AskDefine | Define purgatory

Dictionary Definition



1 a temporary condition of torment or suffering; "a purgatory of drug abuse"
2 (theology) in Roman Catholic theology the place where those who have died in a state of grace undergo limited torment to expiate their sins

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(US) IPA: /ˈpərgəˌtɔri/


  1. in Catholic theology, the stage of the afterlife where souls suffer for their sins before they can enter heaven
  2. any situation causing suffering


stage of the afterlife in Catholic theology
situation causing suffering

See also

Extensive Definition

For other senses of the word "Purgatory", see Purgatory (disambiguation)
In Roman Catholic Christianity, purgatory is the condition, process, or place of purification or temporary punishment in which the souls of those who die in a state of grace are made ready for heaven.
Some other Christian denominations also assert the possibility of an improvement in the soul's spiritual situation following death. The Eastern Orthodox Church believes in the possibility of a change of situation for the souls of the dead through the prayers of the living and the offering of the Divine Liturgy, and many Orthodox, especially among ascetics, hope and pray for a general apocatastasisA similar belief in at least the possibility of a final salvation for all is held by Mormonism. Moreover Judaism also believes in the possibility of after-death purification and may even use the word "purgatory" to present its understanding of the meaning of Gehenna. However, the concept of soul "purification" may be explicitly denied in these other faith traditions.
The word "purgatory" is also used, in a non-specific sense, to mean any place or condition of suffering or torment, especially one that is temporary.

Purgatory in Roman Catholicism

Roman Catholicism is the only major Christian denomination that teaches the specific doctrine of purgatory as a "place or condition" experienced by some souls after death.

Heaven and Hell

According to Catholic belief, immediately after death, a person undergoes judgment in which the soul's eternal destiny is specified. Some are eternally united with God in Heaven, often envisioned as a paradise of eternal joy. Conversely, others are destined for Hell, a state of eternal separation from God often envisioned as a fiery place of punishment.

Purgatory's role

In addition to accepting the states of heaven and hell, Roman Catholicism envisages a third state before being admitted to heaven. According to Roman Catholic doctrine, some souls are not sufficiently free from sin and its consequences to enter the state of heaven immediately, nor are they so sinful as to be destined for hell either. Such souls, ultimately destined to be united with God in heaven, must first endure purgatory - a state of purification. In purgatory, souls "achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven."


Roman Catholics make a distinction between two types of sin. Mortal sin is a "grave violation of God's law" that "turns man away from God", and if it is not redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal death of hell.
In contrast, venial sin (meaning "forgivable" sin) "does not set us in direct opposition to the will and friendship of God" and, although still "constituting a moral disorder", does not deprive the sinner of friendship with God, and consequently the eternal happiness of heaven.
According to Roman Catholicism, pardon of sins and purification can occur during life - for example, in the Sacrament of Baptism and the Sacrament of Penance. However, if this purification is not achieved in life, venial sins can still be purified after death. The specific name given to this purification of sin after death is "purgatory".

Pain and Fire

Most theologians of the past have held that the fire is in some sense a material fire, though of a nature different from ordinary fire, but the opinion of other theologians who interpret the Scriptural term "fire" metaphorically has not been condemned by the Church and may now be the more common view. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of a "cleansing fire". and quotes the expression "purgatorius ignis" (purifying fire) used by Pope Gregory the Great. It speaks of the temporal punishment for sin, even in this life, as a matter of "sufferings and trials of all kinds". It describes purgatory as a necessary purification from "an unhealthy attachment to creatures", a purification that "frees one from what is called the 'temporal punishment' of sin", a punishment that "must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin."

