Church “fathers” on Purgatory

The following compilations below are from the work of Jason Engwer (who is not me, though I supplement his work at the end of this page, and by minute additions seen in [brackets]), and is offered here for non-commercial “fair use.” Any copying of his work should be attributed to him, and used for the glory of God.

Br. Engwer has moved on to blogging and his old web sites (www.ntrmin.org, http://members.aol.com/jasonte) are no longer operative (2011), and the conclusions of Engwer (provided as part of his compilation) are his, and I myself am not familiar with all counter arguments (church "father" sometimes may seem to contradict themselves, and can be open to some interpretation), but Engwer can be reached through his blogger page. Br. Engwers is sometimes active on blogs as Triablogue, and also see such resources as those of the Beggars All blog, William Webster's site, Reformation500 site, James White's sites; both Vintage (which has more on Roman Catholicism) and the current one. To download the file that these compilations are from, click here (on Windows-based computers, install the executable to a location you choose, then run the CBNRC.chm file). Some of Jason's former work can be found on the Internet Archive file here, and at this site (no formal affiliation). For the index of other compilations of material from Jason Engwer as i compete them (if i do) see here.

My home page is here.

For a custom Google search engine of these and other selected sites, see here. Please note however that this work or offered links cannot mean I may affirm all that is on a site, with all its conclusions, but that they are some of the best evangelical sites at least on the subject and hand, and contend for “repentance towards God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Acts 20:21) by His grace through faith, and to His glory.

Engwer's compilations are from what are wrongly termed early “church fathers,” as in truth the church began and greatly grew before them, and its “fathers” are essentially only those who are found in Scripture, and which is the judge of all.

See page on church “fathers” and Scripture for more in regards to this.



Table of Contents. To return here, click on TOC

Aphrahat

Athenagoras

Augustine

Church of Smyrna

Clement of Rome

Commodianus

Cyprian

Gregory Thaumaturgus

Hippolytus

Irenaeus

Justin Martyr

Lactantius

Minucius Felix

Origen

Papias

Polycarp

Tertullian

Victorinus

Supplementary


Aphrahat apparently rejected the concept of Purgatory. He refers to the souls of believers going to be with Christ in a sort of state of sleep until the time of the resurrection. He refers to believers not fearing death and entering into peace, citing 2 Corinthians 5:8, as evangelicals do:

"For when men die, the animal spirit is buried with the body, and sense is taken away from it, but the heavenly spirit that they receive goes according to its nature to Christ. And both these the Apostle has made known, for he said:-The body is buried in animal wise, and rises again in spiritual wise. The Spirit goes back again to Christ according to its nature, for the Apostle said again:-When we shall depart from the body we shall be with our Lord. For the Spirit of Christ, which the spiritual receive, goes to our Lord....But our faith thus teaches, that when men fall asleep, they sleep this slumber without knowing good from evil. And the righteous look not forward to their promises, nor do the wicked look forward to their sentence of punishment, until the Judge come and separate those whose place is at His right hand from those whose place is at His left....From all these things, understand thou, my beloved, as it has been made certain for thee, that as yet no one has received his reward. For the righteous have not inherited the kingdom, nor have the wicked gone into torment. The Shepherd has not as yet divided His flock. And lo! the workmen enter into the vineyard, and as yet have not received the reward. And lo! the merchants are trading with the money. And as yet their Lord has not come to take the account. And the King has gone to receive the Kingdom, but as yet He has not returned the second time. And those virgins that are waiting the bridegroom are sleeping up to the present time, and are awaiting the cry when they will awake. And the former men who toiled in the faith until the last men shall come, shall not be made perfect....the spirit which the righteous receive, according to its heavenly nature, goes to our Lord until the time of the Resurrection, when it shall come to put on the body in which it dwelt. And at every time it has the memory of this in the presence of God, and looks eagerly for the Resurrection of that body in which it dwelt...The sons of peace remember death; and they forsake and remove from them wrath and enmity. As sojourners they dwell in this world, and prepare for themselves a provision for the journey before them. On that which is above they set their thoughts, on that which is above they meditate; and those things which are beneath their eyes they despise. They send away their treasures to the place where there is no peril, the place where there is no moth, nor are there thieves. They abide in the world as aliens, sons of a far land; and look forward to be sent out of this world and to come to the city, the place of the righteous. They afflict themselves in the place of their sojourning; and they are not entangled or occupied in the house of their exile. Ever day by day their faces are set upwards, to go to the repose of their fathers. As prisoners are they in this world, and as hostages of the King are they kept. To the end they have no rest in this world, nor is their hope in it, that it will continue for ever." (Demonstrations, 6:14, 8:20, 8:22-23, 22:9)

