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

Monday, February 2, 2009

St. Thomas Aquinas on Penance


"Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas"
Benozzo di Lese di Sandro Gozzoli (1453-1478)

NOTE: An improved version of this post is now available here. I recommend that you read the updated version. - BC

In 1273, the year before he died, St. Thomas Aquinas was in Naples working on the third part of his Summa Theologica. Having just completed the section on the Eucharist, he was in church before Matins, praying in front of the crucifix on the altar, and caught up in mystical ecstasy in the presence of Christ. Three of his brethren were there, and they heard a voice come from the image of Christ on the Cross, saying, "Thou hast written well of me, Thomas; what reward wilt thou have?" St. Thomas replied, "None other than Thyself, Lord." (1) St. Thomas continued his work in the Summa, now writing on the sacrament of penance. He completed seven questions (thirty-six pages in my edition) on this sacrament. Then on December 6, 1273, while he was celebrating Mass on the feast of Saint Nicholas, he experienced "an unusually long ecstasy". From that moment on he did not write. Father Reginald urged him to finish the Summa, but St. Thomas replied, "Reginald, I can do no more; such things [secrets] have been revealed to me that all that I have written seems to me as so much straw. Now, I await the end of my life after that of my works." (2).

In this post I will examine one of the articles within one of the seven questions that Aquinas wrote between the time that the voice spoke to him from the crucifix, and the day he laid down his pen for good. The article is Summa Theologica III Question 86 article 4, which concerns the effect of Penance, as regards the pardon of mortal sin. First I will summarize what he says in articles 1-3 of that question. Quotations from Aquinas will be in green font.

In the first article of Question 86, Aquinas asks whether all mortal sins are taken away by Penance. In other words, is the sacrament of Penance able to remove *every* [kind of] sin? His answer is 'yes, for two reasons'. First, though at death the will is confirmed [i.e. fixed or established] in its orientation toward or against God such that after death no one whose will is opposed to God can seek Penance, in this present life the will remains flexible to good and evil [cuius liberum arbitrium flexibile est ad bonum et ad malum]. Second, the power of Christ's Passion, "through which Penance produces its effect" is such that no sin can fail to be pardoned through true Penance. These two reasons together imply that in this life, true repentance always remains possible, and when repentance takes place, the power of Christ's Passion is always sufficient to pardon the sin.

In the second article, Aquinas asks whether sin can be pardoned without Penance. His answer is 'no'. He writes:

It is impossible for a mortal actual sin to be pardoned without penance, if we speak of penance as a virtue. For, as sin is an offense against God, He pardons sin in the same way as he pardons an offense committed against Him. Now an offense is directly opposed to grace, since one man is said to be offended with another, because he excludes him from his grace. Now, as stated in I-II, 110, 1, the difference between the grace of God and the grace of man, is that the latter does not cause, but presupposes true or apparent goodness in him who is graced, whereas the grace of God causes goodness in the man who is graced, because the good-will of God, which is denoted by the word "grace," is the cause of all created good. Hence it is possible for a man to pardon an offense, for which he is offended with someone, without any change in the latter's will; but it is impossible that God pardon a man for an offense, without his will being changed. Now the offense of mortal sin is due to man's will being turned away from God, through being turned to some mutable good. Consequently, for the pardon of this offense against God, it is necessary for man's will to be so changed as to turn to God and to renounce having turned to something else in the aforesaid manner, together with a purpose of amendment; all of which belongs to the nature of penance as a virtue. Therefore it is impossible for a sin to be pardoned anyone without penance as a virtue.

In order to understand this argument, we need to understand what Aquinas means by "penance as a virtue", because the sacrament of penance is not the same thing as the virtue of penance. According to Aquinas, the *sacrament* of penance was perfected by the priestly office of binding and loosing which Christ gave to the Church (cf. Matthew 18:18, John 20:23). God is able to forgive sins without the sacrament of penance, but not without the virtue of penance on the part of the penitent, for the reason explained below. The baptized penitent who knows of the sacrament of penance must at least desire the sacrament of penance, in order to be forgiven. And the sacrament of penance requires the virtue of penance on the part of the penitent.

