Did Wesley believe (or was drifting to a belief) in Purgatory?

English: Holy Thorn Reliquary; Resurrection of...
English: Holy Thorn Reliquary; Resurrection of the Dead on the Last Day (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am no Wesleyan Scholar, so help me out here. First, this is an older post from Roger Olsen.

Purgatory?  Well, perhaps that’s not a felicitous name for the phenomenon I am imagining.  But I can’t think of a better name right now.  C. S. Lewis called it purgatory while distancing his idea of it from the typical Roman Catholic explanations of it.

This site has assembled some evidence that Wesley was drifting towards a Protestant notion of a place whereby the ‘good man’ grows in holiness until the resurrection of the dead.

Note, later Protestant theologians who desired to refrain from association with Romish purgatory invented new ways of drafting the image.


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4 Replies to “Did Wesley believe (or was drifting to a belief) in Purgatory?”

  1. I think there is some conflating here of “pugatory,” which has a particular role in Catholic theology, and this notion of an intermediate state, which is very similar to what NT Wright describes in Surprised by Hope.

    Wesley, by my reading, was suggesting that the souls of the dead did reside in a dis-embodied intermediate state, but not one to purge sin and make a person fit for heaven. The holy would be in “Abraham’s bosom” or “paradise” awaiting the resurrection and the unholy would be in a place of torment also awaiting the resurrection and the lake of fire. Luke 16 figures large in this thinking, as do Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross.

    Wesley does speculate in one of his sermons that the holy might “ripen in holiness” in paradise as they await the resurrection, but he does not suggest any sense of purgatory where sinners are purged before entering heaven.

    What your linked cites leave out are Wesley’s rather pointed criticisms of the doctrine of purgatory, which he found objectionable for be (to his mind) unbiblical and detrimental to holiness in this life.

    Purgatory has a particular function of cleansing the sins that were not removed by penance in life. It is an antechamber to heaven. There is no sense that I’ve read in Wesley that a Christian in Abraham’s bosom would carry with them sins.

    A related topic, of course, is Wesley’s reading of 1 Peter and the whole business of Christ preaching release to the dead in Hades. Our Methodist Apostles’ Creed bears the marks of Wesley’s dispute with others over the meaning of 1 Peter 3:19.

    These are my thoughts, it they are helpful at all.

    1. Very true, John, but (as indicated with the parenthetical title), I have to wonder if Wesley was drifting to something akin to a protestant purgatory? After all, he started to except an intermediate state which related to the growth of holiness. Of course, this seems to be for all Christians. I have to wonder, if given enough time and wise counsel, would he not have come to something of a belief in purgatory — a completely scriptural position?

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