Athenagoras rejects the concept of Purgatory in favor of believers going to Heaven when they die. Not only does he say that believers go to Heaven, but he mentions Hell as the only alternative, without mentioning any Purgatory:

"For if we believed that we should live only the present life, then we might be suspected of sinning, through being enslaved to flesh and blood, or overmastered by gain or carnal desire; but since we know that God is witness to what we think and what we say both by night and by day, and that He, being Himself light, sees all things in our heart, we are persuaded that when we are removed from the present life we shall live another life, better than the present one, and heavenly, not earthly (since we shall abide near God, and with God, free from all change or suffering in the soul, not as flesh, even though we shall have flesh, but as heavenly spirit), or, falling with the rest, a worse one and in fire; for God has not made us as sheep or beasts of burden, a mere by-work, and that we should perish and be annihilated." (A Plea for the Christians, 31)

Augustine is widely considered the father of Purgatory. Roman Catholics often quote him referring to something similar to the modern Catholic doctrine. But what these Catholics don't explain is that Augustine acknowledged that he was speculating. In other words, he wasn't passing on some apostolic tradition handed down in unbroken succession from the apostles. Rather, he was speculating about what might happen in the afterlife. Jacques Le Goff explains:

"[Joseph Ntedika] has put his finger on a key point, showing not only that Augustine's position evolved over the years, which was to be expected, but that it underwent a marked change at a specific point in time, which Ntedika places in the year 413....In the Letter to Dardinus (417) he [Augustine] sketches a geography of the otherworld which makes no place for Purgatory." (The Birth of Purgatory [Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1986], pp. 62, 70)

In other words, Augustine's views on the subject developed over time, and he was inconsistent. The Protestant historian George Salmon explains the significance of these facts:

"In like manner, when Augustine hears the idea suggested that, as the sins of good men cause them suffering in this world, so they may also to a certain degree in the next, he says that he will not venture to say that nothing of the kind can occur, for perhaps it may. Well, if the idea of purgatory had not got beyond a 'perhaps' at the beginning of the fifth century, we are safe in saying that it was not by tradition that the later Church arrived at certainty on the subject; for, if the Church had had any tradition in the time of Augustine, that great Father could not have helped knowing it." (The Infallibility of the Church [London, England: John Murray, 1914], pp. 133-134)

Here's an example of Augustine expressing his uncertainty:

"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, 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." (The Enchiridion, 69)

Now, doesn't that paint quite a different picture than what we get from Roman Catholic apologists who only quote Augustine affirming the doctrine of Purgatory, then portray it as evidence of some apostolic tradition always held by the church?

After Polycarp's death, the church of Smyrna wrote an account of the events surrounding his martyrdom. The document refers too Polycarp, the apostles, and "the righteous" being in Heaven:

"For, having through patience overcome the unjust governor, and thus acquired the crown of immortality, he [Polycarp] now, with the apostles and all the righteous in heaven, rejoicingly glorifies God" (The Martyrdom of Polycarp, 19)

Clement of Rome always refers to deceased Christians being in Heaven. He repeatedly mentions the concept, with no reference to Purgatory. The RCC believes that *some* Christians don't have to go to Purgatory, but how could Clement of Rome and other church fathers know that a person was able to avoid Purgatory? Since they wouldn't have had such knowledge, the most likely explanation for their referring to deceased Christians being in Heaven seems to be that they had no concept of Purgatory. Clement writes:

"Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labours and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him....Thus was he [Paul] removed from the world, and went into the holy place, having proved himself a striking example of patience.... To these men who spent their lives in the practice of holiness, there is to be added a great multitude of the elect, who, having through envy endured many indignities and tortures, furnished us with a most excellent example. Through envy, those women, the Danaids and Dircae, being persecuted, after they had suffered terrible and unspeakable torments, finished the course of their faith with steadfastness, and though weak in body, received a noble reward....Blessed are those presbyters who, having finished their course before now, have obtained a fruitful and perfect departure from this world; for they have no fear lest any one deprive them of the place now appointed them....All the generations from Adam even to this day have passed away; but those who, through the grace of God, have been made perfect in love, now possess a place among the godly, and shall be made manifest at the revelation of the kingdom of Christ." (First Clement, 5-6, 44, 50)

Commodianus refers to believers going to Heaven when they die, and the only alternative he mentions is Hell:

"For to him who has lived well there is advantage after death. Thou, however, when one day thou diest, shalt be taken away in an evil place. But they who believe in Christ shall be led into a good place, and those to whom that delight is given are caressed; but to you who are of a double mind, against you is punishment without the body." (The Instructions of Commodianus in Favour of Christian Discipline. Against the Gods of the Heathens., 24)

Roman Catholics often erroneously cite Cyprian as a supporter of the doctrine of Purgatory, at least a seed form of the doctrine. The historian Jacques Le Goff writes:

"Some writers have credited Cyprian with making an important doctrinal contribution to Purgatory as early as the mid-third century. In his Letter to Antonian [Letter 51:20] Cyprian distinguishes between two kinds of Christians: 'It is one thing to await forgiveness and another thing to arrive in glory; it is one thing to be sent to prison [in carcere] to be let out only when the last farthing has been paid and another thing to receive immediately the reward of faith and virtue; it is one thing to be relieved and purified of one's sins through a long suffering in fire and another thing to have all of one's faults wiped out by martyrdom; and it is one thing to be hanged by the Lord on Judgment Day and another to be crowned by him at once.'...Jay's refutation of the notion that Cyprian put forth a doctrine akin to that of Purgatory seems to me well founded. According to Jay, what is being discussed in the letter to Antonian is the difference between Christians who did not stand up to persecution (the lapsi and apostates) and the martyrs. It is not a question of 'purgatory' in the hereafter but of penitence here below. The reference to imprisonment has to do not with Purgatory, which in any case did not yet exist, but rather with the penitential discipline of the Church." (The Birth of Purgatory [Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1986], pp. 57-58)

Cyprian repeatedly refers to believers going to Heaven when this life ends. For example:

"But, beloved brethren, this is so, because faith is lacking, because no one believes that the things which God promises are true, although He is true, whose word to believers is eternal and unchangeable. If a grave and praiseworthy man should promise you anything, you would assuredly have faith in the promiser, and would not think that you should be cheated and deceived by him whom you knew to be stedfast in his words and his deeds. Now God is speaking with you; and do you faithlessly waver in your unbelieving mind? God promises to you, on your departure from this world, immortality and eternity; and do you doubt? This is not to know God at all; this is to offend Christ, the Teacher of believers, with the sin of incredulity; this is for one established in the Church not to have faith in the house of faith. How great is the advantage of going out of the world, Christ Himself, the Teacher of our salvation and of our good works, shows to us, who, when His disciples were saddened that He said that He was soon to depart, spoke to them, and said, 'If ye loved me, ye would surely rejoice because I go to the Father;' teaching thereby, and manifesting that when the dear ones whom we love depart from the world, we should rather rejoice than grieve. Remembering which truth, the blessed Apostle Paul in his epistle lays it down, saying, 'To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain;' counting it the greatest gain no longer to be held by the snares of this world, no longer to be liable to the sins and vices of the flesh, but taken away from smarting troubles, and freed from the envenomed fangs of the devil, to go at the call of Christ to the joy of eternal salvation....We should consider, dearly beloved brethren - we should ever and anon reflect that we have renounced the world, and are in the meantime living here as guests and strangers. Let us greet the day which assigns each of us to his own home, which snatches us hence, and sets us free from the snares of the world, and restores us to paradise and the kingdom. Who that has been placed in foreign lands would not hasten to return to his own country? Who that is hastening to return to his friends would not eagerly desire a prosperous gale, that he might the sooner embrace those dear to him? We regard paradise as our country - we already begin to consider the patriarchs as our parents: why do we not hasten and run, that we may behold our country, that we may greet our parents? There a great number of our dear ones is awaiting us, and a dense crowd of parents, brothers, children, is longing for us, already assured of their own safety, and still solicitous for our salvation. To attain to their presence and their embrace, what a gladness both for them and for us in common! What a pleasure is there in the heavenly kingdom, without fear of death; and how lofty and perpetual a happiness with eternity of living! There the glorious company of the apostles - there the host of the rejoicing prophets - there the innumerable multitude of martyrs, crowned for the victory of their struggle and passion - there the triumphant virgins, who subdued the lust of the flesh and of the body by the strength of their continency - there are merciful men rewarded, who by feeding and helping the poor have done the works of righteousness - who, keeping the Lord's precepts, have transferred their earthly patrimonies to the heavenly treasuries. To these, beloved brethren, let us hasten with an eager desire; let us crave quickly to be with them, and quickly to come to Christ. May God behold this our eager desire; may the Lord Christ look upon this purpose of our mind and faith, He who will give the larger rewards of His glory to those whose desires in respect of Himself were greater!" (Treatises, 7, On the Mortality, 6-7, 26)