Aquinas discusses penance as a virtue in ST III Q. 85. There he says that penance as a virtue is a species of justice. Recall that justice is the virtue of giving to each his due. And penance as a virtue is the disposition of the will (for justice is a virtue of the will) or an act of the will that aims in some sense at the destruction of one's past sins considered as offenses against God. Destruction of these offenses against God is not effected merely by ceasing to sin; some kind of compensation is necessary, to make amends for one's sins against God. Sin is a "word, deed, or desire, contrary to the eternal law" (ST I-II Q.71 a.6), and thus sin against God always involves our taking some pleasure in a word, deed or desire that deprives God of the charity, honor and obedience that He is justly due. So penance involves contrition, grieving for one's sins (think of the Old Testament examples of sackcloth and ashes), confession, satisfaction, i.e. depriving oneself of temporal pleasures, or subjecting oneself to hardship in some way, to pay back for the pleasure that one took at God's expense. Of course no one who has turned away from God can make sufficient satisfaction for that offense. Aquinas says, "wherefore in such cases, he that falls short of the other must do whatever he can. Yet this will not be sufficient simply, but only according to the acceptance of the higher one". (ST III Q.85 a.3 ad.2)

The three traditional forms of penance are fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Whereas vengeance is defined as just retribution on the part of the offended, penance is just retribution on the part of the offender, where the offended is God. Penance as a virtue is a species of justice because the penitent seeks to give to himself, in some measure, what is due to himself for his offenses against God. We can see penance as a virtue exemplified in St. Luke 18:13, when the tax collector beat his breast on account of his sins.

Given that explanation of penance as a virtue, we can now approach Aquinas's argument in ST III Q.86 a.2. There Aquinas says that an offense is directly opposed to grace, since that is just what it means to be offended with another person, to exclude him from one's grace. But there is an important difference between the grace of God and the grace of man. The grace of man does not cause, but rather presupposes either true or apparent good in him who is graced by man. The grace of God, however, causes goodness in the man who is graced by God. Thus for any man who is graced by God, that man has goodness, and that goodness was caused by God's grace. Therefore, while a man may pardon another man's offense without a change in the offender's will, it is impossible for God to pardon a man for an offense, without that man's will being changed. Since the offense of mortal sin is due to man's will being turned away from God and inordinately to some mutable good, therefore for the pardon of mortal sin, it is necessary that man's will be turned toward God and away from the inordinate love of the mutable good, with the intention of making amends for the wrongs he did to God. Since these belong to the nature of penance as a virtue, it follows that it is impossible for a sin to be pardoned anyone without his having penance as a virtue.

In the third article, Aquinas asks whether by penance one sin can be pardoned while another sin remains unpardoned. He answers that this is impossible, because, as he has shown already, without grace no sin can be forgiven (ST I-II Q.109 a.7, and I-II Q.113 a.2). But since every mortal sin is opposed to grace and excludes grace, therefore it is impossible for one mortal sin to be pardoned while another remains unpardoned, for then grace and mortal sin would be co-present, which is impossible.

Here we should briefly consider those two references, because Aquinas's argument depends on them. In ST I-II Q.109 a.7, Aquinas says the following:

Now man incurs a triple loss by sinning, as was clearly shown above (86, 1; 87, 1), viz. stain, corruption of natural good, and debt of punishment. He incurs a stain, inasmuch as he forfeits the lustre of grace through the deformity of sin. Natural good is corrupted, inasmuch as man's nature is disordered by man's will not being subject to God's; and this order being overthrown, the consequence is that the whole nature of sinful man remains disordered. Lastly, there is the debt of punishment, inasmuch as by sinning man deserves everlasting damnation. Now it is manifest that none of these three can be restored except by God. For since the lustre of grace springs from the shedding of Divine light, this lustre cannot be brought back, except God sheds His light anew: hence a habitual gift is necessary, and this is the light of grace. Likewise, the order of nature can only be restored, i.e. man's will can only be subject to God when God draws man's will to Himself, as stated above (Article 6). So, too, the guilt of eternal punishment can be remitted by God alone, against Whom the offense was committed and Who is man's Judge. And thus in order that man rise from sin there is required the help of grace, both as regards a habitual gift, and as regards the internal motion of God.

