The Catholic Church: A Friendly Discussion with Our Catholic Friends (Part 3a)

The Catholic Church

The Catholic Church 

A Friendly Discussion with Our Catholic Friends

(Part 3a)

  • What are the most important things
    that a Catholic needs to know?
  • What truths will a Catholic priest never tell you?
  • What are the amazing origins of the Catholic Church and Catholic doctrines?
  1. Prayer to Mary in Heaven?

We know that God calls on us to pray to Him for He is both Creator of all things as well as Heavenly Father who cares for us.  Jesus said, “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name” (Matthew 6:9).  David said, “Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my groaning.  Heed the sound of my cry for help, my King and my God, for to You I pray.  In the morning, O LORD, You will hear my voice, in the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch” (Psalm 5:1-3).  He also prayed, “O You, who hear prayer, to You all men come” (65:2).

In addition to prayer to God, the Catholic Church prays to Mary and trusts in her care at the time of death!

Because she gives us Jesus, her son, Mary is Mother of God and our mother: we can entrust all our cares and petitions to her: she prays for us as she prayed for herself. . . . By entrusting ourselves to her prayer, we abandon ourselves to the will of God together with her: ‘Thy will be done’. . . . By asking Mary to pray for us, we acknowledge ourselves to be poor sinners and we address ourselves to the ‘Mother of Mercy,’ the All-Holy One. . . .And our trust broadens further, already at the present moment, to surrender ‘the hour of our death’ wholly to her care.  May she be there as she was at her son’s death on the cross.  May she welcome us as our mother at the hour of our passing to lead us to her son, Jesus, in paradise.[1]

The Catholic Church prays to Mary and addresses praise to her.  “Because of Mary’s singular cooperation with the action of the Holy Spirit, the Church loves to pray in communion with the Virgin Mary, to magnify with her the great things the Lord has done for her, and to entrust supplications and praises to her.”[2]  Notice that these attitudes and actions, suitable for God alone, are to be directed to Mary herself, a mere human being.  God says that we are not to “worship” or “serve” anyone other than the one and true God, for He is “a jealous God,” for “God will not put up with rivalry or unfaithfulness” but “demands exclusive devotion to Himself” and “delivers to judgment all who oppose Him.”[3]  This is basic to God’s nature.  He is “a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deut. 4:24).

When one considers the matter of prayer to Mary or to any other human being, he will conclude that prayer to Mary is entirely impossible.  First, although hundreds of millions of Catholics presume to pray to Mary and assume that she hears them, there is no indication that Mary can even hear one single person’s prayer!  She is not God!  Second, since Mary is not God, she cannot answer any prayer, even if she wanted to.  Third, even if she could hear a person’s prayer, she surely cannot hear hundreds of millions of prayers, many of which are uttered at the very same time.  This is why many conclude that Catholicism has raised Mary to the level of Godhood, even though they strongly object to this assertion.

  1. Apparitions of Mary

The Catholic Church

We have all heard and read of the famed apparitions of Mary, but just what is an “apparition”?  The term “apparition” comes from the Latin apparitia, an appearance or presence.[4]  A Catholic explanation would be that “an apparition is an extraordinary, visible appearance seen by one or more persons.  This manifestation may occur in the form of a supernatural vision or private revelation.”[5]

Most of us have seen pictures of presumed visions of Mary, or newscasts of someone who believes he or she has been visited by Mary.  Perhaps some of our readers have visited Lourdes in France, Fatima in Portugal, or Guadalupe in Mexico—all places where Mary is supposed to have visited.

Recently some Church-accepted apparition sites have become places to which Christian pilgrims and spiritual seekers frequently journey.  The places and dates of the apparitions include: Guadalupe (Mexico), 1931; Rue de Bac (France), 1830; La Salette (France), 1846; Lourdes (France), 1858; Fatima (Portugal), 1917; Beauraing (Belgium), 1933; and Banneau (Belgium), 1933.[6]

How should we look on these claimed appearances?  In each case, at least one and sometimes several people have claimed that they saw Mary or that Mary had spoken to them.  Was this, in fact, true?  Sometimes we read an account in which Mary is supposed to be in a painting of her and the “Virgin Mary” cries.  Or someone affirms that Mary appeared in a tortilla!  Devout Catholics have imagined that they have been visited by Mary in many different circumstances.

