Original Title: Is Purgatory a “Place”?: Misconceptions From [Eastern Orthodox] Fr. Ambrose About My Opinion (and the Church’s View) / Also: Development and Alleged Historical Revisionism
One Fr Ambrose (Orthodox — his words will be in blue) has been on my case yet again at the Catholic Answers Forum. In this instance he (to be as charitable as I can) misunderstands my position on purgatory: as to whether it is a state, condition, or place, or all of the above, or whether the Church has rendered a decision one way or the other. I always seek, of course, to conform my own theological beliefs to that of the Church, and this particular topic is no exception. As far as I know, I have not taught or written anything contrary to what the Church has held, concerning purgatory (or anything else, as far as I know, though I could certainly be inadvertently wrong on some things somewhere, like anyone else). In any event, Fr. Ambrose has not demonstrated that I have done so. He has simply made an unsubstantiated (false) claim about my opinion. Here is what he wrote on 22 July 2005:
. . . By the way, Dave Armstrong teaches that Purgatory is both a place and a condition. Why then is it always strongly denied on this Forum that Purgatory is a place?
You can see how confusing this is for outsiders when Catholics themselves contradict one another.
(emphasis in original)
“Maccabees”, a Catholic, in post #54 casually assumes that this report of my belief is correct and comments:
Dave Armstrong is simply wrong here as he conflicts with the pope on this as well as Aquinas. I think John Paul II and Saint Thomas Aquinas the great doctor of the church trumps a Catholic website run by a well intentioned layman but without Vatican endorsement. I am sure I can find some things you would disagree with written by and EO layman.
Of course he is correct in his general principle of how Catholic authority works. If I clash with John Paul the Great or St. Thomas the Doctor of Theology, I lose; I concede; I surrender immediately. But have I in fact clashed with them concerning purgatory? The question of fact is the problem here. I deny it, and shortly I will prove that this report is false. Maccabees cites a report on a talk by Pope St. John Paul II:
In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist. In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what St. Thomas Aquinas said long before him.
“Incorporeal things are not in place after a manner known and familiar to us, in which way we say that bodies are properly in place; but they are in place after a manner befitting spiritual substances, a manner that cannot be fully manifest to us.” [St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Supplement, Q69, a1, reply 1] [source]
Amen! Absolutely! I have no problem with any of this at all; not in the slightest, and I’ve not taught differently, anywhere. Now, why don’t we take a few minutes to examine what I have actually written, and get beyond innuendo. And then, we must ask ourselves: “how did Fr. Ambrose come to the conclusion that he came to? On what basis, if it can’t be found in my writing?”
Fr. John A. Hardon, S. J., who was my initial mentor into the Church, and a major orthodox Catholic catechist, prolific author, and close advisor to both Blessed Pope Paul VI and St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa), wrote:
The place or condition in which the souls of the just are purified after death and before they can enter heaven.
[from: Modern Catholic Dictionary, Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1980, 452, “Purgatory”)
Note that Fr. Hardon (like the Church herself) has not stated the matter dogmatically, one way or the other. As for my own words in the paper, I never used the word place at all. Now, if someone wants to contend with the wording of Fr. Hardon’s statement, then I would note that the very same phrase “place or condition,” is used in the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1910. Furthermore, St. Thomas Aquinas himself — when discussing purgatory — sometimes used the terminology of place in his Summa Theologica:
Nothing is clearly stated in Scripture about the situation of Purgatory, nor is it possible to offer convincing arguments on this question. It is probable, however, and more in keeping with the statements of holy men and the revelations made to many, that there is a twofold place of Purgatory. One, according to the common law; and thus the place of Purgatory is situated below and in proximity to hell, so that it is the same fire which torments the damned in hell and cleanses the just in Purgatory; although the damned being lower in merit, are to be consigned to a lower place. Another place of Purgatory is according to dispensation: and thus sometimes, as we read, some are punished in various places, either that the living may learn, or that the dead may be succored, seeing that their punishment being made known to the living may be mitigated through the prayers of the Church.