Here Aquinas recalls the three-fold loss that man incurs by sinning. Sin stains the soul, corrupts his natural good both by removing his original righteousness and weakening his inclination to virtue, and incurs the debt of punishment. None of these three losses can be restored except by the grace of God. For my discussion of Aquinas's claim that the infusion of grace is necessary for the remission of sins, see the last part of my post titled "St. Thomas Aquinas on Angels and Grace".

In article 4, Aquinas asks whether after the forgiveness of sin [remissa culpa] through the sacrament of penance, there remains any debt of punishment. Aquinas's answer is going to be "yes, there remains a debt of punishment".

But first he raises three objections to his answer. The first objection is this:

It would seem that no debt of punishment remains after the guilt has been forgiven through Penance. For when the cause is removed, the effect is removed. But the guilt is the cause of the debt of punishment: since a man deserves to be punished because he has been guilty of a sin. Therefore when the sin has been forgiven, no debt of punishment can remain.

This is a good objection, and one that many Protestants might be inclined to raise. Here's the objection: The guilt of sin is the cause of the debt of punishment. This is because of the requirement of justice, that each be given his due, as discussed above. Hence when the sin is forgiven, there should no longer be any debt of punishment. To claim that some debt of punishment remains after forgiveness of sin implies that Christ's Passion was not sufficient.

The second objection is as follows:

Further, according to the Apostle (Romans 5) the gift of Christ is more effective than the sin of Adam. Now, by sinning, man incurs at the same time guilt and the debt of punishment. Much more therefore, by the gift of grace, is the guilt forgiven and at the same time the debt of punishment remitted.

Aquinas is saying that since the gift of Christ is more effective than the sin of Adam, and since when man sins, man incurs at the same time both guilt and the debt of punishment, therefore, it would seem to follow a fortiori that by the gift of grace not only is the guilt forgiven but also the debt of punishment remitted.

The third objection is as follows:

Further, the forgiveness of sins is effected in Penance through the power of Christ's Passion, according to Romans 3:25: "Whom God hath proposed to be a propitiation, through faith in His Blood . . . for the remission of former sins." Now Christ's Passion made satisfaction sufficient for all sins, as stated above (Q48,49,79, 5). Therefore after the guilt has been pardoned, no debt of punishment remains.

The forgiveness of sins in the sacrament of Penance is effected through the power of Christ's Passion. But Christ's Passion made satisfaction sufficient for all sins. Therefore, it would seem that after the guilt of sin has been pardoned through the sacrament of Penance, no debt of punishment would remain.

Aquinas then offers the Sed contra, which appeals to authority to verify his position.

On the contrary, It is related (2 Samuel 12:13) that when David penitent had said to Nathan: "I have sinned against the Lord," Nathan said to him: "The Lord also hath taken away thy sin, thou shalt not die. Nevertheless . . . the child that is born to thee shall surely die," which was to punish him for the sin he had committed, as stated in the same place. Therefore a debt of some punishment remains after the guilt has been forgiven.

According to Aquinas, this incident recorded in the Old Testament reveals that the forgiveness of sin does not necessarily take away the debt of all punishment.

Before we turn to his Responseo, let's briefly examine what Aquinas argues in ST I-II Q.87 a.4, because it helps prepare us to understand him. There he writes:

Punishment is proportionate to sin. Now sin comprises two things. First, there is the turning away from the immutable good, which is infinite, wherefore, in this respect, sin is infinite. Secondly, there is the inordinate turning to mutable good. In this respect sin is finite, both because the mutable good itself is finite, and because the movement of turning towards it is finite, since the acts of a creature cannot be infinite. Accordingly, in so far as sin consists in turning away from something, its corresponding punishment is the "pain of loss," which also is infinite, because it is the loss of the infinite good, i.e. God. But in so far as sin turns inordinately to something, its corresponding punishment is the "pain of sense," which is also finite.

