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Minster St. Nikolaus, Überlingen, middle part of the Guardian Angel altar
Purgatory from 1519 in the predella of the high altar of the Bad Wimpfen town church
Purgatory depiction from the Alsatian Legenda Aurea from 1419, Heidelberg University Library

Purgatory , rarely purgatory ( Latin Ignis purgatorius or Purgatorium , "cleansing place", "cleansing place"), describes the cleansing that, according to a theological teaching developed especially in the Western Church , a soul experiences after death , unless it is considered holy immediately in heaven is recorded. This intermediate state is presented as a place of purification, as it were as an intermediate zone, or as a temporal process. After the churches of the Reformation rejected the doctrine of purgatory, it is now almost exclusively represented by the Roman Catholic Church ; for the Eastern Churches, however, it has never been of greater importance. Within dogmatics, the subject of purgatory belongs to eschatology , which deals with the four last things : death, last judgment or apocalypse , heaven and hell . Closely connected with the doctrine of the purgatory is that of the particular judgment on the soul of the individual immediately after death.

Biblical foundation

The doctrine of purgatory is traditionally based on two biblical passages: 2 Makk 12.43–45  EU and 1 Cor 3 : 13–15  EU . The Council of Trent, however, refrained from using 1 Cor 3: 13–15 as scriptural evidence, although this was often requested.

Since the middle of the 20th century there has been a broad consensus among Catholic and Protestant New Testament scholars that Paul of Tarsus does not know of a purification judgment and therefore does not mean it in 1 Cor 3: 13–15 ( Joachim Gnilka ). Hans-Josef Klauck comments: "Torn from the fire" is a proverbial phrase in Paulus and means something like just got away. “Since Origen , who in turn relies on the stoic doctrine of the fire of the world, this section has been used to substantiate the doctrine of purgatory. This elaborated conception is still far from the intention that Paul connects with it and the imaginative material of different origins that he uses here. ” Ingo Broer sums up the biblical finding that the purgatory doctrine was“ one introduced into Christianity by the church fathers An idea that looks at different views and evidence of the Bible together and on similar thoughts in the pagan literature, e.g. B. with Plato and Virgil, can fall back. "

Dogma story

Baroque representation of purgatory in the ossuary at Stans NW

The idea of fire as a purification symbol was already widespread in ancient times. However, the early Church initially thought of a refrigerium interim , as in Tertullian (around 150–220), a place where the righteous can refresh themselves after their death while they wait for bliss after the Last Judgment . For Tertullian the refrigerium is synonymous with Abraham's bosom . The souls who sleep in the refrigerium are not tormented and remain there until their resurrection .

In the 6th century, Pope Gregory the Great integrated the idea of ​​purgatory into the Christian economy of salvation , whereby it had a cultural and socio-historical impact on Christianity until the Reformation in the Latin West:

“One must believe that there is still a fire of purification before judgment for certain minor sins , because the eternal truth says that if one blasphemes against the Holy Spirit , he will not be forgiven either in this world or in the world to come '( Mt 12 , 32  EU ). From this saying it follows that some sins can be forgiven in this world and others in that world. "
Peter: "Can there now be anything that can help the souls of the dead?"
Gregorius: "If the sins are not ineradicable after death, the offering of the holy sacrifice is usually still of great use to the souls after death, so that the souls of the deceased sometimes ask for it themselves."

In the 12th century the term purgatory became common and subordinated to the limbus system . The Black Death and the resulting mass burials without church funeral ceremonies probably increased the eagerness to escape purgatory faster through prayer. Historical evidence suggests that the idea of ​​purgatory was much more widespread in northern Europe than in the Mediterranean. In northern Germany in particular, between 1450 and the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation, there were generous testimonies for mass grants that were intended to shorten the time of the deceased in purgatory. Regional studies suggest that this form of piety only came to Spain and Italy with Catholic clergy during the Counter-Reformation .

In 1476, on the initiative of Raimund Peraudi , the ecclesiastical indulgence was expanded to include a papal bull on souls in purgatory, which made it more popular. Through prayers and good works it was believed that associated indulgences could also be given to the dead in purgatory. For example, the foundation of a bath for the poor ( Seelbad ) was seen as particularly useful . The fact that these good works were increasingly being done through monetary donations to the church led, against the background of aggressive advertising for this model, to the well-known Reformation criticism of indulgence.

