The Fire of Purgation in Gregory of Nyssa’s De anima et resurrectione

The  author would like to thank Rafael Rodrigues for translating this article into Portuguese.


Fire has had different functions in Christian eschatology. While final destruction is the fate of the unsaved according to Edward William Fudge in his book Fire that Consumes1, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that eternal punishment awaits those who die in a state of mortal sin2. In either case, fire is the main agent that consumes the damned or inflicts eternal punishment on them. Fire also plays an important role in purifying the soul according to the Catechism’s teachings on purgatory where all who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, undergo purification before they enter the joy of heaven. “The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire.3” Long before the Fathers of the Councils of Florence (1414-1418 A.D.) and Trent (1545-1563 A.D.) promulgated the doctrine of purgatory, Gregory of Nyssa (335-394 A.D.) and other theologians4 espoused the teaching of universal salvation in which fire has a central function. The objective of this paper is to explain the notion of fire and its role in cleansing the soul as Gregory of Nyssa propounds in his De anima et resurrectione or “On the Soul and the Resurrection.5

This work begins by exploring the notion of fire as an agent of purification in the afterlife in Gregory’s De anima et resurrectione. Next, a closer investigation of the fire of purgation will shed light on the biblical foundation upon which Gregory relied to expound his teachings. Lastly, this paper will argue that fire is a metaphor for God.