Notice that sin has a two-fold component. It involves a turning away from God in some respect, and an inordinate (i.e. disordered) turning to some finite created good. This two-fold aspect of sin means that justice is violated in two ways, in each sin. In turning away from God, the sinner has not given to the eternal God His due, for which action the just punishment is the eternal loss of God, because the nature of the sin determines the punishment of the sin, for sin is the punishment of sin. But the sinner has also turned inordinately to some finite mutable good, for which action the just punishment is the "pain of sense", which is also finite.

That helps us understand Aquinas's argument in the Responseo of ST III Q.86 a.4. There he writes:

I answer that, As stated in I-II, 87, 4, in mortal sin there are two things, namely, a turning from the immutable Good, and an inordinate turning to mutable good. Accordingly, in so far as mortal sin turns away from the immutable Good, it induces a debt of eternal punishment, so that whosoever sins against the eternal Good should be punished eternally. Again, in so far as mortal sin turns inordinately to a mutable good, it gives rise to a debt of some punishment, because the disorder of guilt is not brought back to the order of justice, except by punishment: since it is just that he who has been too indulgent to his will, should suffer something against his will, for thus will equality be restored. Hence it is written (Apocalypse 18:7): "As much as she hath glorified herself, and lived in delicacies, so much torment and sorrow give ye to her." Since, however, the turning to mutable good is finite, sin does not, in this respect, induce a debt of eternal punishment. Wherefore, if man turns inordinately to a mutable good, without turning from God, as happens in venial sins, he incurs a debt, not of eternal but of temporal punishment. Consequently when guilt is pardoned through grace, the soul ceases to be turned away from God, through being united to God by grace: so that at the same time, the debt of punishment is taken away, albeit a debt of some temporal punishment may yet remain.

I'll go through his argument step by step. First he reminds that in every mortal sin there are two turnings: a turning away from God who is the immutable Good, and an inordinate turning to some mutable good. This two-fold turning of mortal sin induces two debts of punishment, because these two turnings intrinsic to every mortal sin are not equal in their degree of injustice. The just punishment for turning away from the eternal God is eternal separation from God; this separation is called 'hell'. The literal translation is: "so that whoever against the eternal Good sins, in eternity is punished." [ut qui contra aeternum bonum peccavit, in aeternum puniatur].

But the sin of turning inordinately to some mutable, finite good also incurs a debt of punishment, "because the disorder of guilt is not brought back to the order of justice, except by punishment" [quia inordinatio culpae non reducitur ad ordinem iustitiae nisi per poenam]. Hence there must be temporal punishment, "since it is just that he who has been too indulgent to his will, should suffer something against his will, for thus will equality be restored" [iustum est enim ut qui voluntati suae plus indulsit quam debuit, contra voluntatem suam aliquid patiatur, sic enim erit aequalitas]. Justice can be violated in the short-term, as when someone commits an unjust act. But ultimately justice cannot be violated, because all violations of justice must eventually be brought back to the order of justice, and this can only be done by just punishment.

The debt of punishment for turning inordinately to some mutable, finite good is not eternal punishment, but temporal punishment, because a finite sin does not justly deserve an eternal punishment. So when a man turns inordinately to a finite good without turning away from God, as happens in venial sin, he does not incur a debt of eternal punishment but he does incur a debt of temporal punishment. (cf. I-II Q.87 a.5) Therefore, when the guilt of sin is pardoned through grace in the sacrament of penance, "the soul ceases to be turned away from God, through being united to God by grace" [tollitur aversio animae a Deo, inquantum per gratiam anima Deo coniungitur]. But, the debt of temporal punishment remains.

This is why, when we walk out of the confessional after receiving absolution from our sins, we must do some penance, as assigned to us by the priest. We are making satisfaction for the purpose of paying our debt of temporal punishment. Removing temporal punishment is also the purpose of indulgences; an indulgence removes some or all of the debt of temporal punishment. Moreover, if we die in a state of grace, but with some remaining debt of temporal punishment, our soul goes to purgatory so that through our suffering there our temporal (and finite) debt of punishment can be paid, so that with a pure heart we may enter the joy of seeing God in the Beatific Vision.

