As we saw in our first installment, Limbo was never a true doctrine of the Roman Church. Curiously, Limbo often becomes entangled with the doctrine of Purgatory. Purgatory has an origin in Greek Mythology and Philosophy as the ancient Greeks believed in a type of Limbo and Purgatory. It was Clement of Alexandria ( c,150- c.215 AD), renowned Catholic Theologian and Philosopher, who argued that the dead could be cleansed of sin by a purifying fire. However, Pope Gregory the Great, whose reign was 590-604 AD, taught, in The History of Christian Doctrines, that the cleansing fire was a matter of unquestioned belief. Pope Gregory the Great has been called “the inventor of purgatory”.
Historically, the word purgatory cannot be found anywhere in the Bible. The underlying thought of such final cleansing is found in passages in the New Testament. 1 John 1:9 reads; “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”. Peter speaks in graphic terms about the souls who have died; “After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits. (1 Peter 3:19). Paul seems to speak most often about this aspect of Judgement. He writes; “or we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad”. (2 Corinthians 5:10) However, most Christian scholars point to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3: 11-15 as the clearest teaching on Purgatory;
“For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble—each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire”.
The word originates in the Latin, purgare. The term itself, which literally means to “purge” or “cleanse”, did not come into existence until around 1175 - 1225 A.D. Shortly thereafter, the Catholic Church defined its official teaching on Purgatory at the Councils of Lyons (1274), Florence (1439), and Trent (1547).
The Catechism of the Church contains two articles that pertain directly to Purgatory;
1031. "The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. [Cf. Council of Florence (1439): DS 1304; Council of Trent (1563): DS 1820; (1547): 1580; see also Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus (1336): DS 1000.] The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire. [Cf. 1 Cor 3:15; 1 Pet 1:7.] As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come. [St. Gregory the Great, Dial. 4, 39: PL 77, 396; cf. Mt 12:32-36.]"
1472. "To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the 'eternal punishment' of sin. On the other hand, every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the 'temporal punishment' of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain. [Cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1712-1713; (1563): 1820.]"
Overall, unlike Hell, Purgatory is not for the damned and a source of fear. It is the just consequence of our misdeeds from a loving parent. Like the child who is sent to their room, we are not forgotten in Purgatory and know our time there will end.