We can know the mind of God regarding communication with those who have died by consulting His written Word.  God says through Moses that one who practices divination, witchcraft, or is “a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead” commits serious sin that is “detestable to the LORD” (Deuteronomy 18:10-11).  God forbids any contact with death people.  “Contact with the dead in any form is forbidden by God. . . . We should not expect God would allow Mary to do something that He has expressly forbidden.”[7]

Some suggest that there are various explanations to such appearances.  The people who see them may have “actually encountered a demonic impersonation of Mary.”[8]  Kenneth Samples visited Medjugorge and spoke to the visionaries.  He gives these possible explanations:

There could be numerous natural explanations.  These range from outright human deception, to psychological projection or hallucination, or even possibly to some physical or natural scientific cause.  The cause could even be found in a combination of these factors.  However, because of the unbiblical nature of Marian apparitions, if the cause is supernatural in origin then we can only be dealing with the demonic, not with God.  I realize that this line of reasoning will be offensive to many Catholics; nonetheless, I believe it is a necessary theological inference.[9]

Therefore, some may think that these claimed appearances of Mary are genuine.  However, since they violate so many Biblical principles and show a Mary who doesn’t actually exist, we must rule this out.  Others believe that these apparitions are merely the figment of active minds that are highly suggestible.  Still others would say that various loyal Catholics are deliberately deceiving others (we might call this pious frauds) in order to promote Marian worship.  And others may believe that Satan is actively deceiving people and demons may be impersonating Mary.

Are there really problems with these claimed appearances of Mary?  Indeed there are.  Consider these:

  • Mary is dead and there is no indication that one who has died can come back to earth (other than cases such as the raising of Lazarus—John 11).
  • The Mary who appears has different forms and physical features.
  • The Mary who appears in the apparitions is thought to be the “Virgin Mary” or even identifies herself as such, but this Mary doesn’t actually exist (e.g., she is no longer a virgin).
  • The Mary who appears promotes Roman Catholicism, something that the real Mary would never do.
  • The Mary of the apparitions recommends the repeating of the Rosary, an unscriptural form of prayer to her and God.
  • The Mary of the apparitions is pleased to have people come to her shrine—at Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe, etc.—something that the real Mary would abhor.
  • The Mary who appears may have been a demonic manifestation. “We are told that Satan ‘masquerades as an angel of light’ (2 Corinthians 11:14). He has the ability to perform ‘counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders’ (2 Thessalonians 2:9 NIV).”[10]  Satan can inspired “false Christs and false prophets” to “show great signs and wonders” (Matthew 24:24).
  • The Mary of these apparitions supports Roman Catholic doctrine. The true Mary would not, in any way, promote anything that is false.
  • The Mary who appears often draws attention to herself. Today, there are those who seem more devoted to Mary than to the Lord Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. The real Mary would utterly refuse to take the glory worthy of God and accept it herself.

For these reasons, we must reject the many Marian appearances that are claimed by various devout but deceived Catholic devotees.

  1. Exaltation of Mary

The Catholic Church

We have reviewed a number of the glories of Mary as believed by the faithful Catholic.  This reveals the exaltation of this devoted woman whom Catholics call the Virgin Mary.  Just what is affirmed of Mary?

  • Mary as the second Eve. Whereas Jesus is viewed as the last Adam or the second Adam in Scripture (1 Corinthians 15:45), Mary is the heavenly Eve.  The Second Vatican Council said that some of the so-called early church fathers stated that “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosed by her faith.” “Comparing Mary with Eve, they claim: ‘death through Eve, life through Mary.’”[11]
  • Mary as Co-redemptrix or Co-Redeemer. “She shared with her son in the saving work of redemption for humankind.  She participated in the redemptive work of her Savior-son.”[12]
  • Mary as “Queen of Heaven and Earth.” Pius IX stated, “Since she has been appointed by God to be Queen of heaven and earth, and is exalted above all the choirs of angels and saints, and even stands at the right hand of her only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, she presents our petitions in a most efficacious manner. What she asks, she obtains.  Her pleas can never be unheard.”[13]
  • Mary as the Mediator of Salvation. Ludwig Ott, Catholic theologian, said, “1. Mary is the Mediatrix of all graces by her cooperation in the Incarnation. And 2. Mary is the Mediatrix of all graces by her intercession in heaven.”[14] Alphonsus Ligouri, a Catholic “Saint,” says that “the pentitude of grace was in Christ, as the Head from which it flows, as from its source; and in Mary, as in the neck through which it flows.”[15]
  • Mary is Queen of Mercy. Just as Jesus is the King of Justice, Mary is thought to be Queen of Mercy who dispenses this to needy sinners.[16]
  • Mary as the Protector. Karl Rahner says, “Mary is such a one, Mary worthy of all praise; she is powerful, mother of the all-powerful God. . . . So God gave her to us. . . . We should place ourselves under her protection and loyalty, together with our plans and our deeds, our purity and out penance, our sorrows and joys and pleas and wishes. All that is ours we should entrust to her.”[17]

These exalted titles and statements are made to a woman, a human being, a humble servant of God.  They reveal how far the Catholic Church has departed from primitive Christianity and how close they have come to idolatry.

