Before reading about the Catholic doctrine of purgatory, it is essential that one understand what the Bible teaches about death. Please take the time to read -

What Happens When You Die? and
The Biblical Truth about Hell.

So, just what is purgatory? Here is what the Vatican's new Catechism has to say about it-

III. The Final Purification, or Purgatory

1030 All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. (604) The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire: (605)

As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come. (606)

1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: "Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin."(607) From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.(608) The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:

Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them. (609)

604 Cf.-

  • Council of Florence (1439): DS 1304;
  • Council of Trent-
    • (1563): DS 1820;
    • (1547): DS 1580;
  • see also Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus (1336): DS 1000.

605 Cf.-

  • 1 Cor 3:15;
  • 1 Pet 1:7.

606 St. Gregory the Great, Dial. 4,39: PL 77, 396; cf. Mt 12:31.
607 2 Macc 12:46
608 Cf. Council of Lyons II (1274): DS 856.
609 St. John Chrysostom, Hom. in 1 Cor. 41, 5: PG 61, 361; cf. Job 1:5.

Source: Catechism of the Catholic Church, published by Ligouri Publications, English translation copyright 1994 by the United States Catholic Conference, Inc.--Libreria Editrice Vaticana, bearing the Imprimi Potest of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, pages 268, 269.

Here is The Vatican's New Catechism on Purgatory online.
Here is The Vatican's New Catechism initial Web Page online.

So now let's examine each of the above references in some detail, beginning with the scriptural-

(#605) 1 Corinthians 3:15

1 Cor 3:6 I [Paul] have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase
1 Cor 3:7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.
1 Cor 3:8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.
1 Cor 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building.
1 Cor 3:10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.
1 Cor 3:11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
1 Cor 3:12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
1 Cor 3:13 Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.
1 Cor 3:14 If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
1 Cor 3:15 If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

This passage refers to building the church of God upon the foundation of Paul's preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The day will come (v. 13) when this work will come into judgment, and be appropriately rewarded (vs. 8, 14).  Scripture tells us exactly when these rewards are given out:

Rev 22:12 And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.

Paul also clarifies this:

1 Cor 4:5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.

At the second coming of Jesus, the day of the Lord, that is the day He rewards all those who have participated in building His church, and are saved. Rev 22:12 clearly states every man (the faithful servants in the parable of the talents, Matt 25:21, 23, and the parable of the pounds, Luke 19:12-27) is rewarded only when Christ returns. The parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt 20) also teaches that compensation is given to everyone as a group, at the end. Paul in 1 Cor 3:12-15 also alludes to the second coming of Christ as described in Malachi:

Mal 3:2 But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap:
Mal 3:3 And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.

Mal 4:1 For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. (see also v. 5)

Only the quality profitable work of the faithful servant, represented by gold, silver, and precious stones (1 Cor 3:12), will merit reward:

Rom 2:6 Who will render to every man according to his deeds: 
Rom 2:7 To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:

Unprofitable work that did not advance, or hindered the Gospel, is represented by wood, hay, and stubble, and will be worthless, unrewarded. The corresponding punishment of all the wicked occurs on another day, at the great white throne judgment after the millennium:

Rev 20:12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
Rev 20:13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

So, it should be clear from the testimony of Malachi 3:2-3, Matthew 20 & 25, Luke 19:12-27, and Revelation 22:12 that 1 Corinthians 3:6-15 refers to rewarding all the righteous on the day of the Lord, at the second coming, not a condition or place of purification or burning purgatory immediately after one dies ("particular judgment") as taught by the Catholic Church.

(#605) 1 Peter 1:7

1 Pet 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
1 Pet 1:4 To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,
1 Pet 1:5 Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
1 Pet 1:6 Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:
1 Pet 1:7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:

In context, verse 7 speaks of one's faith being tried or tested by the temptations and trials of this life, as is clear from verse 6. This does not even hint at a refining or purifying after death as defined by the doctrine of purgatory.

(#606) Matthew 12:31

Mat 12:31 Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.
Mat 12:32 And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.

The unpardonable sin is shutting out the Holy Spirit from your life, and thereby rejecting the Gospel message of salvation through Jesus Christ. Those who shut out God will not find forgiveness, not during their life, and not on judgment day. God can do nothing for those who have rejected Him in this life. Matthew is simply saying there is no second chance at forgiveness after death, that those who die without faith in Christ cannot be saved. This passage, again, says nothing about a purging of sins by literal fire after death, and therefore does not support the doctrine of purgatory in the slightest degree.