Prayer for the dead and Indulgences

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the fate of those in purgatory can be affected by the actions of the living.
In the same context there is mention of the practice of indulgences. An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven. Indulgences may be obtained for oneself, or on behalf of Christians who have died.
Prayers for the dead and indulgences have been envisioned as decreasing the "duration" of time the dead would spend in purgatory. Traditionally, most indulgences were measured in term of days, "quarantines" (i.e. 40-day periods as for Lent), or years, meaning that they were equivalent to that length of canonical penance on the part of a living Christian. When the imposition of such canonical penances of a determinate duration fell out of custom these expressions were sometimes popularly misinterpreted as reduction of that much time of a soul's stay in purgatory. In Pope Paul VI's revision of the rules concerning indulgences, these expressions were dropped, and replaced by the expression "partial indulgence", indicating that the person who gained such an indulgence for a pious action is granted, "in addition to the remission of temporal punishment acquired by the action itself, an equal remission of punishment through the intervention of the Church"
Historically, the practice of granting indulgences, and the widespread associated abuses, which led to them being seen as increasingly bound up with money, with criticisms being directed against the "sale" of indulgences, were a source of controversy that was the immediate occasion of the Protestant Reformation in Germany and Switzerland.

Purgatory as a physical place

In antiquity and medieval times, heaven and hell were regarded as places existing within the physical universe: heaven "above", in the sky; hell "below", in or beneath the earth. Similarly, purgatory has at times been thought of as a physical location. In Dante's fourteenth century work The Divine Comedy, shows this with Earth as the center of the universe (and hell at the "center of the center" of the universe), the planets and stars revolving around Earth and Heaven (or the Seven Heavens) encircling Creation in Celestial spheres.
As for purgatory, it is depicted as a mountain in the southern hemisphere. When, according to Dante's work, Satan rebelled against God and was defeated, he was cast out from Heaven and fell to Earth. The impact crater from the fall was so great that it reached to the Earth's core. Satan being held at the center of the center of the universe (Earth) was seen as reflecting his selfishness. As for the crater, it was filled over becoming a dark and fiery cavern, Hell, with Jerusalem directly over Satan.
Yet the force of the Satan's impact created such an uplift, that it produced a mountain "beneath" Satan. Souls given a second chance find themselves at Mt. Purgatory and should they reach the top they will find themselves at Jerusalem's antipode, the Garden of Eden itself. Thus cleansed of all sin and made perfect, they wait in Earthly paradise before ascending to Heaven. Thus, ironically, all Satan's attempts to destroy and damn humanity did was ensure humanity's salvation.
This is no longer the mainstream religious concept of purgatory. In 1999 Pope John Paul II declared that the term ('purgatory') did not indicate a place, but "a condition of existence".

Roman Catholic statements

The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, first published in 2005, is a summary in dialog form of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It deals with purgatory in the following exchange: These two questions and answers summarize information in sections 1020-1032 and 1054 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1992, which also speaks of purgatory in sections 1472 and 1473
More authoritative statements are those of the Council of Trent in 1563 and the Council of Florence in 1439.

Eastern Catholic Churches

The Eastern Catholic Churches are Roman Catholic churches under the leadership of the Pope, and officially accept all Roman Catholic doctrines including those relating to purgatory. There are however some differences between the Latin Church and some of the Eastern Catholic Churches on aspects of purgatory. The Eastern Catholic Churches of Greek tradition do not generally use the word "purgatory", but agree that there is a "final purification" for souls destined for heaven, and that prayers can help the dead who are in that state of "final purification". In general, neither the members of the Latin Church nor the members of these Eastern Catholic Churches regard these differences as major points of dispute, but see them as minor nuances and differences of tradition. A treaty that formalized the admission of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church into the full communion of the Roman Catholic Church stated: "We shall not debate about purgatory, but we entrust ourselves to the teaching of the Holy Church", implying, in the opinion of a theologian of that Church, that both sides can agree to disagree on the specifics of what the West calls "purgatory", while there is full agreement on the essentials. Between the Latin Church and some other Eastern Catholic Churches, such as the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, there is no disagreement about any aspect of the doctrine of purgatory.