Roman Catholic teaching

Since, according to the teaching of the Catholic Church, “nothing unclean can go into heaven”, the idea of ​​a place or a process of purification, called purgatory , arose . In purgatory, the agony consists in the fact that the deceased already feels the perfect presence and love of God, but does not feel worthy of this love because of his sins. That is exactly what makes the great pain. In this way, man is purified from his last consequences of sins from temporal existence through his repentance .

Purgatory experiences those who die in the grace of God but are not yet fully purified in order to attain the holiness necessary to enter into the joy of heaven. The purgatory is thus completely different from the punishment of the damned in hell. So the so-called poor souls are not finally held in purgatory, but they always have the certainty that they will be released from it, and always towards heaven. Prayers of the living, especially in the context of memorials , should help to shorten this time.

Purgatory is the place where those who die in the state of sanctifying grace are supposed to serve their temporal penalties . According to the teaching developed in the Bull Benedictus Deus in 1336, those who do not die in the state of grace are lost forever to heaven; they go to hell .

The Catholic Church sees the doctrine of a purification of souls after their death and the possibility of prayer for the dead indicated in the Holy Scriptures and justified above all by the consistent prayer practice of the old Church.

Depiction of purgatory on a tombstone from 1747 at the Frauenkirche in Munich

The church father Augustine interpreted 1 Cor 3 : 13–15 EU to mean  that after death the souls of some believers will be purified by fire, i.e. the earthly will be burned out of them. In the 12th century the idea of ​​purgatory was finally anchored in popular piety , and only then did the term purgatory come into use. The term purgatory can be traced back to the Archbishop of Tours , Hildebert von Lavardin († 1133) for the first time. The thought model has been well known among theologians and in the congregations since the 13th century , the teaching is fully theologically developed by Thomas Aquinas and was anchored in European literary and art history through Dante's “Divine Comedy”.

The Constitution Benedictus Deus (1336) (DH 1000 ff.) Clarified the doctrine of the purgatory . It says:

"The souls of the deceased, who differ in the grace of justification, participate directly and immediately in heavenly bliss, while the souls of those who are still clinging to minor defects also participate in the full vision of God after a process of purification and purification."

The doctrine of purgatory emphasizes the necessity of purification after death, but many theologians meanwhile avoid speculating about the temporal and spatial dimensions of this event. The Council of Trent had already warned against overly drastic representations that only distract from the fact that the doctrine of the purgatory aims to alleviate the fear of damnation . It is maintained that the living can come to the aid of the dead through prayer, celebration of Holy Mass and acts of charity .

In modern theology, the idea of ​​purgatory as a place with “temporal punishments” in the sense of a passage of time is often rejected. Instead the theologians speak of a purification process. The purification event is an “aspect of the encounter with God” and is thus an image of the believer's hope for purification and purification through God.

In the middle of the 20th century, Romano Guardini formulated:

“But what about the person who was of good will, but whose will has not - or not yet enough - seized being? Whose good disposition has only sunk a little below the surface, while beneath it sat the rebellion, and the depths of evil and uncleanness were full? Whose life always carried the gaps of the incomplete around the destruction of the wrongly done? [...] When such a person steps into the light of God, he sees himself through God's eyes. He loves God's holiness and hates himself for contradicting it. [...] He experiences himself as who he is before God, and that must be an inconceivable pain. [...] He stands on the side of the truth against himself. He is ready to withstand his own life, all the neglected, halved, confused in it. In a mysterious suffering, the heart makes itself available to repentance and thus surrenders itself to the sacred power of the creative spirit. From this, what has been missed is given anew. The wrong thing is put right. Evil lived around and brought over into good. Not externally improving, but in such a way that everything passes through the mystery of creative grace that works in repentance and arises anew. "

Not to be confused with the Purgatory is the limbus . However, this was never part of the dogmatized church teaching.

For the German-speaking area, the established talk of purgatory is considered to be "a very unfortunate translation of the official word 'purgatorium', 'place of purification' or 'state of purification'" and emphasizes the merely figurative expression: "The fire can be understood as the purifying, purifying and sanctifying power of the holiness and mercy of God. "

The Catechism of the Catholic Church approved by Pope John Paul II in 1992 deals with purgatory in Article 12 “I believe in eternal life” under III “The final purification - the purgatory”.