Gregory Thaumaturgus seems to have had no concept of Purgatory. Like Protestants, he refers to two realms of the afterlife, not three, with all "good men" going to Heaven at death:

"And the good man shall depart with rejoicing to his own everlasting habitation; but the vile shall fill all their places with wailing, and neither silver laid up in store, nor proved gold, shall be of use any more. For a mighty stroke shall fall upon all things, even to the pitcher that standeth by the well, and the wheel of the vessel which may chance to have been left in the hollow, when the course of time comes to its end and the ablution-bearing period of a life that is like water has passed away." (A Metaphrase of the Book of Ecclesiastes, 12)

Hippolytus contradicted the doctrine of Purgatory. He begins by referring to a place of darkness in the afterlife, but he explains later that only the unsaved remain in the place of darkness, whereas the saved go to a place of light that's similar to Heaven:

"But now we must speak of Hades, in which the souls both of the righteous and the unrighteous are detained. Hades is a place in the created system, rude, a locality beneath the earth, in which the light of the world does not shine; and as the sun does not shine in this locality, there must necessarily be perpetual darkness there. This locality has been destined to be as it were a guard-house for souls, at which the angels are stationed as guards, distributing according to each one's deeds the temporary punishments for different characters. And in this locality there is a certain place set apart by itself, a lake of unquenchable fire, into which we suppose no one has ever yet been cast; for it is prepared against the day determined by God, in which one sentence of righteous judgment shall be justly applied to all. And the unrighteous, and those who believed not God, who have honoured as God the vain works of the hands of men, idols fashioned by themselves, shall be sentenced to this endless punishment. But the righteous shall obtain the incorruptible and unfading kingdom, who indeed are at present detained in Hades, but not in the same place with the unrighteous. For to this locality there is one descent, at the gate whereof we believe an archangel is stationed with a host. And when those who are conducted by the angels appointed unto the souls have passed through this gate, they do not proceed on one and the same way; but the righteous, being conducted in the light toward the right, and being hymned by the angels stationed at the place, are brought to a locality full of light. And there the righteous from the beginning dwell, not ruled by necessity, but enjoying always the contemplation of the blessings which are in their view, and delighting themselves with the expectation of others ever new, and deeming those ever better than these. And that place brings no toils to them. There, there is neither fierce heat, nor cold, nor thorn; but the face of the fathers and the righteous is seen to be always smiling, as they wait for the rest and eternal revival in heaven which succeed this location. And we call it by the name Abraham's bosom. But the unrighteous are dragged toward the left by angels who are ministers of punishment, and they go of their own accord no longer, but are dragged by force as prisoners. And the angels appointed over them send them along, reproaching them and threatening them with an eye of terror, forcing them down into the lower parts. And when they are brought there, those appointed to that service drag them on to the confines or hell. And those who are so near hear incessantly the agitation, and feel the hot smoke. And when that vision is so near, as they see the terrible and excessively glowing spectacle of the fire, they shudder in horror at the expectation of the future judgment, as if they were already feeling the power of their punishment. And again, where they see the place of the fathers and the righteous, they are also punished there. For a deep and vast abyss is set there in the midst, so that neither can any of the righteous in sympathy think to pass it, nor any of the unrighteous dare to cross it. Thus far, then, on the subject of Hades, in which the souls of all are detained until the time which God has determined; and then He will accomplish a resurrection of all, not by transferring souls into other bodies, but by raising the bodies themselves." (Against Plato, on the Cause of the Universe, 1-2)

