Thursday, October 4, 2012

C.S. Lewis—A man who believed in Purgatory

Is this true? Did C.S. Lewis believe in the concept of Purgatory? See for yourself. 

Below are Lewis’ words:
“Of course, I pray for the dead (i.e. the dead in Purgatory). The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me. And I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden. At our age the majority of those we love best are dead. What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I love best with unmentionable to Him?” (Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on prayer).

“How do I know all her (Joy, Lewis’ deceased wife) anguish is past? I have never believed before—I thought it immensely improbable—that the most faithful of souls could leap straight into perfection and peace the moment death has rattled in the throat.”

Again, referring to Joy (his deceased wife),
“I know there are not only tears to be dried but stains to be scoured.”

And finally....
“The job will not be completed in this life; but He means to get us as far as possible before death.”

Therefore, it seems self-evident that Lewis wholeheartedly believed in some concept of Purgatory.

Now before I give my thoughts regarding Purgatory, I want to be clear on what Lewis believed (and didn’t believe) about Purgatory.

Some would say C.S. Lewis believed in the (recently popularized) sanctification (i.e. cleansing) model of Purgatory, rather than the classic model of satisfaction (i.e. punishment for your sins).

But if you are like me you are wondering, "What is the sanctification model of Purgatory?" 

Basically, it is the idea that Purgatory is necessary to make the Christian fully or completely sanctified before you enter Heaven.

Lewis explains,
“Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, “It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into joy”? Should we not reply, “With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleansed first.” “It may hurt, you know”—even so, sir.”
Again, this is fascinating. Lewis believes that Christians will actually demand to be placed in Purgatory. The beauty and purity of Heaven will still be too much for their sinful disposition, so the Christian must be purged so that they can reside in their eternal home. But let us not overlook that (according to Lewis) God seems to be willing to complete the process of Sanctification unilaterally, which continues to be the theological position of most Protestants.  

So, is Lewis’ correct? Should Protestants reexamine this doctrine, especially since most of us revere the legendary Oxford Don for his literature and his apologetics?

Here is my answer in four distinct arguments:

#1—There is not one explicit (or implicit) verse advocating the concept of purgatory.

Those who oppose this doctrine often argue this point: There is no biblical evidence. And if there is no biblical evidence, then there is no theological evidence. What else do we base our theology on?

#2—It cannot be reconciled with justification by faith alone.

This was the main objection by the Reformers. The concept of Purgatory (i.e. the satisfaction model) requires justification by works. In other words, it is your works that releases you from Purgatory. It is your works that satisfies the wrath of God. It is your works that reconcile you to God. And finally, it is your works that grant you entrance into Heaven.

The truth: The doctrine of Purgatory distorts the gospel of Jesus Christ, therefore, it is heresy.

#3—Scripture seems to teach immediate placement of individuals in Heaven (and maybe in Hell).

What else can we conclude from the interaction of Jesus and the thief on the cross?
Luke 23:42 And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 43 And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

It seems clear that Jesus and the thief went immediately into Heaven.

Someone may ask, “Is it possible Purgatory is Paradise?” I mean, didn’t C.S. Lewis believe in something like that?

Yes, he did.

Notice the words of Lewis’ guide in The Great Divorce:
“It depends on the way you are using the words. If they leave that grey town (i.e. Hell) behind it will not have been Hell. To any that leaves it, it is Purgatory. And perhaps you had better not call this country Heaven. Not Deep Heaven, you understand. You can call it the Valley of the Shadow of Life.”
Interesting, isn’t it?

Ok, let us reason together for a moment. Now if there is any legitimacy in the sanctification model of Purgatory, isn’t the thief on the Cross the example Par Excellence? In other words, if anyone needed the “sanctifying work of Purgatory”, it is the thief on the cross, because he had no time to grow in sanctification or prepare himself for the beauties of Heaven.  

So it seems reasonable to me that if you add the conversion of the thief with the finality of Hebrews 9:27, the reader must conclude that when you walk through death’s doors, there is no opportunity for purging, learning or changing your mind. All sales are final.

#4—The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard

I believe this is main scriptural evidence against the sanctification model of Purgatory. 
Matthew 20:1-16 "For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and to them he said, 'You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.' 5 So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, 'Why do you stand here idle all day?' 7 They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too.' 8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.' 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, 'These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.' 13 But he replied to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?' 16 So the last will be first, and the first last."
So now if we use this parable as the grid for understanding Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross, then this guy was paid for WORKING ONE HOUR. 

Do we have the right to condemn God for being gracious to the thief? Let us remember that God does not have to show His favor to anyone. 

Apparently, it brought God glory to save a wretched sinner just moments before his death.

Someone might ask, “Was it legitimate?” or “Was it a foxhole conversion?” Well, we have two options at this point. Either Jesus knew his heart or He didn’t. Oh….and if your answer if Jesus didn’t know, then He lied to the thief. Absurd!


C.S. Lewis is one of the greatest storytellers and apologists ever to walk the face of the earth. Christians should not hesitate to read his works over and over again. But was he right about Purgatory? Nope. Dead wrong… pun intended.