The world catechism clarifies the above quotation from Gregory the Great: “One has to believe that there is still a fire of purification before the judgment for certain minor sins, because the eternal truth says that if someone blasphemes against the Holy Spirit , it is against him is forgiven neither in this nor in the world to come '( Mt 12,32  EU ). From this saying it follows that some sins can be forgiven in this world and others in that world. "

The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (KKKK No. 210) describes the Purgatory (purgatory) as follows:

"The purgatory is the state of those who die in the friendship of God, are certain of their eternal salvation, but still need purification in order to be able to enter into heavenly bliss."

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote, among other things:

“It [purgatory] is not some kind of otherworldly concentration camp (as with Tertullian) in which people have to serve sentences that are dictated to them in a more or less positivistic way. Rather, it is the process of man's transformation that is necessary from within, in which he becomes Christ-capable, God-capable and thus capable of unity with the whole communio sanctorum . "

He took up this idea after his election as Pope in a catechesis on Catherine of Genoa held in a general audience . With Katharina, "purgatory is not represented as an element of the subterranean world." It is "not an external, but an internal fire":

“And we too feel how far we are from it, how much we are filled with so many things that we cannot see God. The soul knows about the infinite love and the perfect righteousness of God, and therefore it suffers from not having answered this love correctly and perfectly. And love for God itself becomes a flame, love itself purifies the soul from the dross of sin. "

In the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (KKKK No. 211) it says:

“How can we help the souls in the purgatory?
By virtue of the communion of saints, believers who are still on a pilgrimage on earth can help the souls in the purgatory by offering intercessions and especially the Eucharistic sacrifice, but also alms, indulgences and penances for them. "

Or after Joseph Ratzinger:

“Vicarious love is a central Christian fact, and the doctrine of Purgatory says that there is no death limit for this love. The possibilities of helping and giving do not expire for the Christian with death, but encompass the whole Communio sanctorum on this side and on the other side of the death threshold. "

Orthodox teaching

In the Eastern Churches these ideas have remained largely unknown to Western theology. The Orthodox rejection of the Western doctrine of purgatory was one of the reasons for the ultimate failure of the attempted reunification of the churches at the Second Council of Lyon in 1274 and the Council of Florence (Ferrara-Florence) 1438/39. Orthodoxy knows prayer for the souls of the deceased, but no official explanation for its effectiveness. In the popular piety of some Orthodox countries, the doctrine of the “customs houses” which the soul has to pass through on the way to heaven and the “customs” which it pays there are in the approach comparable to purgatory; however, this teaching has never been dogmatized.

Evangelical teaching

Martin Luther recognized the existence of purgatory in his early writings, but distanced himself from this teaching in 1530 in connection with the reading of the Confessio Augustana : “A revocation of purgatory.” The criticism goes in two directions: there is no biblical justification, and that Purgatory doctrine lead to serious abuses in church practice ( indulgence ). Both Luther and Philipp Melanchthon remained oriented towards the Purgatorium texts from the old church and tried to argue with the church fathers and against newer theological developments. In the Schmalkaldic Articles (1537), Luther once again dealt with the subject of purgatory: “That is why purgatory, with all its pomp, worship and trade, is to be regarded as a devil's web. Because it goes against the main article, according to which only Christ and not the work of man should help souls. ”Luther argues based on the doctrine of justification ; The rapprochement in the ecumenical conversation between the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformation Churches on the subject of justification can therefore also have an impact on the old controversial topic of purgatory: “The doctrine of purgatory loses its church-dividing function if it is entirely under the sign of free justification in the final judgment occurs (which faith attains only for Christ's sake and only in trust in him ), in order to be indented from there into the position which the theology of justification assigns to judgment according to the works. "

Anglican teaching

The Anglican rejects the notion of purgatory as the Word of God from contradictory. This has already been stated in Article 22 of the Thirty-Nine Articles .

Purgatory in Art

Depiction in St. Lorenzen (South Tyrol)

In the Middle Ages, purgatory was often depicted as a cave filled with fire and embers, similar to hell in it. Nevertheless, the representations can be clearly distinguished: The souls who atone in purgatory raise their hands and faces pleadingly towards heaven. The souls in hell have no hope of salvation and therefore no longer turn upwards. In larger picture compositions , purgatory can usually be found on the left side of the picture, i.e. on God's right hand.

The most famous literary representation of Purgatory is the second part of Dante's Divine Comedy . The purification subject will be approximately in the Christmas story by Charles Dickens implemented literary.

In films, the motif is taken up both in comedies ( Groundhog Day , Whoever dies earlier is longer dead ) and in thrillers ( Jacob's Ladder - In der Macht des Jenseits ).

