The history of purgatory is very old. It goes back to at least second century BC. We first see the concept of purgatory in second book of Maccabees. If you don’t have this book in your bible then your version was printed after the late 19th century. This is when it was taken out of the bible by protestants. In second Maccabees chapter 12 we read of Judas Maccabeus’ victory in battle. In verse 40 when he went over the battlefield he found that only soldiers on his side who had died where the ones who had sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbid the Jews to have. In verse 42 this is what we read he does for those slain: “and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out.” Verse 45 “But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.” In these verses we have people praying for the dead. If the people are in heaven then they didn’t need prayers. If they are in hell then the prayers can’t help them. So the only alternative is some other place where prayers can help. You can call it whatever you want but we call it purgatory. This practice of praying for the dead has even been retained by Orthodox Jews today, who recite a prayer known as the Mourner’s Kaddish for eleven months after the death of a loved one so that the loved one may be purified. How can our prayers help people in purgatory? In Mt 8:13 and Mk 7:26-29 Jesus heals two people solely because he was asked by people of faith who asked on the behalf of others.
Purgatory can easily be understood by two biblical concepts, the first being that sin has consequences even after being forgiven and the second that nothing unclean can enter heaven. We see the first in 2 Sam 12:13-14 David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." And Nathan said to David, "The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child that is born to you shall die." Sin has two kinds of consequences, one kind being eternal and the other temporal. When we commit a mortal sin our eternal consequences is eternity in hell. If that sin is confessed and repented of, then it is forgiven but you still have the temporal consequences. Think of it like this: If a child breaks their window the father will forgive the child but will withhold allowance money to help pay to have it replaced.
A common objection against purgatory is that Christ’s atonement took away all the punishments due to sin and clothes the person with Christ so God sees Christ and not us therefore we are perfect and not needing purification prior to entering heaven. We read in Rev 21:27 that nothing unclean can enter heaven. If you are really dirty but wearing a shiny Jesus shirt you as a person are still unclean. The soul needs to actually be clean not just declared to be clean. God is not into legal fiction. He doesn’t declare something to be that really is not what he said it was. When God declares something by the power of his very word the thing obeys. If God said my shirt is green but I am wearing an orange shirt, by his word my shirt would change so that God wouldn’t be lying. Heb 12:14 says “Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Why are we to strive for holiness if we are already perfect in the sight of God? In Mt 6:12 we ask God to forgive us our sins. If our sins our already forgiven why are we asking for forgiveness? In reality to have your soul completely free from sin and the temporal punishment due to that sin and even the attachment to sin that you aren’t committing at the time your death is hard to do but not impossible. Steve Ray (a Catholic convert and apologist) says that purgatory is like the front porch of heaven. Before you can enter you must take off your muddy boots and dirty clothes. We can see this in a vision given to Zechariah. It is full of purgatorial imagery such as fire, filthy clothes representing sin, and clean clothes being given.
Zec 3:1-5 says “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. 2 The LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” 3 Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. 4 The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.” 5 Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the LORD stood by. “
We also see this in Heb 12:23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect. Here we have spirits made perfect so that would mean that there is some process in which the soul goes from imperfect to perfect. Mt 12:32 "Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. Augustine in the City of God Book xxi ch 24 (354- 430 ad) wrote this concerning this verse: “For were there not some whose sins, though not remitted in this life, shall be remitted in that which is to come, it could not be truly said, "They shall not be forgiven, neither in this world, neither in that which is to come."
Paul describes purgatory most clearly in 1 Cor 3:12-15 Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw-- each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. Paul explains that our works are manifest in two ways. Our good works are presented as gold, silver, and precious stones which get purified in the fire. Our sin is presented as wood, hay, and stubble which get burned off. He says that he will suffer loss but still be saved. Paul can’t be talking about heaven here because there isn’t any suffering in heaven. This can’t be hell because people in hell don’t get saved. Jude reaffirms what Paul says in Jude 1:23 save some, by snatching them out of the fire; on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.
