Purgatory (Latin: purgatorium, borrowed into English via Anglo-Norman and Old French)[1] is, according to the belief of some Christians (mostly Catholics), an intermediate state after physical death for expiatory purification.[2] The process of purgatory is the final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.[3] Tradition, by reference to certain texts of scripture, sees the process as involving a cleansing fire. Some forms of Western Christianity, particularly within Protestantism, deny its existence. Other strands of Western Christianity see purgatory[4] as a place, perhaps filled with fire. Some concepts of Gehenna in Judaism resemble those of purgatory.

Image of a fiery purgatory by Ludovico Carracci

The word "purgatory" has come to refer to a wide range of historical and modern conceptions of postmortem suffering short of everlasting damnation.[5] English-speakers also use the word in a non-specific sense to mean any place or condition of suffering or torment, especially one that is temporary.[6]

The Catholic Church holds that "all who die in God's grace and friendship but still imperfectly purified" undergo the process of purification which the Church calls purgatory, "so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven". Catholicism bases its teaching also on the practice of praying for the dead, in use within the Church ever since the Church began, and mentioned in the deuterocanonical book 2 Maccabees 12:46.[7]

According to Jacques Le Goff, the conception of purgatory as a physical place came into existence in Western Europe towards the end of the twelfth century.[8] Le Goff states that the conception involves the idea of a purgatorial fire, which he suggests "is expiatory and purifying not punitive like hell fire".[9] At the Second Council of Lyon in 1247, when the Catholic Church defined, for the first time, its teaching on purgatory, the Eastern Orthodox Church did not adopt the doctrine. The council made no mention of purgatory as a third place or as containing fire,[10] which are absent also in the declarations by the Councils of Florence (1431-1449) and of Trent (1545-1563).[11] Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have declared that the term does not indicate a place, but a condition of existence.[12][13]

The Church of England, mother church of the Anglican Communion, officially denounces what it calls "the Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory",[14] but the Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Churches, and elements of the Anglican, Lutheran and Methodist traditions hold that for some there is cleansing after death and pray for the dead.[15][16][17][18][19] The Reformed Churches teach that the departed are delivered from their sins through the process of glorification.[20] Rabbinical Judaism also believes in the possibility of after-death purification and may even use the word "purgatory" to describe the similar rabbinical concept of Gehenna, though Gehenna is also sometimes described[by whom?] as more similar to hell or Hades.[21]