In Scripture, Mary is never called a second Eve.  In Scripture, only God and Christ are called Redeemer.  In Scripture, it is God who is the Lord of heaven and earth.  In Scripture, God is the giver of mercy.  In Scripture, God is our protector and provider.  These and many other affirmations of Mary are false.

  1. Who are the Saints?

Who is a saint?  What is a saint?  The English term “saint” is from the Greek hagios, which “fundamentally signifies ‘separated’ . . . and hence, in Scripture in its moral and spiritual significance, separated from sin and therefore consecrated to God, sacred.”[18]  It is also used with regard to the Christian’s position.  “This sainthood is not an attainment, it is a state into which God in grace calls men.”[19]  Every person who has been born of God is a saint in his standing, and he strives for greater and greater holiness in his state or condition. “Like the holy One who called you, be holy yourselves in all your behavior” (1 Peter 1:15).

The Catholic Church teaches that the “Pope” may canonize a particularly religious person, providing the person has performed at least one miracle, thus recognizing the person as a “saint.”  “By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors.”[20]  One Catholic authority explains:

“Saint” is a derivation of the Latin word sanctus.  Essentially it refers to one who is “consecrated,” a truly holy or godly person.  Many early followers of the risen Jesus of Nazareth (Saint Paul is one example) referred to other believers as saints, but eventually the words saint and saints were typically and somewhat inaccurately applied only to those who had passed over in death into the spiritual condition of complete salvation and joy with Jesus in heaven.[21]

This writer acknowledges that the Catholic Church is “inaccurate” in its use of “saint” but this usage continues, with very serious effects.

“The Catholic Church distinguishes between latria, the adoration and worship due to God alone, hyperdulia, the highest respect paid to a human, i.e., to Mary as the only ‘sinless’ saint, and dulia, the honor and esteem and high respect due unto all the saints. Catholics pray to the saints, asking that they in turn intercede on our behalf with God. They believe this is no difference from asking a living believer to intercede on our behalf. Most Catholics acknowledge that there is no explicit biblical evidence for this.”[22]  The Catholic Church has declared that a number of men and women (and even angels!) are “saints” and should be venerated (worshipped).

The Word of God presents an entirely different picture of sainthood.  The Bible says that every true Christian is a saint.  All Christians are “beloved of God . . . called as saints” (Romans 1:7; cf. Acts 9:13, 32, 41: 26:10; Romans 15:25, 26, 31; 16:2, 15; 1 Corinthians 1:2).  Notice how the “saints” are equated with the body of Christ in Ephesians 4:11-12.  Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:1).  Sainthood occurs instantaneously at the point of salvation, when one is “set apart” or “separated” from the world to God and His service.  A saint is a person who is “in Christ Jesus”—in union with the Lord Jesus.  As a saint, the brother or sister does strive for greater holiness.  It probably would be more accurate and avoid confusion if we were to refer to Christians as “separated ones” instead of the ambiguous term “saint.”  It doesn’t refer to a particularly holy person who is elevated to an exalted position after death.

  1. Prayers to the Saints

The Catholic Church

Not only is a true Christian a saint and a saint is a Christian, according to the apostle Paul, but many of the “saints” approved by the Roman Catholic Church are not really saints at all!  (This will become clear as we proceed through this entire study.)  Furthermore, the Catholic Church teaches that the faithful are able to and encouraged to pray to these saints and “venerate” them (as we noticed, veneration is a form of worship).  “The Church has always believed that the apostles and Christ’s martyrs, who had given the supreme witness of faith and charity by the shedding of their blood, are closely united with us in Christ; she has always venerated them, together with the Blessed Virgin Mary and the holy angels, with a special love, and has asked for the help of their intercession.”[23]

Kenneth Ryan says that the Catholic prayers to “saints” in heaven are based on a dogma called “Communion of Saints.”  He explains that “the Church is made up of the saints in heaven, persons still on earth, and the temporary inhabitants of purgatory.”  He says that the “average person” in the Catholic Church “assumes that the saints in heaven have better standing with God than anyone on earth can have, so he asks for saintly help.”   Ryan continues, “Praying to the saints fundamentally is a statement of our love for them and a request that they show their love by praying for us.”[24]  We can see the rationale, but the question is, “What does God think of this?  Does it please Him, or does it anger Him?”