One common argument against purgatory involves the thief on the cross in Lk 23:43. Jesus tells the good thief who professed faith in Jesus that this day the thief will be with him in paradise and not after a hundred years in purgatory. The first thing is that Jesus didn’t go to heaven that day. That was 40 days later but that is beside the point. It is hard to determine time passed in purgatory since it is outside of time like heaven and hell. Purgatory is also not necessarily a place but a state of purification.
It is often thought that purgatory is a second chance to get out of hell which would mean it is another means of justification. This is not correct. Purgatory has nothing to do with justification. Anyone who makes it to purgatory was already justified. If someone commits a mortal sin and is unrepentant that person is going to hell and not purgatory. Purgatory has to do with sanctification. Sanctification has to do with how holy a person is. So a person who goes to purgatory needs this as a final stage of sanctification before they can get to heaven because everyone in heaven is perfectly sanctified.
Another objection is that purgatory was invented to make the Church rich because the Catholic church says you have to pay for masses to be said for the person to get them out of purgatory. For one the Church doesn’t say you have to have a mass said for the person.
When a Catholic requests a memorial Mass for the dead—that is, a Mass said for the benefit of someone in purgatory—it is customary to give the parish priest a stipend, on the principles that the laborer is worth his hire (Lk 10:7) and that those who preside at the altar share the altar’s offerings (1 Cor 9:13–14). This money goes to the parish priest, and priests are only allowed to receive one such stipend per day. No one gets rich on five dollars a day, and certainly not the Church, which does not receive the money anyway.
Some early church teaching on Purgatory
Tertullian On Monogamy ch 10.1 [160-240 AD]
Indeed, she prays for his soul, and requests refreshment for him meanwhile, and fellowship (with him) in the first resurrection; and she offers (her sacrifice) on the anniversaries of his falling asleep" (Monogamy 10:1–2 [A.D. 216]).
Cyprian of Carthage Epistle 51 par 20 [200-270 AD]
"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"
Cyprian of Carthage Treatises attributed to Cyprian On the Glory of Martyrdom 13 (200-270 ad)
You read that it is written, that we must pay even the uttermost farthing. But the martyrs alone are relieved of this obligation; because they who trust to their desires for eternal salvation, and have overcome their longings for this life, have been made by the Lord's precepts free from the universal suffering. Therefore from this especially, beloved brethren, we shall be able to set forth what great things the virtue of martyrdom is able to fulfil.
Cyril of Jerusalem Catechetical Lecture 23 par 9 [315-386 AD]
"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"
Gregory of Nyssa On the Soul and Resurrection (325-386 ad)
Just as those who refine gold from the dross which it contains not only get this base alloy to melt in the fire, but are obliged to melt the pure gold along with the alloy, and then while this last is being consumed the gold remains, so, while evil is being consumed in the purgatorial (3) fire, the soul that is welded to this evil must inevitably be in the fire too, until the spurious material alloy is consumed and annihilated by this fire.
Gregory of Nyssa On the Soul and Resurrection (325-386 ad)
If, then whether by forethought here, or by purgation hereafter, our soul becomes free from any emotional connection with the brute creation, there will be nothing to impede its contemplation of the Beautiful
Let us not then be weary in giving aid to the departed, both by offering on their behalf and obtaining prayers for them: for the common Expiation of the world is even before us. Therefore with boldness do we then intreat for the whole world, and name their names with those of martyrs, of confessors, of priests. For in truth one body are we all, though some members are more glorious than others; and it is possible from every source to gather pardon for them, from our prayers, from our gifts in their behalf, from those whose names are named with theirs. Why therefore dost thou grieve? Why mourn, when it is in thy power to gather so much pardon for the departed?
John Chrysostom Homily 3 on Philippians ver 24 [347-407 AD]
"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 extent 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]).
Augustine of Hippo The City of God Book XXI ch 13 [354-430 AD]
"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]).
Augustine of Hippo The Care to be Had for the Dead 1:3 [354-430 AD]
"We read in the books of the Maccabees [2 Macc. 12:43] that sacrifice was offered for the dead. But even if it were found nowhere in the Old Testament writings, the authority of the Catholic Church which is clear on this point is of no small weight, where in the prayers of the priest poured forth to the Lord God at his altar the commendation of the dead has its place" ( [A.D. 421]).
