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By Mitch Finley
Is purgatory mentioned in the Bible?
The word “Purgatory” does not appear in the Bible. It’s simply a shorthand term that refers to a concept that is, indeed, scriptural. The Catechism of the Catholic Church sums it up thus:
All who die in God’s grace, 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 (1030).
Revelation 21:27 says, “But nothing unclean will enter [heaven].” There are various other Old and New Testament references to this concept, and you may want to read about them here. The heart of the matter, however, is that the reality that “Purgatory” refers to makes logical sense.
It makes sense that most people, when they die, remain spiritually imperfect, and it also makes sense that no one can enter the state or condition called “Heaven” without being first purified of his or her remaining imperfections. This is what “Purgatory” is for. It’s a state of being, if you will, or a process, that purifies the still imperfect person so he or she may then move on to the state or condition we call “Heaven.”
Finally, this is as good a place as anywhere to remind the reader that words like “Purgatory,” “Heaven” and, indeed, “God” and “Faith” are all words that attempt to describe realities that far transcend the human intellect. They are attempts to talk about things we’ll never completely understand in this life. Religion, in general, is loaded with metaphors and analogies, and we can’t get along without them. But we need to remind ourselves that as necessary and helpful as they are, religious metaphors and analogies—such as “Purgatory”—should never be taken literally or as ends in themselves. They are an attempt to talk about what, ultimately, cannot be talked about. This is an insight that a mature adult faith must take into account at all times.
Mitch Finley is the author of 30+ books on Roman Catholic theological topics and spirituality, all written to appeal to both non-academic and academic readers. Mitch holds a B.A. in Religious Studies from Santa Clara University and an M.A. in Theology from Marquette University. He and Kathy Finley have been married since 1974 and are the parents of three grown sons. To learn more, visit his website.