the good experienced various stages and places of bliss wherein "the idea of a kind of purgatory… is quite plainly found," an idea that is representative of a view widely dispersed in antiquity.[24] Later examples, wherein further elaborations are articulated, include St. Cyprian (d. 258),[25] St. John Chrysostom (c. 347-407),[26] and St. Augustine (354-430),[27] among others.

Interim state

The notion of an interim state of souls after death developed only gradually. This may be in part because it was of little interest as long as Christians looked for an imminent end of the world, as many scholars believe they did. The Eastern Church came to admit the existence of an intermediate state, but refrained from defining it, while at the same time maintaining the belief in prayer for the dead that was a constant feature of both Eastern and Western liturgies, and which is unintelligible without belief in an interim state in which the dead may be benefited. Christians in the West demonstrated much more curiosity about this interim state than those in the East: The Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicity and occasional remarks by Saint Augustine give expression to their belief that sins can be purged by suffering in an afterlife and that the process can be accelerated by prayer.[6]

In the early 5th century, Augustine spoke of the pain that purgatorial fire causes as more severe than anything a man can suffer in this life.[28] And Gregory the Great said that those who after this life "will expiate their faults by purgatorial flames," and he adds "that the pain be more intolerable than any one can suffer in this life."[29]

Other Languages
Bahasa Indonesia: Sejarah Purgatorium