(#609) Job 1:5 - from the New American Bible for Catholics

Job 1:5 And when each feast had run its course, Job would send for them and sanctify them, rising early and offering holocausts for every one of them. For Job said, "It may be that my sons have sinned and blasphemed God in their hearts." This Job did habitually.

Job was acting as the patriarchal head, or priest of the household, and summoning his sons to be sanctified before God through sacrifices and offerings. This he was doing for his living sons. It does not speak to similar ceremonies for the dead and any attempts to do so from this verse are pure invention and speculation.

That exhausts the scriptural references to the 66 books recognized by the Protestant world as inspired of God. The complete lack of any evidence to support purgatory in these verses should be apparent to even a casual reader. Now on to the deuterocanonical or apocryphal reference-

(#607) 2 Maccabees 12:46

Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.

Contrary to the claim of the Roman Catholic Church, 2 Maccabees is not inspired sacred scripture. It is interesting to note that all the apocryphal or deuterocanonical books that Trent declared to be canon in the 16th century were OLD TESTAMENT era writings. The mere fact that it took the church over 1500 years to declare the canon in an ecumenical council, and that this occurred during the time of the Reformation, should raise some not so subtle hints as to motivation. The Council of Trent included 2 Maccabees as canon because of the above verse. At a time when the Catholic Church was under attack by the Protestants as the apostate church, it sought support for the practice of indulgences, purgatory and prayer to Mary and saints, and found it in 2 Maccabees.

The act of canonizing the apocryphal books was intended as a declaration of the church's assumed authority over scripture, to which the Protestant looked as his only authority for doctrine. This was intended to make the church the defacto authority over what the Protestant believed. It was plainly an act of politics in reaction to the Reformation. Protestants responded by not recognizing the apocryphal books as inspired, though they were sometimes included in early Protestant Bibles as worthy of study. Since 2 Maccabees is not, and never has been inspired scripture, quoting it is quite useless for establishing any doctrine at all.

The situation is quite the same for the following references to Church Councils and Papal decrees on purgatory, which have no biblical authority behind them either-

(#604) Council of Florence (1439 A.D.): DS 1304

[De novissimis] It has likewise defined, that, if those truly penitent have departed in the love of God, before they have made satisfaction by worthy fruits of penance for sins of commission and omission, the souls of these are cleansed after death by purgatorial punishments; and so that they may be released from punishments of this kind, the suffrages of the living faithful are of advantage to them, namely, the sacrifices of Masses, prayers, and almsgiving, and other works of piety, which are customarily performed by the faithful for other faithful according to the institutions of the Church.

Source: The Companion to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Ignatius Press, copyright 1994, page 406.

The essence of purgatory should be fairly clear at this point. In a nutshell it is this - people that are to be saved and are heaven bound, but still have remaining sins for which they have not paid enough of a penalty, suffer a cleansing punishment by fire in purgatory before entering heaven. In a sense, purgatory is a mini-version of the Catholic view of Hell, a place of fiery torment and suffering - and this, by Catholic teaching, awaits the faithful believer in Jesus Christ! The length of time one might stay in purgatory, as taught by the Roman Catholic Church, can be shortened by the actions of concerned faithful people on earth, through various Church approved methods.

(#604) Council of Trent, 25th Session, (1563 A.D.): DS 1820


Since the Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Spirit, in conformity with the sacred writings and the ancient tradition of the Fathers in sacred councils, and very recently in this ecumenical Synod, has taught that there is a purgatory, and that the souls detained there are assisted by the suffrages of the faithful, and especially by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar, the holy Synod commands the bishops that they insist that the sound doctrine of purgatory, which has been transmitted by the holy Fathers and holy Councils, be believed by the faithful of Christ, be maintained, taught, and everywhere preached. Let the more difficult and subtle "questions," however, and those which do not make for "edification" [cf. 1 Tim 1:4], and from which there is very often no increase in piety, be excluded from popular discourses to uneducated people. Likewise, let them not permit uncertain matters, or those that have the appearance of falsehood, to be brought out and discussed publicly. Those matters on the contrary, which tend to a certain curiosity or superstition, or that savor of filthy lucre, let them prohibit as scandals and stumbling blocks to the faithful.

Source: The Companion to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Ignatius Press, Copyright 1994, page 406.

Continuing with the decree on Purgatory-

The Bishops shall see to it that the suffrages of the living, that is, the sacrifice of the mass, prayers, alms, and other works of piety which they have been accustomed to perform for the faithful departed, be piously and devoutly discharged in accordance with the laws of the Church, and that whatever is due on their behalf from testamentary bequests or other ways, be discharged by the priests and ministers of the Church and others who are bound to render this service not in a perfunctory manner, but diligently and accurately.