Irenaeus didn't believe in the doctrine of Purgatory. We know that Jesus went to Paradise on the day of His crucifixion (Luke 23:43), and Irenaeus refers to all believers going to the same place until the time of resurrection. He also identifies this place as the place where Paul went in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4. Irenaeus refers to all believers going to Paradise, which he distinguishes from Heaven, until the time of the resurrection. As I explained with regard to Papias, Paradise is just another *region* of what evangelicals refer to as "Heaven". Irenaeus' terminology is different from that of evangelicals, but his definitions are basically the same, as is proven by his references to Jesus going to this place and his reference to 2 Corinthians 12. Roman Catholicism tells us to pray that deceased Christians can be taken out of a place of suffering prior to the resurrection. Irenaeus, on the other hand, refers to all deceased Christians being in Paradise, not a place of suffering, until the resurrection:

"Wherefore also the elders who were disciples of the apostles tell us that those who were translated were transferred to that place (for paradise has been prepared for righteous men, such as have the Spirit; in which place also Paul the apostle, when he was caught up, heard words which are unspeakable as regards us in our present condition), and that there shall they who have been translated remain until the consummation of all things, as a prelude to immortality....For as the Lord 'went away in the midst of the shadow of death,' where the souls of the dead were, yet afterwards arose in the body, and after the resurrection was taken up into heaven, it is manifest that the souls of His disciples also, upon whose account the Lord underwent these things, shall go away into the invisible place allotted to them by God, and there remain until the resurrection, awaiting that event; then receiving their bodies, and rising in their entirety, that is bodily, just as the Lord arose, they shall come thus into the presence of God. 'For no disciple is above the Master, but every one that is perfect shall be as his Master.' As our Master, therefore, did not at once depart, taking flight to heaven, but awaited the time of His resurrection prescribed by the Father, which had been also shown forth through Jonas, and rising again after three days was taken up to heaven; so ought we also to await the time of our resurrection prescribed by God and foretold by the prophets, and so, rising, be taken up, as many as the Lord shall account worthy of this privilege." (Against Heresies, 5:5:1, 5:31:2)

Justin Martyr contradicted the doctrine of Purgatory, not only by referring to the redeemed going to a better place, but also by mentioning only two regions of the afterlife, not three. He seems to have no concept of people going to a third place, then being transferred to Heaven sometime before the judgment:

"The souls of the pious remain in a better place, while those of the unjust and wicked are in a worse, waiting for the time of judgment." (Dialogue with Trypho, 5)

Lactantius refers to something similar to Purgatory, but places it in the future, not the present, at the time of judgment:

"But when He shall have judged the righteous, He will also try them with fire. Then they whose sins shall exceed either in weight or in number, shall be scorched by the fire and burnt: but they whom full justice and maturity of virtue has imbued will not perceive that fire; for they have something of God in themselves which repels and rejects the violence of the flame. So great is the force of innocence, that the flame shrinks from it without doing harm; which has received from God this power, that it burns the wicked, and is under the command of the righteous. Nor, however, let any one imagine that souls are immediately judged after death. For all are detained in one and a common place of confinement, until the arrival of the time in which the great Judge shall make an investigation of their deserts. Then they whose piety shall have been approved of will receive the reward of immortality; but they whose sins and crimes shall have been brought to light will not rise again, but will be hidden in the same darkness with the wicked, being destined to certain punishment." (The Divine Institutes, 7:21)

