Many Catholics believe that in addition to heaven and hell, a third plane of existence, purgatory, exists in the afterlife. Purgatory is for Catholics that sinned but left earth in God's grace. This means that they will eventually go to heaven but must suffer in purgatory first. When Protestants broke away from the Catholic Church, the idea of purgatory was one of the main beliefs they rejected, and this rejection helped form the foundation of their new religion.
History and Catholic Belief
Although Protestantism is made up of several different churches, most of the major traditions agree that purgatory does not exist. Prior to Protestant reforms, many members of the Catholic Church taught that one of the purposes of attending church each week was to avoid or reduce time spent in purgatory. Family members could reduce the time their loved ones spent in purgatory by attending church every week and praying for the souls of the deceased. As many denominations began to break off from the Catholic Church, many Protestant churches, such as the Free Church, not only refuted the existence of purgatory, but also omitted it completely from their teachings.
Protestants believe that Jesus died for the sins of humanity, and belief in Christ will lead people towards a virtuous life. After the person dies, the soul moves on to the next plane of existence and enters either heaven or hell. Attending church does not reduce time in purgatory, as purgatory does not exist, but rather is an occasion to celebrate an individual's communion with God. Some Protestant denominations have even denounced the idea of hell as incompatible with the idea of a loving and merciful God.
John Calvin, 16th-century Protestant reformer, explained the reasons for disputing the idea of purgatory by claiming the Bible states that salvation is only possible through Christ. If an individual accepts Christ, he will go to heaven; if he does not, he will go to hell. Therefore, suggesting that a person can earn her place in heaven by suffering in purgatory is sacrilegious. This view goes back to the idea that Jesus already paid for the sins of humanity when he sacrificed himself. Furthermore, Protestants refute the idea that praying for loved ones will reduce the time they spend in purgatory, since that would unfairly advantage large Catholic families over individuals such as orphans.
Although most Protestants reject the notion of purgatory, a few, such as Anglo-Catholics are less sure. Anglo-Catholics are close to Roman Catholics and do not claim to know what happens in the afterlife, so they leave the door open to the possibility of purgatory where the soul must endure pain before reaching heaven. Mormonism, which some view as a radical form of Protestantism, holds a belief in a spirit world that is similar to the idea of purgatory. Here, the spirit of an individual either enjoys paradise or enters a spirit prison as it waits for the final judgment.
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