Some say, however, that according to the common law the place of Purgatory is where man sins. This does not seem probable, since a man may be punished at the same time for sins committed in various places. And others say that according to the common law they are punished above us, because they are between us and God, as regards their state. But this is of no account, for they are not punished for being above us, but for that which is lowest in them, namely sin. (Supplement, Appendix 2, Q1, A2)
To paraphrase “Maccabees,” “I think Saint Thomas Aquinas the great doctor of the church trumps an opinion by a well intentioned Catholic layman on a forum run by well intentioned Catholic laymen.” Note that in (the report of) Pope John Paul’s remarks, the language of place is not so much condemned as false, but rather, described as inadequate to sufficiently describe spiritual realities. This is often the case (particularly with regard to the Holy Trinity and the Blessed Eucharist), so it is not to be unexpected that human language would exhibit some shortcomings with regard to the intricacies of the afterlife.
After all, we refer all the time to angels or unresurrected souls being “in heaven,” and they have no bodies. The Bible refers to “souls” in heaven which are “under the altar” (Revelation 6:9). God the Father (an invisible Spirit-Being) is referred to (spatially) as “sitting on a throne,” and so forth. It’s simply a manner of speaking.
In fact, Pope John Paul II spoke in the same fashion, in his catechesis at the General Audience of 21 July 1999: (emphases added)
Heaven is the transcendent dwelling-place of the living God
Metaphorically speaking, heaven is understood as the dwelling-place of God, who is thus distinguished from human beings (cf. Ps 104:2f.; 115:16; Is 66:1). He sees and judges from the heights of heaven (cf. Ps 113:4-9) and comes down when he is called upon (cf. Ps 18:9, 10; 144:5). However the biblical metaphor makes it clear that God does not identify himself with heaven, nor can he be contained in it (cf. 1 Kgs 8:27); and this is true, even though in some passages of the First Book of the Maccabees “Heaven” is simply one of God’s names (1 Mc 3:18, 19, 50, 60; 4:24,
The depiction of heaven as the transcendent dwelling-place of the living God is joined with that of the place to which believers, through grace, can also ascend, as we see in the Old Testament accounts of Enoch (cf. Gn 5:24) and Elijah (cf. 2 Kgs 2:11). Thus heaven becomes an image of life in God. In this sense Jesus speaks of a “reward in heaven” (Mt 5:12) and urges people to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (ibid., 6:20; cf. 19:21).
As long as the theology behind the concept is correctly understood, and clarifications made (as I have done), this is not a theological problem or “difficulty” at all, let alone fodder for the annoyingly frequent off-the-mark polemics of Internet discussion boards.
I have made clear my position on purgatorial “fire” (a sub-topic which was also brought up in the same Catholic Answers Forum thread, though not in connection with my own views):
The Catholic Church has not declared dogmatically whether or not there is “fire” in purgatory, and the “fire” might be metaphorical, yet the idea of refinement is present either way.
Now, I don’t expect Fr. Ambrose to have a copy of my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism (Sophia Institute Press, 2003), but if he did, he would (or should I say, “could”?) quickly discover that I am not in any disagreement with the Church on this matter at all, since I state on page 120 of that book:
The Catholic Church has not defined whether Purgatory is a place or a process, or whether it contains real fire.
Period. End of sentence. The Orthodox value keeping an open, non-dogmatic mind on theological matters that cannot be determined with certainty, so I should think that Fr. Ambrose would be happy to learn that the above is both the Catholic Church’s position and my own. But let’s continue our survey of my papers on purgatory to try and determine where it was that Fr. Ambrose received this mistaken notion of my view. In my Dialogue on Different Aspects of Purgatory and its Relation to Baptism and Penance (9-30-02), again, the word place (as a description of purgatory) never occurs. In my Fictional Dialogue on Purgatory (1995), I use the phrase, “a third place or state,” which is precisely the usage of Fr. Hardon, St. Thomas, and the older Catholic Encyclopedia; reserving dogmatizing judgment as to whether purgatory is definitely one or the other thing, and recognizing the limits of human language, where such sublime spiritual matters are concerned. Thus, I write in this vein also, in my Short Exposition on Purgatory (5-9-02):
The souls in purgatory are spirits without bodies, so the suffering is a spiritual, “mental” chastisement from God (a very common biblical theme) in order to purify us and make us holy, not physical torture.
This doesn’t mean that I am positively asserting that purgatory is a literal place. No. Context and overall theology must also be taken into account. If asked whether purgatory is more of a place or a state or condition (or if clarifying, as presently), I immediately affirm, like Pope John Paul II, that it is more properly understood as a state or condition of an immaterial soul (which does not have spatial qualities, hence, technically, cannot be in a “place”). Yet in common language, this is how we talk, because it is our experience. Since the Bible does the same (it uses phenomenological language according to a human perspective, such as in, e.g., many anthropomorphic descriptions of God), it’s a big non-issue. Once again, as is distressingly common in theological discourse (and also biblical exegesis and prooftexting), the context and nature of language has been misinterpreted, and an inappropriate “either/or” mentality utilized to make a polemical “hit.”