In The Octavius of Minucius Felix, which I mentioned in the previous segment, Caecelius issues the following objection to Christians:

"Deceived by this error, they promise to themselves, as being good, a blessed and perpetual life after their death; to others, as being unrighteous, eternal punishment." (The Octavius of Minucius Felix, 11)

He apparently doesn't know of any Purgatory. Octavius, in his response, doesn't mention any Purgatory either, but instead only mentions Heaven and Hell:

"And in this respect I the more wonder at you, in the way in which you apply to a lifeless person, or to one who does not feel, a torch; or a garland to one who does not smell it, when either as blessed he does not want, or, being miserable, he has no pleasure in, flowers. Still we adorn our obsequies with the same tranquillity with which we live; and we do not bind to us a withering garland, but we wear one living with eternal flowers from God, since we, being both ate and secure in the liberality of our God, are animated to the hope of future felicity by the confidence of His present majesty. Thus we both rise again in blessedness, and are already living in contemplation of the future." (38)

Origen believed in a purification after death, similar to the Roman Catholic concept of Purgatory in some ways, but also different in some ways. Philip Schaff writes:

"Origen, following in the path of Plato, used the term 'purgatorial fire,' by which the remaining stains of the soul shall be burned away; but he understood it figuratively, and connected it with the consuming fire at the final judgment, while Augustin and Gregory I. transferred it to the middle state." (section 156).

Jacques Le Goff comments:

"In this vision of the other world [advocated by Clement of Alexandria and Origen] a number of ingredients of the true Purgatory are lacking, however. No clear distinction is made between time in Purgatory and the time of the Last Judgment. This confusion is so troublesome that Origen is forced both to expand the end of the world and to collapse it into a single moment, while at the same time making its prospect imminent. Purgatory is not really distinguished from Hell, and there is no clear awareness that Purgatory is a temporary and provisional abode. The responsibility for postmortem purification is shared by the dead, with their weight of sin, and God, the benevolent judge of salvation; the living play no part. Finally, no place is designated as the place of purgatory. By making the purifying fire not only 'spiritual' but also 'invisible,' Origen prevented the imagination of the faithful from gaining a purchase on it." (The Birth of Purgatory [Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1986], p. 57)

In one place, Origen comments:

"I think, therefore, that all the saints who depart from this life will remain in some place situated on the earth, which holy Scripture calls paradise, as in some place of instruction, and, so to speak, class-room or school of souls, in which they are to be instructed regarding all the things which they had seen on earth, and are to receive also some information respecting things that are to follow in the future, as even when in this life they had obtained in some degree indications of future events, although 'through a glass darkly,' all of which are revealed more clearly and distinctly to the saints in their proper time and place. If any one indeed be pure in heart, and holy in mind, and more practised in perception, he will, by making more rapid progress, quickly ascend to a place in the air, and reach the kingdom of heaven, through those mansions, so to speak, in the various places which the Greeks have termed spheres, i.e., globes, but which holy Scripture has called heavens; in each of which he will first see clearly what is done there, and in the second place, will discover the reason why things are so done: and thus he will in order pass through all gradations, following Him who hath passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, who said, 'I will that where I am, these may be also.' And of this diversity of places He speaks, when He says, 'In My Father's house are many mansions.' He Himself is everywhere, and passes swiftly through all things; nor are we any longer to understand Him as existing in those narrow Limits in which He was once confined for our sakes, i.e., not in that circumscribed body which He occupied on earth, when dwelling among men, according to which He might be considered as enclosed in some one place." (De Principiis, 2:11:6)

The doctrine of Purgatory is absent from and contradicted by scripture. David's last actions on earth were to break a promise and arrange for somebody to be murdered (1 Kings 2:1-10). But he knew he would be in Heaven the moment the next life began (Psalm 17:15). Paul knew he was imperfect (Philippians 3:12), but said he would go to be with the Lord if he died at that time (Philippians 1:23). Scripture repeatedly refers to all believers being at peace, having joy, going to be with the Lord, etc. whenever this life ends (Psalm 49:15, 73:24-25, Isaiah 57:1-2, Daniel 12:13, Matthew 25:34, Luke 16:22, Luke 23:42-43, John 14:2-3, 2 Corinthians 5:1-8, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, Revelation 7:14-17). Purgatory is never mentioned, but instead is repeatedly contradicted by references to every believer going to Heaven.

