"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Indulgences


The Statue of St. Peter
Arnolfo di Cambio (1300)

The recent article in the New York Times on indulgences has a number of people talking, and much of the talk is confused. The NYT is not the most accurate place for anyone to gain an understanding of Catholic doctrine, as Fr. Z shows in his response to the article.

What is an indulgence? An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sin whose guilt (i.e. eternal punishment) has already been forgiven. A Catholic can obtain an indulgence under prescribed conditions, from the Church, "which dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints." (CCC glossary)

What is the basis for the Church's teaching on indulgences? The Church's teaching on indulgences follows from three things in conjunction:

(1) the power of the keys given to St. Peter (Matthew 16:19), by which the magisterium of the Church, as Christ's authorized representative (in persona Christi, ἐν προσώπῳ Χριστοῦ [2 Cor 2:10]), can forgive sins (John 20:23) through the merit and satisfaction of Christ's Passion,

(2) the communion of the saints (1 Cor 12, Job 1:5, Col 1:24, Apostles' Creed) by which we can aid one another in the Body of Christ through our prayers and sacrifices,

and

(3) the two-fold nature of sin (both away from God, and toward a mutable good), which entails two sorts of debts of punishment, one eternal, and other temporal, as I explained in this post. That two-fold nature of sin is confirmed when Jesus refers to a two-fold forgiveness ("in this age, and in the age to come" - Matt 12:31), and in the practice of prayer for the dead (2 Macc 12:46), which would be of no use to the damned. It is also confirmed in the distinction between mortal and venial sin (cf. 1 John 5:16).

Thus, if the Church by the authorization of Christ can forgive sins, and thereby remove the debt of eternal punishment, then it follows a fortiori that she can remove the debt of temporal punishment, by the merits of Christ and all the saints. And that is just what an indulgence is. It is also worth repeating that an indulgence cannot be purchased. "In 1567 St. Pius V canceled all grants of indulgences involving any fees or other financial transactions." (Catholic Encyclopedia article on indulgences)

6 comments:

~Joseph the Worker said...

Wow that was one of the most poorly written articles about the Church that I have ever read (The NYTs one.)

John said...

Who is the man whom David refers to when he says, "Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin"?

If there is one to whom sin is not imputed (thanks to the blood of Christ), what further need of forgiveness is there?

What did Christ finish on the cross?

Blessings, sir.

Principium Unitatis said...

Hello John,

David is referring to himself.

For the person whose sins are not imputed (i.e. his sins are forgiven), there is no further need of *forgiveness* for those sins.

Sin is against God. Through Christ, our sins are forgiven, meaning that the debt of eternal punishment for those action is removed. But that doesn't mean that the *temporal* punishment for our sins is removed. There is a link in the post to an explanation of the basis for the distinction between eternal punishment and temporal punishment. That distinction is based on the two-fold nature of sin, because every sin is not only a turning away from God, but also an inordinate turning toward some mutable good. So there are two injustices intrinsic to every sin, and hence two types of penalty.

On the cross, Christ finished making satisfaction to the Father for the sins of the whole world.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Dan MacDonald said...

Bryan,

Why would David write a public psalm, for public use in the worship of Israel, and only refer to himself as the one who had no sin imputed? And how does David alone get this blessing?

Secondly, what biblical passage indicates that we need to ask for forgiveness of the temporal aspects of sin?

Thirdly,why would God need to forgive us for moving against a mutable good? By extension of this line of thinking, the two fold nature of sin is this: it sins against GOd, and against a mutable good. If we sin against God, he forgives us through Christ. If we move against a mutable good, how can we ask forgiveness from that good, since it is impersonal? Why would God be forgiving us for sinning against a mutable good?

Fourthly, why is Christ's death and resurrection not sufficient to pay for the temporal aspects of sin, since it is sufficient ot pay for the eternal, spiritual aspects of sin? If sin against GOd is infinite, and Christ's death is sufficient to pay that price, how is it possible that His death is not sufficient to pay for this 'moving away from a mutable good?'

Dan

Principium Unitatis said...

Dan,

Thanks for your comments and questions. I've interspersed my replies below.

Why would David write a public psalm, for public use in the worship of Israel, and only refer to himself as the one who had no sin imputed?

Your question assumes that his psalm is intended to refer only to himself. But that is not an assumption I hold. It refers primarily to himself, but in its application (particularly in public worship, as you mention) it refers to all those who are joined to Christ.

And how does David alone get this blessing?

All those who are incorporated into Christ receive this blessing. So, again, I don't hold the assumption implicit in the question.

Secondly, what biblical passage indicates that we need to ask for forgiveness of the temporal aspects of sin?

I don't hold the sola scriptura assumption implicit in this question. So, before considering this question, we would need to step back and talk about sola scriptura. The truths of theology are not all *explicit* in Scripture. That is why there were heresies such as Arianism, Nestorianism, Eutychianism, etc. The Nicene Creed, for example, contains statements that are not explicit in Scripture. Someone could ask, "What biblical passage shows that Christ is homoousious with the Father?" Social trinitarianism is not refuted by mere proof-texting, as Arianism is not refuted by mere proof-texting.

Thirdly, why would God need to forgive us for moving against a mutable good?

I didn't claim that God would need to forgive us for moving *against* a mutable good. In every sin, according to Aquinas, the will turns away from God and inordinately *toward* a mutable good. In every sinful act we choose to love something other than God more than we love God. That's what Adam and Eve did when they sinned.

By extension of this line of thinking, the two fold nature of sin is this: it sins against God, and against a mutable good. If we sin against God, he forgives us through Christ. If we move against a mutable good, how can we ask forgiveness from that good, since it is impersonal? Why would God be forgiving us for sinning against a mutable good?

There are two injustices in every act of [mortal] sin. One against God, and the other in our relation to the mutable good that is loved more than God. The injustice against God is the sin per se. That's why David says, "Against you, and you alone have I sinned." (Ps 51:4) The inordinate love of the mutable good is an injustice toward that good; it is a sin because it necessarily includes the turning away from God by our will. When we sin against our neighbor, this does not mean that our neighbor is God, but rather that turning away from God is intrinsic to the unjust action against our neighbor. The debt we owe to God, on account of turning away from Him in sin, can never be repaid by us. This debt is paid by Christ, the God-man, who made perfect satisfaction to the Father on our behalf. But, we are allowed to participate in that perfect payment by doing penance. Our unjust acts against creatures produce a debt of justice which, because it is against creatures, other creatures can, in principle, participate with us in paying. So, because of the communion of the saints, we can be recipients of the merits of Christ and the saints.

Fourthly, why is Christ's death and resurrection not sufficient to pay for the temporal aspects of sin, since it is sufficient to pay for the eternal, spiritual aspects of sin?

It is sufficient. But according to the Church, participating in making right what one has made wrong is a good and a gift that Christ does not withhold from us by His sacrifice on our behalf. That is why, even though Christ's sacrifice is sufficient to pay all eternal and temporal punishment, we are granted the opportunity to participate in making amends (truly, not just seemingly) for our wrongs. We see this in the example of Zaccheus, who pays back four times what he has stolen. In doing so, he has been granted a great gift, the gift of participating in making amends for what he did. This is an extension of the same principle that it is a great gift to participate in our self-formation, and self-determination. This is why we are here in this life, instead of being created already in the state of the beatific vision.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Dan MacDonald said...

Bryan,

Thank you for the answers. We will agree to disagree on many matters, but thank you for the charitable and thoughtful exchange.

Under sovereign mercies,

Dan