Let's consider now Aquinas's replies to the three objections raised earlier. The first objection was that the removal of the guilt of sin should also remove the debt of punishment. In reply to this objection Aquinas writes:

Mortal sin both turns away from God and turns to a created good. But, as stated in I-II, 71, 6, the turning away from God is as its form while the turning to created good is as its matter. Now if the formal element of anything be removed, the species is taken away: thus, if you take away rational, you take away the human species. Consequently mortal sin is said to be pardoned from the very fact that, by means of grace, the aversion of the mind from God is taken away together with the debt of eternal punishment: and yet the material element remains, viz. the inordinate turning to a created good, for which a debt of temporal punishment is due.

Aquinas here makes use of the distinction between the debt of eternal punishment and the debt of temporal punishment. In the pardon of mortal sin, by means of grace the aversion of the mind from God as well as the debt of eternal punishment are removed. But, the pardon of the guilt of mortal sin does not in itself remove the inordinate turning to a created good, and therefore the pardon of the guilt of mortal sin does not in itself remove the debt of temporal punishment.

The second objection was that since Christ's gift is more effective than Adam's gift, therefore, since guilt and debt of punishment were given to us by Adam, so a fortiori they should both be removed by the grace of Christ. In reply, Aquinas writes:

As stated in I-II, 109, 7,8; I-II, 111, 2, it belongs to grace to operate in man by justifying him from sin, and to co-operate with man that his work may be rightly done. Consequently the forgiveness of guilt and of the debt of eternal punishment belongs to operating grace, while the remission of the debt of temporal punishment belongs to co-operating grace, in so far as man, by bearing punishment patiently with the help of Divine grace, is released also from the debt of temporal punishment. Consequently just as the effect of operating grace precedes the effect of co-operating grace, so too, the remission of guilt and of eternal punishment precedes the complete release from temporal punishment, since both are from grace, but the former, from grace alone, the latter, from grace and free-will.

Aquinas draws upon a previous distinction between operating grace and and co-operating grace. The forgiveness of guilt and of the debt of eternal punishment belongs to operating grace, but the remission of the debt of temporal punishment belongs to co-operating grace. Then, just as the effect of operating grace precedes the effect of co-operating grace, so the remission of guilt and of eternal punishment in the sacrament of penance precedes the completion of our payment of the debt of temporal punishment.

The third objection was this: The forgiveness of sins in the sacrament of Penance is effected through the power of Christ's Passion. But Christ's Passion made satisfaction sufficient for all sins. Therefore, it would seem that after the guilt of sin has been pardoned through the sacrament of Penance, no debt of punishment would remain. In reply to this objection Aquinas writes:

Christ's Passion is of itself sufficient to remove all debt of punishment, not only eternal, but also temporal; and man is released from the debt of punishment according to the measure of his share in the power of Christ's Passion. Now in Baptism man shares the Power of Christ's Passion fully, since by water and the Spirit of Christ, he dies with Him to sin, and is born again in Him to a new life, so that, in Baptism, man receives the remission of all debt of punishment. In Penance, on the other hand, man shares in the power of Christ's Passion according to the measure of his own acts, which are the matter of Penance, as water is of Baptism, as stated above (84, 1,3). Wherefore the entire debt of punishment is not remitted at once after the first act of Penance, by which act the guilt is remitted, but only when all the acts of Penance have been completed.