According to Christ and the apostles, all prayer is to be offered to God and God alone.  Since Christ is the mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5), prayer is also addressed to Him (cf. John 14:13-14; Acts 1:21, 24; 9:10-17; 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 12:8-10; 1 Tim. 1:12; 2 Tim. 2:22).  Most prayer, however, according to the teaching and practice of the early apostles, was offered to God the Father.  The Lord Jesus Himself “spent the whole night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12).  Jesus set the precedent when He said, “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven’” (Matt. 6:9; cf. Luke 11:2).  Jesus said, “Pray to your Father” (v. 6).   As we read through the remainder of the inspired Scriptures, we see that prayer was directed to God—and never to any human being or angel (cf. Acts 8:22; 10:2; Rom. 10:1; 1 Cor. 11:13).  Paul the apostle also writes of prayer to God the Father (Rom. 15:30), as does James (James 1:5).

This is only reasonable.  God said, “You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him” (Deuteronomy 10:20.  “You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him” (6:13).  Prayer is a form of worship and the entire Bible warns that worship must only be given to God!  Prayer in the New Testament is offered to God (Matt. 6:9), in the name of Jesus Christ (John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-24), in the Holy Spirit (Eph. 6:18; cf. Phil. 3:3).  A believer in heaven is never addressed in the Christian’s prayer, according to the New Testament.

Not only this, but there is no indication whatever that Christians (even particularly holy and righteous ones) who have died are able to see anything on earth or even “hear” a single prayer!  By claiming that one can pray to Mary, to Joseph, to the angel Michael, or to any other human being or angel, we are attributing divine characteristics to one who is not God!  Only God can hear prayer and answer prayer.  Consider further: Even if the so-called saints were able to hear a person on earth praying (which they cannot), what would it take for them to hear a thousand prayers uttered at the same time, or a million prayers, or even a hundred million prayers addressed to them by faithful Catholics!  And even if they could “hear” an earthly prayer, there is no way that they could “answer” the prayer or grant the petition!  A “Saint” would need to be God Himself!  Can we see now that this doctrine and practice, although taught by the papacy for centuries, is utterly blasphemous!

Not only are our prayers to be offered to God alone, but we are not to pray to any human being.  The Bible calls this “spiritism,” or talking to the dead.  God speaks of the “detestable things” of the “nations” that were in Canaan before Israel occupied the land (Deuteronomy 18:9).  He then lists a number of these detestable things and warns that were must not be a “spiritist” among His people nor “one who calls up the dead” (v. 11).  Finally, Yahweh God plainly says, “Whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD” (v. 12).  The faithful Catholic must cease doing what God declares is “detestable”!

Why would the Lord give such prohibition for His people?  God gives no indication that dead people can hear our prayers or know what is happening in our life on earth.  At the time that Yahweh God gave these commands, the righteous dead must have been in “Abraham’s bosom” which was a place of fellowship, bliss and rest (cf. Luke 16:19-31).  Whether the righteous dead continue to be in this place as they await the resurrection or whether they are in heaven with the Lord Jesus (cf. Philippians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:8), the outcome is the same: they are dead and there is no Scriptural indication that they know what is happening on earth (unless Revelation 6:9-11 is an exception).  The bottom line would be that saved Christians beyond death are in no position to know that someone is offering a prayer to them in heaven.  We must not communicate with any dead person.  As Rick Jones says, “The nagging question you must answer here is: Why would the Catholic church rather have members pray to dead men than to the living, all-powerful, prayer-answering God?”[25]

  1. The Veneration of Relics

We’ve probably all heard of “relics” but what does the Catholic Church teach about them?  “Sacred Relics” are “bodies or portions of the bodies of the saints after death, clothing or articles they used in life, or articles such as bits of cloth that have touched their remains or tombs. . . . Those of the martyrs are placed in the altar stone at the consecration of an altar.”[26]  Ludwig Ott says that “it is permissible and profitable to venerate the relics of saints.”[27]  Whereas non-Catholics may not appreciate the significance of these remains of dead people, the devoted Catholic regards them with great honor.  “We honor Christ and the saints when we pray before the crucifix, relics, and sacred images because we honor the persons they represent; we adore Christ and venerate the saints.”[28]

