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Old 12-08-2005, 03:23 AM
HPL HPL is offline
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Catholics: How long in purgatory?

I was recently reading a book about the church in the middle ages and I came across something interesting in it. It mentioned a guy named Fredrick the Wise of Saxonry and said he owned almost 20,000 relics. Even more interesting is that apparently he said that anyone who visited the relics on All Saints day would be given a remission of almost 2,000,000 days in purgatory.

I did the math on that and it comes out to roughy 5479 years.

I was raised protestant, so my knowledge of purgatory is limited. How likely is it that someone would be spendign that much time in purgatory anyway? How long is the average christian expected to spend in purgatory?

I mean, It would seem that 5480 years forgiven would pretty much get most people into heaven instantly. If you were racking up that much time, wouldn't it seem that you would be going to hell anyway?

Or does the church have some kind of ledger where each sin is worth a certain parcel of time? Like say, Lying being worth 10 years?

While we're on the subject, does confession just before death mean you get to skip purgatory? Or does it just mean you don't go to hell? I understand the concepts but my working knowledge on catholic doctrine is somewhat limited.
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Old 12-08-2005, 03:38 AM
CynicalGabe CynicalGabe is offline
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I think most things related to the Church in the middle ages would revolve around how much you paid them.
I don't think the Catholic Church today puts much stock in the amount of time you spend in purgatory.
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Old 12-08-2005, 03:46 AM
flodnak flodnak is offline
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The old idea of purgatory as a mathematical exercise - that you earned so much time in purgatory for each infraction, and that saying this prayer, visiting this relic, or paying off the right person would deduct a certain amount of time off your sentence - was finally killed with Vatican II. That isn't to say that some people don't still believe it, but hey, some people still believe it's sinful to say Mass in the vernacular, too.

A summary of what I was taught about purgatory by one of my high school religion teachers, a Jesuit priest: Nobody really knows what it's like. Nobody really knows how long it lasts. Maybe it lasts for many years, maybe it lasts for just a second but it's the worst second of your entire existence. Any theories about how long purgatory lasts and what happens there are one person's speculation, not dogna. What Catholics do believe is that anyone with unforgiven sins on their soul (that aren't serious enough to warrant damnation) will pass through purgatory before entering heaven, and that saying prayers for the souls of the dead is a good thing - a good thing for the living person saying the prayers, whether it helps the soul of the dead or not.
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Old 12-08-2005, 07:03 AM
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CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
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In a lot of old prayer books you's find , beside the prayers, things like "a partial indulgence of 2 weeks" associated with the saying of the prayer. A lot of people apparently thought this was the time you got knocked off your stay in purgatory for saying the prayer (or, in a Mormon-esque twist, how much time you knocked off the stay of someone already in purgatory by saying it on their behalf).

None of this was true, of course. What the statement was supposed to indicate, I later learned, was the equivalent physical penance that saying the prayuer was supposed to give. So in this case, saying the prayer was supposed to be equivalent to,I don't know, wearing a hair shirt for two weeks. (If anyone even wears hair shirts as penance anymore).

I never quite understood the equiivalence, in any case -- certainly most people would rather say a thirty second prayer than undergo some minor discomfort for several days. But it was never clear exactly what the prayer or the penance actually got you. It wasn't Time Off For Good Behavior in purgatory, that was plain, but then what was it? The book i read fumfered about it saying something like "remissionn in part for temporal suffering", suggesting that it got you out of doin' time here on Earth, rather than the afterlife, for sins committed. Except that no one ever told me that I had to pay on Earth for sins committed. Maybe they just meant that saying the prayer was as good as wearing that hair shirt for two weeks, for whatever intangible benefit that bought you, if any. I was still curious how they figured out the rate of exchange.


Comedian Don Novello, in his persona as Father Guido Sarducci on Saturday Night Live, did a riff on the whole thing by putting it backwards -- each venial sin got you so much time in purgatory, represented by money. He then ran through a list of sins, giving the costs -- "Lying , $5.00, Petty Theft, $25.00, Masturbation, 10 cents." He stops, and says, "Some people, you know, it adds up." Mwe, I probaly have a big bill.
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Old 12-08-2005, 07:17 AM
Polycarp Polycarp is offline
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I'm an Anglican, and we more or less don't believe in Purgatory. (Some Anglicans hold that there's an "intermediate place" where good-but-not-perfect people go to purify themselves before entering Heaven, but that's absolutely not an article of faith with us.)

That said, what Catholicism believes is that in the Sacrament of Reconciliation of a Penitent (AKA Confession/Penance), God forgives sin (through the agency of His priest) ... but does not take away the "temporal penalty" associated with it. Your penance assigned at confession is associated with the latter.

Kind of like the President or a Governor pardoning someone convicted of a crime ... contingent on his paying back what he stole.

