If I understand the matter of Purgatory correctly, it is as stated in this Catholic Encyclopedia of Theology which speaks of ‘believing humanity, characterized by finality of decision’ – which surely applies to that man, who showed repentance and expressed belief in Jesus as his saviour, just hours before his death:

“…those dead who, as part of the world – like the Church itself – can only attain their complete fulfilment gradually and in the midst of distress and affliction, because of their condition, which is marked by the concupiscence resulting from sin.” (article on ‘Purgatory’ by Elmar Klinger p.1318 – Ed. by Karl Rahner)

Now, hours before that man died, Jesus assured him that he would be with him in Paradise. This is recorded by the apostle Luke:

“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth today you will be with me in paradise’.” (Luke 23:39-43 NIV)

I have deliberately avoided placing any comma in that last quoted sentence because there is no way this question should descend into an argument about whether Jesus meant the man would be with him in Paradise that day, or if Jesus was just saying, ‘I’m telling you today that you will be with me in Paradise.’ The question of whether Jesus could have said, ‘I tell you tomorrow…’ or, ‘I tell you yesterday…’ or, ‘I tell you in the future…’ could be saved for another question, another day.

My question is NOT about when the man would find himself in Paradise, but whether Jesus ought to have said he would find himself in Purgatory, if indeed such a place of gradual purifying via suffering and intercessionary prayers by the living was a fact. I mean, if anybody fitted the bill for dying at the last gasp, only professing saving faith in Christ after a sinful life, it was him.

So, why did Jesus say Paradise? No matter how Purgatory is defined, it cannot equate with Paradise to any degree, nor could Jesus say he would be in the same place. So, I’m hoping for a Catholic explanation of how Jesus’ promise to that man can be understood if belief in Purgatory is to be maintained.

EDIT- Accepted answer is based on Ken having given two answers, to give a Catholic explanation of how Catholics might deal with the difficulty, even though he admits that he does not believe in Purgatory. As he got 9 thumbs-up for this one, clearly more than a few consider this answer to be a good one, from a Catholic, which is what I was looking for. Like Ken, I don't believe in Purgatory either, but unlike him, I'm not prepared to suspend my disbelief in order to deal what is a real problem! Thanks to all who answered. I studied them all, and it's taken a while to choose.

  • 2
    Not a full explication, but I imagine that the Good Thief as we call him had a baptism of desire at the moment of death. I think I try to persue this later. +1.
    – Ken Graham
    Feb 7, 2022 at 14:16
  • 3
    Anne, if you see a launching pad developing about side issues, please flag it off topic. Too many comments simply create noise. Comments should stick to the subject matter in question.
    – Ken Graham
    Feb 7, 2022 at 14:56
  • 2
    Seriously, being strictly logical, there is no contradiction here. Saying two people A and B will be together in a place P after a time lapse T does not hinder A to be in a place P2 after a time lapse T2<T. Feb 8, 2022 at 2:48
  • 3
    Isn't the tension resolved by simply stating that the penitent thief didn't undergo purgatory? If I'm not mistaken, this is how the Catholic Church understand the fate of Saint Dismas. Feb 8, 2022 at 14:49
  • 1
    @Anne - The teaching of purgatory has origins in 2 Maccabees. Regardless of whether or not that book is inspired, one should recognize that the book and its teaching predates these events.
    – qxn
    Feb 8, 2022 at 15:51

7 Answers 7


The Catholic Church teaches ways by which we are freed from the temporal consequence of our sin, and thereby eliminate our need of Purgatory.

One is the Sacrament of Baptism:

By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin. In those who have been reborn nothing remains that would impede their entry into the Kingdom of God, neither Adam's sin, nor personal sin, nor the consequences of sin, the gravest of which is separation from God. (CCC 1263)

Another is God's sovereignty over even that which he binds on Earth:

The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are "reborn of water and the Spirit." God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments. (CCC 1257)

The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament. (CCC 1258)

For catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament. (CCC 1259)

Considering that last paragraph, hear the criminal's words of...


Jesus Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.


We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.

Charity (to love, to seek the good of our neighbor):

Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? ...this man has done nothing wrong.

So, if one grants the premise of the question that the criminal received the beatific vision immediately upon death, the logical answer is that the criminal received a baptism of desire.