In about AD 250, Cyprian justified the use of relics.  After Constantine’s time, “objects associated with confessors, heroes of the early church  . . . were now held to represent the power of the special friends of God.”  “The Council of Gangra (ca. 340) decreed excommunication for those who despised relics. . . . By the end of the fourth century, the role of relics in Christian cult had become clearly defined.”[29]  By the fourth and fifth centuries after Christ, it was commonly believed that God’s grace would come through the remains of the saints, and by the tenth century, relics were placed in shrines.[30]

One searches in vain in the New Testament for any instruction about or permission to have anything to do with the bones, hair or clothing of a Christian who has died.  Nothing at all magical was attached to these objects.  Surely no miracle was connected with a dead person’s remains.  It is true that Paul’s “handkerchiefs or aprons” were connected to the healing of diseases and the casting out of demons (Acts 19:11-12), but this is very much different from items that belonged to Catholic “saints” of the past.  These relics become the object of “veneration” which, as we have seen, amounts to worship, and true worship must be given to God alone (Matt. 4:10).

You may remember that God instructed Israel to make a bronze serpent/snake that people could look at with faith, and then they would be healed of their lethal snake bites from poisonous snakes (Numbers 21:6-9).  Many centuries later, the apostate people of God burned incense to it.  Because of this abuse (or “veneration”), Hezekiah the king destroyed the serpent to keep the people from idolatrous devotion to the object.  Only God should be worshiped!  In like manner, Catholic devotion elevates certain objects and these, in turn, become objects of devotion and worship.  Like the bronze serpent of Hezekiah’s day, all such relics need to be destroyed.

  1. Prayers for the Dead

The Catholic Church

We realize that many sincere Catholics pray on behalf of loved ones who have died, particularly seeking to have them released from purgatory.  But these people also pray directly to those who have died.  They imagine that those “on the other side” of death actually hear their petitions.  (We know that the chief example of this is prayer to Mary.)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way:

Communion with the dead.  “In full consciousness of this communion of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the Church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of the Christian religion, has honored with great respect the memory of the dead; and ‘because it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins’ she offers her suffrages for them.”  Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.[31]

Several points may be made about this justification for prayer to the Catholic saints.  The Catechism says that “it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead.”  Rick Jones answers, “According to God’s Word, it is neither holy nor wholesome to pray for the dead.  Christians are instructed to pray for the living, but not one example exists of true Christians praying for the dead. This is another tradition of men.”[32]  What about the statement that “praying for the dead can help loose them from their sins”?  Jones replies, “Here is a tradition built upon a tradition.  The Scriptures never suggest that this statement is true. . . . One must be loosed from sin before death.”[33]  Finally, the Catechism says that their intercession for us can be effective.  Actually, Scripture reveals that the Holy Spirit “intercedes for us” as He dwells in the faithful Christian (Romans 8:26).  Further, Paul tells us that Jesus Christ, “at the right hand of God” is the One who “intercedes for us” (v. 34).  With both the Holy Spirit (in us) and the Lord Jesus Christ (in heaven) interceding for us, what need do we have of any human intercessor with God the Father?

As to the question of prayer to departed dead who are assumed to be in heaven with God, we must again emphasize that they may not know anything about what is happening on earth, they would not be able to “hear” our prayers to them, and they are not God with the ability to “answer” our prayers to them.  Both prayer to “saints” and prayer “for” saints are wrong, according to the Bible.

  1. The Punishment of Purgatory and use of Indulgences

Protestants may be shocked to learn that Catholics believe in four possible destinies of those who die.  First, hell is the place of punishment for those who die in alienation from God, in mortal sin, and who choose their will before God’s will.[34]  A second destiny is a place called “Limbo.”  “In the case of infants, a rather common theological opinion has been that infants who die without baptism are excluded from heaven but spend eternity in a state of natural happiness called limbo.”[35]  These unbaptized babies will never see God, the “beatific vision.”  The third place is called Heaven, the eternal dwelling place where all will have a face-to-face vision of God and enjoy eternal life.[36] Only particularly “holy” people will go directly to heaven.  The fourth place is called Purgatory.