  1. Great read! as i was reading, I thought of the Pope Benedict who said this: “All NT and theological talk about hell has but one point: to bring man to come to grips with his life in view of the real possibility of eternal ruin and to understand revelation as a demand of the utmost seriousness. The fundamental reference to this redemptive meaning of the dogma must therefore serve as both a boundary marker and an internal guideline for all speculation in this area.”

  2. Good read bro. I tell people all the time that's CS Lewis is a brilliant writer to read, but he is still not the Word of God. Like all great men we should appreciate his work but not take it all as law.

  3. Matt,

    It is fascinating the differences, both ecumenically and theologically, between Pope Benedict and John Paul II. Much of this blog post came from my interaction with the book, Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation by Jerry L. Walls. His chapter of C.S. Lewis and Purgatory is the reason I read it. Walls also mentions Pope Benedict throughout his book.

  4. I was about to share this but then you said "C.S. Lewis is one of the greatest storytellers and apologists ever to walk the face of the earth. Christians should not hesitate to read his works over and over again." This is only one of the aberrant, heretical teachings of Lewis. He also denied Penal Substitutionary Atonement, he was an inclusivist/universalist- both per Mere Christianity. He was also Marcionistic in his understanding of scripture and a theistic evolutionist. I know I may be missing some of his heretical leanings but in no way can I advocate his books!

  5. My name is Chris Nelson, I just did not know how else to go about that.

  6. Chris,

    I get where you are coming from. But my position is summed up well in this article. I would enjoy further interaction with you.

    Take care.


  7. Clint,

    I have written a very lengthy blog post refuting your specific post here and offering an in depth analysis on what the doctrine of Purgatory actually is and why it is Biblical, Logical, and Historical. I would welcome any feedback. I will try to post it as a comment below, but I do not think it will allow it to be posted due to its length.

    God Bless,

  8. Here are the first 4,000 characters of 23,000 (my comment turned into a thesis!)

    CS Lewis Believed in Purgatory - Rightly So
    This post is in response to a recent blog posting I found while searching the Internet for some CS Lewis quotes. The full blog post can be seen here:

    Listening to the Giants- CS Lewis a man who believed in Purgatory

    There are many quotes of CS Lewis' that affirm a belief in Purgatory, many of which are listed in the blog post. Of course this falls into reason, as CS Lewis was an Anglican, and returned to the Anglican Church through the Evangelization efforts of his Oxford friend J.R.R. Tolkien and reading G.K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man. Both Tolkien and Chesterton were Catholic.

    Lewis' most notorious quote regarding Purgatory probably comes from The Great Divorce in which he states;

    “Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, “It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into joy”? Should we not reply, “With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleansed first.” “It may hurt, you know”—even so, sir.”

    The first mischaracterization I find in this post is as follows:

    "Some would say C.S. Lewis believed in the (recently popularized) sanctification (i.e. cleansing) model of Purgatory, rather than the classic model of satisfaction (i.e. punishment for your sins).
    But if you are like me you are wondering, "What is the sanctification model of Purgatory?"
    Basically, it is the idea that Purgatory is necessary to make the Christian fully or completely sanctified before you enter Heaven."

    What are these "models"? Throughout the post it is referred to as the sanctification model is the Protestant model, and the satisfaction model is the "traditional model", although he never says Catholic, I am quite certain that is what he means. However to say that the Catholic Church teaches currently the satisfaction model is completely false. The satisfaction model, if there is such a thing, is simply Medieval speculation on a divine reality. We do this all the time, including in trying to understand things like the Trinity. There are some things we do not know and cannot know, these types of doctrines, like the doctrine of purgatory, develop over time as our understanding of Christian Truth develops.

    So what does the Catholic Church teach about Purgatory?

    Well the Catechism of the Catholic Church section 1030 and 1031 state:

    1030 All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.
    1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.606 The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:607

    As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.608

    continue reading at my blog

  9. Friend,

    You said Purgatory is biblical. Please show me some texts from the Protestant canon. God bless.

    1. Pl please take a look at my blog post regarding this. I detailed many passages from the Protestant canon and would love to answer specific questions regarding those passages. I would live to discuss further. Feel free to comment here or on my blog. Thanks!

    2. First, 1 Corinthians Chapter 3 which reads as follows:

      By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

      I have yet to see a Protestant explanation of these verses. How under the idea of Sola Fide can one be saved but only as escaping through the flames while suffering loss? The only explanation for what St. Paul writes here is an understanding of Purgatory. You see if what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward, if it is burned up, he will still be saved but will be purified prior to receiving his reward in heaven. Of course this does not mean a literal fire, God's love is often referred to as a fire, this is a metaphor for the sanctification process. Many protestants know the praise song, Refiner's Fire, and this is that same sort of fire.

      Another verse is Matthew 12:32

      And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

      Jesus explicitly states in this verse that anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven in this age OR IN THE AGE TO COME. If there was no purification of sins after death, no further reconciliation with God after we die, then there would be no need to say that the sins would not be forgiven now or then. Jesus would have simply said that person's sins would not be forgiven, period. This opinion was held by many of the "men of old" including; St. Augustine, St. Gregory the Great, Bede, and St. Bernard, among others.

