History of the belief
Image of a non-fiery purgatory (Gustave Doré: illustration for Dante's Purgatorio, Canto 24).
While use of the word "purgatory" (in Latin purgatorium) as a noun appeared perhaps only between 1160 and 1180, giving rise to the idea of purgatory as a place (what Jacques Le Goff called the "birth" of purgatory), the Roman Catholic tradition of purgatory as a transitional condition has a history that dates back, even before Jesus Christ, to the worldwide practice of caring for the dead and praying for them and to the belief, found also in Judaism, which is considered the precursor of Christianity, that prayer for the dead contributed to their afterlife purification. 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. Roman Catholic belief in after-life purification is based on the practice of praying for the dead, which is mentioned in 2 Maccabees 12:42-44, which the Roman Catholic Church has declared to be part of Sacred Scripture, and which, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, was adopted by Christians from the beginning, a practice that presupposes that the dead are thereby assisted between death and their entry into their final abode.
Over the centuries, theologians and others have developed theories, imagined descriptions and composed legends that have contrbuted to the formation of a popular idea of purgatory much more detailed and elaborate than the quite minimal elements that have been officially declared to be part of the authentic teaching of the Church.
Shortly before becoming a Roman Catholic, the English scholar John Henry Newman argued that the essence of the doctrine is locatable in ancient tradition, and that the core consistency of such beliefs is evidence that Christianity was "originally given to us from heaven". Roman Catholics consider the teaching on purgatory, defined in the Second Council of Lyon (1274), the Council of Florence (1438–1445), and the Council of Trent (1545–63), and thus without the imaginative accretions of the popular idea of purgatory to be part of the faith derived from the revelation of Jesus Christ that was preached by the Apostles.