In Roman Catholic theology, Purgatory is a process of purification of the soul after death, following the particular judgment and ordinarily a requirement before entry into heaven. The word "purgatory" was unknown before the 11th century: one of the first documents to mention purgatorium by that name was a letter from the Benedictine Nicholas of Saint Albans to the Cistercian Peter of Celle in 1176 (Haggh, 1997). Catholics would state that the concept dates from much earlier, citing, among others, Gregory of Nyssa (4th century)

"When he has quitted his body and the difference between virtue and vice is known he cannot approach God till the purging fire shall have cleansed the stains with which his soul was infested. That same fire in others will cancel the corruption of matter, and the propensity to evil." and St. Augustine of Hippo:

"Temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by some after death, by some both here and hereafter, but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But not all who suffer temporal punishments after death will come to eternal punishments, which are to follow after that judgment."

Purgatory was an essential element in the three-part world-scheme expressed in Dante's Divine Comedy, written in the early 14th century.


  • Barbara Haggh, "The meeting of sacred ritual and secular piety: endowments for music", Companion to Medieval & Renaissance Music, Oxford University Press, 1997. ISBN 0198165404.

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Favorable / sympathetic