Purgatory is thought to be a place of purification and punishment after death where the Catholic with venial sins is prepared to enter heaven.  “Those are punished for a time in purgatory who die in the state of grace but are guilty of venial sin, or have not fully satisfied for the temporal punishment due to their sins.”[37]  These sinful Catholics “must go to purgatory where they will have to suffer much more intensely than they would have if they had accepted the sufferings of earth.  Their love is purified in purgatory, but it does not grow. . . . In purgatory, God’s cleansing fires burn away the soul’s selfishness till its love becomes perfect and it is ready to fly to heaven.”[38]  Note that Catholics with mortal sins go directly into hell, whereas those with venial (lesser) sins only go to purgatory where the sufferings are temporal and not eternal.  Perhaps hell may be likened to a life sentence in prison, but the purgatory is like a period of time in the county jail from which the prisoner will finally be released.

The doctrine of purgatory presupposes different kinds of sins, ones that will send people to hell and ones that will send people to purgatory.  Catholics believe that those who died in a “perfect state of grace, without the least sin or reparation due to sin” directly go to heaven.  On the other hand, those who die in mortal sin (serious sin) that is unforgiven go directly to hell.  The “middle” place is purgatory, where “those who die in a state of grace, but with venial sin or with unpaid reparation due to forgiven sin” go at the point of death.[39]  Purgatory, then, is “a temporary state of purification for the imperfect saints.”  While there, “the punishments due to sin are paid.”[40]

The Catechism puts it this way: “The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.  The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent.”[41]  The Council of Lyon (AD 1274) explained this doctrine:

If those who are truly repentant die in charity before they have done sufficient penance for their sins of omission and commission, their souls are cleansed after death in purgatorial cleansing or punishment.  The suffrages of the faithful on earth can be of great help in relieving these punishments, as for instance, the sacrifice of the Mass, prayers, almsgiving, and other religious deeds which in the manner of the Church the faithful are accustomed to offer for others of the faithful.[42]

Carlson and Decker comment on this: “The doctrine of purgatory was spawned by the theological speculation that some people are not good enough to go to heaven but not bad enough to go to hell, and therefore there should be a place where people can go to the purged and eventually allowed to go to heaven.”[43]

Purgatory is thought to be a state or condition of Christians who are “still in need of purification before they see God.”  Catholics are “encouraged to pray for the souls in purgatory, especially on the feast of All Souls.”[44] Most Catholics are thought to go to this place of punishment where their sins are expiated or cleansed.  Through the use of indulgences, the Catholic may decrease the number of days and years that he must remain in this horrible place of purifying punishment.

Catholics have some difficulty finding purgatory in the canonical Scriptures.  One verse used is Matthew 5:8, where Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”   But does this say that one must be sinless in heart in order to go to God?  This seems to be a vain attempt to find purgatory where it cannot be found.  Another passage used is Revelation 21:27, where John says that “nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it [the heavenly city], but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”  However, this simply means that no one with unrepentance, no one with unforgiven sin, and no one who does not have their name in the Lamb’s book of life, can enter heaven.  Catholicism replies, “This means that when we die if we are to enter heaven immediately, we must be in a state of relative perfection.”[45]  It is true that one who dies with known, deliberate sin cannot enter the bliss of heaven, but it cannot mean that one dies in a state of perpetual sinlessness, since to claim that “we have no sin” is personal deception and “the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).  Purgatory simply cannot be found in the Holy Scriptures.

The time spent in purgatory may be reduced through the use of indulgences.  What is an “indulgence”?

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Church is the steward of a vast reservoir of merit called the “treasury of the Church” or “treasury of merit.”  This treasury was allegedly earned by the works and prayers of Jesus Christ, His mother Mary, and the saints of all ages.  This treasury of merit is so vast that it can never be exhausted or depleted.

According to Roman Catholic theology, the Church has the power to dispense from this reservoir “indulgences,” which are said to cancel the debt of temporal punishment.  Because Christ, Mary, and various Catholic saints have provided “super-abundant satisfactions” to God through their many merits, the Catholic Church believes it can offer these same merits to Catholic believers in exchange for remission of punishment.

Catholics speak of both a “partial indulgence” and a “plenary indulgence.”  A partial indulgence is one that takes away just a portion of a person’s temporal punishment.  A plenary indulgence cancels all the temporal punishment a person has accumulated.[46]

Note again the difference between the plenary indulgence and the partial indulgence.  “A plenary indulgence is the remission of all the temporal punishment due to our sins,” whereas “a partial indulgence is the remission of part or the temporal punishment due to our sins.”[47]  Such a partial indulgence can lessen the severity and length of purgatorial sufferings.  “A number of days, such as 300, used to be assigned to partial indulgences, and this was equivalent to 300 days of penance that was customary in the early Church.  Days are no longer associated with partial indulgencies.”[48]  Interestingly, in the past, the devoted Catholic could be assured of being released from purgatory 300 days earlier if a partial indulgence was applied to his situation, but today this kind of indulgence is not available—or at least not assured.