Whatever you die with unremoved "temporal penalty" left, you spend time in Purgatory, atoning for that penalty. An indulgence is the Church's way of helping you lift that penalty during this lifetime, or in intercession for others. It can consist of a particular set of prayers (saying the Rosary once a week on a particular day for N weeks with a particular intention, for example), going on a pilgrimage, acts of charity, endowing the saying of a Mass with a particular intent or building a chapel, etc. It was the selling of indulgences for cash money by Tetzel that got Luther bent out of shape. But the idea is something along the lines of "being contrite gets you forgiven, but it doesn't solve the problem you caused, so you need to go fix the problem, or do something else to atone (make up) for it."

All that said, indulgences match up with varying time which one would have to otherwise spend in Purgatory before "graduating" to Heaven. "Plenary indulgences" remove the entire purgatorial term in one fell swoop (up to that point, of course; they're not a "license to sin").

Hopefully a Catholic with better knowledge of Purgatoriology will be along to better clarify that.
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Old 12-08-2005, 07:45 AM
Alistair McCello Alistair McCello is offline
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My knowledge of Purgatory come entirley from books like The Brothers Karamazov and Dante's Divine Comedy. But based on what I gathered from these non-canonical sources I got the idea that Purgatory can last for quite a long time. When Ivan Karamazov is hallucinating and having a conversation with Satan, the Devil tells him a story,

Quote:
This legend is about Paradise. There was, they say, here on earth a thinker and philosopher. He rejected everything, 'laws, conscience, faith,' and, above all, the future life. He died; he expected to go straight to darkness and death and he found a future life before him. He was astounded and indignant. 'This is against my principles!' he said. And he was punished for that... that is, you must excuse me, I am just repeating what I heard myself, it's only a legend... he was sentenced to walk a quadrillion kilometres in the dark (we've adopted the metric system, you know): and when he has finished that quadrillion, the gates of heaven would be opened to him and he'll be forgiven
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Old 12-08-2005, 08:56 AM
clairobscur clairobscur is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HPL
How likely is it that someone would be spendign that much time in purgatory anyway? How long is the average christian expected to spend in purgatory?
I do not doubt that many an early scholar from the renaissance came up with some lenght of time one would spend in purgatory. Hwever, there's now no doctrine about this. For all you know, it's equally likely that you'll stay there 10 seconds or 10 billion years. The doctrine of purgatory is infered from some brief passages of the scripture. Any duration would have to be completely made up.


Quote:
I mean, It would seem that 5480 years forgiven would pretty much get most people into heaven instantly. If you were racking up that much time, wouldn't it seem that you would be going to hell anyway?
Well...5480 years isn't that long by comparison with eternity. But anyway one could have accumulatd quite a lot of sins he imperfectly atoned for.


Quote:
Or does the church have some kind of ledger where each sin is worth a certain parcel of time? Like say, Lying being worth 10 years?
No. Though once again, I'm sure such maths have been proposed in the past.


[/quote]While we're on the subject, does confession just before death mean you get to skip purgatory? Or does it just mean you don't go to hell? I understand the concepts but my working knowledge on catholic doctrine is somewhat limited.[/QUOTE]

If the contrition is perfect, yes, you get an "out of jail" card. On the other hand, if you don't truly repent, if you're motivated by the fear of hell rather than by the love of god, etc.... you won't skip purgatory.
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Old 12-08-2005, 03:53 PM
Cunctator Cunctator is offline
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CalMeacham has answered the question correctly. The older time periods attached to indulgences were never intended to be taken in terms of literal times. If a prayer or pious act had an indulgence of 30 days attached to it, this did not mean that completion of the prayer or act reduced one's period of purification in Purgatory by 30 days (despite what the popular, uneducated Catholic belief might have been). It actually meant that completion of the prayer or act reduced one's period of purification in Purgatory by the same amount of time that the stay would have been reduced had one completed an equivalent period of the public ecclesiastical penances that the Church used to impose on penitents in the middle ages. In other words, the formula went:

Doing action X = indulgence of Y days = remission of period of purification in Purgatory equivalent to the period by which one's purification would have been reduced by completing Y days of the formerly prescribed ecclesiastical penances.

And how much was that in actual physical time? No one ever knew or attempted to say. Indulgences were only ever intended to imply a relative scale, not an absolute one.

The post Vatican II revision of indulgences dropped the specific time references, basically I imagine because they were so easily misunderstood. The current Enchiridion of Indulgences talks merely of "partial" and "plenary" indulgences. A partial indulgence, once completed, will reduce one's period of purification in Purgatory by "some" time. No attempt is made to define how much, in either relative or absolute terms. A plenary indulgence, once completed, will reduce one's period of purification to zero. The catch is that, as has always been the case, in order to gain a plenary indulgence, one must be free of all attachment to sin, even venial sin. In my opinion, this is practically impossible for the vast bulk of humanity.
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