Sunday, April 3, 2011

Four Views on Hell (Part 3/4): The Purgatorial View

Ok, this is the third post in this series. If you’re just joining us now....I’ve been summarizing in 300 words or less the four predominate views of hell: The Literal view, the Metaphorical view, the Purgatorial view, and the Conditional view. Now, you can read entire books on just one of these views...so go easy on me as I try to summarize the view, probably badly, in 300 words or less.

View #3 – The Purgatorial View

The Purgatorial view, quite distinct from the first two views, places a high emphasis on a place called “Purgatory.” Purgatory is a term understood to denote a “state, place, or condition in the next world between heaven and hell, a state of purifying suffering for those who have died and are still in need of such purification. This purifying condition comes to an end for the individual when that person’s guilt has been expiated” (For Views on Hell, Gundry).  There seems to be four overarching ideas that lead a person to this way of thinking. First, because people die in sin, they need some time of purification before heaven, the place where God is. This “purgatory” is an intermediate place of suffering and a place of preparation. Second, because humans are not only individuals but also communal beings, purgatory is an intermediate place of coherence between mortality and immortality where loved ones still bound to their mortal state can be in solidarity with the deceased. This, in fact, reemphasizes the historic Christian practice of praying for the dead. Third, the doctrine of purgatory is an accepted doctrine of the Catholic church and therefore considered authoritative. One commentator writes, “Tradition is not a second source of doctrine next to and independent of the Bible. Rather, it is the living communication of the biblical revelation in ever-changing circumstances and in new and different communities and cultures.” In this sense, a historic doctrine is an authoritative witness. Fourth, 2nd Maccabees 12:41-46, which is found in the Apocrypha, is a key text for the purgatorial view. Here, a final line of the narrative reads, “Thus he [God] made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin.” The purgatorial view places emphasis on the intermediate state of the dead in hope that eventually they might be freed from sin altogether.


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