That's not to say that Jesus followed some intricate theological doctrine called baptism of desire to justify pardoning the criminal of the consequence of his sin. As noted above, the Catholic Church teaches that God's sovereignty is absolute. To quote Bishop Barron, What God says, is.

How can we make sense of it? It has everything to do with who Jesus is. If he were simply an ordinary human being, his words would have, at best, a symbolic resonance. But Jesus is God, and what God says, is. (Daily Gospel Reflection, Mark 14:12–16, 22–26)

For example...

Let there be light

...and there was light.

This is my body

...and that is his body.

Today you will be with me in paradise.

...and they were together that day in paradise.

The concept of baptism of desire is, I think, our human way of understanding a part of the mystery of salvation.

For more info see the Catholic Answers article here.

  • 7
    @NigelJ - Refer to the analysis of his dying words in the answer. How much more could the answer specifically relate to him? Those are the only words we have of his.
    – qxn
    Feb 7, 2022 at 18:52
  • 2
    Yes. But you have no evidence for the conjecture.
    – Nigel J
    Feb 7, 2022 at 18:55
  • 9
    @NigelJ The question is how to reconcile Purgatory with this passage. I do not believe in Purgatory, but I think this answer does a decent job at showing how one can believe in Purgatory despite this passage. It is not necessary to show that this passage would actually teach Purgatory. It sounds to me that's what you're looking for when you ask for "evidence".
    – Nacht
    Feb 7, 2022 at 22:55
  • 2
    @NigelJ - If the Good Thief never went to Purgatory, why would this be a good passage to teach about Purgatory?
    – qxn
    Feb 8, 2022 at 13:43
  • 3
    @NigelJ why must the passage directly support the doctrine rather than be reconcilable with it? Deut 6:4 says that God is One, which appears prima facie to contradict the doctrine of the Trinity. Yet we know that God is three in one, and we can reconcile this passage with our later revealed understanding of God as Triune.
    – jaredad7
    Feb 8, 2022 at 15:53

For one, the doctrine of purgatory is less understood as a place, but more of a state.

For two, it's possible the man was Jewish, and due to the second Macabees making mention of purgatory, he may have already expected purgatory. So Jesus may have just not mentioned it.

Since heaven/paradise is a place, Jesus is not incorrect in saying such. Or the man's purgatorial fire could have lasted less than a day!

  • 4
    Can you substantiate that 'purgatory could last less than a day' please. Does not the concept that purgatory could be just a few hours make light of sin ?The other argument is an argument of silence which is no argument at all.
    – Nigel J
    Feb 7, 2022 at 18:51
  • 3
    @Nigel J since the church has no specific teaching on how long purgatory lasts, it’s a valid hypothesis. The man may not have had many unabsolved sins, so it doesn’t have to have lasted that long. My second argument isn’t an argument from silence, in fact it’s the opposite. It points out that just because Jesus is silent on this doctrine, that doesn’t mean that the doctrine isn’t true. Plus, what if Jesus did say something and it wasn’t recorded? It just seems that there are many valid and viable explanations.
    – Luke Hill
    Feb 7, 2022 at 19:02
  • @NigelJ along with that, I pointed out the idea that purgatory is not a place. But even if it was, there is no guarantee that his sins took longer than a day to cleanse prior to entering heaven.
    – Luke Hill
    Feb 8, 2022 at 17:10

Here is what we know:

  1. Christ, as God, cannot lie.
  2. Purgatory is the place where one does penance for all temporal punishment still due to sin after death.
  3. After Baptism, one is in the state of grace and does not have temporal punishment due to sin because of the nature of the sacrament.
  4. Baptism of Desire/Blood is the reception of the effects of Baptism provided (a) one intends to do all that is necessary to save his soul and (b) there is a real impossibility to receive the sacrament of Baptism.

In the case of the good thief, it is clear from his words and from the words of Christ that he fulfilled (a) and it is obvious that (b) was true. Therefore he received Baptism of Desire, which has the same effects as Baptism. One of these effects is the remission of all temporal punishment.

Therefore Christ ought not to have said ...this day you will be in Purgatory.

