Paul J. Griffiths

in The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology

Published in print December 2007 |
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

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The English word “purgatory” is a technical term belonging to Christian doctrine. As such, it translates the Latin purgatorium and means “place of purification,” a place in which whatever impurities you suffer are removed. In its most general Christian doctrinal sense, the word denotes a place (or condition or state) entered at death, remained in for a time, and then left for heaven. Purgatory's inhabitants are in an intermediate state between death and heaven. They are in heaven's antechamber, preparing for eternal, loving intimacy with God. Purgatory is like heaven in being bound irreversibly to salvation, like hell in intensity of suffering, and like earthly life in being ordered around the purification of sin by penance through time. It is the thread that binds heaven, hell, and earthly life together, conceptually speaking. This article examines the concept of purgatory and the Christian reasons for affirming (such as prayer for the dead) or denying (especially by Protestants) its existence. It also discusses the treatment of purgatory in Dante Alighieri's Commedia and the link between purgatory and eschatology.

Keywords: Christian doctrine; purgatory; purgatorium; purification; Dante Alighieri; Commedia; prayer; death; heaven

Article.  9856 words. 

Subjects: Religion ; Philosophy of Religion ; Christianity

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