Note: This was written before my conversion to Orthodox Christianity and contains opinions I would no longer stand by.
For those Roman Catholics that believe that the doctrines revolving around purgatory are as old as the Church, think again:
It is a matter that may be inquired into, and either ascertained or left doubtful, whether some believers shall pass through a kind of purgatorial fire, and in proportion as they have loved with more or less devotion the goods that perish, be less or more quickly delivered from it. This cannot, however, be the case of any of those of whom it is said, that they
shall not inherit the kingdom of God, unless after suitable repentance their sins be forgiven them (Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love, Chapter 69).
Augustine apparently did not pretend to know whether 1 Cor 3:11-15 was speaking of a literal Purgatory, as his own interpretation of the passage chapter 68 is that the passage pertains to experiencing loss of worldly attachments, and not purgatory.
Further, how can we ascertain whether there is a Purgatory? Obviously, Augustine felt that it should be argued from the Scripture. It is rather sad that those who defend the doctrine to this day, will lean upon the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church and not the authority that Augustine relied upon, the Scripture.
The Bible refers God as refiner’s fire (Malachi 3:2) and Zech 13:8-9 says He refines some like one refines silver. A silver smith will use fire to cleanse silver from impurities and he knows his job is completed when he can see his image reflected in the silver. Recall that when God created the first man, before the Fall, he was created after God’s image (Gen 1:26). Scripture (1 John 5:16-17) says there are mortal and non-mortal (or venial) sins. Venial sins are like impurities in silver and they must be cleansed as Scripture says that nothing impure can enter heaven (Rev 21:27). That is the biblical basis of Catholic purgatory.
The issue is that purgatory does not appear to be a historical doctrine of the Church. It was still in doubt in the 5th century AD. This is why Augustine said it was a matter of debate.
As for the references in Scripture to God being a refiner, they are all in reference to suffering in the life of the believer. We have proof of this in 1 Peter 1:7 where Peter says that “the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
So, the refiner’s fire pertains to testing of the faithful, not a literal purification process.
“And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God’” (Zech 13:9). The Scripture is speaking of one’s faith growing as the result of suffering: “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (Psalm 119:71).
In this way Malachi describes God: “For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord” (Mal 3:2-3).
Once we understand verses such as these (as well as 1 Cor 3:15) in the context in which they were intended instead of making them to conform to an alien doctrine, we may avoid doctrines which inhibit the power of the cross.
Indeed, nothing impure can enter heaven. God cannot even look upon sin his eyes are so pure (Hab 1:13). How can a man, if regenerated at birth and made pure at this point, when he sins every single day (actually, almost every single moment), every be pure enough to enter heaven?
Your answer is that he has to spend many years in purgatory until he learns not to do it, so in effect he can make himself pure enough to merit heaven.
What does the Bible say? “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:21). As Augustine writes:
“Him who knew no sin, that is, Christ, God, to whom we are to be reconciled, has made to be sin for us, that is, has made Him a sacrifice for our sins, by which we might be reconciled to God. He, then, being made sin, just as we are made righteousness (our righteousness being not our own, but God’s, not in ourselves, but in Him); He being made sin, not His own, but ours, not in Himself, but in us, showed, by the likeness of sinful flesh in which He was crucified, that though sin was not in Him, yet that in a certain sense He died to sin, by dying in the flesh which was the likeness of sin; and that although He Himself had never lived the old life of sin, yet by His resurrection He typified our new life springing up out of the old death in sin” (Chapter 41, Handbook on Hope, Faith, and Love).
So, if Christ is imputed our sin and we are made righteous in Him, then I never have to be pure enough to enter heaven. For by faith in Christ, I have cast all my impurities upon Him and by faith in Him the Holy Spirit dwells within me, so that I may be found in Christ when judged by God. Therefore, I enter heaven not on my own merits, but on Christ’s merits.
Good works are good and indeed very important, but once they become the basis of salvation then all we have done is replaced the Jewish Law with a new and different one in which to merit salvation. First and foremost place one’s faith in Christ. If you trust Christ fully for your salvation, and not what you do as if it adds to your faith, then the holy Spirit will compell you to do good works out of gratitude of your salvation.
For this is what love is, that Christ laid down His life for us. For this reason, we ought to lay down our lives for one another (1 Job 3:16).
Just read last night:
For You have tried us, O God;
You have refined us as silver is refined (Ps 66:10).
This just adds to the weight that God purifies His people through suffering in this life. If the suffering refers to purgatory, then so do verses 11 and 12 that clearly do not speak of such.
Oh, don’t forget:
“The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests hearts” (Prov 17:3).
Augustine did believe in purgatory, even he did not use the word. Refer to my post below:
In your responses what you did is simply tuning verses to match your pre-defiend belief, i.e. there is no purgatory. Your imputed of righteousnes concept does not solve Revelation 21:27. Consider this analogy: your child played outside and came home fully covered with mud. One of your neighbor, upon seeing him covered with mud, decided to cover him with white sheet so you cannot see the mud. Can your child enter your house (and spoil your immaculate carpet), even though he is covered with white sheet? Or will you rip the white sheet and remove all mud using water from garden hose, and only then your child is welcomed in your house? Covering white sheet represents your imputed righteoeusness concept, i.e. we get (through faith alone) Christ righteousness that covers our unrighteousness. The water from garden hose represents purgatory.
No offense, but that’s plain Eisegesis. Augustine gives a pretty thorough exegesis of 1 Cor 3 that is not about purgatory.
Augustine exegetes the passage in Chapter 68 of his Handbook of Faith, Hope, and Love:
“The fire shall try every man’s work, of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire. The fire then shall prove, not the work of one of them only, but of both. Now the trial of adversity is a kind of fire which is plainly spoken of in another place: The furnace proves the potter’s vessels: and the furnace of adversity just men. And this fire does IN THE COURSE OF THIS LIFE act exactly in the way the apostle says. If it come into contact with two believers, one caring for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord, that is, building upon Christ the foundation, gold, silver, precious stones; the other caring for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife, that is, building upon the same foundation wood, hay, stubble—the work of the former is not burned, because he has not given his love to things whose loss can cause him grief…”
Hence, the purging fire of 1 Cor 3 clearly has to do with trials in the present life according to Augustine’s exegesis.
Then, in Chapter 69 he writes:
“And it is not impossible that something of the same kind may take place even after this life. It is a matter that may be inquired into, and either ascertained or left doubtful…”
So, Augustine speculates that something similar “may take place,” but the fact it is “something of the same kind,” but not literally the same thing discounts any attempt to claim that Augustine viewed 1 Cor 3 as referring to purgatory, where he clearly offered a rationale that excludes the possibility.
I would ask you please respond to the exegesis of verses I already supplied you. Concerning Revelation 21:27,all those who are in Christ have all of their sins forgiven, so they are without impurity. This can be ascertained in not only knowing how Christ fulfilled the Law and the purity codes in Leviticus, but also knowing the plethora of verses that make clear that all of our sins are forgiven in Christ.