Based on the information contained in the preceding parts of this series, we can come to the following conclusion: The dogma of purgatory stands in complete opposition to the scriptures, to the message of the gospel, and significantly diminishes the meaning of the atoning work of Christ. It is built on a shaky foundation of eisegesis, poorly documented church tradition (largely because of the actual lack of teaching on the subject in the history of the church, particularly in the patristic period), and wild fantasies regarding the intermediate state which in no way are supported by the whole plain teaching of scripture on the afterlife. We can see the beginnings of the dogma were shaky at best, and if Rome wished to maintain any sort of compelling argument in favor of purgatory, it likely would have been in their best interests to leave things that way.
While St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas provided far more detailed and developed doctrines of purgatory than their predecessors, they ultimately did the Roman Catholic Church a great disservice by shining a far brighter light on the details of the dogma. This light caused the blemishes, already somewhat visible to be even more apparent for all to see. We can see that Rome did not care for this in their attempts to return to a more vague version of the dogma through the councils of Florence and Trent, but the damage was already irreparably done. In modernity, although it is still a dogma maintained by the church, it is something that seems to be far more hidden in the soteriology of the Roman Catholic Church. Whether this is a good thing or not is difficult to say, but it does show us how little weight the doctrine actually carries, which is something to be thankful for. On the other hand, the atoning work of Christ continues to bear all the weight of the sins of His people, and directs the glory for that work to the Triune God. This is the true doctrine of salvation of the church.
Selected Series Bibliography:
Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica. publication place: publisher, publication year. Accessed July 26, 2014. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/7001.htm . Web.
Augustine. The City of God Against the Pagans. Translated by R W. Dyson. Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Print.
Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. new ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996. Print.
Hannah, Edward, Purgatory in the Catholic Encyclopedia (New York, Robert Appleton Company, 1911). http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12575a.htm. Web.
Kirsch, J.P. (1912). Council of Trent. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved July 26, 2014 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15030c.htm. Web.
Le Goff, Jacques. The Birth of Purgatory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986. Print.
McGrath, Alister E. Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought. 2nd ed. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. Print.
Neale, J. M., ed. The History of the Council of Florence. publication place: Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2007. Print.
Venema, Cornelis P. The Promise of the Future. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2000.