Augustine of Hippo Enchiridion ch 69 [354-430 AD]
And it is not impossible that something of the same kind may take place even after this life. It is a matter that may be inquired into, and either ascertained or left doubtful, whether some believers shall pass through a kind of purgatorial fire, and in proportion as they have loved with more or less devotion the goods that perish, be less or more quickly delivered from it.
Augustine of Hippo Enchiridion ch 110 [354-430 AD]
"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"
Augustine of Hippo Enchiridion ch 67 [354-430 AD]
It is believed, moreover, by some, that men who do not abandon the name of Christ, and who have been baptized in the Church by His baptism, and who have never been cut off from the Church by any schism or heresy, though they should live in the grossest sin and never either wash it away in penitence nor redeem it by almsgiving, but persevere in it persistently to the last day of their lives, shall be saved by fire; that is, that although they shall suffer a punishment by fire, lasting for a time proportionate to the magnitude of their crimes and misdeeds, they shall not be punished with everlasting fire. But those who believe this, and yet are Catholics, seem to me to be led astray by a kind of benevolent feeling natural to humanity
Augustine of Hippo Enchiridion ch 68 [354-430 AD]
But as these most plain and unmistakeable declarations of the apostles cannot be false, that obscure saying about those who build upon the foundation, Christ, not gold, silver, and precious stones, but wood, hay, and stubble (for it is these who, it is said, shall be saved, yet so as by fire, the merit of the foundation saving them, must be so interpreted as not to conflict with the plain statements quoted above. Now wood, hay, and stubble may, without incongruity, be understood to signify such an attachment to worldly things, however lawful these may be in themselves, that they cannot be lost without grief of mind. And though this grief burns, yet if Christ hold the place of foundation in the heart,--that is, if nothing be preferred to Him, and if the man, though burning with grief, is yet more willing to lose the things he loves so much than to lose Christ,--he is saved by fire. If, however, in time of temptation, he prefer to hold by temporal and earthly things rather than by Christ, he has not Christ as his foundation; for he puts earthly things in the first place, and in a building nothing comes before the foundation. Again, the fire of which the apostle speaks in this place must be such a fire as both men are made to pass through, that is, both the man who builds upon the foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, and the man who builds wood, hay, stubble. For he immediately adds: "The fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire." The fire then shall prove, not the work of one of them only, but of both. Now the trial of adversity is a kind of fire which is plainly spoken of in another place: "The furnace proverb the potter's vessels: and the furnace of adversity just men." And this fire does in the course of this life act exactly in the way the apostle says. If it come into contact with two believers, one the Lord," that is, building upon Christ the foundation, gold, silver, precious stones; the other "caring for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife," that is, building upon the same foundation wood, hay, stubble,--the work of the former is not burned, because he has not given his love to things whose loss can cause him grief; but the work of the latter is burned, because things that are enjoyed with desire cannot be lost without pain. But since, by our supposition, even the latter prefers to lose these things rather than to lose Christ, and since he does not desert Christ out of fear of losing them, though he is grieved when he does lose them he is saved, but it is so as by fire; because the grief for what he loved and has lost burns him. But it does not subvert nor consume him; for he is protected by his immoveable and incorruptible foundation. CHAP. 69.--IT IS NOT IMPOSSIBLE THAT SOME BELIEVERS MAY PASS THROUGH A PURGATORIAL FIRE IN THE FUTURE LIFE. And it is not impossible that something of the same kind may take place even after this life. It is a matter that may be inquired into, and either ascertained or left doubtful, whether some believers shall pass through a kind of purgatorial fire, and in proportion as they have loved with more or less devotion the goods that perish, be less or more quickly delivered from it. This cannot, however, be the case of any of those of whom it is said, that they repentance their sins be forgiven them. When I say "suitable," I mean that they are not to be unfruitful in almsgiving; for Holy Scripture lays so much stress on this virtue, that our Lord tells us beforehand, that He will ascribe no merit to those on His right hand but that they abound in it, and no defect to those on His left hand but their want of it, when He shall say to the former, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom," and to the latter, CHAP. 70.