Aquinas teaches that Christ's Passion is sufficient in itself to remove all debt of punishment, not only eternal but also temporal. But we are released from the debt of punishment according to the measure of our share in the power of Christ's Passion. In the sacrament of baptism, we share fully in Christ's Passion, for by water and the Spirit of Christ we die with Him and are born again to new life, and hence in baptism all debt, both eternal and temporal, is remitted. But in the sacrament of penance, we share in the Christ's Passion according to the measure of our own acts, because while in baptism the water is the matter of the sacrament, in the sacrament of penance our own acts are the matter of the sacrament. Therefore, in the sacrament of Penance the entire debt is not remitted at once, but only when all the acts of penance have been completed. (See CCC 1459-1460)

In this way temporal punishment, penance, and purgatory are all compatible with an affirmation of the forgiveness of all our past sins, and with the perfection and completion of Christ's Passion. Temporal punishment is compatible with the forgiveness of all our past sins because of the two-fold injustice in every mortal sin. Temporal punishment is compatible with the perfection and completion of Christ's Passion because of the distinction between operating grace and co-operating grace. By way of these distinctions, the saint to whom Christ had just spoken days earlier, saying, "Thou hast written well of me, Thomas", teaches us here why it is wrong to think either that we can make full satisfaction for our sins or that we do not need to make any satisfaction for our sins.

15 comments:

Canadian said...

Bryan,
Interesting stuff. Is an indulgence an act of penance? I am wondering why a monetary indulgence for example, could replace penance and contrition. Or what about indulgences on behalf of others? If contrition and a change of the will is required to effect the removal of punishment, how could this be done for someone else?

Principium Unitatis said...

Darin,

An indulgence is not an act of penance, on the part of the penitent. 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 believer 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) No one can purchase an indulgence. One's debt of temporal punishment can be paid from the treasury of satisfactions of Christ and the saints because we are mystically united in the one body of Christ. So, the satisfactions of Christ and the saints can be applied to oneself, and one can apply such satisfactions to others. But this itself is of no use to the person in mortal sin (i.e. the person whose will is turned away from God), because such a person has not only the debt of temporal punishment, but also and more importantly the debt of eternal punishment. That debt of eternal punishment remains (and continues to be caused) so long as his will is turned away from God. So that debt cannot be paid for him while His debt remains turned away from God. He needs grace by which his will is turned back to God and away from inordinate love of mutable goods. Then, by the merits of Christ his eternal debt is removed. And then the merits of others can be of use to him in reducing his temporal punishment.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Canadian said...

Bryan,
So the eternal punishment for mortal and grave sin is removed by Christ alone upon penitence of the will, yet temporal punishment after such repentance requires penance and corrective action of that person's will. But this does not follow all the way, as it seems that the merits of others can then do for that person's temporal punishment (reduce it) above what the person does for himself. So that portion he does not do for himself would be entirely gracious, as it was not reduced or eliminated because of his own penance. So if it can be entirely gracious (to him) in part, why not in full--based on the merits of Christ? I know it's not hard to do, but dear St. Thomas messes with my head :-)
Darrin

Neal Judisch and Family said...

Bryan,

Excellent essay here; very clear and helpful. Just a couple of questions.

You mention the 3-fold consequence of sin and include within it the 'corruption of nature'; also, you relate St Thomas' words about the 'disorders' caused by 'guilt'.

I'm wondering what the relation is between temporal punishment, penance, and restoration to 'full spiritual health', as the Catechism puts it. The emphasis there, and also in recent remarks of Popes Benedict and John Paul II, seems to fall on understanding the penance by means of which we make satisfaction for temporal punishment as being ordered toward rehabilitation, correcting disorders, and so forth, so that the point of satisfaction and expiation is this context is understood at least to involve a putting off of the old man and putting on of the new.

I understand that on Aquinas' picture it wouldn't be good to describe this in terms of growing in sanctification, inasmuch as when a person's in a state of grace they are as 'sanctified' or 'holy' as they ever will be. On the other hand, he clearly wants to allow for such things as increase in charity and a gradual setting of the dispositions toward virtue and away from the vice that inflicts us, the corrosive effects of which remain in the soul even after the guilt of sin (the eternal punishment) has been forgiven.

Yet the accent in Aquinas' work (perhaps mostly in these sections you've analyzed) falls upon the paying back of temporal debts accumulated through the soul's turning toward mutable goods inordinately, and he doesn't discuss so much the sort of 'healing' and 'growth' that recent Church teaching is apparently trying to emphasize. (I recall, though, that St Thomas does endorse another sense of 'satisfaction' which appears to be ordered toward quelling concupiscence and so forth as well.)