Source: The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, English translation by Rev. H. J. Schroeder, O.P., published by Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., Copyright 1978, page 214.

Here is the Decree Concerning Purgatory online

The above decree declares purgatory will be believed by the Catholic, and it will be taught and preached as truth, but in-depth discussions as to the fine points and seeking proof from scripture is to be discouraged among the ignorant and unwashed laity. That the Church declares it, is to be considered sufficient proof in itself. The Church will also be diligent in carrying out those acts of piety (like claiming a portion, if not all, of the dear departed's estate for the Church) which will aid those in purgatory, and shorten their time of suffering there.

(#604) Council of Trent (1547 A.D.):
DS 1580, 6th session, Canon 30.

If anyone shall say that after the reception of the grace of justification, to every penitent sinner the guilt is so remitted and the penalty of eternal punishment so blotted out that no penalty of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in the world to come in purgatory before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened: let him be anathema.

Source: The Companion to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Ignatius Press, copyright 1994, page 406.

Here are the Canons on Justification online. You will need to scroll down to Canon XXX.

This one is quite simply amazing. They are quite determined to see that virtually every one of the faithful fry in the fires and torment of purgatory while on their way to heaven, aren't they! The reason for this will be made clear shortly. If anyone dares to even suggest that forgiveness and justification from Jesus Christ is sufficient to completely and forever blot out one's sins, such that the former sinner shall not require further punishment in purgatory prior to entering heaven, then let the heretic be condemned for even thinking or suggesting such a thing. What does scripture say about forgiveness?-

Mat 1:21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.

Mark 3:28 Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme:

Col 2:13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;

Acts 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Acts 10:43 To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.

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

Rev 1:5 And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,

Even from these few verses, it should be clear that the people of God have their sins totally forgiven. They will not have to suffer for them in some purgatory, since Jesus Christ bore our sins on the cross. He has paid the total price for our sins! To suggest we must suffer in purgatory for our sins implies that the price Jesus paid was incomplete, which directly contradicts scripture:

Heb 1:1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
Heb 1:2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
Heb 1:3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he [Jesus Christ] had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;

Heb 9:27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die [the wages of sin, Rom. 6:23], but after this the judgment:
Heb 9:28 So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.

(#604) Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus (1336 A.D.): DS 1000.

By this edict which will prevail forever, with apostolic authority we declare: that according to the common arrangement of God, souls of all the saints who departed from this world before the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ; also of the holy apostles, the martyrs, the confessors, virgins, and the other faithful who died after the holy baptism of Christ had been received by them, in whom nothing was to be purged, when they departed, nor will there be when they shall depart also in the future; or if then there was or there will be anything to be purged in these when after their death they have been purged; and the souls of children departing before the use of free will, reborn and baptized in that same baptism of Christ, when all have been baptized, immediately after their death and the aforesaid purgation in those who were in need of a purgation of this kind, even before the resumption of their bodies and the general judgment after the ascension of our Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, into heaven, have been, are, and will be in heaven, in the kingdom of heaven and in celestial paradise with Christ, united in the company of the holy angels, and after the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ have seen and see the divine essence by intuitive vision, and even face to face, with no mediating creature, serving in the capacity of an object seen, but divine essence immediately revealing itself plainly, clearly, and openly to them, and seeing thus they enjoy the same divine essence, and also that that from such vision and enjoyment their souls, which now have departed, are truly blessed and they have eternal life and rest; and also [the souls] of those who afterwards will depart, will see the same divine essence, and will enjoy it before the general judgment....

Source: The Companion to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Ignatius Press, copyright 1994, page 407.

This one is a real mouthful. From what I can unscramble, it is saying that everyone who qualifies either by living a holy life, or by being purged in purgatory after a not so holy life, will be in the presence of God before the general judgment. That is to say, in a nutshell, purgatory will end for everyone stuck there before the final resurrection and judgment.

Now, just how hot do you think the cleansing fires of this purgatory might be? Just how much do those on the way to heaven really suffer?

Thomas Aquinas held that the least pain in purgatory was greater than the worst in this life. Bonaventure said the worst suffering after death was greater than the worst on earth, but the same could not be said regarding the least purgatorial suffering.

Most Catholic theologians hold, with Bellarmine, that in some way the pains of purgatory are greater than those on earth.

