On 31 October 1517, as many of us know, Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses against indulgences. The reproduction and dissemination thereof started a firestorm of controversy which fractured the Roman Church into a myriad of splinter groups, most of them calling themselves Protestant. Many view this as a catastrophe for the church, at least those who think that manmade, legalistic, institutional, hierarchical understandings of the church actually have something to do with what the church is, and nowadays this includes many so-called Lutherans. Many of these so-called Lutherans are so ignorant of both Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism that they think nothing church-dividing is left to prevent a quick jaunt “home to Rome,” life back under the papacy, one big happy family.

Luther’s theses against indulgences were an attempt to address not only an abuse of church practice but also of church teaching. Indulgences supposedly helped those “less than holy” have their time reduced in a place or state called Purgatory. Well, of course, any Protestant in his or her right mind would never believe that such a place or state even exists. Protestants know that believers are “justified by grace alone through faith alone created by the word alone in Christ alone.”

Since Protestants do not believe in such purgatorial falderal, they wrongly assume that Roman Catholics no longer do either. So, it comes as quite a surprise for many Protestants to find what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches on the topic:


1030 All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

1031 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. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire (1 Cor 3:15; 1 Pet 1:7):

As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come (cf. Mt 12:31). From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.

1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin” (2 Macc 12:46). From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:

Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.”*

Furthermore, the Roman Church teaches that those who do not believe in a place or state like purgatory are anathema which is nothing more than a fancy theological word for “toast,” very burnt toast.

Such teachings not only blaspheme God the Holy Spirit, but also God the Father and God the Son. Maintaining a place or a state where sin is purged (removed) from dead sinners by the religious efforts of living sinners means that Christ died on the cross for no reason, completely in vain. If the prayers, almsgiving, indulgences and works of penance of the living effect the salvation of the dead, then nothing salvific happened in the life, death, or resurrection of Jesus Christ. In short, thereby the cross of Christ becomes laughing stocks.

To Protestants, especially Lutherans, the whole notion of purgatory seems wholly unbelievable, According to the Roman Church, however, if one does not believe in purgatory, then it is, “GO DIRECTLY TO HELL. DO NOT PASS GOD. DO NOT COLLECT $200.”

So, why are so many so-called Protestants, and especially so-called Lutherans, who would never believe in purgatory falling all over themselves in their ecumenical efforts to go “home to Rome,” to be back under the papacy? Who knows. Whatever the case, however, it seems pretty certain, at least to everyone of these but themselves, that they must wittingly or unwittingly believe much more in the papacy and in his purgatory than they believe in the God, who revealed his saving will to forgive us hell-bound sinners through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.