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)

Categorized as Q&A

By Raphael Benedict

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  1. I am just curious. My prlofessor in Religious education said there’s no such place like purgatory it’s only heaven and hell. I am just curious if purgatory since there’s no purgatory mentioned in the Bible.

  2. PURGATORY called in the bible imprisoned spirits JESUS HIMSELF PROCLAIMS AND INTERCEDES – as we read:
    Hebrews 7
    23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
    1 Peter 3
    19 After being made alive he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits—
    John 5
    17 In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.”
    1 Corinthians 15
    56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
    Acts 17
    24“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’b As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’c
    29“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

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