*Some* elements of the later Roman Catholic doctrine can be seen in *some* church fathers, but the concept of Purgatory is contradicted by the earliest patristic evidence. The Protestant historian Philip Schaff wrote:

"These views of the middle state in connection with prayers for the dead show a strong tendency to the Roman Catholic doctrine of Purgatory, which afterwards came to prevail in the West through the great weight of St. Augustin and Pope Gregory I. But there is, after all, a considerable difference. The ante-Nicene idea of the middle state of the pious excludes, or at all events ignores, the idea of penal suffering, which is an essential part of the Catholic conception of purgatory. It represents the condition of the pious as one of comparative happiness, inferior only to the perfect happiness after the resurrection. Whatever and wherever Paradise may be, it belongs to the heavenly world; while purgatory is supposed to be a middle region between heaven and hell, and to border rather on the latter. The sepulchral inscriptions in the catacombs have a prevailingly cheerful tone, and represent the departed souls as being 'in peace' and 'living in Christ,' or 'in God.' The same view is substantially preserved in the Oriental church, which holds that the souls of the departed believers may be aided by the prayers of the living, but are nevertheless 'in light and rest, with a foretaste of eternal happiness.' Yet alongside with this prevailing belief, there are traces of the purgatorial idea of suffering the temporal consequences of sin, and a painful struggle after holiness. Origen, following in the path of Plato, used the term 'purgatorial fire,' by which the remaining stains of the soul shall be burned away; but he understood it figuratively, and connected it with the consuming fire at the final judgment, while Augustin and Gregory I. transferred it to the middle state. The common people and most of the fathers understood it of a material fire; but this is not a matter of faith, and there are Roman divines who confine the purgatorial sufferings to the mind and the conscience. A material fire would be very harmless without a material body. A still nearer approach to the Roman purgatory was made by Tertullian and Cyprian, who taught that a special satisfaction and penance was required for sins committed after baptism, and that the last farthing must be paid (Matt. 5:20) before the soul can be released from prison and enter into heaven." (section 156).

Papias, a church father of the late first and early second centuries, explains that *all* Christians go to Heaven at the end of this life, although they advance through different stages of Heaven. Notice Papias' use of phrases like "everywhere" and "those who are saved", which suggests that he's referring to all Christians, not just some. He discusses the spiritual growth of believers in the afterlife, but says nothing of any Purgatory. He cites John 14:2, which is a passage about all believers, not just some. Papias doesn't seem to have had any concept of Purgatory.

"As the presbyters say, then those who are deemed worthy of an abode in heaven shall go there, others shall enjoy the delights of Paradise, and others shall possess the splendor of the city; for everywhere the Savior will be seen, according as they shall be worthy who see Him. But that there is this distinction between the habitation of those who produce an hundredfold, and that of those who produce sixty-fold, and that of those who produce thirty-fold; for the first will be taken up into the heavens, the second class will dwell in Paradise, and the last will inhabit the city; and that on this account the Lord said, 'In my Father's house are many mansions:' for all things belong to God, who supplies all with a suitable dwelling-place, even as His word says, that a share is given to all by the Father, according as each one is or shall be worthy. And this is the couch in which they shall recline who feast, being invited to the wedding. The presbyters, the disciples of the apostles, say that this is the gradation and arrangement of those who are saved, and that they advance through steps of this nature; and that, moreover, they ascend through the Spirit to the Son, and through the Son to the Father; and that in due time the Son will yield up His work to the Father, even as it is said by the apostle, 'For He must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.' For in the times of the kingdom the just man who is on the earth shall forget to die. 'But when He saith all things are put under Him, it is manifest that He is excepted which did put all things under Him. And when all things shall be subdued unto Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.'" (Fragments, 5)

