Wednesday, February 27, 2013

CS Lewis Believed in Purgatory - Rightly So

This post is in response to a recent blog posting I found while searching the Internet for some CS Lewis quotes.  The full blog post can be seen here:

Listening to the Giants- CS Lewis a man who believed in Purgatory

There are many quotes of CS Lewis' that affirm a belief in Purgatory, many of which are listed in the blog post. Of course this falls into reason, as CS Lewis was an Anglican, and returned to the Anglican Church through the Evangelization efforts of his Oxford friend J.R.R. Tolkien and reading G.K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man. Both Tolkien and Chesterton were Catholic.

Lewis' most notorious quote regarding Purgatory probably comes from The Great Divorce in which he states;

“Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, “It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into joy”? Should we not reply, “With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleansed first.” “It may hurt, you know”—even so, sir.”

The first mischaracterization I find in this post is as follows:

"Some would say C.S. Lewis believed in the (recently popularized) sanctification (i.e. cleansing) model of Purgatory, rather than the classic model of satisfaction (i.e. punishment for your sins).
But if you are like me you are wondering, "What is the sanctification model of Purgatory?" 
Basically, it is the idea that Purgatory is necessary to make the Christian fully or completely sanctified before you enter Heaven."

What are these "models"?  Throughout the post it is referred to as the sanctification model is the Protestant model, and the satisfaction model is the "traditional model", although he never says Catholic, I am quite certain that is what he means.  However to say that the Catholic Church teaches currently the satisfaction model is completely false. Yes, Catholics teach that God's justice must be satisfied, but as this relates to Purgatory it is not about our eternal consequence of sin, but the temporal consequence.  The author of the blog seems to talk about Purgatory satisfying the eternal consequences of our sin which is a misunderstanding of the teaching.  Some aspects of the "satisfaction model", as described, if there is such a thing, is simply Medieval speculation on a divine reality.  We do this all the time, including in trying to understand things like the Trinity.  There are some things we do not know and cannot know, these types of doctrines, like the doctrine of purgatory, develop over time as our understanding of Christian Truth develops.

So what does the Catholic Church teach about Purgatory? 

Well the Catechism of the Catholic Church section 1030 and 1031 state:

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.606 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:607

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.608

We of course can also look at other Catholic sources to further understand this such as Pope Benedict XVI's:

"The transforming 'moment' of this encounter cannot be quantified by the measurements of earthly time. It is, indeed, not eternal but a transition, and yet trying to qualify it as of 'short' or 'long' duration on the basis of temporal measurements derived from physics would be naive and unproductive. The 'temporal measure' of this encounter lies in the unsoundable depths of existence, in a passing-over where we are burned ere we are transformed. To measure such Existenzzeit, such an 'existential time,' in terms of the time of this world would be to ignore the specificity of the human spirit in its simultaneous relationship with, and differentation from, the world.
. . .
"[Purgatory] is the inwardly necessary process of transformation in which a person becomes capable of Christ, capable of God and thus capable of unity with the whole communion of saints.
. . .
"Encounter with the Lord is this transformation."...

--Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life, p. 230-231

We can also look to Pope John Paul II for a better understanding of these truths:

Every trace of attachment to evil must be eliminated, every imperfection of the soul corrected. Purification must be complete, and indeed this is precisely what is meant by the Church's teaching on purgatory. The term does not indicate a place, but a condition of existence. Those who, after death, exist in a state of purification, are already in the love of Christ who removes from them the remnants of imperfection (cf. Ecumenical Council of Florence, Decretum pro Graecis:  DS 1304; Ecumenical Council of Trent, Decretum de iustificatione:  DS 1580; Decretum de purgatorio:  DS 1820).
It is necessary to explain that the state of purification is not a prolungation of the earthly condition, almost as if after death one were given another possibility to change one's destiny. The Church's teaching in this regard is unequivocal and was reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council which teaches:  "Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed (cf. Heb 9: 27), we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where "men will weep and gnash their teeth' (Mt 22: 13 and 25: 30)" (Lumen gentium, n. 48).

It seems clear from these Catholic Teachings as well as many others that the Catholic Church currently and has taught (At least since the 1300's) the "sanctification model".  Where the idea of the "satisfaction model", as described by the author,  comes from I am not sure, but it may just be a reference to the misunderstandings prevalent in the culture regarding the idea of Purgatory. 

