Who invented Purgatory? (History and origin of purgatory + biblical basis of Purgatory)

Last week, we discussed intriguing topics in Christianity with my online Bible Study Students. One of them asked me to talk about the origin of Purgatory. Luckily, I was armed with vast knowledge on this topic. In theology school, I also got curious about the doctrine of Purgatory and decided to do in-depth research. I approached the local Priest, who gave me great insight into this concept and its origin. We spent one week discussing this doctrine in-depth, and when I had too many questions, the Catechist would chip in and give some answers. So, when this youth posed this question, I felt I was the right person to address the topic because I was well versed in it. So, who invented Purgatory?

No human being invented Purgatory. However, the word Purgatory was invented by man. It was invented by Saltrey in the 12th Century. Dante was the first person to vividly describe Purgatory in his literary works, giving the seven levels of Purgatory. Other people like St. Patrick are said to have described what Purgatory was like in the 5th Century.

Join me in this article, where I discuss whether man invented Purgatory. I will also talk about Dante creating the concept of Purgatory. Lastly, I will write about the Biblical basis of Purgatory. Read on to find out more.

Was Purgatory invented by man?

No, Purgatory was not invented by man. It is like Heaven; no one invented it; we just have different descriptions by different people. In the case of Purgatory, man invented the name and elaborated the idea of its existence.

It is believed that the Holy Spirit guided Jews to pray for the dead to help them break loose from their sins. While in Purgatory, souls get punished and learn from their sins until they break free at the top level of Purgatory Mountain. According to 2 Maccabees 12:39-46, the Holy Spirit guides people to pray for the dead because they are in Purgatory.

Also, during the time of Jesus, people prayed for the dead, and He did not condemn it, which makes people suggest that He was aware of the existence of Purgatory and no man was responsible for inventing it. It is emphasized that the idea of Purgatory existed before His time on Earth.

The existence of Purgatory was, however, brought to light and clearly elaborated by man. Dante elaborated on the levels of Purgatory Mountain through his poem.

Did Dante create the concept of Purgatory?

History and origin of purgatory 
Did Dante create the concept of Purgatory? Image source: Pixabay

Dante only elaborated on the idea of Purgatory by inventing a region of Purgatory in his literary works. In his works, he writes that Purgatory is a mountain divided into seven terraces. Each terrace corresponds to a deadly sin, and from the bottom, it starts with Pride, Envy, Anger, Sloth, Avarice, Gluttony, and Lust. He created the concept that souls get different kinds of punishment at each level. He suggests that souls in purgatory suffer to become good and eventually make it to the earthly paradise that leads them to Heaven.

Where did the idea of Purgatory originate?

It is suggested that the idea of Purgatory originates from St. Patrick’s vision in the fifth Century. St Patrick had a vision from God about purgation. However, the word purgatory was not used during his time. The word was first used by Saltrey in his text during the 12th Century. Although St. Patrick’s vision informs what Purgatory is, it is suggested that the concept existed even before the time of Christ. Proponents who argue that Purgatory was part of the early Christian’s belief say that it is backed up by the idea of praying for the benefit of the dead.

Where did Catholics take the idea of Purgatory?

It is believed that Catholics take the idea of Purgatory from Early Christians who prayed for the dead because they believed they were under purification, essentially Purgatory. In addition, Catholics believe that the dead are yet to be judged and are not in hell or Heaven. They believe that the souls of the dead undergo purification/purgation because they are impure and nothing imperfect is fit before God’s eyes. Therefore the whole idea of praying for dead souls makes them believe that there is purgatory.

What Is the Biblical Basis for Purgatory?

Who invented Purgatory? 
What Is the Biblical Basis for Purgatory? Image source: Pixabay

The belief in the doctrine of Purgatory, especially by the Catholic Church, draws its foundation from some Bible verses and the way Jews prayed for the dead. In Matthew 5:25-26, it is recorded that sinners should strive to be delivered from sin through Christ. If they fail to repent and get deliverance, they will be led to the presence of a judge. The judge will hand over sinners to the officer to throw them in prison, and they will pay up to the last penny for their sins. This prison that sinners will be jailed in is likened to Purgatory.

Also, in the book of 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, the Bible talks of a place where sinners will be refined through fire and be saved, which is thought to be Purgatory. Jesus Christ lays a foundation for everyone, and each person is supposed to build on that foundation. The work of each builder will be tested by fire and the ones that survive get rewarded. However, the ones that do not survive, the owners will suffer some loss, but they will be saved by fire. The idea that the owners whose buildings did not survive will have a chance to be saved through fire proves that there is purgatory.

Also, in Isaiah 4:4, it is written that the Lord will wash away the sins of sinners and purge the blood from Jerusalem by the spirit of judgment and burning. The burning in this verse is often connected to Purgatory.

However, other Christians have different interpretations of these verses, especially Protestants. For instance, the last verse I mentioned is interpreted to mean the purification of sinners while alive. Protestants believe that there is no purification after death.

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