Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Joys of Indulgences

The Catholic Church believes that once we have been baptized we become the BODY of CHRIST and takes quite literally Paul’s words that when someone sins—it affects the whole body. When someone does something good, the whole body benefits.

[Texts that speak how one person affects whole body: Mt 5:29, 30; Ro 12:16; 1Co 12:17; Eph 4:16; Col 2:19; Eph 4:12. Texts that say we are the Body of Christ: Ro 7:4; Ro 12:5; 1Co 12:12, 27; Eph 3:6; Col 1:24, 2:17; 3:15.]

I Cor.12: 25-27, For as the body is one and hath many members; and all the members of the body, whereas they are many, yet are one body: So also is Christ…. That there might be no schism in the body: but the members might be mutually careful one for another. And if one member suffer any thing, all the members suffer with it: or if one member glory, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ and members of member.

During the persecutions of the early church many Christians including priests and bishops capitulated under threat of torture and became informants, handed over church sacred items, or sacrificed to the genius of Caesar. Those who stood strong, did not capitulate under pressure and survived tortured were crowned with the title “confessors.”

A huge debate broke out within the church. Should Christians who renounced their faith under persecution be let back into the church—especially priests and bishops? Some thought they would be a corrupting influence. After all, how would one really know if a leader had truly repented of their spiritual defection? Could a congregant trust a leader who did not stand for truth? But others disagreed and said God’s forgiveness should be extended to even these. Catholic church decided to quell public outcry, these church leaders would have to do public “penance” to show they were truly sorry and not just trying to regain power of their position, now that Constantine had made Christianity legal. It was a way for the body to believe a leader was truly repentant for betraying Christ in a public forum.

In north Africa the Donatists vehemently disagreed with the Catholic church’s “easy grace” for the leaders and began setting up rival churches with only those “pure” leaders who had not caved under Roman pressure.

Bitter feeling grew between the Catholics and Donatists. The church wanted to bring the body back together, so they began asking those “confessors” to publicly intervene helping restore the church. They generously defended their weaker brethren. By virtue of their virtue, they told the people that they wanted THEIR lives to serve as the penance for these people. They petitioned the church to give the credit of their suffering to those who were most in need of public forgiveness.

That was the beginning of the indulgences….

(I got the following online—sorry can’t remember where—my apologies to the author.)

Myths about Indulgences:

Myth 1: Indulgences can be used to forgive sins (past or future) or get a person out of hell.

Myth 2: The church raises money by selling indulgences/an indulgence can be bought.

One never could "buy" indulgences. The financial scandal surrounding indulgences that inspired Martin Luther's 95 Theses involved the giving of alms to some charitable fund. There was no outright selling of indulgences. The Catholic Encyclopedia states: "[I]t is easy to see how abuses crept in. Among the good works which might be encouraged by being made the condition of an indulgence, almsgiving would naturally hold a conspicuous place. . . . It is well to observe that in these purposes there is nothing essentially evil. To give money to God or to the poor is a praiseworthy act, and, when it is done from right motives, it will surely not go unrewarded."

Protestant's forget that the Council of Trent reformed abuses of indulgences and no longer allowed any indulgences granted by exchange of money. So what is an indulgence? "A remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain defined conditions through the Church’s help when, as a minister of redemption, she dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions won by Christ and the saints" (Indulgentarium Doctrina 1).

Yeah that's probably Greek to most Protestant readers.

Basically that means that you can add your good works to the "bank" of the Catholic church's good works and help the body just as the early confessors did. So what does an act that brings an indulgence look like? (Protestants will understand this)... prayer, Bible study, acts of charity. Its just when a Protestant reads the Bible and prays, he is doing it for personal spiritual growth. The Catholics believe that, as the Body of Christ, you can give that spiritual time for the benefit of the whole body, not just yourself.

Indulgences don't save you or anyone else--it is not taking the place of Christ's works. "The Christian who seeks to purify himself of his sin and to become holy with the help of God’s grace is not alone. ‘The life of each of God’s children is joined in Christ and through Christ in a wonderful way to the life of all the other Christian brethren in the supernatural unity of the Mystical Body of Christ, as in a single mystical person’" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1474 [Indulgentarium Doctrina 5]).

For more information on Indulgences, see: Code of Canon Law, (Cann. 992-997) Indulgences; Enchiridion Indulgentiarum, 4th ed., 1999. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005, article indulgences. "Myths About Indulgences." Catholic Answers. Retrieved 16 Apr. 2008.