From Gustave Goré’s Illustrations of Dante’s Purgatorio, Canto 2.37: Celestial Helmsman


The following post is based on a 2013 video with American speaker and apologist Tim Staples, posted on YouTube by Sensus Fidelium. 

Tim Staples is the Director of Apologetics and Evangelization at Catholic Answers. Read more about Tim and his conversion story in our previous blog post, Tim Staples & Biblical Apologetics: Call No Man Father?

Click to watch the original video of Tim Staples on purgatory, or read below to learn more about 1 Cor 3:11-15 and other Biblical sources for the Church’s teaching on purgatory. 

What is Purgatory?

Purgatory is a blessed gift from our loving Lord, thanks be to God for purgatory!

Purgatory is found in numerous places in the Bible, but my favorite text is St. Augustine’s favorite text for purgatory: 1 Corinthians 3:11-15.


What happens in purgatory?

Purgatory is a state of being after death whereby the soul is purified from any minor defects, venial sins if you will, minor defects that would keep us from the beatific vision of heaven.

We have to remember – and there’s a lot of things that go into this, that we have to understand – but in order to enter into the presence of God, according to Habakkuk 1:13 for example, the Bible says of God that His eyes are too pure to look upon the slightest iniquity.

Revelation 21:27 says no unclean thing can enter into heaven. God is absolutely holy, right?

From Gustave Goré’s Illustrations of Dante’s Purgatorio, Canto 11.73: Proud

Purgatory and Sin

Now when you and I sin, we go to Jesus, we ask for forgiveness: he forgives us, in confession for example, but we still can have attachment, defects of our soul.

Let’s say you give in to some sexual sin. You go to confession, you ask for forgiveness. The eternal punishment for that sin is taken away, but you still can have an attachment to that sin, a habit.

You still have that slight attachment because of the tendency to sin that we all have.

It’s easy to develop habits of sin, and those habits are imperfections that can’t enter into the presence of God.

So we can have venial sins that are not forgiven, or imperfections on our soul, that must be thoroughly cleansed before we can attain the beatific vision.

This is why we see verses of Scripture like 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, where Jesus is quoted saying,

“no other foundation can be laid except that which has been laid.”

What’s Paul saying here?

Jesus is the foundation of our lives.

But look at verse 12; Paul says that if we build upon the foundation with wood, hay, stubble, precious stones, silver, gold, every man’s work shall be tested in the day of the Lord to see what manner of works they are. If any man’s works endure he shall receive a reward but if any man’s work is burned up he will be saved but only through fire.

Is that awesome?

Purgatory simply means to be purged through the fire, just as we see here in 1 Corinthians 3.

Now some of my Protestant friends will object here and say “That’s not right! It doesn’t use the word purgatory.”

“A rose by any other name…”

Alright, I will tell you a little story.

I was on a radio station debating a Lutheran minister years ago and we were debating this very point that I’ve pointed out. And I said,

“Man, bro, I mean, sure, it doesn’t use the word purgatory but it says you gonna go through fire and be purged! I mean, come on! What do you want?”

And he tried to make this argument: “Well, you know, that’s not purgatory, because the works are being burned up – not the person. It’s the works going through the fire, not the person.”

And my response was, first of all, “Has anybody here ever seen a work floating around? You know, ‘there goes my adultery over there!’” This just reveals a faulty understanding of what a human being is.

If you commit a lie that’s what you are. You’re a liar.

If you commit adultery, you’re an adulterer.

There’s no such thing as works floating around apart from the person. So when the works go through the fire, it’s the dude going through the fire.

But secondly, if you’re not going to believe me and use common sense, look what the verse says. It says that he – not just the works, though it does mention them: 

he will be saved but so as through fire.

So that’s what he goes through.

But then the man says said, “Well, how do you know this is Purgatory? I mean this is just the judgment, that’s all it is.”

And I said,

“Amen, bro, that’s what purgatory is, it’s part of the judgment, that’s what we’re talking about! But one thing we know from 1 Corinthians 3: what’s being described is after death, right? It’s the judgment. It’s not heaven. Why do we know it’s not heaven? Because there’s imperfection there. There ain’t imperfection in Heaven. It’s not hell! How do we know it’s not hell? Folks are getting saved. Does anybody get saved in hell? Got news for you: no!”

So what is it? It’s not heaven, it’s not hell, it’s a place where folks are being purged, purified through fire.

Man, I don’t know what else to call it.

And you know what? During the commercial break – this is a true story – this Lutheran minister looked me in the eye and said,

“Tim, you know what? I can’t deny what you’re saying here. I mean, you make sense. I mean, it’s not heaven, it’s not hell. But I’m not ready to call it purgatory.”

And I said to him, “Brother, you can call it Albuquerque if you want!”

A rose by any other name still smells as sweet, right? It’s spelled out for us, that is what purgatory is.

He laughed, and he said “You make a good point, man!” I don’t know whatever happened to him, he’s probably a Catholic by now.

The Last Judgement, Sistine Chapel fresco by Michelangelo, 16th Century

Final Thoughts

But I’ll leave you with this final thought:

we have a wonderful faith in our Catholic faith.

And so often the Catholics are befuddled, they’re confused by our protestant brothers, and people in other world religions, because they don’t know what they have.

My Catholic brothers and sisters, you are like the man who has 10 million dollars in his bank account, and doesn’t know about it. And if you don’t show what you have to Protestants and others when they challenge you about it, it’s as though you’re letting people come and repossess your house when you 10 million dollars in the bank.


For a more in depth account of purgatory, take a look at this mp3 talk.

For more from Tim Staples on purgatory and other topics, check out his newly released apologetics book, Nuts and Bolts.

Follow Tim Online!

We’re excited to have Tim Staples join Parousia Media in Australia this coming October for several talks and events! More information on dates and sign ups will be announced soon.

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