The Catechism says that the good works of the “Blessed Virgin Mary . . . are truly immense, unfathomable, and even pristine in their value before God.”  “In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints,” and “in this way they attained their own salvation, and at the same time cooperated in saving their brothers in the unity of the Mystical Body.”[49]  The Catechism goes on to describe the power of an indulgence: “An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins.”[50]

This means that the imperfect Catholic who is being purified (or punished) in purgatory can plead the super-abundant merits of Mary or the saints and this will decrease the number of years he must remain in purgatory.  Living Catholics, through their prayers and offering of the Mass, can also plead for the merits of Mary and the Catholic saints to be applied to their dead loved ones and this will decrease the duration of their stay in purgatory.

We must not overlook the theory involved in the matter of these indulgences.  The Catholic Church “by means of indulgences remits the temporal punishment due to sin by applying to us from her [the Church’s] spiritual treasury part of the infinite satisfaction of Jesus Christ and of the superabundant satisfaction of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the saints.”[51]  This means that the Catholic who has received the priest’s absolution (forgiveness) still must pay for those sins in the afterlife—in purgatory.  But to remedy this consequence of earthly sin, the sincere Catholic can receive various indulgences that will shorten his stay in this place of punishment and purification.  He can thereby draw upon the “bank” of treasuries in heaven that has been “financed” or “stored” with the extra merit of Mary and the Saints and is waiting to be drawn upon by those with an indulgence.

The average Catholic doesn’t have enough merit to go to heaven directly, but Mary and the “Saints” have more than they need, and these are, in a word, “stored” up in the “treasury” of heaven.  “The superabundant satisfaction of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the saints is that which they gained during their lifetime but did not need, and which the Church applies to their fellow members of the communion of saints.”[52]  This extreme view goes so far as to state: “Mingled with the Precious Blood of Christ in the treasury of the Church are the sorrows of Mary and the sufferings of the saints, as they bore their crosses after Christ. . . . We can draw on this treasury and we can also contribute to it.”[53]  How shocking to think that anyone would presume to think of the “precious blood of Christ” and the presumed righteousness of certain human beings as being part of this heavenly “treasury” from which the Catholic can draw!

What can the Catholic do to gain an indulgence that will alleviate their sufferings in purgatory—in full or in part?

To gain a plenary indulgence, there are three conditions that must be met in addition to performing the specific requirements of that particular indulgence: sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion, and prayer for the pope (as well, of course, abstaining from willful sin).  When a person performs the specific requirements for an indulgence, the Roman Catholic Church then has the power to grant that indulgence based on the merits of Christ and the earned merits of Mary and Catholic saints.[54]

What are “sacramentals”?  They are “holy things or actions of which the Church makes use to obtain for us from God, through her intercession, spiritual and temporal favors.”[55] These sacramentals can be used to gain “the remission of temporal punishment,” as well as many other benefits.  What are some of these “blessed objects of devotion” that can have such amazing benefits?  “The blessed objects of devotion used by Catholics are: holy water, candles, ashes, palms, crucifixes, medals, rosaries, scapulars, and images of Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin, and the saints.”[56]  It is significant that all of these objects are not Biblical and even anti-Biblical in their use and effects.

The faithful Catholic’s deeds can relieve the sufferings of their loved ones who dwell in purgatory and must endure the dreaded punishments for their venial sins: “The faithful on earth, through the communion of saints, can relieve the sufferings of the souls in purgatory by prayer, fasting, and other good works, by indulgences, and by having Masses offered for them.”[57]  This places a great amount of burden on the living Catholic as he thinks of his loved one in purgatory suffering while the living family member seeks to alleviate some of his or her pain.  He can also offer money to a priest to offer extra Masses which have the power to reduce the suffering of those in purgatorial purification.  (Catholic apologists stress that this remuneration is not “pay” but rather “support” for the priest!)