      The parable of Luke 16 is another good example describing a waiting place for righteous men to be made perfect in Christ, known as Abraham's bosom.

      "...the poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he called out, "Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame."

      The righteous men of old were waiting here for Christ to open heaven by his atoning work on the cross. Once that happened as is stated in 1 Peter 3:19-20 "he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water." This verse certainly alludes to the fact that there is a possibility of more than just God's presence or hell. It supports the possibility and likeliness of a third place, where one, even the righteous men of old in this case, can wait to be made perfect for God's presence.

    3. We can see further reference to this idea of purgatory in 1 Corinthians 15:29 "Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?" What on earth could this verse mean, other than it is beneficial to pray for the dead and their purification?

      One final verse that I like to point out is often used to support the doctrine of the Communion of Saints, but I think there is some application here as well. Hebrews 12:22-24 states:

      But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

      How were these spirits of the righteous made perfect? Through God's purifying love, through the refiner's fire, through the state of being that is purgatory.

  10. Friend,

    Also, I would love your feedback on this post. (my post on John Wycliffe)

    God bless.

  11. "The concept of Purgatory (i.e. the satisfaction model) requires justification by works."

    You can't substantiate this statement, because it isn't true. Traditionally the concept of purgatory only included the believer: the believer is justified by faith, and hence will make it to heaven, but they can't go until they are sanctified in purgatory. Hence, the reason they even get to go to purgatory is because they were justified by faith! Duh! They are already justified, but before they get to make it all the way to heaven the process of sanctification must be completed. Now, I'm not saying I agree with that model: I'm just saying your statement is unjustifiable and that you are just regurgitating what you've heard over knee-jerk protestants say, not thinking through the issue logically.

    1. "There is not one explicit (or implicit) verse advocating the concept of purgatory."

      As to possible intimation of purgatory in scripture, there's the 3 men in Luke 12 (I think its Luke 12) where Jesus speaks of one cut in half and given his portion with the hypocrites, one beaten with many stripes, one beaten with few stripes. It seems the latter 2 both are saved, but have to undergo punishment before going to heaven, while the first goes to hell. Also Paul speaks to the saved saying "we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ to receive the things done in the body, whether good or bad"...punishment for the saved? after this life but before they enter heaven? sounds like a sort of 'purgatory'.

    2. The belief in purgatory is very sad, because it's source or "need to believe" is based on one's sin fooling oneself that God needs some help in his particular case OR it is the belief that Christ's work for his own was insufficient. Now this thought is satanic and perhaps blasphemous.
      When Christ broke the technical Law by "hanging on a tree and the sin of his elect was poured onto him, he, at the end of His suffering yelled out "It is finished" and the darkness came and the temple curtain was torn in two. Now I am not brilliant, but I know what these things mean. Immediately after the first sin God promised a redeemer for a very large problem. That we did in fact know good and evil. That as Paul insists some six times, that we are so depraved that if you say to a new Gentile Christian or anyone for that matter you may never do any of these four commands that the subconscious mind for many people cannot receive it. They will touch the wet paint "do not touch" signs every time. Why did Eve HAVE to take that one piece of fruit? Because God told her not to. There probably was an entire orchard there. James in v19 says in effect that the Gentiles were good to go. But he fibbed. Is that passive aggressive or what? "Therefore it is my judgment that we not trouble the Gentiles who are turning to God from among the Gentiles. Note the PERIOD! oh but here it comes, for there was never a law that James didn't like. So he throws out four more- you know the Gentiles are oversexed fools and they need "help" . I have been studying this for 8 months and I believe that the "Judaizers love doing the Law and now with Jesus being a messiah of sorts from my readings Yeshua was their new found back up if they missed the mark.Which is pretty much the summary of American "Christianity". I will give you just one universal assumption re James that may be wrong. We know the "tough" side of Jesus. How do we know that when Jesus and James met it went the way we think it went. Read James and how much he talks about his brother. That after Christ made it perfectly clear that the sins of his Church were covered in full proven by defeating death in His resurrection. Sola fide it would not even be an issue if it weren't for this Epistle. Now it is preached 1 out of 3 RC and Protestants denying the reformers and the Scotch Irish warriors. Purgatory again, defines either that the "believer" thinks he needs to help God push him to the top or doesn't believe Jesus Christ got the job done even in light of "IT IS FINISHED. When one reads James please realize that he was very smart and took advantage of the debate between works or faith. Enough to make me nauseous, his favorite "proof" was "you have faith, and I have works show me your faith without the works and I will show you my faith by my works. Can anyone tell me what James' works were? That he went up daily to the holy of holies and rocked back and forth praying on his knees creating "mushroom" knees? There are no reported miracles while Peter, Barnabas and Paul his subordinates preached about the miracles they were doing. In the beginning of Acts the believers believed and were baptized. How can it be that Tolkein and Lewis were either sucked in or very close to the Roman Catholic Church where they order you to follow the prescription for purgatory or worse. I
      don't get it. It is Finished!! No Help Needed.

  12. Personally I like his quotes. Great compilation. Thanks for sharing with us.