What can one do? One can only explain and clarify, as I have done. Hopefully, that will be sufficient to put the matter to rest. In any event, no one likes to have their views misrepresented. This is particularly true of a Catholic apologist, who seeks to (or should be seeking to) always teach and defend doctrine in accord with the Mind of the Church. And it is also disturbing to all orthodox Catholics to see Catholic teaching on any given topic pilloried and caricatured, as is occurring in the thread under consideration. So maybe — hopefully — this effort on my part has “killed two birds with one stone,” so to speak.
On 7-25-05, Fr. Ambrose, made aware of my reply, made another remarkably obtuse “counter-reply.” Here it is: “Gracious, I don’t have time at the moment to read such a lengthy monograph.”
Here we go again with this nonsense of any substantive response (in this case, trying to correct misrepresentation, which always takes some significant space, by its very nature), being too “lengthy”. At least he qualified his disagreement with “at the moment.” Perhaps he will make time in the near future to trouble himself to read my clarification, including this second one (and to actually adequately reply to it as well, would be a nice bonus, too, but one can’t have everything these days . . .).
In the meantime, Fr. Ambrose, who has written 4,836 posts, according to the forum tally, has written no less than 26 posts on this topic (out of 78 total, as of this writing, or 33%), in this thread. Including his citations of others’ words (by his reasoning below, they somehow become “his own” anyway), his word count thus totals 5,038. Yet my “lengthy monograph” of 1,832 words (a mere 36% of his grand total) is somehow objectionable, when I attempt to clear up a falsehood that he was spreading about my views. Nice try at dodging the issues at hand . . .
Now Fr. Ambrose has been thoroughly corrected, but chooses to continue (typical of many vociferous opponents of the Catholic Church):
But I see he makes an attempt to rebuke me:
“As for my own words in the paper, I never used the word place at all.”
Dave Armstrong wrote just as I quoted him and he certainly uses the word “place”:
“The place or condition in which the souls of the just are purified after death and before they can enter heaven. The souls are purified by atoning for the temporal punishments due to sin by their willing acceptance of suffering imposed by God…..”
Board member “Ghosty” makes the appropriate reply:
Fr. Ambrose, you need to be more careful in your accusations . . . You fail to mention that this quotation in question comes from a citation of John Hardon’s work, not anything written by Dave Armstrong himself. . . . You say you don’t have the time to read “such a lengthy monograph”, but perhaps that’s exactly your problem. If you don’t have the time to read and/or research what people actually say/believe/teach, perhaps you should refrain from commenting on them based on your limited perusal.
Precisely! Fr. Ambrose didn’t have time to read a post in its entirety (while writing 26 of his own in one thread, most critical of the Catholic Church on a Catholic forum, that he apparently expects everyone else to read), but nevertheless he made enough time to distort my clarification my beliefs which he distorted. He has plenty of time to do that, but not to properly respond or be corrected on a simple matter of fact as to what someone else believes.
I made it very clear that I favorably cited Fr. Hardon, using “place” in a very specific (non-exclusive) sense, that is also used by St. Thomas Aquinas. I then distinguished between the citation and “my own words.” This isn’t rocket science. But again, when you are looking to refute someone else regardless of the actual evidence at hand, none of that seems to matter. Logic and fact alike go by the wayside. Fr. Ambrose continues his folly:
The whole doctrine is confusing enough for outsiders without a Catholic apologist of his renown denying or changing or maybe simply forgetting what he has written.
Now this gets into even more outrageous territory, close to outright, deliberate lying, which is particularly scandalous in a priest, and even for a layman, since bearing false witness violates the Ten Commandments. I neither denied, nor changed, nor forgot what I have written. What I have done is clarified my belief and my exact meaning, which has not changed at all and is perfectly clear, once explained, as far as I am concerned. But to read his cynical “take,” I am now trying to fudge or obfuscate or explain away my own writings, rather than be “corrected” by him. There is no need to do so, as my belief is perfectly understandable. I can see misunderstanding something once, but not twice, after the writer himself has taken the time to carefully clarify. To continue on with the bogus accusation now is inexcusable.This leads me to believe that there is a strong bias here which is clouding Fr. Ambrose’s judgment. Indeed, this is borne out in reading some of his other posts in this thread:
Not even Catholics are agreed on Purgatory any more. This is quite evident when you read other threads here about Purgatory where Catholics are arguing with Catholics.