The author then lays out four arguments to support his conclusion that CS Lewis was "dead wrong" in believing in Purgatory, they are as follows:

#1—There is not one explicit (or implicit) verse advocating the concept of purgatory.
#2—It cannot be reconciled with justification by faith alone.
#3—Scripture seems to teach immediate placement of individuals in Heaven (and maybe in Hell).
#4—The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard

I will address each of these four points in great detail, it should be noted though that the original blog post offers no facts, details, or other reason than the authors opinion, as to support these four points.  It is interesting that, his blog is entitled: Listening to the Giants : this blog exists to encourage readers to revisit and learn from the men of old".  I can't help but wonder who these "men of old" are? Perhaps he means the men of two hundred years ago in the American Enlightenment and more recent folks such as Lewis, because a simple look to the "Men of Old" in the first few centuries of Christianity should change his mind about the doctrine of Purgatory. For example, St Abercius (c AD 190), Tertulian (c AD 210), Cyprian of Carthage (c AD 252), Lactantius (c AD 307), Cyril of Jerusalem (c AD 350), and many more have affirmed in their writings the necessity and common practice of praying for the souls in their purification before God. One such example of Cyprian of Carthage is, "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 to be in suspense until the sentence of God at the day of Judgement; another to be at once crowned by the Lord."

Now to address point one There is not one explicit (or implicit) verse advocating the concept of purgatory.  I will grant him that there is no explicit verse, just as there is no explicit verse to detail the Trinity.  There is however many implicit verses of which this doctrine originates. Let's examine some of these verses. 

First, 1 Corinthians Chapter 3 which reads as follows:

 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

I have yet to see a convincing Protestant explanation of these verses. How under the idea of Sola Fide can one be saved but only as escaping through the flames while suffering loss?  The only explanation for what St. Paul writes here is an understanding of Purgatory. You see if what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward, if it is burned up, he will still be saved but will be purified prior to receiving his reward in heaven.  Of course this does not mean a literal fire, God's love is often referred to as a fire, this is a metaphor for the sanctification process.  Many protestants know the praise song, Refiner's Fire, and this is that same sort of fire. 

Another verse is Matthew 12:32

 And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

Jesus explicitly states in this verse that anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven in this age OR IN THE AGE TO COME.  If there was no purification of sins after death, no further reconciliation with God after we die, then there would be no need to say that the sins would not be forgiven now or then.  Jesus would have simply said that person's sins would not be forgiven, period. This opinion was held by many of the "men of old" including; St. Augustine, St. Gregory the Great, Bede, and St. Bernard, among others.

The parable of Luke 16 is another good example describing a waiting place for righteous men to be made perfect in Christ, known as Abraham's bosom.

"...the poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he called out, "Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame." 

The righteous men of old were waiting here for Christ to open heaven by his atoning work on the cross.  Once that happened as is stated in 1 Peter 3:19-20 "he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water." This verse certainly alludes to the fact that there is a possibility of more than just God's presence or hell.  It supports the possibility and likeliness of a third place, where one, even the righteous men of old in this case, can wait to be made perfect for God's presence.

We can see further reference to this idea of purgatory in 1 Corinthians 15:29 "Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?" What on earth could this verse mean, other than it is beneficial to pray for the dead and their purification?

One final verse that I like to point out is often used to support the doctrine of the Communion of Saints, but I think there is some application here as well. Hebrews 12:22-24 states:

 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

How were these spirits of the righteous made perfect? Through God's purifying love, through the refiner's fire, through the state of being that is purgatory. 

#2—It cannot be reconciled with justification by faith alone.

This is an interesting proposition and a natural one for a protestant to ask.  First of all, even if faith alone is true, Purgatory does not contradict that notion. The idea that God purifies us before entering his presence has nothing to do with our justification by Christ's sacrifice on the cross.  Without Christ there would be no salvation, and so this is essentially a moot point.  But lets dive deeper into what is being asked.  

The blogger writes:

"This (Faith Alone) was the main objection by the Reformers. The concept of Purgatory (i.e. the satisfaction model) requires justification by works. In other words, it is your works that releases you from Purgatory. It is your works that satisfies the wrath of God. It is your works that reconcile you to God. And finally, it is your works that grant you entrance into Heaven."

