Removing Our Sinful Natures


The Catholic Doctrine of Purgatory


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Overcoming sin in this life



We know from Scripture and from experience that it is a hard process to overcome sin in this life. There are many Biblical verses that speak of being purified, about suffering, about the need to deny oneself, and about the need to "die" in order to live. It is a maxim of the Christian life that suffering makes us holy. As Paul tells the Corinthians:
For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw -- each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)
Through the fire we are tested and become pure. Simply put, the Bible tells us that contending with our sinful nature here on earth is a painful process. Our experience here tells us this as well. If we have a habitual sin we are trying to overcome, it takes much prayer, fasting, and work to overcome it. Ultimately it is due to the grace of God, but we don't receive this grace like a magic potion - we are involved directly in receiving it so as to overcome our sin (in the first place, we have to ask for it).

Christians have contemplated these realities for many years: our sinful nature is removed at death and overcoming sin here on earth is a painful process. For example, Gregory of Nyssa wrote:
"If a man distinguish in himself what is peculiarly human from that which is irrational, and if he be on the watch for a life of greater urbanity for himself, in this present life he will purify himself of any evil contracted, overcoming the irrational by reason. If he has inclined to the irrational pressure of the passions, using for the passions the cooperating hide of things irrational, he may afterward in a quite different manner be very much interested in what is better, when, after his departure out of the body, he gains knowledge of the difference between virtue and vice and finds that he is not able to partake of divinity until he has been purged of the filthy contagion in his soul by the purifying fire" (Sermon on the Dead)
Many have speculated what this process after death will be like. In the East, the speculation has mostly focused on the end result: deification. In the West, the speculation has mostly focused on the process: purification. Some of this speculation, in both East and West, has gone too far and most likely has distorted what it will be like. But the Church has not accepted this distorted speculation as truth. We don't know exactly what the process of having our sinful nature removed from us will be like: will it be painful? will it last long?, etc. The Catholic Church has wisely not defined it either - she has left most discussion of purgatory to speculation. But always, the fact remains that the Church has taught that it is God who removes our sinful nature - He is responsible for this occurring, not our works. So purgatory is the final cleansing that we receive before we are allowed into God's All-Holy Presence.
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