Eastern Orthodox Church

The Eastern Church came to admit of an intermediate state after death, but refrained from defining it so as not to blur the distinction between the alternative fates of Heaven and Hell; it combined with this doctrine a firm belief in the efficacy of prayer for the dead, which was a constant feature of both East and West liturgies. Such prayer is held to be unintelligible without belief in some interim state in which the dead might benefit.
Eastern Orthodox teaching is that, while all undergo a Particular Judgment immediately after death, neither the just nor the wicked attain the final state of bliss or punishment before the last day, with some exceptions for righteous souls like the Theotokos (Blessed Virgin Mary), "who was borne by the angels directly to heaven".
Eastern Orthodox theology does not generally describe the situation of the dead as involving suffering or fire, although it nevertheless describes it as a "direful condition". The souls of the righteous dead are in light and rest, with a foretaste of eternal happiness; but the souls of the wicked are in a state the reverse of this. Among the latter, such souls as have departed with faith, but "without having had time to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance..., may be aided towards the attainment of a blessed resurrection [at the end of time] by prayers offered in their behalf, especially those offered in union with the oblation of the bloodless sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ, and by works of mercy done in faith for their memory."
The state in which souls undergo this experience is often referred to as "Hades".
The Orthodox Confession of Peter Mogila (1596-1646), adopted, in a Greek translation by Meletius Syrigos, by the 1642 Council of Jassy, in Romania, professes that "many are freed from the prison of hell ... through the good works of the living and the Church's prayers for them, most of all through the unbloody sacrifice, which is offered on certain days for all the living and the dead" (question 64); and (under the heading "How must one consider the purgatorial fire?") "the Church rightly performs for them the unbloody sacrifice and prayers, but they do not cleanse themselves by suffering something. But, the Church never maintained that which pertains to the fanciful stories of some concerning the souls of their dead, who have not done penance and are punished, as it were, in streams, springs and swamps" (question 66).".
The Eastern Orthodox Synod of Jerusalem, held in 1672, declared that "the souls of those that have fallen asleep are either at rest or in torment, according to what each hath wrought" (an enjoyment or condemnation that will be complete only after the resurrection of the dead); but the souls of some "depart into Hades, and there endure the punishment due to the sins they have committed. But they are aware of their future release from there, and are delivered by the Supreme Goodness, through the prayers of the Priests, and the good works which the relatives of each do for their Departed; especially the unbloody Sacrifice benefiting the most; which each offers particularly for his relatives that have fallen asleep, and which the Catholic and Apostolic Church offers daily for all alike. Of course, it is understood that we do not know the time of their release. We know and believe that there is deliverance for such from their direful condition, and that before the common resurrection and judgment, but when we know not."
Some Orthodox believe in a controversial theory of "Aerial Toll-Houses" for the souls of the dead. According to this theory, which is rejected by other Orthodox, "following a person's death the soul leaves the body and is escorted to God by angels. During this journey the soul passes through an aerial realm which is ruled by demons. The soul encounters these demons at various points referred to as 'toll-houses' where the demons then attempt to accuse it of sin and, if possible, drag the soul into hell."


seealso Protestantism In general, Protestant churches do not accept the doctrine of purgatory. One of Protestantism's central tenets is sola scriptura ("scripture alone"). The general Protestant view is that the Bible contains no overt, explicit discussion of purgatory and therefore it should be rejected as an unbiblical belief.
Another tenet of Protestantism is sola fide ("by faith alone"). While Catholicism regards both good works and faith as being essential to salvation, Protestants believe faith alone is sufficient to achieve salvation and that good works are merely evidence of that faith. Salvation is generally seen as a discrete event which takes place during one's lifetime. Instead of distinguishing between mortal and venial sins, Protestants believe that one's faith or state of salvation dictates one's place in the afterlife. Those who have been saved by God are destined for heaven, while those have not been saved will be excluded from heaven. Accordingly, they reject the notion of any provisional or temporary state or place, such as purgatory.
Accordingly, Martin Luther believed that it was of no avail to pray for the dead. Nonetheless, a core statement of Lutheran doctrine, albeit not by Luther, states: "Epiphanius testifies that Aerius held that prayers for the dead are useless. With this he finds fault. Neither do we favor Aerius" (Philipp Melanchthon, Apology of the Augsburg Confession - emphasis added).
Some Protestants hold that a person enters into the fullness of its bliss or torment only after the resurrection of the body, and that the soul in that intermediate state is conscious and aware of the fate in store for it. Others have held that souls in the intermediate state between death and resurrection are without consciousness, a state known as soul sleep.