Their primary problem seems to be the changes in the teaching after Vatican II.
If you are offended by that statement, then read through the Purgatory threads where Catholics themselves speak of this. The older Catholics have retained a teaching from before Vatican II and the younger Catholics have never been exposed to it and they refuse to accept that it was ever taught. When statements from previous Popes and Councils are offered, younger Catholics exhibit a need to negate them or to re-interpret them so as to squeeze them into the modern teaching.
So yes, it is very likely that I do not understand the teaching.
This is the typical “traditionalist” Orthodox or Catholic distortion and old wives’ tale of doctrine supposedly being radically changed at Vatican II. It did not at all. I explained the discussion about “place vs. condition.” But Fr. Ambrose didn’t have time to read that, so he will likely continue on with misrepresentations, not only of my own position and writing, but of the Catholic Church’s position on this and who knows what else? What is really going on here, in my opinion, is the usual, garden-variety rejection, and/or inadequate grasp of the nature and fact of doctrinal development (also distressingly common in “traditionalist” and anti-Catholic circles). What is merely a development is, therefore, seen as a reversal in doctrine or a contradiction.
I did a search of the forum to see what Fr. Ambrose has written elsewhere, and indeed my strong suspicion was confirmed:
The Church has no doctrine of the development of doctrine. Whatever existed in the apostolic age is normative for us.
The Orthodox approach may be found in the exquisitely beautiful words of one of the holy Fathers of the West, Saint Vincent of Lerins . . .
(post of 4-21-05)
He then goes on to cite famous passages from this saint, from his Commonitorium. The trouble is, in the same exact work, St. Vincent gives us the most explicit patristic treatment of doctrinal development. He sees no disconnect whatsoever between doctrines staying essentially the same and being unchanging in that respect, while developing in terms of our deeper understanding and comprehension of them. So why is he cited as a supposed witness against development when he teaches it more clearly than any other Father (Cardinal Newman used his words as a virtual starting-point for his famous Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine)? This is a very common error: used by, for example, anti-Catholic Protestant William Webster (I refuted him at length twice, when he used this tactic to go after Vatican I and its doctrine of papal infallibility).
It’s also a myth to act as if Orthodoxy has no development of doctrine, whereas Catholicism does, and its development is tantamount to “evolution” or reversal (hence the muddleheaded charge that Vatican II fundamentally changed things in the Catholic Church). So it is a miscomprehension in both ways: redefining Orthodox development as non-development or nonexistent and Catholic development as corruption of what came before.
In any event, Fr. Ambrose’s curious cynicism where I am concerned, is nothing new. It’s not surprising that he would cast doubt on the sincerity of my own explanations for my own words, since he has written in the past:
I must say that not everybody is keen on Dave Armstrong nor Fr Hardon. As Catholic polemicists they sometimes misrepresent the teachings and practices of non-Roman Catholic Churches and downplay the historical evidence which is inconvenient to the modern Roman Catholic position.
(post of 6-3-05)
Of course, no documentary evidence was given here, either. Do I detect a certain pattern? yet elsewhere, Fr. Ambrose refers to me as “the world’s eminent Catholic apologist” (4-29-05, message #197) and “someone recognised as one of the most competent Catholic apologists alive and someone who is in the position to have his finger on the pulse” (4-28-05, #165) and “one of Catholicism’s greatest apologists, . . . I trust his extensive and hands-on knowledge of the Catholic Church” (4-28-05, #184). If that is the case (of course it is not!) and I distort and misrepresent my own positions, and even cynically change them when confronted with my allegedly devious practices, then Catholic apologetics is in a very sorry state indeed, since its preeminent representative is essentially a dishonest sophist, according to Fr. Ambrose. With “friends” like these, who needs enemies, huh?
This sad tale keeps getting more pathetic. Fr. Ambrose is obstinately keeping up his false charges in the face of all logic and evidence:
Please read the article. It is Dave Armstrong’s and he gives the words as his very own words in the second paragraph.
“Biblical Overview of Penance, Purgatory, and Indulgences: ‘Saved As By Fire'” Written by Dave Armstrong in 1994. Uploaded on 22 August 2001.