--ALMSGIVING WILL NOT ATONE FOR SIN UNLESS THE LIFE BE CHANGED. We must beware, however, lest any one should suppose that gross sins, such as are committed by those who shall not inherit the kingdom of God, may be daily perpetrated,and daily stoned for by almsgiving, The life must be changed for the better; and almsgiving must be used to propitiate God for past sins, not to purchase impunity for the commission of such sins in the future. For He has given no man license to sin, although in His mercy He may blot out sins that are already committed, if we do not neglect to make proper satisfaction. [+] CHAP. 71.--THE DAILY PRAYER OF THE BELIEVER MAKES SATISFACTION FOR THE TRIVIAL SINS THAT DAILY STAIN HIS LIFE. Now the daily prayer of the believer makes satisfaction for those daily sins of a momentary and trivial kind which are necessary incidents of this life. For he can say, "Our Father which art in heaven," seeing that to such a Father he is now born again of water and of the Spirit. And this prayer certainly takes away the very small sins of daily life. It takes away also those which at one time made the life of the believer very wicked, but which, now that he is changed for the better by repentance, he has given up, provided that as truly as he says, "Forgive us our debts" (for there is no want of debts to be forgiven), so truly does he say, "as we forgive our debtors;" that is, provided he does what he says he does: for to forgive a man who asks for pardon, is really to give alms. CHAP. 72.--THERE ARE MANY KINDS OF ALMS, THE GIVING OF WHICH ASSISTS TO PROCURE PARDON FOR OUR SINS. And on this principle of interpretation, our Lord's saying, "Give alms of such things as ye have, and, behold, all things are clean unto you,", applies to every useful act that a man does in mercy. Not only, then, the man who gives food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothing to the naked, hospitality to the stranger, shelter to the fugitive, who visits the sick and the imprisoned, ransoms the captive, assists the weak, leads the blind, comforts the sorrowful, heals the sick, puts the wanderer on the right path, gives advice to the perplexed, and supplies the wants of the needy,--not this man only, but the man who pardons the sinner also gives alms; and the man who corrects with blows, or restrains by any kind of discipline one over whom he has power, and who at the same time forgives from the heart the sin by which he was injured, or prays that it may be forgiven, is also a giver of alms, not only in that he forgives, or prays for forgiveness for the sin, but also in that he rebukes and corrects the sinner: for in this, too, he shows mercy. Now much good is bestowed upon unwilling recipients, when their advantage and not their pleasure is consulted; and they themselves frequently prove to be their own enemies, while their true friends are those whom they take for their enemies, and to whom in their blindness they return evil for good. (A Christian, indeed, is not permitted to return evil even for evil. And thus there are many kinds of alms, by giving of which we assist to procure the pardon of our sins.
Augustine of Hippo Confessions Book 9 Ch 8.36 [354-430 AD]
For she, when the day of her dissolution was near at hand, took no thought to have her body sumptuously covered, or embalmed with spices; nor did she covet a choice monument, or desire her paternal burial-place. These things she entrusted not to us, but only desired to have her name remembered at Thy altar, which she had served without the omission of a single day; whence she knew that the holy sacrifice was dispensed, by which the handwriting that was against us is blotted out
Augustine of Hippo City of God Book 21 ch 13 [354-430 AD]
But temporary punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by others after death, by others both now and then; but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But of those who suffer temporary punishments after death, all are not doomed to those everlasting pains which are to follow that judgment; for to some, as we have already said, what is not remitted in this world is remitted in the next, that is, they are not punished with the eternal punishment.of the world to come. Quite exceptional are those who are not punished in this life, but only afterwards
Augustine of Hippo on Care to be had for the Dead par 7 (354-430 ad)
And in that she recurs in her thoughts to this same sepulchre, and in her prayers more and more commends her son, the spirit of the departed is aided, not by the place of its dead body, but by that which springs from memory of the place, the living affection of the mother.