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Are Catholics to believe that the cleansing fire of purgatory is real physical fire?

Full Question

Are Catholics to believe that the cleansing fire of purgatory is real physical fire?


There are only a few propositions that the Church has dogmatically defined concerning purgatory:

  • There is purification after death.
  • This purification involves some kind of pain.
  • Those being purified can be assisted by prayers, devotions, and Masses.

Other questions concerning purgatory (e.g., its duration, whether it is a place, whether it involves actively inflicted punishments, whether it involves material fire) are speculative.

According to Ludwig Ott:

The Latin Fathers, the schoolmen, and many theologians of modern times, in view of 1 Corinthians 3:15, assume a physical fire. However, the biblical foundation for this is inadequate. Out of consideration for the separated Greeks, who reject the notion of a purifying fire, the official declarations of the councils speak only of purifying punishments (poena purgatoriae), not of purifying fire. (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, TAN, 485)



  1. Tom Rafferty Reply

    Punishment after death, whether it be in “Purgatory” or “Hell” is the most psychologically harmful of Catholic/Christian dogma. In the modern age of science, I would be embarrassed to still believe such obvious superstition. Outside of the Bible and Church teachings, neither of which can be verified as presenting any truth of reality, please tell us why you believe this or anything else your church teaches.

    1. João Barreiro Reply

      It is not a question of punishment. What was written is that there will be pain. Do people not feel pain here on earth even when it is totally unrelated to punishment? Think of it this way: Imagine you really really want to truly feel at peace with yourself and with God, but you have done somethings in your life and you aren’t completely healed from them, whatever that may be (not being able to forgive yourself, or to forgive someone else, guilt for whatever it is that you did, etc..). So, in other words, you would want to go to Heaven, but you are “not there yet”. If your desire to be in Heaven was so overwhelming, would you not feel pain because you couldn’t be there straight away? And note, this is not because someone is punishing you. One could maybe illustrate this with the parabole of the prodigal son. When he realizes he’s far away from his father and living in misery, he decides it’s time to turn back. But that doesn’t instantly make him in his father’s house. He needs to make the journey back, and this would be purgatory

      1. Patrick Gannon Reply

        Joao, why does an all-powerful being need to inflict pain and suffering on a mere human being in order to “cleanse" him or her? Would you do that to a child? Why is everything so difficult for Yahweh? He just can’t seem to get what He wants, so He makes us suffer, even if we miss the cutoff for eternal (aionion – look it up) punishment. You’re playing word games in attempting not to call it punishment – of course its punishment. Yeah, we humans experience pain that isn’t related to punishment, like falling down the stairs, but this is all about sin, and sin is all about punishment.
        Why would an all-powerful being need to go through all this rigmarole? I would think a snap of the virtual fingers would be more than enough for a being that can create an entire universe, albeit requiring six days to do so, and then needing to rest! All-powerful, huh? Actually, we know He can do this if He wants to. Jesus had to be born of a virgin so he wouldn’t have original sin which is passed on by that nasty sex thing that the RCC is so obsessed with. At the time the orthodoxy was put in place, they thought that was good enough, because back then they didn’t realize that the woman contributed half the genetic material to the offspring. It was assumed that she just grew the husband’s seed; Yahweh’s seed in this case, therefore no original sin. But when they found later that Mary had original sin by way of her parents, SNAP, just like that, in 1854 Yahweh made Mary free of original sin. What I can’t figure out though, is that if Yahweh could remove original sin from Mary with a snap of the fingers, why He had to impregnate a young maiden (almah) without her consent, with Himself in order to be born as Himself so that He could sacrifice Himself to Himself in order to relieve us from a condition He placed on us in the first place, and which He easily removed from Mary. And why did He wait so long to do all this? Did He finally wake up from His rest?
        Why would there be an overwhelming desire to go to heaven? I can understand the desire to avoid Hell (Which one? There are four.), but the prayer says, “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven," and that means Yahweh’s will, not ours. Being stripped of our free will (if it isn’t an illusion to begin with!), and being turned into a zombie is about the only way a decent person could enjoy heaven. Can you imagine knowing of all the billions of people suffering in agonizing torment in Hell (including the aborted, miscarried and stillborn) and being unable to do anything about it? That would surely be hell for decent people; but without free will, in a blissful state of zombie stupefaction, we won’t even know. That just doesn’t attract me. I’d rather just be dead. The bible says very little about heaven, and when you stop and think about it, it’s not all that attractive; thus the Church relies more on the fear of Hell than the reward of Heaven.

  2. Cherubmike Reply

    On the few propositions that thoelogians have formulated and that the Church defines about purgatory, how are we certain, or what are the arguments, that the people who are suffering can be aided by prayers and Masses? I know that as Catholics, we believe in the communion of saints. But, how do we explain that with certainty or atleast with a (logical) basis?

  3. Patrick Gannon Reply

    Debating the type of punishment delivered, in a place that has no evidence for its very existence. Yeah, that makes it real. Sigh.

  4. Ed Lim Reply

    @Tom Rafferty & Patrick Gannon: There are many incidents that are reported experienced by devout Catholic Christians that they had been shown and some had made to experience the purgation in Purgatory. The incidents had been written and are available in the internet. I had met several “Visionary” who attested the existence of Purgatory. I had and still have been praying for the souls in Purgatory whom I had known when they were living. I had experienced a few of these souls coming to my dreams asking or thanking for my prayers for them. There are passages in the bible of the mention of cleansing in the after life. No one can enter heaven with even the slightest blemish of sin in their soul. The injury caused by sin(s) in the soul must be healed. God detest the sins of disobedience to God’s commandments. God’s commandments includes the disobedience of Adam and Eve which inflicted the original sin.