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    – agarza
    Feb 8, 2022 at 0:42
  • Welcome to the site, Senrab, and that's a succinct answer as to what Catholics believe on the matter. I'm hoping the words Jesus actually said (as opposed to what he 'ought not to have said') might be considered, not least that one outstanding reason why Christ could not have mentioned purgatory was that he said, "you will be WITH ME in..."
    – Anne
    Feb 8, 2022 at 11:09

Roman Catholicism on "Purgatory." purgatory, the condition, process, or place of purification or temporary punishment in which, according to medieval Christian and Roman Catholic belief, the souls of those who die in a state of grace are made ready for heaven. Purgatory (Latin: purgatorium; from purgare, “to purge”) has come to refer as well to a wide range of historical and modern conceptions of postmortem suffering short of everlasting damnation.

How about "Baptism of desire?" The following is what Ken stated. "For catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament. (CCC 1259)

What does Catechumen mean? Catechumen means a member of the catechumenate of a Catholic Church. This will normally be evidenced by a Certificate of Reception into the Order of Catechumens for a child aged 7 or over.

Now, the question I have is does the thief on the cross meet the requirements of the Roman Catholic Church? Did he go to purgatory? Did he desire to be water baptized? The first thing I want to say is the fact that no one knows the operation of one's mind.

Ken made this statement: "So, if one must assume the premise of the question that the criminal received the beatific vision immediately upon death, the logical answer is that the criminal received a baptism of desire."

You can't "assume" a position, you have to prove your position. Your assuming the thief had a "beatific vision immediately upon death." Really, how do you know that? This is a classic example of what an argument of silence is. No one can present proof of a negative assertion. Only positive assertions can even possibly be proven and as such only positive assertions bear any burden of proof.

Only things that HAPPEN can even possibly leave evidence of themselves. So what actually happened on the day of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the thieves?

Luke 23-33-43. At vs39 one of the criminals was hurling abuse at Jesus. Vs40-41, the other criminal stated we deserve what were getting. At verse 42 the thief that stated we deserve what we get said to Jesus, "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!" Vs43, "Jesus said to him, Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise." There is no doubt that Jesus was here equating "paradise" with heavenly reality.

Both the request of the malefactor and the promise of Jesus reveal the validity of repentance in the final stages of life (so-called "death-bed repentance"). Also note that this man received salvation without being baptized.

The same "model" happened at Acts 10:45 regarding the Roman Centurion Cornelius a Gentile. "And all the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed, because (or why?) the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also." They received the gift of the Holy Spirit "BEFORE" they were water baptized at Acts 10:47.

I certainly do not see in the Biblical narrative where "purgatory" or the idea of "baptism of desire" can possibly come into play according to Roman Catholicism? I found the following article go into great detail about purgatory. http://stillcatholic.com/CATHPurg.htm

  • 2
    Anne ”is hoping for a Catholic explanation of how Jesus’ promise to that man can be understood if belief in Purgatory is to be maintained.” This does not meet that criteria.
    – Ken Graham
    Feb 8, 2022 at 0:12

From the Catholic POV, one can't assume "paradise" is the beatific vision (what most would call "Heaven"). The Catholic Church teaches that, after physical death, Christ descended into hell:

By the expression "He descended into hell", the Apostles' Creed confesses that Jesus did really die and through his death for us conquered death and the devil "who has the power of death" (Heb 2:14). (CCC 636)

(A note here that "hell" - Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek - refers to the abode of the blessed dead, possibly "Abraham's bosom," and not to eternal damnation.)

The frequent New Testament affirmations that Jesus was "raised from the dead" presuppose that the crucified one sojourned in the realm of the dead prior to his resurrection. This was the first meaning given in the apostolic preaching to Christ's descent into hell: that Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead. But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there. (CCC 632)

The last sentence references Peter:

For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit. In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison. (1 Peter 3:18-19)

So, to answer the question "why did Jesus say 'paradise'?" the Church could answer that he was describing his presence in "hell" - Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek. Regardless of the physical location of the criminal on the cross, if Jesus was also physically with him, he was in "paradise."

