Purgatory (Lat. purgatorium, a place for cleansing), in the belief of the Roman Catholic and the eastern churches, a state of temporary suffering in the next world, where the souls of the just expiate the offences committed in this life. The liturgies of the Latin church and of all the eastern churches, without exception, contain prayers for the repose of departed souls. According to Catholic theologians, every sin, no matter how slight, deserves and will receive punishment either before or after death. The absolution of a priest in the sacrament of penance washes away the guilt of sin and remits the eternal punishment due for grave offences, but not the temporal penalty which has to be undergone as a satisfaction to God's justice. Baptism alone removes both the guilt and the penalty; and as few or no adult persons depart this life without having committed sins after baptism, there must be some middle state for such as do not deserve hell and are yet not pure enough to enter heaven. The Catholic church has not defined the nature and duration of the punishment of purgatory, or declared that it is situated in any particular place.
She believes that the sufferings of souls in the middle state may be abridged by indulgences, masses, and the prayers of their friends on earth; and one day in the year (All Souls' day, Nov. 2) is specially devoted to services and prayers for their benefit. Roman Catholic theologians commonly teach that the purification of departed souls is effected by fire, while the Greeks regard the soul after death as being purified "through tribulation." This point was left open by the council of Florence in 1439, as was the question concerning the duration of purgatorial suffering. The Wal-denses and other sects in the middle ages protested against the belief in purgatory and the practices it involved. The reformed churches also rejected them. - See Bellarmin, De Igne-Purgatorio; Leo Allatius, De utriusque Eccle-sice in Dogmate de Purgatorio perpetua Con-sensione; Wiseman, "Lectures on the Doctrines and Practices of the Catholic Church" (2 vols., Baltimore, 1852); and Hodge, "Dogmatic Theology," vol. iii. (New York, 1874).