Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation

Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation

Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation

Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation


Jerry L. Walls, the author of books on hell and heaven, completes his tour of the afterlife with a philosophical and theological exploration and defense of purgatory, the traditional teaching that most Christians require a period of postmortem cleansing and purging of their sinful dispositions and imperfections before they will be fully made ready for heaven. He examines Protestant objections to the doctrine and shows that the doctrine of purgatory has been construed in different ways, some of which are fully compatible with Protestant theology. In particular, while purgatory has often been understood as matter of punishment in order to make satisfaction for sins that have not been fully remitted, it can also be seen as the completion of the sanctification process, an account of the doctrine that is fully consistent with the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith. Purgatory assumes not only continuity of personal identity but also gradual moral and spiritual growth between death and resurrection. Different theories of personal identity are examined and assessed in light of these assumptions. Walls also shows that the traditional doctrine of purgatory is not understood as a second chance for salvation, but goes on to argue that it should be modified to allow for postmortem repentance. He concludes with an examination of C.S. Lewis's writings on purgatory, and suggests that Lewis can be a model for evangelicals and other Protestants to engage the doctrine of purgatory in a way that is true to their theology.


This volume is the third in a series of books on the afterlife, the first two of which are Hell: the Logic of Damnation (Notre Dame, 1992) and Heaven: the Logic of Eternal Joy (Oxford, 2002). the fact that purgatory is bringing up the rear suggests, truly, that I had no plans to do a trilogy when I wrote my book on hell. Indeed, I had no plans to write about heaven either, for that matter.

The first volume was a revised version of my PhD dissertation at Notre Dame. a few years before writing that book, the historian Martin Marty wrote an article tellingly entitled “Hell Disappeared. No One Noticed. a Civic Argument,” in which he remarked that a bibliographical search for contemporary literature turned up almost nothing on the subject. in the intervening period, that has all changed, and hell is a now a matter of intense debate, particularly in evangelical Christian circles. (Indeed, several months after writing this Preface, a firestorm of controversy erupted in the evangelical world that made national news when popular pastor Rob Bell published a book on hell that challenged certain prevailing views.) Many still defend the traditional notion of eternal damnation, while others are contending for universalism, and still others are making the case that the lost will be annihilated in the end.

I did the second volume after realizing that heaven poses its own distinctive and interesting issues. Heaven has yet to generate the level of interest that hell has stirred in philosophical circles, but there are signs that it is drawing increasing attention, from critics as well as those who hope to end up there. One of the issues I discussed in that book was whether a viable doctrine of heaven needs a doctrine of purgatory. I argued that it did, and thought I was done with the matter.

Subsequent reflection proved otherwise, and again, I saw that purgatory poses a distinctive and fascinating range of issues that deserve sustained consideration in their own right. I was fortunate to return in the fall of 2009 to Notre Dame as a Research Fellow in the Center for Philosophy of Religion, where I completed this project. According to historian Jacques Le Goff, the Notre Dame school of Paris was the birthplace of the doctrine of purgatory in the twelfth century, so perhaps it is fitting in more ways than one that I finished purgatory where I started with hell.

All Souls Day, 2010

Notre Dame, Indiana . . .

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