Well, I’ve read the article. I can even top that. I wrote it! Moreover, amazingly enough, I even know what I meant!, and (oddly enough) when I was citing someone else and when I was not! And I reiterate again that this assertion is simply untrue. Apparently, Fr. Ambrose is unfamiliar with the method of indented citations. I used that “technique” in this paper. I cited Fr. Hardon, in an indented passage, followed by his name: “(John Hardon)”. Since it was a short overview I didn’t provide full documentation (relatively rare for me); yet the indentation made it clear that it was a citation. I never cite anyone in this paper without using indentation. I did, however, provide full documentation above, in this present clarification (thus proving that Fr. Ambrose has not yet read this paper; not even the initial part that he has started “responding” to). The other three instances of indentation are also all citations as well: from Ludwig Ott, Trent (full documentation) and C. S. Lewis (name of book and page number).
Fr. Ambrose does claim to have at least read the old paper under consideration: “I read the entire article which we are discussing and from which I took the quote.. and I feel entitled to comment accordingly.”
Apparently, however, unless he reads my clarifications in the present paper or has someone on that board mention them to him, he will continue misunderstanding how an indentation different from most of the text (as in general usage) means that someone else is being cited. This is highly strange, since the very board on which he writes uses the same method. It indents citations and puts them in a box, and doesn’t utilize quotation marks.
“Ghosty” comments on this bizarre ongoing misrepresentation:
I’m not trying to be rude to you, I’m trying to correct a serious error in your citation. You are attributing to Dave Armstrong a quote that is not his, and one that he does indeed cite. He is rightly perturbed at your misrepresentation of his beliefs, whether or not you came by it innocently.
I’m certainly not trying to be rude when I say that you must be MUCH more careful in your citations and attributations if you intend to continue arguing about Catholic theology. It only leads to further misunderstandings on both sides.
Finally, he does get it, after the second or third reading:
Yes, you are right and David Armstrong has lifted the passage from John Hardon. He has incorporated it into his article as his own belief. It is not possible to say that views are being attributed to Armstrong which he does not hold himself.
That’s correct (as many or most citations — including this one — imply agreement with the writer utilizing them), as explained above, but then the question becomes: how do we interpret the language “place or condition” (particularly, “or”) in context. That is another major aspect of this discussion, and one that I delved into at significant length, above. Hopefully, it won’t take two or three readings to grasp this argument of mine also. But it’s very frustrating to carry on some semblance of dialogue, or even clarification, when one party isn’t willing to give one the courtesy of addressing their concerns and explanations, yet wants to continue making unwarranted charges. Fr. Ambrose continues in the same post:
Do you think that since 1994 when Armstrong wrote his article and calls Purgatory a place he has changed his belief on the matter? Presumably he held this belief up until at least 2001 which is when the article was uploaded to the Net.
As noted above (how many times must I repeat this?), I wrote in 1996 (when I finished the manuscript of my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism: “The Catholic Church has not defined whether Purgatory is a place or a process, or whether it contains real fire.” This trumped-up “controversy” is getting so ridiculous that I actually went to consult my original typewritten manuscripts for the first draft of my book, which was completed in 1994. It absolutely proves that I haven’t changed my mind at all on this matter, as Fr. Ambrose keeps insisting I must have done.
For in this 59-page treatise, completed on April 21, 1994 (of which my overview was an abridgment), I not only cited Fr. Hardon’s words that appear in the overview, but also (in agreement) a more lengthy citation of his from The Catholic Catechism (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1975). This book happens to be one which he himself gave to me, and it was the required reading in order to be received into the Church by Fr. Hardon, in February 1991. One must interpret anyone’s words in the context of their overall thought; especially if there is some misunderstanding or controversy. So what does Fr. Hardon write in this book?:
In spite of some popular notions to the contrary, the Church has never passed judgment as to whether purgatory is a place or in a determined space where the souls are cleansed. It simply understands the expression to mean the state or condition under which the faithful departed undergo purification. (pp. 274-275)
Fr. Hardon thus states that the Church hasn’t decided the matter. That was his view, and I received my initial understanding of it from him and accepted his opinion. It has remained my opinion from then until now. I accepted what he wrote in his book when I read it in early 1991 and have seen no reason to change my views. Therefore, to claim that I have either changed my view or am seeking to revise the history of my own opinions since 1994 (or 1991 as it were), is utterly absurd. I have the proof. Must I send Fr. Ambrose a photocopy of my original manuscript? Or will he question the authenticity of that, too?