In music, the third movement of the unfinished 10th Symphony by Gustav Mahler is entitled Purgatorio .

Similar ideas in other religions

In the Indian religions of Hinduism , Buddhism , Jainism and Sikhism , the idea of ​​existence in a purifying underworld called Naraka exists as part of the cycle of reincarnation . In Tengriasm faith is to the underworld Tamag in which the wicked would be punished before they were brought to the third floor of the sky. In Zoroastrianism there is the belief in a final judgment, in which all people have to cross a river of molten lead, which will appear to the righteous like warm milk, while the unrighteous will be purified in it before the time of the victory of good over evil . The Mandaeans believe in a purification of the souls inside the demon Ur before the decision is made at the end of days as to who will be wiped out with him or who will be freed from his mouth.

See also


  • Ernst Koch: Purgatory . In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie 11 (1983), pp. 69-78.
  • Jacques Le Goff : The Birth of Purgatory. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1984, ISBN 3-608-93008-6 .
  • B. Deneke: Purgatory . In: Lexikon des Mittelalters IV (1989), Sp. 328–331.
  • Swiss National Museum Zurich: Heaven - Hell - Purgatory. Exhibition catalog, Zurich 1994, ISBN 3-85823-492-3 .
  • Article purgatory . In: LThK 3 III (1995), col. 1204-1210.
  • Sabine Pemsel-Maier : Heaven - Hell - Purgatory (= experiencing faith with hand, head and heart , Volume 8), Katholisches Bibelwerk, Stuttgart 2001, ISBN 3-460-11113-5 .
  • Susanne Wegmann: On the way to heaven. The purgatory in the German art of the Middle Ages , Böhlau, Cologne / Weimar / Vienna 2003, ISBN 3-412-11102-3 (Dissertation University of Regensburg 2000, 363, [80] 448 pages with 150 illustrations, 16 of them in color).
  • Stefanie Krämer: The motif of purgatory in Samuel Beckett (= Halle studies on English and American studies , volume 21). Lit, Münster 2004, ISBN 978-3-8258-7747-7 (Dissertation University of Paderborn 2003, 204 pages).
  • Ludwig Ott : Outline of Catholic Dogmatics , 11th edition with literature supplements. nova & vetera, Bonn 2005. ISBN 3-936741-25-5 ; there in Chapter Five : The Doctrine of God the Perfector (The Doctrine of the Last Things or of Perfection ( eschatology )) .
  • Helmut Vordermayer: The doctrine of the purgatory and the perfection of man. A moral theological contribution to a controversial lesson from eschatology (= Salzburg theological studies , volume 27), Tyrolia, Innsbruck 2006, ISBN 978-3-7022-2755-5 (dissertation University of Salzburg 2005, 301 pages, under the title: The teaching of the purgatory as proprium in the perfection of man ).
  • Gunther Wenz : Evangelical thoughts on purgatory . In: Münchener Theologische Zeitschrift 67 (2016), pp. 2–34.
  • Hell and Purgatory , special issue Theological-Practical Quarterly 2/2019, in it: Michael N. Ebertz : The fight for Hell and Purgatory ; Magnus Striet : Between Hell and Eternal Melancholy ; Markus Mühling : Hell and purgatory in the Protestant understanding .