    1. Patrick Gannon Reply

      Ed, the fact that only believers experience these ‘visions’ indicates that they are products of the brain. Hindus never have visions about the virgin Mary. Christians never have visions about Shiva. Buddhists don’t have visions about Allah or Mohammed. We know that these ‘experiences’ are products of the brain, feeding off of what the brain knows. Until there is some kind of objective evidence to support your ‘experiences’ they are of no use in ‘proving’ anything. The ability of humans to have visions or delusions or hallucinations has long been known – and there must have been some evolutionary advantage to it, or it must have been a side effect of some other evolutionary development in the brain. Paul, for example did not know a physical Jesus or know anyone who knew a physical Jesus – all the Apostles knew at that time was a celestial Jesus who was the product of revelation – and they argued about whose visions were more real. Jesus had no physical existence until the author of Mark made him human 20 years after Paul, and 40 years after he supposedly died. Revelations, visions, delusions, hallucinations – these things were honored in the ancient world, but today we know that everyone can have them, with some people being more susceptible than others, with some people being downright schizoid. Jones, Applegate, Koresh, Manson – lots of people have revelations of Jesus and they are stone-cold nuts.
      Why would an all-powerful god have to punish mere people – for surely your god is as far removed from us as we are from ants? I have no need to punish ants, and if one bites me, I will destroy it or flick it off and leave it be; but your god insists on punishing sentient human beings, and doing so for all eternity (actually the original word was ‘aionion’ which means ‘of an age’ not eternal), if He deems the sin to have hurt him badly enough – though how an all-powerful being can be hurt, I haven’t figured out yet.
      Yes, there are passages in the bible that mention a cleansing fire; there are also passages that mention a six day creation, two humans made of dirt and ribs, a talking snake and donkey, a global flood that never happened, a mass Exodus and a conquest of Canaan that never happened… there are passages that insist you should kill everyone in a village nearby for the sin of not worshipping the god you do – there are passages condoning genocide, sexism, racism – it’s a horrific book – so who cares about a couple passages that talk of a cleansing fire? It’s all mythology.
      “God detest (sic) the sins of disobedience to God’s commandments." Like the commandment not to harm children? Why isn’t that one on the list? And the commandment not to masturbate? Where is that on the list? How about the commandment not to use contraception or abortion – even though Yahweh Himself has His own recipe for abortion in Numbers 5? There are 613 commandments – or laws – in the OT, yet Christians ignore almost all of them, and Catholics add others that aren’t on the list. This is all man-made stuff Ed. It’s not real. Which of the four Hells are you avoiding when you are “lucky" enough to make it to Purgatory where you can be worked over with a blow torch by a “loving" god? What kind of vicious monster would have to impose physical pain before forgiving you? Do you beat the crap out of your kids before you forgive them? If you did, would that make you a loving parent or an abusive parent? Why does an all-powerful being need to use pain? This is medieval, dark ages cruelty, Ed.
      As for original sin – we don’t have space to go into evolution and DNA here, but there was no 2-person bottleneck in human development that gave us a literal Adam and Eve. The DNA doesn’t support it. The fossil record confirms that death entered the world before humans. Nothing about the story of is based on facts about creation and our development. And what of that story? The kids were punished for disobedience when they ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In other words, until they knew what good and evil were, they could not know that disobedience was bad. How could they? They were then abandoned by their parent who supposedly knew what they were going to do before He created them. Yahweh does not come out of the creation myth looking good, and He goes downhill from there. In some early Gnostic gospels that didn’t make it into the canon for obvious reasons, Jesus is sent to rescue mankind from his Father who is not a good guy, and in fact is second to a larger God of Light. Even then, they realized that Yahweh was a complete putz.

      From an evolutionary standpoint, it seems we are being punished for evolving a couple things that put us above the other primates – superior intellect, human speech, and a more developed consciousness. That must be our original sin. We are being punished for evolving. There was no original sin, Ed. Paul thought the creation myth was true, as probably did most people at the time. He didn’t know there was no actual human Adam, but I’m not sure it matters. For Paul, Adam, as with Jesus, may have been a celestial demi-god and not a human. Again, there are early books and scriptures that didn’t make it into the canon, but we know Paul and others had access to them at the time. The RCC surely destroyed anything that didn’t support the orthodoxy that they laid down. Humans evolved from a pool of early primates, not two individuals. The RCC knows this, but like fundagelicals, they deny the science. We know how that has turned out in the past. The sun did stop rotating around the earth, and it took 200 years to apologize to Galileo, but sooner or later the facts will rise to the surface. Can Christianity survive without original sin? Can it survive without shame and guilt and fear? Will you still go to Church, kneel in the pews and put money in the coffers, if you know there’s no Hell, no original sin, no fall from grace, no need to be saved by believing, saying and doing the right things as instructed by disordered, celibate, virgins dressed in robes, who at least had the good sense to remove themselves from the gene pool?
      I think some Christian denominations will be able to morph into ‘followers of Jesus’ (even though Jesus is almost surely mythical), but I don’t think the RCC will be able to do this. They were the ones who turned Jesus into a monster in the first place, by insisting that when he spoke allegorically about Gahanna, the Jerusalem town dump, he was really speaking about sending billions of people (including aborted, miscarried or stillborn infants) to eternal torment in a literal Hell. Note that eternal punishment was not part of the Jewish scriptures until Jesus came. Hell – that’s our real “good news." Except that the Church made it up by translating four words to the pagan word “Hell” that don’t mean Hell as we understand it: Sheol, Gehenna, Hades, Tartarus – look them up.

        1. Patrick Gannon Reply

          I watched that debate. This is a great compilation of facts that there is just no getting around. Catholics – please watch this short video and share your thoughts on it. How do you respond to this? Look up Gen 3:22 before you watch it.

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