Source: The Catholic Catechism, by John A. Harden, S.J., published by Doubleday, copyright 1981, bearing the Imprimatur, Nihil Obstat and Imprimi Potest of the Catholic Church, page 279.

As regards the intensity of the suffering, Bellarmine, a noted Roman Catholic theologian, says:

"The pains in purgatory are very severe, surpassing anything endured in this life."

The Manual of the Purgatorial Society, with the imprimatur of Cardinal Hayes, says:

"According to the Holy Fathers of the Church, the fire of purgatory does not differ from the fire of hell, except in point of duration.

'It is the same fire,' says St. Thomas Aquinas, 'that torments the reprobate in hell, and the just in purgatory. The least pain in purgatory,' he says, "surpasses the greatest suffering in this life. ' Nothing but the eternal duration makes the fire of hell more terrible than that of purgatory."

And in another book with the imprimatur of archbishop Spellman (now Cardinal), Bellarmine is quoted as saying:

"There is absolutely no doubt that the pains of purgatory in some cases endure for entire centuries" (John M. Haffert, Saturday in Purgatory).

Source: Roman Catholicism, by Loraine Boettner, published by The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Copyright 1952, Seventh printing May, 1969, page 220.

"Which of us does not tremble when he thinks of those who have been burnt to death in a slow fire? What fear would not be ours if we had to face a similar death? Yet their suffering was of relatively short duration. The incomparably fiercer fire of Purgatory, which we may have to face, may last 20, or 50 or 100 years! "

A quote from HOW TO AVOID PURGATORY by Fr. Paul O'Sullivan, Chapter 4 THE SECOND MEANS: PENANCE.

Now the Church … instituted, by God’s authority, Sunday as the day of worship. This same Church, by the same divine authority, taught the doctrine of Purgatory… We have, therefore, the same authority for Purgatory as we have for Sunday.

Source: Things Catholics Are Asked About, by Martin J. Scott, Copyright 1927 by P. J. Kenedy & Sons, New York, p. 136.

The origins of purgatory are pagan-

In Egypt, substantially the same doctrine of purgatory was inculcated. But when once this doctrine of purgatory was admitted into the popular mind, then the door was opened for all manner of priestly extortions. Prayers for the dead ever go hand in hand with purgatory; but no prayers can be completely efficacious without the interposition of the priests; and no priestly functions can be rendered unless there be special pay for them. Therefore, in every land we find the Pagan priesthood "devouring widow's houses," and making merchandise of the tender feelings of sorrowing relatives, sensitively alive to the immortal happiness of the beloved dead. From all quarters there is one universal testimony as to the burdensome character and the expense of these posthumous devotions.

Source: The Two Babylons, by Rev. Alexander Hislop, Published in America by Loizeaux Brothers, Second Edition, 1959, page 168.

The above reveals clearly the motivation behind purgatory. What loving person would not give up every earthly possession and every penny they own if they though they could end the torment and suffering of their recently deceased loved one, now thought to be in purgatory? Masses for the dead, indulgences, offerings to the church, etc., are claimed to reduce one's time in purgatory, and can be offered on behalf of the dead for their benefit. Money could easily be extorted from the living, fearing the fire of purgatory, and thinking that they could reduce their torment after death for a price. This is the monstrous fraud that sparked the Reformation when Martin Luther posted the 95 theses on the door of Wittenberg Castle Church. If the Church did have such power as to shorten the time in purgatory, why do they not do it for free? Why must money change hands to effect such relief? This was one of Martin Luther's questions. The answer is simple. Purgatory is the machine that drives the sinner into the Church, and parts them from their money.

Without the incentive of lessening your burning torment in purgatory, the Church fears it's pews and coffers would be virtually empty. With the laity virtually ignorant of the Bible, the Church could sell their services to every relative of the recently deceased, and extract money indefinitely, indeed for years. How was one to know when God had been satisfied, and the poor suffering sinner released from purgatory to graduate to heaven? What if a relative stopped just short of enough masses, indulgences, etc.? Would the sinner remain in purgatory for the rest of time, simply because there was no one to pay off the priests? Oh, but for that last mass, that last coin in the offering basket!

Purgatory is a complete fraud, perpetrated on the ignorant and the vulnerable. This is a prime example of how important it is to know and understand from scripture the true state of the dead. The dead remain in the grave, dead, gone, dust, awaiting their resurrection. They are not in heaven, Catholic hell, or Catholic purgatory. They are in the grave, and that is the biblical truth. If you have not read them yet, please read -

What Happens When You Die? and
The Biblical Truth about Hell.