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds that, in the spirit world, where the human spirit goes after death, those who chose to follow Jesus Christ during earthly life will be at peace and those who chose not to follow him and did not repent will be unhappy, and all will have the opportunity to learn about Jesus Christ and to repent. After the resurrection, even those who repented only after death will be admitted to heaven, though only to the lowest of the three kingdoms or degrees of glory. They receive this glory only after they have themselves paid for their sins and suffered for their transgressions.. Mormon belief in the possibility of repenting after death is radically opposed to the belief that a person's attitude to God is fixed at death (see Particular judgment), resulting either in a definitive lack of communion with God and consequent inacapacity for eternal life, or in an equally definitive communion with God that, if not purified of attachment to creatures before death, must undergo that purification or purgatory afterwards.

Judaism and Islam

In Judaism, Gehenna is a place of purification where, according to some traditions, most sinners spend up to a year before release.
In Islam also, some Muslims consider hell may be a temporary place of punishment for some, eternal for others.


purgatory in Czech: Očistec
purgatory in Danish: Skærsilden
purgatory in German: Fegefeuer
purgatory in Estonian: Puhastustuli
purgatory in Modern Greek (1453-): Καθαρτήριο
purgatory in Spanish: Purgatorio
purgatory in Esperanto: Purgatorio
purgatory in Basque: Garbitoki
purgatory in French: Purgatoire
purgatory in Korean: 연옥
purgatory in Croatian: Čistilište
purgatory in Indonesian: Purgatori
purgatory in Italian: Purgatorio
purgatory in Hebrew: כור המצרף
purgatory in Lithuanian: Skaistykla
purgatory in Hungarian: Purgatórium
purgatory in Malayalam: ശുദ്ധീകരണസ്ഥലം
purgatory in Dutch: Vagevuur
purgatory in Japanese: 煉獄
purgatory in Norwegian: Skjærsilden
purgatory in Polish: Czyściec
purgatory in Portuguese: Purgatório
purgatory in Russian: Чистилище
purgatory in Albanian: Purgatori
purgatory in Simple English: Purgatory
purgatory in Slovak: Očistec
purgatory in Slovenian: Vice
purgatory in Serbian: Čistilište
purgatory in Finnish: Kiirastuli
purgatory in Swedish: Skärselden
purgatory in Ukrainian: Чистилище
purgatory in Chinese: 炼狱

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Abaddon, Day of Atonement, Gehenna, Hades, Naraka, Pandemonium, Sheol, Tophet, Yom Kippur, asceticism, avichi, bog, cage, clawing, cold purgatorial fires, coop, cruciation, crucifixion, enclosure, fasting, fen, flagellation, hair shirt, hell, hell upon earth, holocaust, horror, infernal regions, inferno, jahannan, laceration, lancination, limbo, lower world, lustration, maceration, marsh, martyrdom, mire, morass, mortification, nether world, nightmare, passion, pen, penance, penfold, penitence, penitential act, penitential exercise, perdition, persecution, pinfold, place of confinement, place of torment, pound, purgation, quag, quagmire, rack, repentance, sackcloth and ashes, shades below, slough, sump, the abyss, the bottomless pit, the grave, the pit, torment, torture, underworld
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