This belief in indulgences was not found in the early community of Christ (of the New Testament) at all but was added in the post-apostolic period.  It is entirely unbiblical, and irrational, and non-apostolic.  It has no place in the faith of Christ.  Since Jesus suffered for our sins, we need not suffer for them.[58]  When one comes to Christ to be saved, the righteousness of God is “reckoned,” “credited,” or “imputed” to him and his account.  This is the blessed truth of Biblical justification.  There is no need for good works of any human being (Mary or the Catholic saints) to be placed to the credit of anyone, since Jesus did it all!  No one can do more good works than are needed (cf. Luke 17:10) and definitely no good works of a human being can be reckoned to another or transferred to another.  It is God’s own righteousness that is credited to the repentant, believing sinner (Romans 3:24; 4:3; Galatians 2:16; Philippians 3:9).  “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy” (Titus 3:5).  Catholicism vainly believes that one may merit salvation or do enough good deeds to deserve heaven.[59]  If we have God’s full righteousness on our record or “credited” to our heavenly account, we don’t need the imaginary but limited “righteousness” of Catholic saints and Mary.

The Word of God knows nothing of this cruel doctrine of purgatory.  Through the blood of Jesus Christ, the true Christian is forgiven of sin (Eph. 1:7), washed (Rev. 7:14), loosed (Revelation 1:5), cleansed (1 John 1:7), and sanctified (Heb. 13:12).  The death of Christ was the sufficient and eternal sacrifice for sins that needed no supplementation.  Christ sacrificed Himself “once for all” (Heb. 7:27; cf. 9:12, 28; 10:10) and this was able to wipe away all sins, cleanse from all sin, and atone for all sin.  Since the obedient believer is entirely cleansed from “all” sin (1 John 1:7), he will suffer no punishment for those sins after death and will not need to be purified of sin at that time, in a place of purgatorial punishment.  Furthermore, unbaptized babies who die are safe and will go to be with the Lord, although very little is written on this topic in God’s Word.  Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).  All of this should be good news to the Catholic who has labored all of his life with the expectation that he will go to Purgatory after death.  Instead, we can “depart and be with Christ” (Philippians 1:23).

Please check all of the articles in this series on the Catholic Church:

Part 1a

Part 1b

Part 1c

Part 2a

Part 2b

Part 2c

Part 3a

Part 3b

Part 3c

Part 4a

Part 4b

Part 4c



[1] Catechism, pp. 643-644.

[2] Catechism, p. 644.

[3] NASB Study Bible note.

[4] Ron Rhodes, Reasoning, p. 258.

[5] Essential, p. 133.

[6] Essential, p. 133.

[7] Rhodes, Reasoning, p. 288.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., pp. 288-289.

[10] Ibid, p. 289.

[11] Quoted by Rhodes, Reasoning, p. 263.

[12] Rhodes, Reasoning, p. 263.

[13] Ibid., p. 264.

[14] Quoted by Rhodes, Reasoning, p. 264.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., p. 265.

[18] W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 828.

[21] Ekstrom, A New Concise Catholic Dictionary, pp. 226-227.

[22] Storms,

[23] The Essential Catholic Handbook, p. 240.

[24] Catholic Questions, Catholic Answers, pp. 138-139.

[25] Understanding Roman Catholicism, p. 140.

[26] Catholic Encyclopedia, p. 819.

[27] Quoted by Rhodes, Reasoning, p. 337.

[28] The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism, Revised, p. 114.

[29] Encyclopedia of Early Christianity,  p. 778.

[30] Catholic Encyclopedia, p. 819.

[31] Catechism, 958.

[32] Understanding Roman Catholicism,  pp. 141-142.

[33] Ibid., p. 142.

[34] Essential, p. 185-186.

[35] Essential, p. 253.

[36] Essential, p. 185.

[37] The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism, Revised, p. 90.

[38] Ibid., p. 91.

[39] Chacon and Burnham, Beginning Apologetics I, p. 30.

[40] Ibid., p. 31.

[41] Catechism, 1031.

[42] Carlson and Decker, Fast Facts, pp. 228-229.

[43] Ibid., p. 229.

[44] Essential, p. 232.

[45] Albert J. Nevins, Catholicism The Faith of Our Fathers, p. 112.

[46] Rhodes, Reasoning, p. 236.

[47] The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism, Revised, pp. 206-207.

[48] Ibid., p. 207.

[49] Catechism, 1477.

[50] Ibid., 1478.

[51] The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism, Revised, p. 207.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Rhodes, Reasoning, p. 237.

[55] The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism, Revised, p. 223.

[56] Ibid., p. 224.

[57] Ibid., p. 85.

[58] Comfort, World Religions in a Nutshell, p. 96.

[59] Catechism, 1821, 2027.

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