Purgatory – an old concept in need of an update?

Embed from Getty Images

Divine Comedy by Dante – illustration to Purgatory by A. Baruffi. 14th canto: ‘ ‘Io sono Aglauro che divenni sasso!’/ Ed allor, per istrignermi al poeta,/ Indietro feci e non innanzi il passo.’

In Catholicism, purgatory is an afterlife place or state in which souls undergo temporary punishments due to their venial and (forgiven) mortal sins. These punishments may be quite unpleasant but, according to the tradition, are not as frightful as the eternal torment of hell.

This shows The Virgin and The Child being pres...
This shows The Virgin and The Child being present while souls awaiting purification are brought out of Purgatory and into Heaven. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While enduring purgatory, the soul apparently goes through a process of purification in preparation for heaven and a Beatific Vision.

Catholics often uphold 2 Mac. 12:46 as scriptural support for Purgatory.

It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.¹

Scholars suggest that the idea of purgatory has deep roots in world religions and mythologies.

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… [And] In Judaism, Gehenna is a place of purification where, according to some traditions, most sinners spend up to a year before release.²

El Purgatorio (1890). Óleo sobre tela 339 x 25...
El Purgatorio (1890). Óleo sobre tela 339 x 256 cm. GAN.Cararas – Venezuela. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To me, some of the standard beliefs about purgatory seem pretty rigid,  probably based more on what people suppose things should be instead of any kind of genuine interior perception.

It seems far more probable that departed souls would experience an alternation and intermingling³ of heaven and less-than-heaven, according to the condition of their souls and other exigencies.

Just as we undergo good and not-so-good days on Earth, it is likely similar in the afterlife, with these experiences occurring within a meaningful, multidimensional dynamic. Conservative Catholics probably wouldn’t approve of this model. It’s too free-flowing and doesn’t fit into preexisting categories stemming from ancient and medieval worldviews. But I think it’s probably more accurate.

¹ https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Maccabees+12%3A43-46&version=DRA

² https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purgatory

³ Intermingling when trying to help earthbound souls through intercession.

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  1. I do agree that the old-fashioned concept of Purgatory is probably misleading and downright scary. I believe we continue to grow and learn after our souls leave the earth. My concept of purgatory is a time when we reflect on our lives and the things we did right and what we could have done better. We learn from our mistakes and perhaps get to do things for people on earth to make up for our shortcomings while we lived here. I for one do not want to remain stagnant after I leave earth. I want to continue to be perfected as a soul and help those on earth if I possibly can!

    Liked by 1 person

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