As further evidence that "paradise" could be anywhere Jesus is, consider these:

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth. (Philippians 2:10)

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe, cry out: “To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever.” (Rev 5:13)

  • Surely Catholicism teaches a clear distinction between the realm of hell, and that of purgatory? They are not the same thing at all in Catholicism. The Encyclopedia I quoted says on hell that it is "the eternal place of punishment for all who do not believe and who refuse to repent". Paul is quoted as saying it is for eternal destruction, ruin and loss (p.602). There is nothing of God in it, so neither Christ nor that believing, repentant man would ever go there. Unbelievers under the earth will be resurrected to acclaim Christ before going to the lake of fire: Rev.20:11-15 - surely?
    – Anne
    Feb 8, 2022 at 15:32
  • 1
    @Anne - I put a clarifying note in the answer. No, "hell" here is not Purgatory, and neither is it eternal damnation. It could very well be "Abraham's bosom" as described by Jesus himself. It is the state of the blessed dead before the gates of Heaven were opened.
    – qxn
    Feb 8, 2022 at 15:34
  • @Ken Please explain how this "legend/story" helps when a legend is unauthenticated?
    – Mr. Bond
    Feb 8, 2022 at 17:51
  • @Mr.Bond - Can you be more specific? Which part is unauthenticated? And what do you mean by "unauthenticated"?
    – qxn
    Feb 8, 2022 at 18:59
  • @ken I thought I was addressing you but instead it was Peter Turner posted, "Here's and answer I didn't expect." "There's a legend associated with St Demas/the good thief who repented etc. A legend is defined as: "a story from the past that is believed by many people but cannot be proved to be true " That was my point. Secondly, he states: "The Blessed Virgin prayed for St. Dismas' conversion, his soul was softened, he repented of his sin, proclaimed his belief in Jesus and was saved that very day. So how does he know that Mary prayed for the thief? I see a lot of supposition but no facts.
    – Mr. Bond
    Feb 9, 2022 at 14:39

Here's an answer I didn't expect.

The Blessed Virgin prayed for St. Dismas' conversion, his soul was softend, he repented of his sin, proclaimed his belief in Jesus and was saved that very day.

The sudden change and conversion, for Dismas from a sinner, became a penitent and Saint, has been rightly attributed to the prayers of our Blessed Lady


There's a legend associated with St. Dismas and the early life of Jesus that might suffer from incredulity. But owing to the the fact that Our Lady and Our Lord were present. It's plausible that through her the intercession he truly repented in a way not recorded in the Gospel.

That repentance could be afforded to him as Baptism, which, as it true of any other believer, if they're hit by bus on the way out of Church on Easter, their soul goes straight to heaven.

[Baptism] remits all sins (both original sin and personal sin) and their temporal punishments. If one were to die immediately after Baptism, he would go straight to Heaven (assuming one presents no obstacles).


  • I fail to see how this addresses the question.
    – Luke Hill
    Feb 9, 2022 at 19:51
  • 2
    @luke fwiw, I don't know what the question is. Nobody says purgatory is mandatory.
    – Peter Turner
    Feb 9, 2022 at 19:56
  • the thief presumably had some venial sins.
    – Luke Hill
    Feb 9, 2022 at 19:57
  • I just think the question is misleading since purgatory is not a place, rather it is a state.
    – Luke Hill
    Feb 9, 2022 at 19:58
  • Well he probably had mortal sins too! But if you're baptized and manage to die right away you get the proverbial first round bye. Good catch - I forgot the thing I thought everyone knew. I re-wrote this answer like 7 times before I posted this one, I just wanted to get off the page!
    – Peter Turner
    Feb 9, 2022 at 20:07

A problem with Purgatory: How could Jesus say what he did to the repentant criminal on a cross next to him if Purgatory existed?

There is no problem with teaching on purgatory by the Catholic Church, the problem lies in our presumption.

Is Dismas worthy to enter Heaven, remember the Holy Decree in Revelation21:27

" Nothing defile shall enter the Kingdom of God.."

Abraham bosom is called Paradise, a place of the righteous and blameless.

Ken Graham, have posted a painting showing Dismas like a beggar with poor clothing, compare to Abraham and the rest of the souls in his bosom, wearing white garments.

What does this painting depicted? It depicted Dismas still need purging, to wash his garments, but, Jesus had shown the soul who wear the white garments, to give hope to Dismas, that if he endure the purging, then, his darkened garments will be purify.

So, why did Jesus say Paradise?

The simple answer is, Jesus showed Dismas the beauty of the souls in Abraham bosoms wearing white garments, unspotted. And logically, would say to Dismas, this people I now carry with me in my Kingdom, and you too can enter God's Kingdom, if you patiently endure the purging, in the place called "Purgatory".

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