The Pope and Purgatory
In the middle of September, the Pope sent a message to an order of nuns meeting in Rome to rally them to pray for souls in purgatory. The Church of Rome views this as the intermediate realm to which her imperfectly sanctified members go at death, for an unspecified time, in order to suffer penal and purifying pain, until all sin is removed, when they are transferred to the joy of heaven.
The Pope stressed the special need that the deceased have for such intercession. Bellarmine, the well-known Roman Catholic theologian of the sixteenth century, said: “The pains of purgatory are very severe, surpassing anything in this life”. The manual of the Purgatorial Society states, “Nothing but the eternal duration makes the fire of hell more terrible than that of purgatory”. And, according to another Roman Catholic publication, di Bruno’s Catholic Belief, “since death ends the period of man’s probation, it follows that the holy souls [in purgatory] cannot help themselves; they cannot make satisfaction and so shorten the period of their pain. But the faithful on earth, the Church Militant, can help them by prayers, indulgences, expiatory works, and especially by the offering for them of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” So Roman Catholics believe that the period of suffering in purgatory can be shortened for themselves or their dear departed ones by giving monetary gifts to the Church and by paying for priests to offer masses.
Little wonder then that Rome’s doctrine of purgatory, which did not take formal shape until the sixth century and was not proclaimed an article of the faith until 1439, has been described as “the gold mine of the priesthood”. As James Begg rightly points out in his Handbook of Popery, “The gospel says, ‘How hardly shall a rich man enter into the kingdom of heaven!’ Popery says, ‘How hardly can he avoid entering!'”
This dreadful doctrine not only holds Rome’s devotees in a fear from which their religion gives no relief, but also strikes at the sufficiency of the redemptive work of Christ for the justification and sanctification of those who believe in Him. How different from Rome’s teaching is the teaching of Scripture: immediately a sinner believes in Christ he is fully justified. At death he is made perfect in holiness. Then, in the twinkling of an eye, his soul is “absent from the body, present with the Lord” – not banished to the imaginary pains of purgatory to be punished and purified.
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