Web links

Commons : Purgatory  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Purgatory  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Cf. Theobald Freudenberger: The Bolognese Council Theologians in the dispute over 1 Cor 3: 11ff. as a written certificate for the purgatory doctrine . In: Erwin Iserloh , Konrad Repgen (ed.): Reformata reformanda . FS Hubert Jedin on June 17, 1965. Part One, Münster 1965, pp. 577–609.
  2. Joachim Gnilka: Is 1 Cor 3: 10-15 a written testimony for purgatory? An exegetical-historical study, Düsseldorf 1955, p. 115, quoted here. according to Gunther Wenz: Evangelical thoughts on Purgatory , 2016, p. 11.
  3. Hans-Josef Klauck: 1st Corinthians, 2nd Corinthians . St. Benno Verlag, Leipzig 1989 (= licensed edition of the commentary on the New Real Bible ), p. 36.
  4. Ingo Broer: Purgatory II. Biblical findings . In: Walter Kasper (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. tape 3 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1995, Sp. 1204 .
  5. ^ Gregory the Great: Dialogi de vita et miraculis patrum Italicorum , IV, 39 online .
  6. ^ Gregory the Great: Dialogi de vita et miraculis patrum Italicorum , IV, 55 online .
  7. ^ Diarmaid MacCulloch : The Reformation . 1490-1700. 1st edition. dtv , Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-423-34653-5 , p.  35 (English: Reformation. Europe's House Divided. 1490–1700 . Translated by Helke Voss-Becher, Klaus Binder and Bernd Leineweber).
  8. ^ Diarmaid MacCulloch : The Reformation . 1490-1700. 1st edition. dtv, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-423-34653-5 , p.  38 (English: Reformation. Europe's House Divided. 1490–1700 . Translated by Helke Voss-Becher, Klaus Binder and Bernd Leineweber).
  9. ^ Diarmaid MacCulloch: The Reformation . 1490-1700. 1st edition. dtv, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-423-34653-5 , p. 38, 39 (English: Reformation. Europe's House Divided. 1490–1700 . Translated by Helke Voss-Becher, Klaus Binder and Bernd Leineweber).
  10. ^ Diarmaid MacCulloch: The Reformation . 1490-1700. 1st edition. dtv, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-423-34653-5 , p. 176 (English: Reformation. Europe's House Divided. 1490–1700 . Translated by Helke Voss-Becher, Klaus Binder and Bernd Leineweber).
  11. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church 1030, 1031
  12. a b c German Bishops' Conference (ed.): Catholic adult catechism. Volume 1: The Church's Creed. (1985) Online , p. 424.
  13. On the history of words cf. Meinolf Schumacher : Sin filth and purity of heart. Studies on the imagery of sin in Latin and German literature of the Middle Ages ; Munich: Fink, 1996; ISBN 3-7705-3127-2 ; Pp. 468-470 ( digitized version ).
  14. ^ A b Gerhard Ludwig Müller : Catholic dogmatics: for study and practice of theology . 6th edition. Herder, Freiburg, Basel, Vienna 2005, pp. 548 f . (Final overcoming of the “traditional ideas of the whereabouts of the soul in an intermediate state”.).
  15. see Pemsel-Maier, Gisbert Greshake
  16. Romano Guardini, The Last Things, Würzburg 1952, pp. 36–38.
  17. KKK 1030 ff: III The final purification - the purgatory
  18. a b Catechism of the Catholic Church - Compendium
  19. ^ Joseph Ratzinger: Purgatory. , from: Ders .: Eschatology - Death and Eternal Life (= Little Catholic Dogmatics 9) , Regensburg 1977, pp. 188, 189 f., in: Secretariat of the German Bishops' Conference (ed.): The Faith of the Church. A theological reader based on texts by Joseph Ratzinger. Bonn, 2011 (Working Aids; No. 248), p. 54 f. Archive link ( Memento of the original from December 29, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.dbk-shop.de
  20. Official German translation of Pope Benedict XVI's address. at the general audience on January 12, 2011
  21. ^ Joseph Ratzinger: Purgatory. , from: Ders .: Eschatology - Death and Eternal Life (= Little Catholic Dogmatics 9) , Regensburg 1977, p. 189 f., in: Secretariat of the German Bishops' Conference (ed.): The Faith of the Church. A theological reader based on texts by Joseph Ratzinger. Bonn, 2011 (Arbeitshilfen; No. 248), p. 55 Archive link ( Memento of the original dated December 29, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.dbk-shop.de
  22. Weimar Edition 30/2, pp. 367–390.
  23. Gunther Wenz: Evangelical thoughts on Purgatory , 2016, p. 20 f.
  24. Gunther Wenz: Evangelical thoughts on Purgatory , 2016, p. 22 f.
  25. Deniz Karakurt: Türk Söylence Sözlüğü , 2011, p. 266.
  26. About Zoroastrian Hell , Hell-On-Line, March 2, 2008.
  27. The Book of John of the Mandaeans, ed. u. trans. v. Mark Lidzbarski , Part 2, Giessen 1915, pp. 98-99.
  28. Ginza . The Treasure or the Great Book of the Mandaeans, ed. u. trans. v. Mark Lidzbarski , Quellen der Religionsgeschichte Vol. 13, Göttingen 1925, p. 203.
  29. Kurt Rudolph : Theogony. Cosmonogy and Anthropogony in the Mandaean Scriptures. An investigation into literary criticism and the history of tradition, Göttingen 1965, p. 241.