Are You Going to Get Burned?

“What had caused the debate and disagreement between the Greeks and Latins in the conferences [at Florrence] on Purgatory was not the question of the middle state after death, but if there is punishment by fire in the middle state. The Latins argued that there is such punishment.” Constantine Tsirpanlis, Mark Eugenicus and the Council of Florence, 78.

“Mark refutes entirely punishment by [a created] fire in the middle state as opposed to and unattested by the Holy Scriptures and the tradition of the Church. The Latin argument from Scripture is of no avail because neither does the Book of Maccabees nor St. Matthew mention fire, and St. Paul in speaking of fire means, as St. John Chrysostom clearly shows [PG 61, 75-82, 361], the eternal fire of hell, not the temporary punishment of fire in Purgatory.” 79.

“Mark asserts that no Greek or Latin Church Father teaches the punitive or purgatorial fire in the middle state. Their references to suffering by fire after this life must be interpreted not literally, but symbolically, namely as eternal deprivation of God’s vision and bliss, as an unceasing remorse, shame, and uncertainty for the future.” 80.

“Finally, the ratio theologica [that rationally divine justice demands punishment] of the Latins, as implying a legalistic conception of satisfaction of divine justice by the punishment of fire in the middle state, is disagreeable to the almost universal view of the Greek Fathers, which held that sin is essentially a personal pathos and guilt and that Adam’s misdeed was not a collective sin of the human race but was rather a corruption of human nature. Men’s personal responsibility does not come into the picture, except in so far as they imitate Adam; their only congenital inheritance from him is corruption and death which, in turn lead them to sin; men are thus involved in a sort of vicious circle of death and sin.” 81-82

“Mark’s main argument against the Latin distinction between guilt and retribution is based on the Aristotelian concept of relationship between cause and causation, (αιτιον and αιτιατον); as long as sin is forgiven punishment is not required, because that which (sin) demanded punishment has been dissolved. The Latins, on the other hand, argued that even after the forgiveness of sin, punishment is required in order to satisfy divine justice since God’s holiness was offended by sin.

To the Latin objection that the soul in the middle state, although immaterial or bodiless, can be punished by material fire (such punishment being most appropriate to the divine power and justice), Mark replies that it would be more reasonable, more just and more consistent, if the soul together with its own body would be punished, not separately, since together they had committed sin. Basing himself especially on the Scriptural doctrine [Heb 11:39-40] that the souls of the  just and the damned do not enter into their eternal destiny directly after death, but await the final Judgement, Mark categorically refutres double punishment and double fire as contrary to the teaching of the fifth ecumenical council and to the patristic theology of the primitive Church.” 83.


  1. Excellent post. This is one of the cogent arguments against pen-sub, because it is the reverse side of the Latin theory of divine retribution: if God the Father punished “the sins of the world” in Christ, then to punish the sinner again in hell is “double jeapordy” and not even imperfect human justice permits that. If one ascribes to limited atonement then that makes God to be a monster, willing the eternal damnation of His created when He could have just as easily punished in Christ a few more sins as fewer. (And if God’s will is identical to His essence ie., ADS, then it makes God even more bizarre…)


  2. From my reading, it seems to me that one of St. Mark’s principle concerns regarding the intermediate state was the notion of a purifying yet created fire. That this was needed as a kind of intermediatory prior to exposure to the divine glory had, he thought problematic implications for God’s relation to nature. I of course agree with St. Mark, but it is often difficult for people to see the wider issues and what exactly was disagreed upon at Florrence regarding Purgatory.

    That said, St. Mark also noted a great deal of common ground with the Latin’s regarding the intermediate state, especially with respect to the prayers of church members for the deceased.


  3. Yeah but I think Mark would say that the reason there is an intermediate state is because of Christ’s second coming awaiting the resurrection of the body, that’s the only thing that keeps the blessed from seeing the divine glory.

    Notice also that 1 Cor 3 goes out the window for any kind of proof text for purgatory. Those who are blessed get a reward, and those who don’t suffer loss (Hell) and are saved as yet through fire (the divine energy keeps them in existence, the Greeks said this is what the greek term implies here, not bliss). You never thought that the divine energy was hell did you.

    Malachi 3:2 – But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire


  4. Thanks for posting this topic. Regarding S-P’s comments, ditto. Moreover, were penal satisfaction true, either the Calvinists got it right with “limited atonement” or universalism is a fact, however hard to swallow.


