August 20, 2010
A recent email conversation with a young Catholic man, who is attempting to explain the Faith to his Protestant fiancee’, provided a wonderful opportunity to revisit the issues of purgatory, temporal punishment, and indulgences — issues that required a great deal of examination on my own journey into the Catholic Church. With the young man’s permission, I’m going to recreate the conversation, slightly edited and cast into more of a dialogue, for the sake of assisting others in their apologetic efforts.
I have been trying to explain to my fiancee’ lately about purgatory, temporal punishments from sins after we are forgiven, and indulgences. I have been having a hard time trying to explain it, and I was wondering if you could offer me some help from your own study of these issues coming from the Lutheran church. (The deeper I dig into it, the more confused I’m getting.)
I understand the concept of indulgences, and that they can remit partially or completely (“plenary”) the temporal punishment due our sins while we are on earth. So every sin we commit has a temporal punishment attached to it? If that’s the case, then are we running around trying to put marks by our sins, and when and where we need an indulgence to counteract it?
Temporal punishment for sin was an issue that I struggled with as a Lutheran looking at the teachings of the Catholic Church, because the implication seemed to be that Christ’s death on the Cross was ”insufficient,” because we were still left paying part of the penalty for our sin. Part of the problem has to due with the “legal” language in which the doctrine is often explained, as one finds in the classic “Baltimore Catechism”:
Q. 1381. What is Purgatory?
A. Purgatory is the state in which those suffer for a time who die guilty of venial sins, or without having satisfied for the punishment due to their sins.
Q. 1386. Since God loves the souls in Purgatory, why does He punish them?
A. Though God loves the souls in Purgatory, He punishes them because His holiness requires that nothing defiled may enter heaven and His justice requires that everyone be punished or rewarded according to what he deserves.
Fr. Al Kimel, himself a convert, offers this commentary regarding the concept of “temporal punishment” on his (now archived) blog, “Pontifications.” (Emphasis mine): This penal understanding of a temporary post-mortem punishment has its roots in the Western patristic tradition and was elaborated with precision in the medieval period. It is grounded in the conviction that justice requires the perfect sanctification of sinners, achieved through penitence and suffering. St Bonaventure’s presentation may be considered representative. In his “Breviloquium” Bonaventure states that just as God, as supreme goodness, can suffer no good to remain unrewarded, so also he “cannot suffer any evil to remain unpunished.” Even the just, should they die before having completed their penance on earth, must endure a post-mortem penalty for their sins, “lest the beauty of universal order be disturbed.” However, while this sounds to modern ears as if God is punishing for punishment’s sake, this is not Bonaventure’s intent. The temporal punishment of sin is the sanctification and healing of the sinner. Sin distorts and corrupts the human being, attaching the will to lesser goods. While God forgives the offense of sin through the atoning sacrifice of Christ, in his justice he also requires the repentance, conversion, and healing of the sinner. The disorder of sin within the human heart must be rooted out, and because this sanctifying transformation involves suffering, it is metaphorically described as punishment.
The problem for most Protestants is the word “punishment”; if one exchanges the word “punishment” for the word “consequences,” (which would be a valid understanding, according to Kimel’s commentary), then we would be speaking in terms of temporal consequences of sin, which most Protestants would agree we still suffer even after our “redemption.”
To really understand the idea of “temporal punishment”, we have to come to a deeper understanding of sin; not just “sins”, but SIN as a principle, a “state”. When we sin, we reject God’s love, God’s truth, God’s will, God’s very being as GOD. Go back to Genesis chapter three… what half/truth does the Serpent tell Eve? “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it [the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden] your eyes will be open and YOU WILL BE LIKE GOD, knowing good and evil.” (The “be like God” thing is the hook of pride, which caused Lucifer to fall in the first place. And after Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, they DID know the difference between good and evil… they knew that they HAD been good, and now they were evil…. anyway, I digress)
As a result of Sin, what took place: (1) in the relationship between God and Man; (2) in the relationship between Man and his fellow man (or, woman); and (3) between Man and his relationship to himself /his Self?
Man became a rebel, fighting against the “Lordship” of God – an enemy of God, (who is his Creator, and the only one who can bring meaning to his life). Man became shackled by triple concupiscence, (lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, pride of life) — a slave of sin. Man became guilty — a lawbreaker. Man became unclean in conscience — aware of, and ashamed of, his uncleanness. Man became broken — his will weakened, his intellect darkened, his physical desires ruling his soul instead of vice versa. Man became spiritually dead (apart from the grace of God bringing about spiritual regeneration in Baptism).
Christ’s death on the Cross transforms the rebel and enemy into an adopted son; ransom’s from slavery to sin and Satan; declares the guilty lawbreaker “not guilty”; (the eternal punishment having been paid), cleanses the conscience; heals (and continues to heal) the broken mind, will, and emotions; and last, but actually first, brings to life by the power of the Holy Spirit, “the Lord and Giver of Life”. And complete forgiveness of the guilt of original sin, and all eternal and temporary punishments due, is the gift of the Holy Spirit to us in Baptism.