“Maccabees” at this point realized what was going on and issued an admirable statement of regret for earlier comments (for which I am grateful, and sorry if I was too harsh in my reply to his comments), first citing Fr. Ambrose (I have corrected a few typos):
Gracious, I don’t have time at the moment to read such a lengthy monograph. But I see he makes an attempt to rebuke me:
Actually it is shorter than your (Father Ambrose) typical monograph that we are forced to read daily. You have clearly misrepresented the man and I apologize to him because I assumed you (Father Ambrose) were quoting the man in context and not misrepresenting Catholic teaching.
Undaunted, Fr. Ambrose carries on his increasingly surreal campaign:
David Armstrong lays out his position very clearly in the paragraphs with which he commences his article. He believes that Purgatory is “a place and a condition.”
I AM NOT MISREPRESENTING HIM !!!
Please read his article uploaded to the Net in 2001. There are multiple links to it above.
He absolutely IS MISREPRESENTING ME !!! I’ve explained till I am blue in the face how this language of “place” OR “condition” (per St. Thomas Aquinas, Fr. Hardon, and the old Catholic Encyclopedia) is to be understood and properly interpreted. But he can’t even reproduce what Fr. Hardon wrote, that I cited, correctly. Fr. Hardon wrote: “place OR condition,” not “place AND a condition.” The difference is crucial. And now I have cited him from elsewhere, explaining exactly what his position was on this. He asserts that “place” has never been dogmatically declared by the Church, and opts more for the notion of “state” or “condition.” End of story. End of controversy . . . Lord grant me patience!
“Maccabees” then posted (again, I corrected some typos):
I read his blog; he clearly clarified what he meant by place; it is in the same context [as in] Aquinas which is entirely acceptable for the modern Catholic. Sorry I have no qualms with the man; he clarified where he stands and where your polemics have misrepresented him.
Pope John Paul II, in his General Audience of 21 July 1999, clarified how language is difficult in discussing sublime spiritual realities. This doesn’t overturn anything in Catholic dogmatic tradition; it merely develops what has always been believed:
In the context of Revelation, we know that the “heaven” or “happiness” in which we will find ourselves is neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity. It is our meeting with the Father which takes place in the risen Christ through the communion of the Holy Spirit.
It is always necessary to maintain a certain restraint in describing these “ultimate realities” since their depiction is always unsatisfactory. Today, personalist language is better suited to describing the state of happiness and peace we will enjoy in our definitive communion with God.
The Holy Father makes the same distinction when discussing hell (General Audience of Wednesday, 28 July 1999). Interestingly, the English translation included the phrase, “Rather than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy.” Catholic apologist Andrew Solt, on whose page this talk was reproduced, noted (italics and bolding added):
[The original Italian says, “(Più che) More than a place, hell indicates…” This suggests correctly that although hell is not essentially “a place,” rather the definitive loss of God, confinement is included. Thus, after the general resurrection the bodies of the damned, being bodies not spirits, must be in “some place,” in which they will receive the punishment of fire.]
Pope John Paul II discussed purgatory in his General Audience of Wednesday, 4 August 1999; one heading stated: “Purgatory is not a place but a condition of existence.” The meaning of this has been explained above: spirits do not possess dimension or spatial characteristics, so in that sense one cannot speak of “place.” Yet in the English language, “place” is sometimes used as a synonym for “condition” or “state” and perhaps this also explains some of the confusion. For example, in my Webster’s New 20th Century Dictionary (Cleveland: World Publishing Company, 1968; 2289 large pages), no less than 25 definitions of place are given, including the following:
16. (another’s) situation or state; as, you would have acted quite the same if you were in my place.
In common English, this sense is used; for example:
I came to a place in my life where I stopped worrying so much.
Or (even more poetically or metaphorically):
A loving relationship is a place where one can fully express one’s feelings and trust another.
Note that this is a use of place for an ultimately non-material entity: human relationships or love.
Thus, again, we see that this is a matter of context and language. Place in this sense can be used as interchangeable with “state” or “condition” so that there is no contradiction, rightly understood. It’s all much ado about nothing. When older Catholic writers use the term “place” for purgatory (just as John Paul II did with regard to heaven and hell also) it is in this sense. Nothing has changed. The doctrine has remained the same. But in the rush to find Catholic contradiction and equivocation all of this is ignored.