  5. My wife and I are currently catechumens in an Antiochian parish, and my priest takes a minority view on Purgatory within our Tradition, it seems. He argues that salvation is still possible for the unrepentant in Hades and prior to the Second Coming. With that said, though, he still rejects the notion of a “middle” state of a punitive “created fire”. What would be problematic about my priest’s view, and how does this factor into the traditional Eastern/Western debates on grace, salvation and the essence/energies distinction?


  6. Jonathan,

    Someone else will have to speak to the minority or majority status of your priests view since I am not Orthodox (yet, but en route). However, I have to say that that view is pretty much the only view that has been presented to me by Orthodox laity and clergy. I’m surprised that this may be considered a minority view.


  7. Hi, J Brim:

    When my priest explained it to me, he himself noted that it was a minority position in Orthodoxy, so I am assuming it is. Fr. Meyendorff, as part of a podcast interview (can’t remember the source now), stated that the Orthodox perspective on the afterlife could essentially be equated with that of C.S. Lewis’ on the Protestant side.


  8. Yes, I am: the worm of my conscience shall devour me alive, and the unextinguished fire of my vile passions [which I’ve so miserably and lamentably failed to expurge during my earthly life through theosis] shall torment me eternally: You can’t expect one to live after death in the Kingdom in which he hasn’t lived in while on earth, can You, now?

    The most holy beings, the Seraphim, are dwelling in eternal fire … and so are the devils … what’s the difference, You may ask? The difference lies in our relation to that fire: if we are fire ourselves, then Fire can’t torment us, but only make us brighter and more filled with resplendent and everlasting glory.

    Regarding tollhouses: they’re not Purgatory … probably for the same reason that Nostradamus isn’t a Prophet either: will someone here please have the decency and courtesy to explain to me exactly what heretical similarities he has spotted between the two?

    As for dogma: Andrew’s preaching to the Dacians, Thracians, and Scythians; or Thomas’ mission to the Hinds aren’t exactly dogma either … nor is the bodily assumption of the Virgin Mary dogma … but if anybody here wants to contradict these historical teachings of the Church and think that he can get away with murder, he’s out of his mind. (Do You see the Jews contradicting the Historical Books of the O.T. because they’re not part of the Torah !?)

    Oh, yeah, and as a BONUS: contraception isn’t OK either … because Orthodoxy is NOT some sort of “Sola Seven” Ecumenical Synods … You can’t just dismiss the negative opinion of every Father that ever lived as “individual opinion” … the “individual opinion” of ALL the Fathers !? Come on, now!

    Don’t play with fire … `cause You’ll get burned!

    The Western position on divine retribution, imposed not merely BY God ON anyone else, but also imposed BY some superior Force ON our Lord [=free] God and Sovereign [=Master, not slave] of the Universe, above Whom there is no other god, is sheer madness … but it’s futile to fight fire with fire and madness with madness, or heresy with heresy.
    – The fact that God is “forced”, “obliged” or “constrained” to do anything is simply blasphemious. (The Godhead is not manipulable or controllable: otherwise we’ll have superstion, and not religion).
    – It also contradicts the simple account of the Gospel, as the Son of God Himself, Who alone has seen the Father, testifies to us in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.


  9. Hello all,
    FYI, if the more philosophically minded among the readers of this blog did not already know this “Faith and Philosophy” (a philosophy of religion journal) has dedicated its most recent edition to issues on purgatory.


  10. Heb 12:29:
    For our God is a consuming fire.

    Heb 12:6,10:
    For whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges. … but he does so for our benefit, in order that we may share his holiness.

    1 Cor 3:11-15:
    For no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, the work of each will come to light, for the Day will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire (itself) will test the quality of each one’s work. If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. But if someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire.

    Cyprian of Carthage:

    It is one thing to stand for pardon, another thing to attain to glory; it is one thing, when cast into prison, not to go out thence until one has paid the uttermost farthing; another thing at once to receive the wages of faith and courage. It is one thing, tortured by long suffering for sins, to be cleansed and long purged by fire; another to have purged all sins by suffering. It is one thing, in fine, to be in suspense till the sentence of God at the day of judgment; another to be at once crowned by the Lord” (Letters 51[55]:20 [A.D. 253]).

    Gregory of Nyssa:

    “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 [A.D. 382]).

    John Chrysostom:

    “Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice [Job 1:5], why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them” (Homilies on First Corinthians 41:5 [A.D. 392]).


  11. Clement of Alexandria:

    “Accordingly the believer, through great discipline, divesting himself of the passions, passes to the mansion which is better than the former one, viz., to the greatest torment, taking with him the characteristic of repentance from the sins he has committed after baptism. He is tortured then still more–not yet or not quite attaining what he sees others to have acquired. Besides, he is also ashamed of his transgressions. The greatest torments, indeed, are assigned to the believer. For God’s righteousness is good, and His goodness is righteous. And though the punishments cease in the course of the completion of the expiation and purification of each one, yet those have very great and permanent grief who are found worthy of the other fold, on account of not being along with those that have been glorified through righteousness.” Stromata, 6:14 (post A.D. 202).