The Church clearly teaches the sanctification model of Purgatory. Satisfaction, is perhaps a side point, but is satisfaction for our temporal consequences not our eternal consequences of sin. The author of the blog seems to conflate these ideas.  All our actions have consequence, and we must account for those.  Even the saved must do so.  This is entirely different than salvation through Christ though which is the only way the eternal consequence of our sin is remedied.  No where does the doctrine of Purgatory require salvation by works.  The souls in Purgatory are unable to do anything to merit their entrance into God's presence.  It is entirely by God's grace, aided by the church in prayer, that they are purged of their sinful nature, and made truly righteous, not just declared righteous.  God cannot look upon sin, and so to enter his presence all traces of sin must be "purged".  This is purgatory, works are no where a part of it, other than to say while we are alive, we can be "working our salvation out in fear and trembling" as St. Paul said, and try to rid ourselves of all immorality in preparation for entering God's presence after death. 

#3—Scripture seems to teach immediate placement of individuals in Heaven (and maybe in Hell).

This is an interesting point that is brought up, but is completely missing the mark.  The author seems to think that Purgatory is a place, perhaps a third place between heaven and hell.  While of course any thing in this area is speculation, I believe the majority of teaching on Purgatory refers to it as a state of being rather than a place.  It is a state of having our sins washed from our souls by God's Grace.  The pope himself has acknowledged that this could be instantaneous at death through a single encounter with Christ's love.  How it all works is for us to figure out when we die, but for now we need to just understand that if God cannot look upon sin, then we must be made, through his love and grace, righteous, truly righteous, not just declared so while we maintain our sinful hearts. The author states the following regarding this, and dismissing the idea that Purgatory is part of heaven (which by the way the Catholic Church teaches, if anyone is in a state of purgatory they have assurance of heaven).

So it seems reasonable to me that if you add the conversion of the thief with the finality of Hebrews 9:27, the reader must conclude that when you walk through death’s doors, there is no opportunity for purging, learning or changing your mind. All sales are final.

All sales are final at death. Of course they are, there are no second chances. One's fate will be sealed upon death, purgatory is not about second chances it is about being made ready for God's presence. The author has a clear misunderstanding of Purgatory, as any soul in purgatory merits nothing of himself by learning or changing his mind or purging himself, it is all done through Christ and by Christ. 

Lets revisit the words of the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, Lumen gentium:

It is necessary to explain that the state of purification is not a prolungation of the earthly condition, almost as if after death one were given another possibility to change one's destiny. The Church's teaching in this regard is unequivocal and was reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council which teaches:  "Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed (cf. Heb 9: 27), we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where "men will weep and gnash their teeth' (Mt 22: 13 and 25: 30)" (Lumen gentium, n. 48).

I find it so interesting that this author uses Hebrews 9:27 to argue against what he falsely believes Purgatory to be, when the Catholic Church itself uses that same verse to affirm that Purgatory is a state of Christ's purification not a second chance do over as the author of the blog indicates.

Hopefully I have covered this point adequately, it does not need too much addressing as it is a straw man argument against the doctrine of Purgatory.

#4—The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard

Finally the author uses this parable, very weakly, to seem to say that the misunderstood sanctification model of purgatory is not true.  This is a stretch at best, and I will not rewrite the entire parable here, but it can be found in Matt 20. The author argues that since the thief on the cross and the workers in the parable who only worked one hour are told that they will be in paradise, then purgatory is negated. As we discussed in the above point, purgatory is not about works salvation.  It does not matter if the thief on the cross was amoral up until his final conversion at death.  If his heart turned to Christ, he was baptized by desire or by martyrdom and is saved through Christ.  Christ tells us he is saved.  What we need to realize is that he went to paradise that day, he did not go to hell.  Any moment outside of hell, whether you are in the washroom of heaven (Purgatory) before entering, or in the beatific vision, any moment outside of hell is paradise.

I think I will end it on that note, I know this was a very lengthy argument, but I do hope that you found it informational, interesting, and hopefully anyone who reads this has a better understanding of what the doctrine of Purgatory actually is.

In Christ,


For more on Purgatory and the "temporal punishment" for sin, please see part 2 to this blog post.  

Purgatory Part 2- What about Temporal Punishment


  1. Well done. Interesting how the vulgar understanding of purgatory is what most protestants believe it to be. I have had my eyes opened on this one. Thank you!

  2. The ultimate duty of the Catholic Church is to lead people to Heaven.
    How to go to Heaven without Purgatory?:

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