Polycarp refers to over a dozen deceased Christians, and he comments that all of them are in Heaven:

"I exhort you all, therefore, to yield obedience to the word of righteousness, and to exercise all patience, such as ye have seen set before your eyes, not only in the case of the blessed Ignatius, and Zosimus, and Rufus, but also in others among yourselves, and in Paul himself, and the rest of the apostles. This do in the assurance that all these have not run in vain, but in faith and righteousness, and that they are now in their due place in the presence of the Lord, with whom also they suffered. For they loved not this present world, but Him who died for us, and for our sakes was raised again by God from the dead." (The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, 9)

A Catholic might respond by arguing that all of these people had completed their sanctification by the end of this life, and therefore they didn't need to go to Purgatory, whereas other people *would* need to go there. But, as I explained with regard to Clement of Rome, how could Polycarp possibly know that all of these people had completed their sanctification? We know that people like the prophet Daniel and the apostle Paul lived highly righteous, highly commendable lives, yet even *they* needed to seek forgiveness for their sins (Daniel 9:20) and knew they were still imperfect (Philippians 3:12). Besides, just from common observation, it seems implausible to suggest that anybody would be perfectly sanctified in this life. All of us stumble in many ways (James 3:2). It's implausible to suggest that *every* person Polycarp referred to was perfectly sanctified, and that Polycarp somehow knew about it. How could he possibly know? The more likely explanation for these church fathers *always* referring to deceased Christians being in Heaven is that they had no concept of Purgatory. If somebody lived a life that suggested he was a Christian, it was assumed that he would go to Heaven at the end of this life.

Though Roman Catholic apologists often erroneously cite Tertullian in support of the doctrine of Purgatory, the historian Jacques Le Goff explains:

"Between Tertullian's refrigerium interim [a region of the afterlife some believers go to] and Purgatory there is a difference not only of kind - for Tertullian it is a matter of a restful wait until the Last Judgment, whereas with Purgatory it is a question of a trial that purifies because it is punitive and expiatory - but also of duration: souls remain in refrigerium until the resurrection but in Purgatory only as long as it takes to expiate their sins." (The Birth of Purgatory [Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1986], pp. 47-48)

Tertullian sees some believers going to a different region *within* Heaven, a place of enjoyment, that lasts until the time of judgment. Purgatory, on the other hand, is a place of suffering that can end before the judgment. Tertullian writes:

"there is some determinate place called Abraham's bosom, and that it is designed for the reception of the souls of Abraham's children, even from among the Gentiles (since he is 'the father of many nations,' which must be classed amongst his family), and of the same faith as that wherewithal he himself believed God, without the yoke of the law and the sign of circumcision. This region, therefore, I call Abraham's bosom. Although it is not in heaven, it is yet higher than hell, and is appointed to afford an interval of rest to the souls of the righteous, until the consummation of all things shall complete the resurrection of all men with the 'full recompense of their reward.'" (Against Marcion, 4:34)

Did Tertullian believe in different regions *within* what we commonly consider Heaven? Yes. Did he believe in praying for the dead and offering sacrifices for them? Yes. Did he believe in Purgatory? No.

Victorinus refers to deceased believers, including martyrs, going to a heavenly region of Hades until the resurrection. He explains that this region of Hades is a place without punishment, a place of repose. He comments on Revelation 6:9-11 as follows:

"As the golden altar is acknowledged to be heaven, so also by the brazen altar is understood the earth, under which is the Hades,-a region withdrawn from punishments and fires, and a place of repose for the saints, wherein indeed the righteous are seen and heard by the wicked, but they cannot be carried across to them. He who sees all things would have us to know that these saints, therefore-that is, the souls of the slain-are asking for vengeance for their blood, that is, of their body, from those that dwell upon the earth; but because in the last time, moreover, the reward of the saints will be perpetual, and the condemnation of the wicked shall come, it was told them to wait. And for a solace to their body, there were given unto each of them white robes." (Commentary on the Apocalypse of the Blessed John, 6:9)

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Supplementary

You can see an exchange here i had with a Roman Catholic on this issue.

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