Purgatory Help

This post is a solicitation for help. One of Forsyth’s more interesting and contentious notions is what fundamentally amounts to a Protestant reappraisal of purgatory. He suggests that ‘We threw away too much when we threw purgatory clean out of doors. We threw out the baby with the dirty water of its bath’, and he remains convinced that ‘there are more conversions on the other side than on this’.

In the coming months, I plan to do some thinking about this conviction of Forsyth’s , and about purgatory and its Protestant versions more generally.

I am aware of, but have not yet read, Hendrikus Berkhof’s, Well-Founded Hope (I’m keen to hear from anyone who has read this), and Jürgen Moltmann’s discussion in The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology. I am also conversant with the fine study by Geoffrey Rowell, Hell and the Victorians, and some of the support for at least a modified version of the doctrine by George McDonald, Donald Bloesch, Gabriel Fackre, Stephen Davis, and a spattering of odd references here and there.

But what else (books/articles) should I be reading?

‘On the next day, as had now become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kindred in the sepulchres of their ancestors. Then under the tunic of each one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was the reason these men had fallen. So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; and they turned to supplication, praying that the sin that had been committed might be wholly blotted out. The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened as the result of the sin of those who had fallen. He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin’. (2 Maccabees 12:39-45)


  1. Moltmann has more to say on the topic in his more recent book on eschatology: In the End – the Beginning: the life of hope. C. S. Lewis was another prominent Protestant thinker who was a fan of the idea (The Great Divorce and I think he also discussed it in some essays). Rowan Williams also has a few pages on the topic in Tokens of Trust in which he advocates a modified form (pp. 148ff.).


  2. Byron, many thanks for reminding me of Lewis’ The Great Divorce, and directing me to Williams’ Tokens. I found Moltmann’s In the End one of the best reads in recent years so thanks for directing me there again. The discussion on purgatory is around pp. 109-11 I believe.

    Paul, What did you think of it? Is it worth buying? St Andrews University Library doesn’t have a copy of most things of interest to me, this one included.

    I was also reminded of the wee exchange from Robert W. Jenson & Solveig Lucia Gold’s, Conversations with Poppi about God: An Eight-Year-Old and Her Theologian Grandfather Trade Questions, pp. 131-33, and reviewed here:

    Solveig: Do you think of where you might go after you die as two places or three places? I think of it as three places.
    Poppi: What three is that?
    Solveig: Heaven, purgatory, and hell.
    Poppi: So you hold to the doctrine of purgatory?
    Solveig: Yes.
    Poppi: You know that is very controversial.
    Solveig: Why? It’s in Dante, isn’t it?
    Poppi: Well, it’s in Dante, yes. But of course, Dante isn’t exactly in the Bible.
    Solveig: No. But he’s still …
    Poppi: The thing about purgatory is that it’s a very reasonable idea. It’s just that we don’t know if it is true.
    Solveig: Except … Maybe God thinks that you should just go to two places. If you are bad, he has no patience with you at all, and he will just sort you to go to heaven or hell. I think that is reasonable enough.
    Poppi: That God is impatient?
    Solveig: Yes.
    Poppi: That’s where I think the notion of purgatory is reasonable. I don’t think the Bible talks about God’s being impatient in quite that way.
    Solveig: If he isn’t impatient, maybe he doesn’t want us to spend time thinking about where we should go.
    Poppi: You know that plate that your mother and father gave us that hangs on the wall in the dining room?
    Solveig: Yes.
    Poppi: Remember what it says on it?
    Solveig: I don’t remember what it says.
    Poppi: It says, ‘I desire not the death of the wicked.’
    Solveig: ‘As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.’
    Poppi: Right. So the biblical God takes no pleasure in sending people to hell, and that’s why I think that purgatory is a reasonable idea. The problem is we don’t have any way of knowing whether the purgatory idea is true or not.
    Solveig: It’s just Dante’s idea.
    Poppi: Well, it was older than Dante.
    Solveig: It was?
    Poppi: Yes.

    Solveig: Yes. Well, see, I think of Dante as a theologian, in a way.
    Poppi: He was a very great theologian.
    Solveig: Yeah, I know. I’m saying that he kind of liked to make up things he wasn’t quite sure about, if you know what I mean.


  3. Of recent works, the most well-known Protestant affirmation of a post-mortem purgation is Heaven: The Logic of Eternal Joy (Oxford 2002)by Jerry Walls, professor at Asbury Theological Seminary. The entire second chapter is on Purgatory. The book got a fair amount of attention thanks to an article in First Things, “Purgatory for Everyone”, which is adapted from the book.

    I’m glad to see you doing this issue. It’s of particular interest to me, as I’ve long said (to the amusement of most) that Purgatory is the most tenable of Roman Catholic “particulars,” and it is the key to their optimistic and heroic spirituality.

    On the Catholic side, I’d point you to St. Catherine of Genoa, the most influential of the mystics who have written on Purgatory. She gives a positive construal of the doctrine, fairly akin to Protestant re-appraisals.


  4. Kevin. Thanks for these helpful suggestions which I will certainly chase up. Have you written anything on purgatory yourself? If so, I’d love to see it.

    The Forsyth reference is to his This Life and the Next: The Effect on This Life of Faith in Another (London: Independent Press, 1946), 34.

    Thanks again. I’m encouraged by the responses thus far.


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