All Souls Day, November 2nd, does anyone really understand why it is a holy day or is it just another meaningless holiday Catholics are asked to attend church? All Souls Day is a day that the Catholic Church has set aside to help pray for all the souls not yet joined with god. During this day, people are asked to pray for all of the departed who have passed on and are now in purgatory working very hard to have the privilege of joining to god.
Purgatory has been an important aspect of organized religion from the early days of the church until now, but never more controversial then during the time of the protestant reformation.
The following pages examine the belief of purgatory during the protestant reformation. First they will explain the history of catholic and protestant belief. Then they will present the actual doctrine itself, showing both catholic and protestant views. Finally, they will show how these beliefs have held up over the years, how they have changed and how they are still similar.
Before talking about purgatory, the subject of why there are two beliefs needs to be addressed. The Catholic and Protestant churches have two different views on purgatory. These views, actually, are one of the reasons the two churches split in the first. Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk was not happy with the state of the catholic church at that time. So, in 1517, Pope Leo X, in order to raise money to build St. Peter’s Basilica, offered indulgences for sale to the people. Indulgences offered partial remission of the penalty for sins to anyone who made donations of money. Luther believed that this should not happen. On Oct. 31, 1517, Luther nailed a list of 95 propositions to the door of the church in Wittenberg. They were mostly in objection to the right of the pope to forgive sins by the sale of indulgences. They were widely circulated in Germany and caused a great controversy. Luther was ordered to recant by Cardinal Cajetan but he refused. Some people thought that Luther had a valid point, and those people were the ones who followed him. This is where we get the split of ideas and of the churches themselves.
This split in the churches has a lot to do with the idea of purgatory and the selling of indulgences. Indulgences were sold to people to reduce their time in purgatory. These indulgences were sold at a very high price and most people either could not afford them or were forced to sell all they owned to purchase them. “A soul is released from purgatory and carried to heaven as soon as the money tinkles in the box.” (13 9 13)
The existence of purgatory and indulgences were not what started the split it was the selling of the indulgences and the extremely high prices for them that caused the split in the church and in the belief of purgatory itself.
The doctrine of purgatory is not very involved in the Catholic Church. There are only three paragraphs in the catechism. The basic understanding is that there is a third place after death where a person who has not sinned enough to go to hell but has not been perfect goes to be purified. Also, God helps the people in purgatory so they are not completely cut off from Him like in hell. The only other belief about purgatory is that the purification has to be painful.
Even though the catechism only has about three paragraphs on purgatory, there have been other writings on the subject. The Council of Vatican II has its own beliefs on the subject. They stated:
The doctrine of purgatory clearly demonstrates that even when the guilt of the sin has been taken away, punishment for it or the consequences of it may remain to be explained or cleansed. They often are.In fact in purgatory the souls of those who died in the charity of god and truly repentant, but who had not made satisfaction with adequate penance for there sins . . . are cleansed after death . . . .
During the Protestant Reformation this belief was a bit more thought out. They believed that purgatory and hell had the same “fire” and that the pain was the same:
St Thomas Aquinas quoted Gregory the Great as quoting St. Augustine as saying ‘even as in the same fire gold glistens and straw smokes, so in the same fire the sinner burns and the elect is cleaned’
This is taken to mean that hell and purgatory have the same punishment but in hell a person is there for all of eternity and in purgatory that person is there only as long as it takes to have his soul cleansed. Indulgences are meant to shorten this time. They cannot be used for anything else. Someone cannot just buy their way into heaven; they have to go through the same cleansing process of purgatory.
There are two kinds of indulgences. There are partial indulgences and plenary indulgences. Mostly the difference is the amount of time that is decreased by the indulgence. A partial indulgence takes off the time for one minor sin. A plenary indulgence takes off more time. This indulgence takes off a more serious sin or a few minor ones. The difference in price however is immense. This was just another reason that Martin Luther was displeased with the church.