Going to hell

there was a little blurb in newsweek mentioning the something the pope stated that doing a charitible deed or giving up smoking can save you from purgatory. anyone know the specifics on this??? i realize that catholics believe you go to purgatory to atone for your sins before heaven, but what is this new thing from the Pope?

I was walking down the street when something caught my eye… and dragged it 15 feet.–Emo Phillips

Someone said to me, “Make yourself a sandwich.” Well, if I could make myself a sandwich, I wouldn’t make myself a sandwich. I’d make myself a horny 18-year-old billionaire.

The gist of it is that the pope listed some new things that can be done to atone for sins. IIRC, Abstaining from alcohol or tobacco, and public demonstations of your faith are three of the newly accepted acts. It’s really nothing revolutionary.

“I had a feeling that in Hell there would be mushrooms.” -The Secret of Monkey Island

I didn’t see the article in Newsweek, but assuming it’s correct, what the Pope was probably talking about was the commission of an action to be applied for the benefit of the souls in Puragtory. Catholic belief in the doctrine of the Communion of Saints means that all Christians, be they in Heaven, Earth, or Purgatory, can perform certain actions for the benefit of other Christians. People in Heaven or Purgatory can pray for our benefit here on Earth, sort of like a heavenly prayer chain----which is why Catholics are always praying to various saints for this or that, as well as to God directly.

We here on Earth, however, have an advantage over those in Heaven or Purgatory, in that we can perform actions which can be applied to the benefit of other Christians on Earth or in Puragtory. (Presumably, of course, the folks in Heaven don’t need our help, since they’re in a place where everything is perfect all the time.) In other words, you can do some nice deed like mowing your neighbor’s lawn, or something, and apply it to the benefit of the souls in Purgatory, to cut down on the their time they have to be there. Or if you get sick, you can apply your suffering for their benefit, which cuts down on their suffering there. This transference of what one person is experiencing being applied to another person’s benefit is an extension of Christ’s suffering on the cross being applied for our benefit, i.e., salvation. Same sort of thing, although we mortal beings certainly can’t effect anyone’s salvation-----only God can do that.

As for it being a “new” doctrine, heavens, no----it’s older than the hills. Kids in Catholic grade schools years ago were told this all the time by the nuns, if you came in crying with a scraped knee, or something, they’d say, “Offer it up as a sacrifice for the poor souls in Purgatory.” Doctrinally correct, perhaps, but cold comfort when you’re seven years old, in pain, and bleeding. :slight_smile:

there was a little blurb in newsweek mentioning the something the pope stated that doing a charitible deed or giving up smoking can save you from purgatory. anyone know the specifics on this???

Yes. Continue to smoke, but do no good deeds, end up in purgatory.
Continue to do good deeds, and continue to smoke, end up in purgatory.

Looks to me, like they don’t like smoke.
But if you do, rest assured that you can clear this bad karma by simply dying and promising your eternal soul to god, or one of his self appointed representatives, in whatever manner they may appear.

And hey, do I have a clue for you,
purgatory may be fun.

Not quite heaven, not quite hell.
You just might like it here.

But no smoking? OK?

Hang on, diddn’t the church officially get rid of pergatory during the housecleaning of Vatican II in the late 60’s?

No, they stopped talking about Limbo (that had only been a philosophical construct and had never been a teaching of the Church), but Purgatory is alive and well and living in the RCC.


Purgatory is supposed to be EXACTLY like hell except for one thing. It’s temporary. The duration of your stay is determined by how much atoning for evil you deserve. The more good acts, and the less evil acts, you do in your life the less time spent in purgatory. Between your last confession and death you must not commit any sins, else you end up in hell permanently. It is possible to confess your sins and ask forgiveness of God in your dying breaths without a priest but I haven’t seen the exact rules on this well defined. The Jesuits probably have written it somewhere.

Warning, I learned this from literature and literature professors not from priests. Dante is reasonably clear on this one though.

The Pope just added a couple of things to the official good acts list. I am curious as to the status of those who qualified for credit under the new pronouncement but died before it happened.

If men had wings,
and bore black feathers,
few of them would be clever enough to be crows.

