The Belief in Purgatory is Much Older Than You Realize

06/17/2016 Comments (15)

Kaddisch at a grave in Jerusalem. (Photo Credit: Christian Rosenbaum, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Last time, in this space, we left off with a common notion concerning Purgatory, namely:

Wasn't Purgatory unheard of in Scripture and only invented in the Dark Ages?

No. Just the term "Purgatory" arose after the time of the apostles, just as the terms "Trinity", "Christianity", "Second Coming", and "Bible" did. But the idea of Purgatory was already present in the period before Jesus was born. So, for instance, we find a Jewish hero named Judas Maccabeus, about a century and a half before Jesus, praying for the dead and specifically asking they be forgiven their sins after they have died (2 Maccabees 12: 43-45). This practice, known as the "kaddish", continues in Judaism to this day and...READ MORE

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Purgatory and Scripture: Part Three

06/13/2016 Comments (2)

If you are just joining us, we are continuing a discussion of the Church's teaching on Purgatory. Last time, we ended with this question.

If baptism and faith in Christ covers our sin and gives us God's grace, why then is sanctification necessary?

Because baptism is grace, not magic. Grace is the life of God planted in the human soul. It is the "imperishable seed" given us by God (1 Peter 1:23). But the seed must grow, as our Lord taught (Matthew 13:1-32). It is not simply, as some have taught, a covering of our sins like snow on a dunghill, but is rather a means of transforming us in our inner being, as Paul taught.

Consider Israel. In the book of Exodus we read the story of how God got...READ MORE

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What's the Point of Purgatory?

06/10/2016 Comments (5)

(Via Wikimedia Commons)

Last time, in this space, we began looking at the Church's doctrine of Purgatory, and we left off with this excellent question:

What's the point of sanctification and Purgatory if you are basically a good person? Wouldn't a God of love accept us as we are?

We often hear "So and so is 'basically a good person.'" What do we mean by it? To find out, suppose someone says, "Einstein was basically a good scientist" or "Bach was basically a good musician" or "Babe Ruth was basically a good ball player." Does this strike you as rather weak? That's not surprising. When we say that somebody is "basically good" we are really saying "despite their mediocrity, they had some good qualities." That is...READ MORE

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The Doctrine of Purgatory is Biblical and Makes Sense

06/06/2016 Comments (22)

(Via Wikimedia Commons)

All who die in God's grace and friendship, 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. (Catechism of the Catholic Church - #1030)

Few doctrines of the Catholic faith are more misunderstood than Purgatory, and yet few make more sense—or are more biblical—when rightly understood.

Misunderstandings of Purgatory abound. Some people think the Church teaches it is a second chance, where deceased souls headed for hell get a shot at working their way to heaven. Still others have the notion that Catholics think Purgatory necessary in order for souls to...READ MORE

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Devotional Literature vs. Literalism

06/03/2016 Comments (3)

Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), “Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures”

One great thing about being a humanities major is that it helps you to despise all the money you'll never make. Another great thing about it is that it prepares you for approaching religious literature in ways that, mysteriously enough, don't seem to occur to so many people with a background in "biblical studies" or "systematic theology" or whatnot. Not that these disciplines are bad, mind you. It's just that there are days when I wish people would let their hair down and not read every bit of Christian literature as though it is a term in a syllogism or a piece of evidence in a murder trial.

Take for, instance a man I know (we'll call him "Bob") who found a bunch of Marian prayers...READ MORE

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Mary: Assumed into Heaven

05/27/2016 Comments (10)

Jan Frans Beschey, “Assumption of the Virgin” (c. 1750-1767)

The final Marian dogma—the Assumption—was promulgated in 1950. But like all doctrinal developments throughout the history of the Church, it is rooted in apostolic teaching and reflected in Scripture. Pope Pius XII defined the dogma this way:

“The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”

What evidence is there for the Assumption?

To begin with, we have the witness of the New Testament, which already takes for granted the image of Mary as a Cosmic Heavenly Figure by the time of the book of Revelation (roughly 90 AD). 

And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the...READ MORE

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Immaculate Mary Was Redeemed From the Moment of Her Conception

05/23/2016 Comments (4)

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682), “Inmaculada del Escorial”

A lot of people confuse the Immaculate Conception with the Virgin Birth. The Virgin Birth refers to the birth of Jesus Christ. The Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of Mary, not Jesus. It is the dogma defined by the Catholic Church in 1854 that:

“The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.”

The Church not only teaches Mary never sinned in thought, word or deed, she teaches Mary never even suffered from "original sin", that hole in our souls where the life of God, was...READ MORE

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Mary: Perpetual Virgin

05/20/2016 Comments (12)

Fritz von Uhde (1848–1911), "Christmas Night"

The dogma that Mary is perpetually a virgin (defined at the Second Council of Constantinople in the sixth century) finds its origin, like all Catholic dogma, in the teaching of the apostles.

To see it in Scripture, we must, of course, get past both hyper-sexualized contemporary culture (which can scarcely imagine virginity at all) and the assumptions of much (though not all) of Protestantism which reads the New Testament with the conviction that it “disproves” the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. (Exception include Luther, Calvin, and John Wesley.)  When we do this (by reading Scripture as the earliest Christians did), we discover that, in fact, there is no basis for rejecting her Perpetual...READ MORE

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About Mark Shea

Mark Shea
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Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.