But, because of the weakness which continues in our flesh, we continue to struggle against the triple concupiscence, we continue to sin against charity, against love of God and neighbor. The CCC teaches that “it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the “eternal punishment” of sin. On the other hand, every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the ”temporal” punishment of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following the very nature of sin.” (1472)
When teaching Confirmation, I would often use the analogy of the hot burner on the stove. You’re a little kid who has been told, time and again, “Don’t touch, that’s hot!” But, being willful and rebellious, you decide to slam your hand down on the burner anyway. When you scream in pain, your mother comes and comforts you, and forgives you for your disobedience. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t be suffering from burns for weeks, and may have ring-shaped scars on your hand for years to come. Temporary punishment is simply what we suffer “in time” as a consequence of our sin. But God’s grace is so great, that He has provided spiritual remedies even for those consequences, (the Church calls them “indulgences”), which can be applied to aid and quicken our spiritual healing and wholeness, (and holiness).
(Brandon responds) But doesn’t the idea of temporal punishments seem to say that Christ’s death on the Cross wasn’t enough?
Let me allow another convert, James Akin, to reply: The idea here is that since purgatory involves suffering, it must some how infringe on the sufferings of Christ and imply they weren’t sufficient.
Wrong! Remember: Purgatory is simply the last stage of sanctification. Sanctification in this life involves pain, for “For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. . . . [And] For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant” (Hebrews 12:6, 11), yet no one says that suffering infringes on Christ’s sufferings. In the same way, the suffering during the final sanctification in no way infringes on Christ’s sufferings or implies they were insufficient.
Quite the contrary! The fact is that the suffering we experience in sanctification in this life is something we receive because of Christ’s sacrifice for us. His sufferings paid the price for us to be sanctified, and his sufferings paid the price for the whole of our sanctification—both the initial and final parts. Thus it is because of Christ’s sacrifice that we receive the final sanctification in the first place! If he had not suffered, we would not be given the final sanctification (or the glorification to which it leads), but would go straight to hell. Thus purgatory does not imply Christ’s sufferings were insufficient; rather it is because of Christ’s sufferings that we are given the final sanctification of purgatory in the first place!
(Brandon responds) So… that’s where indulgences come in, right? They provide ”forgiveness” of temporal punishments, or consequences — the need for complete purification — that we need before being perfected in holiness.
That’s right. According to the CCC: An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sin whose guilt is already forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions, through the actions of the Church which — as the minister of redemption — dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints. (1471)
The CCC goes on to explain that: An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints, to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of temporal punishments due for their sins. Thus the Church does not simply want to come to the aid of these Christians, but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity. (1478)
In other words, because Jesus gave Peter and the Apostles the power “to bind and to loose” (to forgive or not forgive sin), the Church has the authority to offer the merits of Christ and the saints, attached to certain works of devotion, penance, or charity, as “remission” of some or all, (partial or plenary indulgence), of the temporal consequences of sin and need for purification.
But all those in purgatory are already ”saved”, right?
Correct. Salvation is not “earned” in purgatory, or lost in it either. It is simply a matter of getting “hosed off” — assuming you’d been playing in the mud when suddenly called in for supper – before putting on the wedding garment, and sitting down to the marriage feast of the Lamb.
Is all this making any more sense to you, (and Lisa), now?
It really helped! Thank you so much for the explanation!
April 2, 2010
Our Church and our Holy Father are carrying the Cross with Christ this Easter.
Reading the following around the internet….
The Myth of Pedophile Priests
As more pedophile priest scandals blow up across Europe we should be ashamed of the offenders and those who sheltered them and oppressed the victims. The guilty should be weeded out, removed from office and handed over to the civil authorities where they are guilty of crimes. Systems to avoid abuse must be established and rigorously maintained, and victims should be justly compensated for their suffering.
However, Penn State professor Philip Jenkins (who is not a Catholic) has written the most objective book on the subject, and he summarizes his arguments in this excellent article. In light of his work, we should remember some basic facts and principles:
* Priestly celibacy is not the issue – married men are more likely to abuse children than unmarried
* Most child abuse takes place within the home.
* All religious groups have pedophile scandals, and the Catholics (while the largest religious group) are at the bottom of the list statistically.
* Child abuse is prevalent in all areas of society: schools, youth organizations, sports, etc.
* Statistically, of all the professions, Christian clergy are least likely to offend. Doctors, Farmers and Teachers are the professions most likely to abuse children–not clergy.
* Among clergy offenders Catholic priests are least likely to offend.
* Catholic cases of pedophilia make more headlines because of anti Catholic prejudice and because the Catholic Church is bigger and more lucractive to sue.
* Pedophilia and Euphebophilia are different problems. The former is sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children. The latter is attraction to teenagers. Most cases branded ‘pedophila’ are actually ‘euphebophila.’