  • Rev. Henry Ward Beecher

Did anyone else read the piece in last Saturday’s NY TIMES about the Jesuits (with the backing of the Vatican) nixing the concept of a fiery, brimstone-y Hell? Or read the actual article in the Jesuit journal?

It seems that Hell is now defined by the Romans as the absence of God’s grace…no actual physical punishment required.

So C.S. Lewis and Sartre were right all along?


The Newsweek article was probably talking about this year’s Papal announcement that Vatican II had actually restored the Medieval notion of Indulgences.

There was an article about this on the Internet Infidel’s Secular Web, at http://www.infidels.org/secular_web/feature/1998/indulgences.html .

At least modern “indulgences” can’t be bought by making donations to the Catholic Church, like they could in Medieval times…

Visit the Internet Stellar Database at www.stellar-database.com

Diddn’t the whole “Indulgences” thing start the protestant movement?

Hoy! Last thing we need is MORE denominations.

Get out the banjo and hand me a snake…

OK, everyone welcome to St. Swithins of the Swamp Sunday School where I shall catechize you all on the straight dope of how the Roman Catholic Church views the concept of purgatory.
First of all, realize that for many centuries, there was no concept of a purgatory.
You either went to heaven or to the place of eternal torment, i.e., hell.
But then the medieval theologians pondered,

These medieval theologians were very materialistic in the way they thought about spiritual matters. They had a cosmic balance in their mind (yeah, a bit like karma) and a rigorous application of just punishment due to the offender. [This notion of paying the price was a direct descendent from the justice system of the Northern European ‘barbaric’ tribes.]
Note, that you can make up for the punishment in this life through charitable works (prayer, fasting, alms giving, etc…).
Now, thinking materialistically, these theologians (and all of Christendom’s church-goers at the time) thought of us passing time in the afterlife like we do here on earth in four dimensional space-time. A day here equals 24 hours in hell, heaven, or purgatory. And so, the time that one might spend in Purgatory was quantified in terms of days or years.
OK, here’s an example: Let’s say you stole a chicken and confessed that sin. You still need to be punished (according to the medievalists). Let’s say you fast the first Monday for nine months as a self-imposed punishment to make up for the theft. Hey, great, now you don’t have to be punished in Purgatory. But let’s say you didn’t do that penance – uh oh, that’s at least nine days of Purgatory you’ll be doing when you die.
And thus is born the notion that certain spiritual works can shorten your stay in Purgatory. The anal-retentive medievalists came up with a list of how many days a certain work was worth This commuting of your sentence was called an indulgence. Partial indulgences (e.g., praying the rosary) would commute some of the days of your purgatorial sentence, and a plenary indulgence (e.g., making a pilgrimage – and donation – to St. Peter’s Cathedral) commuted the entire sentence.
And, if we can say a prayer and apply the indulgence to our sentence in Purgatory, couldn’t we also do the same for someone else, even for the dead (who aren’t really dead – they’re in Purgatory)? Of course we can. The Second Book of Maccabees (only in the Catholic Bible, but then again, at this time, there were no Protestants) refers to praying for the dead and the forgiveness of their sins. But if the dead are in heaven or hell, which is permanent, then what good is praying for them? Obviously, the scripture reference was to Purgatory.
Well, I’m sure you all can see some problems in this line of thinking and how it can be easily abused. It can be abused and was abused (and the RCC today says it is an abuse) by:

[list=a][li]Selling indulgences[/li][li]Committing serious sin and trying to work your way out of hell through indulgences rather than by true contrition of sin[/li][li]Thinking of God as a punishing God.[/list=a][/li]The official line of the RCC today is:

[list=a][li]Indulgences can’t be bought or old. Indulgences are a way of receiving grace on the part of the faithful and the attempt to sell grace is a sin (called simony).[/li][li]Indulgences don’t apply to the hell-bound. If a serious sin cuts you off from God, you can’t work you way back into God’s good graces. You have to be truly sorry and contrite – that alone guarantees salvation.[/li][li]God doesn’t punish. Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son teaches that. Indulgences and Purgatory flow from the bad effects of our choosing to sin, not from God’s decision to punish us for the sins we commit.[/list=a][/li]In fact, the official teaching of the RCC is to think of Purgatory more as a state of being rather than a place of doing time. No one is perfect when they die, and yet, in heaven they will be perfected. This process of being perfected will include the full realization of how awful and harmful was all the things that we did wrong in life, and the full contrition for having committed them. In this way, we will be purged of all our failings before entering eternal bliss. The process of perfection can be called Purgatory and may happen in the blink of an eye to us space-time bound folk, but to the one going through the process, it may be terribly painful (in a self-recriminating way) and may seem like a long process.
And yes, in preparation for the millennial celebrations (called the Year of Great Jubilee so as to avoid the argument of when the millennium actually begins or what year Jesus was actually born), the Pope named some rather modern forms of indulgences (such as giving up smoking) that one can perform to do good acts on earth in a human attempt to make up for our sins and faults.
And yes, in recent talks he gave, the Pope taught that heaven, hell, and purgatory could more properly be called states of being rather than places of existence. What actually happens there, no one knows. The language of fire and punishment in scripture is metaphorical. What we do know is that hell is a state of being apart from God (of our own choosing); heaven is perfect union with God; and purgatory is the state of becoming perfected in preparation to perfect union with God. It’s never too late to start that preparation of being perfected, so start now with true sorrow and a few indulgences.



Actually, the discussions and teachings of what happened to the faithful who had not expiated their sins (in the sense of “made restitution for”–only God can forgive or redeem) began long before the middle ages. Clement of Alexandria (150 - 215), Cyprian of Carthage (200 - 258), Origen (185 - 254), and Tertullian (160 - 220) all wrote on the subject even before Christianity had stopped being a persecuted religion.

The rest of moriah’s post is fairly accurate.


“Father, forgive me, for I have sinned. Since my last confession, I raped four women, one of whom was my sister, and I beat up and robbed a homeless person.”

“Say three Hail Marys and give up smoking, my son.”

…sorry, sometimes sarcasm gets the better of me.

Oh. And I’m amused by the interest people are taking in defining Hell as a state rather than a fiery physical location. (It made headlines in one of the trash tabloids a few weeks ago).

I was taught that Hell and Purgatory and Heaven were spiritual “states” way back in the Middle Ages when I was a youth–back before Vatican II. This is not new stuff, folks, and hardly indicates a change of opinion on the part of the RCC.

I haven’t seen the NY Times article, but I suspect that the published information was either a response to a specific question or a brief mention (of something long held) in the context of a larger article.


No it was a big-deal honest-to-god feature, on Saturday, Sept. 19.

However, it did refer to an article which ran in the Jesuit journal (sorry, don’t remember the name) back in June or July, so I did get the impression I wasn’t reading up-to-the-minute spiritual coverage by the TIMES.

The reporter pulled in a bunch of quotes from Jewish and Protestant clergy to fill things out, but I suppose it was the sort of filler piece you see a lot in Saturday editions, usually the least-bought newspaper of the week.


On a catholic forum one fellow asked if he’d go to Hell for smoking. A priest replied along the lines of: you probably won’t go to Hell for smoking, but you could go to Heaven sooner than you had planned.

Sorry, Ike, I wasn’t clear. I meant that the earlier statement issued by the Jesuits was probably either a clarification of some recent question or a footnote in a larger document. I am not surprised that it was a feature in the NY Times–beyond the fact that this is all old hat, of course. (Hey! If the Globe (or whatever) can make it front page news, the Times should certainly be out there checking it out.)


C’mon, Tom, do you seriously want us to believe that a thoughtful, scholarly Catholic knows the official Roman Catholic teaching better than Jack Chick? :wink:

Of course not, but I can try to keep up appearances and hope to fake you all out.


The concept of Purgatory reminds me of a passage in the New Testament:

I Corinthians 3:15b: “but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” (All I’ve got here is the King James Version; it’s clearer in the NIV.)

Paul is talking about what happens to believers after they die; basically he says that everything you have done will be tested with fire. If you’ve done well, it will survive; if not, it will burn up. You yourself will be saved by grace, but just barely, like a man escaping from a fire.