Purgatory vs. Hell: What is the main difference?

As a long-time Christian, I have always been interested in what other Christians believe. The perfect opportunity to interact with interdenominational Christians came in theology school. This was where I learned about Purgatory and its difference from hell in-depth. Initially, I had basic knowledge, but the more I learned about this doctrine, the more intrigued I became. I decided to do extensive research, and luckily, there was a Catholic Church nearby, and I became a frequent visitor. The Priest and the Catechist were always ready to share information on this doctrine, and the Brothers and Nuns would come to chip in whenever they could. Recently, someone once asked me, “What’s the difference between Purgatory and Hell?” With all the knowledge I had gained on this subject years back, I was armed with all the answers. What followed was a session of enlightenment for this person. So, Purgatory vs. Hell, how are they different?

The main difference between Purgatory and Hell lies in how long a person will be in either place. The Bible teaches that sinners spend eternity in Hell. Purgatory, on the other hand, is a temporary state of purification for believers who die with unconfessed venial sins. This catholic doctrine traces its origins to the Councils of Trent and Florence and is the basis for prayers for the dead.

So, join me in exploring the differences and similarities between Purgatory and Hell. I hope this article gives you a clearer understanding of the core differences between these doctrines and their implications for the faith.

Purgatory vs. Hell: Difference in the definition

Purgatory vs. Hell
Purgatory vs. Hell. Image source: Pixabay

Purgatory is a state of purification that those who die with venial sin must go through before admittance into heaven. In contrast, Hell is a place of eternal punishment where those who’ve committed mortal sin go.

Purgatory is a catholic doctrine founded in the councils of Trent and Florence. This doctrine is based on the understanding that not all sin merits eternal damnation in Hell. However, such sin must be punished, whether in life or death. Purgatory attempts to answer the question, where do those who’ve committed venial sin go? According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Purgatory is reserved for those who died with unconfessed venial sin. As such, they require purification before they enter heaven.

Conversely, Hell is a place of eternal punishment for sinners who died apart from Christ. Catholicism teaches that it’s a place of definitive exclusion from God where the Souls of those who die in mortal sin descend. The Bible describes Hell as a place of eternal suffering where the fire and worms never die (Mark 9:48). The prophet Daniel adds that it’s a place of eternal shame and contempt (Dan 12:2).

What is the difference between Purgatory and Hell?

Hell is eternal; Purgatory is temporal.

Unlike Hell, Purgatory is temporary. Purgatory is a temporary state of purification for those who die in Christ but committed venial sins. It’s supposed to remove the temporal effects of sin, allowing the person access to heaven. Those in Purgatory can look forward to seeing God after their time of purification. In contrast, Hell is eternal. There is no hope for restoration with God for those in Hell. Once you’re in, there’s no leaving.

Hell punishes; Purgatory purifies.

Initially, Purgatory was considered a place of temporary punishment. However, this doctrine has been rephrased to a state of purification, giving it a positive spin. As mentioned, Purgatory removes any trace of sin before a person is united with God. Essentially, Purgatory restores. Hell, on the other hand, is purely a place for punishment. It’s the manifestation of willful self-exclusion from God. Jesus taught that it’s a place of darkness filled with weeping and gnashing of teeth. Revelation 20 adds that it’s the final destination for Satan and the antichrist.

How are Hell and Purgatory similar?

Purgatory vs. Hell
How are Hell and Purgatory similar? Image source: Pixabay

Both follow death

Hell and Purgatory come after death. According to Catholicism, a person who dies after committing a mortal sin descends into Hell. Here, the person undergoes eternal torment for his sin. However, if the person dies without confessing venial sins, he will go through Purgatory for a predetermined time. In Purgatory, the person is cleansed before entering heaven.

Both are places of pain

The Benedictus Deus clarified that going through Hell and Purgatory have two kinds of pain. The difference lies in how long someone bears the pain.

The pain of loss: those who go through Hell and Purgatory undergo the pain of loss. They lose out on seeing God and entering heaven.

The pain of sense: the common denominator between Hell and Purgatory is fire. The fires of Purgatory cleanse. Nonetheless, it hurts as the impurities of venial sin are burned away. This pain is akin to Radiotherapy, which hurts but kills cancerous cells. Hell, in contrast, is a place of punishment characterized by weeping and torment.

Is Purgatory in the middle of Hell and Heaven?

No. Purgatory isn’t a place. Instead, it’s a condition of existence. Pope John Paul II clarified this in August 1999. Initially, Purgatory was thought to be a place between Heaven and Hell. This idea dates back to the 12th century AD, with stories placing Purgatory’s entrance in a cave in Northern Ireland. Pope John Paul II clarified that Purgatory is a state of purification before entering heaven. Therefore, by extension, it is irrelevant where this purification happens.

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