So I guess I'm wondering, if we want to approach this in a classical both/and sort of way, is whether we should say that (1) making satisfaction involves paying back a debt owed to justice, irrespective of the interior spiritual health or condition of the penitent, and (2) making satisfaction for sins so as to expiate temporal punishment is also ordered toward the upbuilding and setting of dispositions toward holiness and away from vice, irrespective of juridical debt. I guess what we'd say here is that there is a deontic component and a teleological component here? And that, possibly, when a person makes satisfaction for sins whose guilt (eternal punishment) has been forgiven, either in this life or in purgatory, they are simultaneously remitting the debt to justice and being restored to full spiritual health?

Is that okay to say? And, if we say this, are we saying precisely what the Church says magisterially, or are we saying that this (potential) Thomistic construal is consistent with but not required by what the Church herself says magisterially?

Neal Judisch and Family said...

Oh, another thing. JPII also really tries, in some general audience homilies, to explain indulgences in a way that, again, places the accent not on a transfer of 'things' (as he puts it) that would pay off debts to justice, so much as it is ordered toward bringing the soul in purgatory closer to the final goal of complete conversion and final expunging of all 'remnants' of sin (the guilt of which has already been forgiven).

This seems to me quite in line with the Catechism's approach, and also the approach to purgatory, satisfaction, temporal punishments, etc., that is taken by Peter Kreeft and others.

Your description of the point of indulgences and so forth here is very well backed up. At the same time, there seems to be a current effort to understand these things in ways that place the emphasis elsewhere (or, at least, focus attention upon another aspect of them that hasn't historically received as much attention).

Any thoughts?

Neal

Neal said...

Bryan,

I think I've answered at least some of my questions by reading through Q 86 art 5.

Still thinking about indulgences, though.

Neal

Eric Telfer said...

I think that it is important to get a few things clear about indulgences.

First, they are a remission of temporal punishment. We are not on the forgiveness side of things here, as has been pointed out. That has already been taken care of. We are now talking about a temporal punishment that is due to make up for or balance out what we have made wrong or unbalanced, as when a child damages property and is forgiven, but must still pay for the damaged property, despite having been forgiven.

Second, historically, the Church has had a role in giving out temporal punishments. At certain times in history the temporal punishments given out were quite severe, depending on the population and the need for discipline. The Church could then, after having given out a temporal punishment, grant a remission of all or part of that temporal punishment so that people would not be, say, barred from communion for life.

Third, a person does not buy himself out of the temporal punishment, but a person can be granted relief from previously assigned temporal punishment by performing certain deeds, if the Church so chooses and the person approaches the Church in a state of grace with the appropriate intentions.

Eric

Eric Telfer said...

Also, as I understand it, one cannot gain an indulgence for another living person on earth, though they can apply to souls in purgatory.

Eric

Neal said...

Thanks, Eric.

I think I'm clear on these points and okay with them. What I was wondering about was the relation of indulgences granted to departed souls which, as JPII says, are not to be understood as a "transfer" of merit "as if we were talking about 'things'", but are instead to be understood as an expression of the Church's confidence of being heard by the Father, when she asks (through the power of the keys, works and prayers offered by other members of the Mystical Body), that God would bring about the "medicinal aspects" of temporal punishment in such a way that they are purified (eliminate the remnants of sin) through "other channels of grace" and "without the typical associated pains" of temporal punishment.

That's the bit I was wondering about: does Aquinas say anything that connects with this? How precisely are we to make sense of it? Etc. John Paul II points to the "unfathomable mystery of divine wisdom" here, and I'm okay with that, but I'd like to understand it to whatever degree I can and try to reconcile it with views according to which the painfulness of purgation is an essential part of its 'sanctifying' or 'remnant-of-sin-eliminating' aspect.

Neal

Principium Unitatis said...

Neal,

I'm getting ready for bed, so this will be brief. I think that the term 'sanctification' as used in Catholic theology, is not necessarily the same as that term in Protestant theology, where it is a broader term. It seems to me that in Catholic theology, 'sanctification' has to do with sanctifying grace. One can be fully sanctified, and still have concupiscence, for example. Protestants would not use the term in that way. So, (and I haven't researched this), I want to make sure we're very clear about what it is we are talking about when we use the term 'sanctification'.

