What about Purgatory?

Sadly, it is not uncommon to encounter a person claiming the name of “Anglican” who announces that he doesn’t believe in Purgatory. Now the doctrine of Purgatory is not a dogma, that is, it is not a belief like the Virgin Birth or Resurrection that must be held by all believers, but it is a doctrine found in both Scripture and Tradition. James deWolfe, IV Bishop of Long Island, had this to say about the teaching:

Our Lord said to the Penitent Thief upon the Cross: “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23.43). Clearly Paradise does not mean heaven because our Lord spoke of heaven frequently and would have used that word if He had meant “heaven.” Nor does Paradise mean “hell.” The Church believes Paradise…to be “the place of departed spirits”: the intermediate stage between life on earth and the soul’s final destination (heaven or hell). Paradise is another name for the place of departed spirits, and is that stage of spiritual experience and growth which completes the process of dying unto sin and living unto righteousness.

from Answers to Laymen’s Questions, p.189. (1959)

Bishop deWolfe goes on to say this:

“Purgatory” is a name for the Church Expectant, the middle state between life on earth and life in heaven. We believe that none of us dies perfect and that only the perfect can enjoy life in heaven. In the intermediate state, sometimes called Paradise or Purgatory, the soul learns to advance from strength to strength in the life of perfect service. No longer hampered by temptation, it is free to undergo further spiritual training and growth until it is strong enough to contemplate the Beatific Vision. Nothing imperfect can dare see God face to face. Growth in purification, which is the real meaning of our use of the name “Purgatory,” is, of course, altogether spiritual and in no way involves or includes torture by physical fire.

ibid., pp. 189-190.

The Anglican doctrine of Purgatory, or the intermediate state, is supported by Scripture in Luke 23.43, 2 Cor. 12.4, Luke 16.26, Rev. 20.14, Matthew 25.46, Eph. 4.9, I Peter 3.19. Why then, do some Christians reject this teaching? Perhaps the reason lies in the 39 Articles, specifically a condemnation of “the Romish doctrine of Purgatory.” This article concerns a place of punishment and torture and does not refer to the teaching given above, and Anglicans are free to accept the doctrine of Purgatory that does not conflict with Scripture or Tradition.

Frankly, the Anglican teaching on the intermediate state is the only way that makes sense of the passages given and our Lord’s clear teaching, so to reject this doctrine is inconsistent with the Anglican reliance on Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. Purgatory, rightly understood, is a comforting doctrine for all who know themselves, as all Christians should, to be in St. Paul’s words when he referred to himself as, “chief among sinners.”

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