    “The same divine fire, therefore, with one and the same force and power, will both burn the wicked and will form them again, and will replace as much as it shall consume of their bodies, and will supply itself with eternal nourishment: which the poets transferred to the vulture of Tityus. Thus, without any wasting of bodies, which regain their substance, it will only burn and affect them with a sense of pain. But when He shall have judged the righteous, He will also try them with fire. Then they whose sins shall exceed either in weight or in number, shall be scorched by the fire and burnt: but they whom full justice and maturity of virtue has imbued will not perceive that fire; for they have something of God in themselves which repels and rejects the violence of the flame.” The Divine Institutes, 7:21 (A.D. 307).

    Cyril of Jerusalem:

    Then we commemorate also those who have fallen asleep before us, first Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, that at their prayers and intercessions God would receive our petition. Then on behalf also of the Holy Fathers and Bishops who have fallen asleep before us, and in a word of all who in past years have fallen asleep among us, believing that it will be a very great benefit to the souls, for whom the supplication is put up, while that holy and most awful sacrifice is set forth. And I wish to persuade you by an illustration. For I know that many say, what is a soul profited, which departs from this world either with sins, or without sins, if it be commemorated in the prayer? For if a king were to banish certain who had given him of-fence, and then those who belong to them should weave a crown and offer it to him on behalf of those under punishment, would he not grant a remission of their penalties? In the same way we, when we offer to Him our supplications for those who have fallen asleep, though they be sinners, weave no crown, but offer up Christ sacrificed for our sins, propitiating our merciful God for them as well as for ourselves.” Catechetical Lectures, 23:9,10 (c. A.D. 350).

    Gregory of Nyssa:

    When he has quitted his body and the difference between virtue and vice is known he cannot approach God till the purging fire shall have cleansed the stains with which his soul was infested. That same fire in others will cancel the corruption of matter, and the propensity to evil.” Sermon on the Dead, PG 13:445,448 (ante A.D. 394).


    And it is not impossible that something of the same kind may take place even after this life. It is a matter that may be inquired into, and either ascertained or left doubtful, whether some believers shall pass through a kind of purgatorial fire, and in proportion as they have loved with more or less devotion the goods that perish, be less or more quickly delivered from it. This cannot, however, be the case of any of those of whom it is said, that they ‘shall not inherit the kingdom of God,’ unless after suitable repentance their sins be forgiven them. When I say ‘suitable,’ I mean that they are not to be unfruitful in almsgiving; for Holy Scripture lays so much stress on this virtue, that our Lord tells us beforehand, that He will ascribe no merit to those on His right hand but that they abound in it, and no defect to those on His left hand but their want of it, when He shall say to the former, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom,” and to the latter, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.'” Enchiridion, 69 (A.D. 421).

    “During the time, moreover, which intervenes between a man’s death and the final resurrection, the soul dwells in a hidden retreat, where it enjoys rest or suffers affliction just in proportion to the merit it has earned by the life which it led on earth.” Enchiridion, 1099 (A.D. 421).

    Ceasar of Arles:

    If we neither give thanks to God in tribulations nor redeem our own sins by good works, we shall have to remain in that purgatorian fire as long as it takes for those above-mentioned lesser sins to be consumed like wood and straw and hay.” Sermon 179 (104):2 (A.D. 542).

    Gregory the Great:

    “Each one will be presented to the Judge exactly as he was when he departed this life. Yet, there must be a cleansing fire before judgment, because of some minor faults that may remain to be purged away. Does not Christ, the Truth, say that if anyone blasphemes against the Holy Spirit he shall not be forgiven ‘either in this world or in the world to come'(Mt. 12:32)? From this statement we learn that some sins can be forgiven in this world and some in the world to come. For, if forgiveness is refused for a particular sin, we conclude logically that it is granted for others. This must apply, as I said, to slight transgressions.” Dialogues, 4:39 (A.D. 594).


  12. As a Catholic, I believe Mark of Ephesus had legitimate concerns about the business of an intermediate state after death and, especially, that of a literal purgatorial “fire.” Accordingly, I have two recommendations.

    The first is Benedict XVI’s remarks on purgatory in Spe Salvi (¶46-¶48). They are pretty reflective of the current state of thinking among Catholic theologians on the topic.

    The second is the treatment:of purgatory by Fr. Al Kimel. I like it. To read it, I had to copy and paste the text into a word-processing program. Can’t handle that dark background.