I don't see any reason to think that purification and satisfaction can't both take place in purgatory. At least three of the references to 'indulgences' in the Catechism refer to it as a remission of temporal punishment.

Darin,

God delights in letting us participate, because it give Him greater glory to let us share in His work, and it gives us greater dignity to share in His work, to be causal agents in our own self-formation and self-determination. This is why He didn't just create angels and humans all already in the beatified state. (He could have done that, you know.)

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Neal Judisch and Family said...

Thanks, Bryan.

These are my thoughts too. Clearly Aquinas isn't using 'sanctification' in precisely the way it's often used, and that can cause confusion. But he clearly has a category in his thinking for that to which 'sanctification' refers in the mouths of Protestants and others.

You're right that the Catechism refers to indugences as remitting temporal punishments. There is a classical Thomistic reading of this which tells us quite plainly that this remission of temporal punishment has to take place so as to satisfy a debt to justice. At the same time, the Catechism and the last two Popes (at least) want to focus on another aspect of 'temporal punishment', namely, that it isn't an externally imposed penalty so much as a natural consequence of sin itself, which brings disorder to the soul and engenders vice by repetition of the same acts. The Catechism points out that this is why sin "tends to reproduce" and strengthen itself in the individual. And making satisfaction for (this aspect of) the temporal punishment for sin is accordingly understood as purging these disorders and recovering spiritual health ('growing in sanctification', if you like).

I'm thinking that what the Catechism says is however most likely consistent with what St Thomas says. Its focus isn't on justice and paybacks here as much as it is on purging the remnants of sin and growing in holiness in cooperation with divine grace. But it could be that the other understanding of temp. punishment/satisfaction (in Aquinas) is not ruled out by this. (Same thing goes for indulgences, perhaps.)

An interesting upshot is this. If the doctrine of purgatory fixes the boundaries, so to speak, but is consistent with a plurality of theoretical approaches to purgatory, then Catholics might disagree on whether an individual who is already fully prepared, intrinsically, for communion with God, may still have a debt to justice to payoff in purgatory. Aquinas would certainly say so. But it appears that many contemporary Catholics are pushing things in an opposite direction: they would say, "No, once the remnants of sin have been eliminated, there's no more temporal punishment (corrosion of soul) to make satisfaction for; so, you go to heaven then."

One way of getting agreement on all this may be to say that both aspects of temp. punishment get satisfied simultaneously: you pay your debt, also get rid of the remnants/imperfections to prepare the soul for union with God, but neither of these processes outlasts the other. (That's just a position in logical space; maybe it wouldn't work).

Still: very interesting stuff here.

Thanks,

Neal

rjs1 said...

Hi Bryan,

I am just wondering if the Church's teaching on indulgences has a biblical foundation or whether it's purely Tradition.

- Richard

Principium Unitatis said...

Richard,

The Church's teaching on indulgences follows from three things: the power of the keys given to the Church, by which the Church can forgive sins (John 20:23), the communion of the saints (1 Cor 12, Job 1:5) by which we can aid one another in the Body of Christ through our prayers and sacrifices, and the two-fold nature of sin (both away from God, and toward a mutable good), which entails two sorts of punishments, one eternal, and other temporal, as I explained in the 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 remove *eternal* punishment, then a fortiori, she can remove temporal punishment, by the merits of Christ and all the saints. And that is just what an indulgence is.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

tetrateuch said...

Thanks Bryan, that does make some sense, I have read the CCC and Indulgentiarum Doctrina and, granted it may be bacuse I am not majorly bright, but I just can't seem to get a handle on indulgences.

Principium Unitatis said...

Neal,

I agree with what you said. The degree of disorder in the soul would directly correspond to the degree of temporal punishment due (because the degree of disorder caused in the soul by an unjust act is directly proportional to the injustice of the act). So, paying the debt and removing the disorder would coincide, without reducing one to the other.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan