Monday, 12 November 2012

Indulgences and its History

In October of this year (2012) Pope Benedict XVI authorized the granting of a plenary, or full, indulgence in order to highlight the Year of Faith. According to Vatican officials an indulgence is a remission of the temporal punishment a person is due for sins that have been forgiven.  These same officials however, admit that many Roman Catholics simply don't know what indulgences are, and they're at a loss to explain the Church's position on indulgences when challenged by fundamentalists. 

The first plenary indulgence was granted by Pope Urban II on the occasion of the First Crusade in 1095: Whosever out of pure devotion and not for the sake of gaining honour or money, shall go to Jerusalem to liberate the Church of God, may count that journey in lieu of all penance.’

The association of financial contributions with indulgences proved fatal: indulgences financed many of the Cathedrals and other buildings in Europe and the system was abused by the senior clergy, the more unscrupulous of whom profited from it personally.  Indulgences granted to finance the rebuilding of St. Peter’s in Rome helped to spark off Luther’s Reformation. – John Bowden, Ed., ‘Christianity The Complete Guide' (2005)

If you want the official explanation on Indulgences you can simple consult the Code of Canon Law (can. 992) and the Catechism of the Catholic Church(n. 1471).  I found both sources rather complex, difficult to follow and often contradictory.  Should anyone ask “how many, indulgences are required to remove our temporal punishment”?   The official answer, not surprisingly is “it would be reduced -- as God sees fit.”  So, confession erases eternal punishment, but temporal punishment remains. Plenary, or full, indulgences are the equivalent of a get-out-of-purgatory-free card. Partial indulgences simply shorten your stay.

Indulgences were not part of Christian theology for the first millennium or 1000 years. During that time the Church taught that participation in the Eucharist was all that was necessary to seek forgiveness for your sins. People then had not heard of purgatory, everlasting hell or punishment for your sins.  Those ideas were developed gradually when the church permitted physical force and killing to convert pagans and again later with the Crusades.  Since ‘killing’ remained a sin; Christian soldiers had to be persuaded to continue in their work ‘for the good of God and the church’ without fear of dying on the battle field unrepentant.   For example, to attract crusaders popes offered indulgences, assurances that those who carried the cross merited the remission of temporal punishment due to sin.  This action by the popes contradicts the idea that only God can remove temporal punishment.  Many traditionalists in the Roman Catholic Church still believe that only God can remove temporal punishment while the church is merely empowered through Christ to forgive sins but not the punishment.  It was resolved that should anyone die and still require more ‘time’ for the final removal of punishment there is purgatory. Worse yet, the Church reserved Hell as a place or state in the afterlife reserved for unbelievers and Catholics who die unrepentant in the state of mortal sin.  It has been called by some, a time when Christianity traded love of this world for crucifixion and Empire.  

Could these church rulings perhaps be the reason why some individuals still talk about a demanding and punishing God?  For the church it seemed, for while, to keep people coming back to the confessional but without ever knowing, before they died, if St. Peter would ever let them through the pearly gates of heaven. In retrospect it seems Benedict’s offer of indulgences grew out of perceived need to use physical force to win blameless and innocent converts in the name of God and call it a Just War.  Where else do we hear those words today?     

And, now for the ‘Good News’.

We have to give up worshiping the god of suffering. Christians have to give up solely worshiping the God of the crucifixion, the Christ of the crucifixion, and move on to the Christ of the resurrection. The message-was not that of death, sin, and suffering. People who identify themselves as a body—the strict materialists— look at the Christ on the cross as a body and come out with pain, sin, guilt, and suffering. Was that the mes­sage? Is that what Christ died for, to teach everybody that we are a physical body? Or was his message the direct opposite? His message was that we are we are not limited. We have to substitute our confused ideas and begin to look at moving towards a lovingness and a higher state of consciousness to learn that the message was the Christ of the Resurrection. - Healing and Recovery  (2009) by David Hawkins, M.D. Ph.D.

 Recomended Reading"
David Hawkins - Healing and Recovery (2009)
Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker - Saving Paradise: How Christians Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire (2008)

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