* Most of the cases of euphebophilia are homosexual in nature, however the politically correct do not want this problem to be associated with homosexuality.
* The number of Catholic priests guilty of pedophilia is very small.
* What we now call ‘cover up’ was often done in a different cultural context, when the problem was not fully understood and when all establishment organizations hushed scandals. They did so for what seemed good reasons at the time: protection of the victims and their families, opportunity for rehabilitation of the offender, the avoidance of scandal to others. It is unfair to judge events thirty years ago by today’s standards.
* When lawsuits are looming people smell money. We must be wary of false accusations.
* When guilt is established the offender must be punished, not sheltered.
* Distinctions must be made between types of abuse. Some offenses are worse than others. Verbal abuse or corporal punishment during a time when that was acceptable, while lamentable, is not the same as sexual abuse or extreme physical abuse.
* Sexual abuse of an adult, or a sexually experienced older teenager is wrong, and damaging, and should be punished, but it is not the same as the sexual abuse of a younger, innocent child.
I am in no way wishing to be soft of pedophiles and those who covered for them, however justice and truth demand an objective analysis of the facts. ~From Father Longenecker‘s blog.
And, from the Archbishop of NY, “What deepens the sadness now is the unrelenting insinuations against the Holy Father himself, as certain sources seem frenzied to implicate the man who, perhaps more than anyone else has been the leader in purification, reform, and renewal that the Church so needs…No one has been more vigorous in cleansing the Church of the effects of this sickening sin than the man we now call Pope Benedict XVI. The dramatic progress that the Catholic Church in the United States has made — documented again just last week by the report made by independent forensic auditors — could never have happened without the insistence and support of the very man now being daily crowned with thorns by groundless innuendo. ”
A round up of many articles in support, via The Anchoress.
“Pope Benedict has taken serious steps to address the abuse scandal in the Church. What steps have a degenerate liberal elite taken to protect children in society at large? These are the same people who favor the abortion of unborn children.” http://catholicworldreport.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=165:the-pope-and-his-pharisaical-attackers&catid=37:exclusive&Itemid=54 ,
PRAY for ALL victims and for the Pope.
October 6, 2008
Received the following comment/question from “James D.” — a question which left me “in the tall grass” so to speak. So I contacted a couple of my much more philosophically equipped colleagues… their response follows.
I am not a Roman Catholic or a Lutheran but I am a regular viewer of the Journey Home. Your appearance interested me for several reasons, but the fact that you were involved with the Navigators when you were in the military really caught my attention. This particular group also played a big part in my early spiritual development.
I don’t want to get into the strengths and weaknesses of the Navigators in this venue but hope instead to pose a question to you. This particular question has haunted me since I began a personal study of Roman Catholicism several years ago. Thus far no one has fully answered it, and from my way of thinking it is central to your journey as well as central to the broader gulf between Catholicism and Protestantism.
Specifically, I have heard several Roman Catholic teachers state that Luther was unduly influenced by the late medieval Nominalism of William of Ockham and other lesser nominalists. The argument further goes that this negative influence on Luther lead to the Reformation. At this point, however, the contention is not developed with specific examples. I have contacted a number of Catholics to try to get this idea clarified and thus far have been unable to get an answer.
Paul, can you give me any specific examples of the baneful effects on Nominalism upon Luther’s ecclesiasology or his soteriology? If someone could ever answer this question fully, it would do a lot to help me understand the Roman Catholic Church and its broader claims.
Response from Fr. Jay Scott Newman:
An adequate answer to that question would require several semesters of graduate school in both philosophy (especially metaphysics and epistemology) and theology (especially dogma). However, here is brief summary of the issues:
Response from Dr. Reinhard Huetter, Duke Divinity School:
Of course the whole problem of the Reformation does not hang on Nominalism, though I do think it was a contributing factor. I think Luther went philosophically a wrong way in his “Assertio” and esp. in his “De servo arbitrio.” What makes things complicated with Luther that he has a dialectical relationship to Nominalism. In some respects he continues its unexamined philosophical assumptions (as in matters of Eucharistic real presence) and in others he challenges those assumptions but then because of a lack of a proper philosophical alternative pours out the baby with the bathwater, as in the theology of grace. In both regards, where he continued to be a Nominalist and where he wanted to correct his own school, he remained problematically linked to Nominalism. On the latter part of the problem, where he wanted to correct, you might want to point this person to my essay “St. Thomas on Grace and Free Will in the Initium Fidei: The Surpassing Augustinian Synthesis” in “Nova et Vetera: The English Edition of the International Theological Journal 5/3 (2007), 521-554.
I personally think that the issue of Nominalism was a contributing, but not a decisive factor. The decisive factor coming into play was something much more simple, namely the fact that Luther could not anymore distinguish between a principle like “sola scriptura” and his personal interpretation of Scripture, which is always the private judgment of an individual theologian. He granted the latter a status of identity with “sola scriptura” (a functional inerrancy of his own interpretation) that was inadmissible in the Church.
On the feast day of St. Bruno,