    I doubt either text would meet with unqualified approval around here, but at least they are a good basis for greater understanding.


  13. Let’s compare Ratzinger to the Greeks at Florence and see if they understand 1 Cor 3 the same or if Ratzinger is even in the ball park on 1 Cor 3:


    “Saint Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, gives us an idea of the differing impact of God’s judgement according to each person’s particular circumstances. He does this using images which in some way try to express the invisible, without it being possible for us to conceptualize these images—simply because we can neither see into the world beyond death nor do we have any experience of it. Paul begins by saying that Christian life is built upon a common foundation: Jesus Christ. This foundation endures. If we have stood firm on this foundation and built our life upon it, we know that it cannot be taken away from us even in death. Then Paul continues: “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 Cor 3:12-15). In this text, it is in any case evident that our salvation can take different forms, that some of what is built may be burned down, that in order to be saved we personally have to pass through “fire” so as to become fully open to receiving God and able to take our place at the table of the eternal marriage-feast.

    “47. Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ’s Passion.”

    And now the Greeks:

    “In explanation of the Apostle’s words, they quoted the commentary of S. John Chrysostom, who, using the word fire, gives it the meaning of an eternal, and not temporary, purgatorial fire; explains the words wood, hay, stubble, in the sense of bad deeds, as food for the eternal fire; the word day, as meaning the day of the last judgment; and the words saved yet so as by fire, as meaning the preservation and continuance of the sinner’s existence while suffering punishment. Keeping to this explanation, they reject the other explanation given by S. Augustine, founded on the words shall be saved, which he understood in the sense of bliss, and consequently gave quite another meaning to all this quotation. “It is very right to suppose,” wrote the Orthodox teachers, “that the Greeks should understand Greek words better than foreigners. Consequently, if we cannot prove that any one of those saints, who spoke the Greek language, explains the Apostle’s words, written in Greek, in a sense different to that given by the blessed John, then surely we must agree with the majority of these Church celebrities.” The expressions sothenai, sozesthai, and soteria, used by heathen writers, mean in our language continuance, existence (diamenein, einai.) The very idea of the Apostle’s words shows this. As fire naturally destroys, whereas those who are doomed to eternal fire are not destroyed, the Apostle says that they continue in fire, preserving and continuing their existence, though at the same time they are being burned by fire. To prove the truth of such an explanation of these words by the Apostle, (ver. 11, 15,) they make the following remarks: The Apostle divides all that is built upon the proposed foundation into two parts, never even hinting of any third, middle part. By gold, silver, stones, he means virtues; by hay, wood, stubble, that which is contrary to virtue, i. e., bad works. “Your doctrine,” they continued to tell the Latins, “would perhaps have had some foundation if he (the Apostle) had divided bad works into two kinds, and bad said that one kind is purified by God, and the other worthy of eternal punishment. But he made no such division; simply naming the works entitling man to eternal bliss, i.e., virtues, and those meriting eternal punishment, i.e., sins. After which he says, ‘Every man’s work shall be made manifest,’ and shows when this will happen, pointing to that last day, when God will render unto all according to their merits: ‘For the day,’ he says, ‘shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire.’ Evidently, this is the day of the second coming of Christ, the coming age, the day so called in a particular sense, or as opposed to the present life, which is but night. This is the day when He will come in glory, and a fiery stream shall precede Him. (Dan. vii. 10; Ps. 1. 3; xcvii. 3; 2 S. Pet. iii. 12, 15.) All this shows us that S. Paul speaks here of the last day, and of the eternal fire prepared for sinners. ‘This fire,’ says he, ‘shall try every man’s work of what sort it is,’ enlightening some works, and burning others with the workers. But when the evil deed will be destroyed by fire, the evil doers will not be destroyed also, but will continue their existence in the fire, and suffer eternally. Whereas then the Apostle does not divide sins here into mortal and venial, but deeds in general into good and bad; whereas the time of this event is referred by him to the final day, as by the Apostle Peter also; whereas, again, he attributes to the fire the power of destroying all evil actions, but not the doers; it becomes evident that the Apostle Paul does not speak of purgatorial fire, which, even in your opinion, extends not over all evil actions, but over some of the minor sins. But these words also, ‘If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss,’ (zemiothesetai, i.e., shall lose,) shows that the Apostle speaks of the eternal tortures; they are deprived of the Divine light: whereas this cannot be spoken of those purified, as you say; for they not only do not lose anything, but even acquire a great deal, by being freed from evil, and clothed in purity and candour.”” –The Greeks at the Council of Florence link:



Comments are closed.