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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Indulgences and the Mass of Saint Gregory

- Mass of St. Gregory, Hours of Henry VIII, Illuminated by Jean Poyer, France, Tours, ca. 1500

It's not only Halloween, it's also Reformation Day .... On 31 October 1517, Martin Luther wrote to Albrecht, Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg, protesting the sale of indulgences.

I find indulgences just wrongheaded and I'm not alone - here's a little about indulgences and the second vatican council from What Happened at Vatican II by John O'Malley SJ.....

With the Protestant observers present, the subject was touchy. Indulgences had driven Luther to post his "Ninety-Five Theses," the beginning of the Reformation. The Council of Trent in a hasty and somewhat perfunctory decree just before the council ended reaffirmed the legitimacy of indulgences and provided measures to obviate abuses of them. In subsequent centuries the popes, and especially Pius XII, had granted even more indulgences, with the possibility of gaining large numbers of so-called plenary indulgences in a single day. Some theologians and bishops felt that the matter was again spinning out of control, while others questioned the whole concept, which was, put most simply, that by performing certain good actions individuals could lessen the time in Purgatory for themselves or others ........

The first prelate to speak, in the name of the Melkite episcopate, was the intrepid Maximos IV Saigh, and he fired off the most radical criticism. By categorically denying that there was any connection between the intercession of the church and the partial or full remission of any temporal punishment resulting from sin, the concept on which the practice rested, he torpedoed the basis for it. Moreover, he challenged the assumption of a continuity between the practice of the early church and the medieval doctrine and practice of indulgences. "There is no indication that in the primitive and universal tradition of the church indulgences were known and practiced as they were in the Western Middle Ages. More specifically, during at least the eleven centuries when the Eastern and Western churches were united there is no evidence of indulgences in the modern sense of the term ... The theological arguments that try to justify the late introduction into the West constitute, in our opinion, a collection of deductions in which every conclusion goes beyond the evidence." .........

The interventions the next day from Alfrink speaking for the Dutch episcopate, König for the Austrian, and Döpfner for the German did not help matters. The last two, especially, made a strong impression. Döpfner did not go so far as to call for the abolition of indulgences, but he severely criticized the theology that underlay the document, the misleading way it handled the history of indulgences, and the changes in practice, all too minimal, that it advocated. He was the last to speak that day ..... In the written reports the episcopal conferences of Belgium, England and Wales, Scandinavia, Haiti, Brazil, Chile, Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Dahomey, Japan, and Laos expressed dissatisfaction with the document prepared by the Penitentiary, and the last three called for the abolition of indulgences. Two years later, on January 1, 1967, Paul VI would issue an Apostolic Constitution on the matter, Indulgentiarum Doctrina, which consisted of a modest revision of the original text ..........

A kind of interesting aside is the Mass of Saint Gregory ....

The Mass of Saint Gregory is a subject in Roman Catholic art which first appears in the late Middle Ages and was still found in the Counter-Reformation. Pope Gregory I (c. 540-604) is shown saying mass just as a vision of Christ as the Man of Sorrows has appeared on the altar in front of him, in response to the Pope's prayers for a sign to convince a doubter of the doctrine of transubstantiation ........

The story was hardly seen in art until the Jubilee Year of 1350, when pilgrims to Rome saw a Byzantine mosaic icon, the Imago Pietatis, in the basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, which was claimed to have been made at the time of the vision as a true representation. In this the figure of Christ was typical of the Byzantine forerunners of the Man of Sorrows, at half-length, with crossed hands and a head slumped sideways to the viewer's left. It has now been lost, but is known from many copies. This image seems to have had, perhaps initially only for the Jubilee, a Papal indulgence of 14,000 years granted for prayers said in its presence .....

There were several prints that were often copied by artists, notably ten different engravings of the subject by Israhel van Meckenem and a woodcut by Albrecht Dürer of 1511. Many of these included printed indulgences, usually unauthorised. The oldest dated Aztec feather painting is a Mass of 1539 (see gallery) following one of the van Meckenem indulgence prints (not the one illustrated). This particular print began with a "bootlegged" indulgence of 20,000 years, but in a later state the plate has been altered to increase it to 45,000 years

- The Mass of St. Gregory, feathers on a wood panel 68 x 56 cm, Mexico 1539. Musée de Jacobins, Auch. By Diego Huanutzin, Aztec puppet ruler under the Spanish between 1539-1541. This technique was an speciality of the aztec craftmen called "amanteca" and this is the oldest example of christian art in america. - Wikipedia


Blogger Deacon Denny said...

I'm not a fan of indulgences myself, though when I was a child I loved making visits to church on All Souls Day, and getting various members of the "poor souls in purgatory" set free by saying the right prayers. I had various holycards in my missal that I said during Mass, each with an appropriate xyz number of days'/years' remission of the "temporal punishment" due for sin.

I can't speak to the Melkite prelate's claim that indulgences had no connection with the practice of the early Church. I don't know enough of that kind of detail about our early history. However, I think I must affirm that the idea of purgatory makes sense to me. I am pretty sure that when I die, I won't be quite ready to see & experience God face-to-face. True, God could "make me ready," but God doesn't usually work that way. I think that some amount of time would be required for me to re-learn many things, or perhaps UN-learn them. And there are a lot of things that unfortunately have become part of ME, that I'll need to let go of. And that letting go, re-learning, or UN-learning will take some time. That's how I see purgatory, and inasmuch as that process can be painful (I know it's often painful now, while I'm alive), then purgatory would be painful.

I don't really think of God as inflicting punishment on me for my sins -- it's more the cost of what I've done to myself, and what I'd need to do to be genuinely healed.

I have no idea how long such a thing would take. Judging by how set we can become in our ways, I imagine it could take quite a while. But with God, all things are possible...

Indulgences fit in there somewhere, as ways in which we can help ourselves or others. And I do believe we CAN spiritually help ourselves and others! But I no longer think of them as "formulaic" -- so much time for such-and-such a prayer. That made sense only when I was 10, and even then I knew it was often "too good a deal" to be exactly true. The good sisters explained that objection away by saying that in purgatory, the concept of time is different.

2:53 PM  
Blogger Deacon Denny said...

sCrystal -- This is totally off the point, but do you subscribe to America magazine?

5:37 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Denny,

As time goes by I more and more like the idea of God "making us ready" :) I'm hoping for instant fixing-up-ness in the presence of God.

If purgatory is a place to make people become better people, I don't see how the prayers of others can help them accomplish that. If purgatory is just for punishment, it doesn't seem fair that a person who gets prayed for a lot would get time off, while a person who has no one to pray for them won't. I don't see how indulgences fit in at all - how can walkung through a jubilee door or praying for the pope's intentions make somone a better person, or why should it give them time off if change of heart isn't the issue?

Eh! The whole thing just creeps me out :) Maybe if there was a foundation for this belief in the NT I'd take it seriously. Remember when Jesus told the theif on the cross next to him that he'd be with him in paradise that day? I like that idea better.

6:46 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

No, I don't subscribe anymore - just that one year my sis gave me a gift subscription. What's up?

6:48 PM  
Blogger Deacon Denny said...

Good questions.

The purgatory that would make sense to me would still involve personal choice...which would mean that for some people, it might take a LONG time. But I think of it as a place where truth is revealed to us more & more, and we choose whether to accept it and to begin to conform to it more, or not.

And I do think that prayers matter -- our own and others. Prayer that would help us needn't be said with us personally in mind... don't people regularly say "Thy will be done" in the Lord's Prayer? I pray for the misguided, for the forsaken, the lonely, the struggling and suffering -- I know I'm not along in that. Today's feast (All Saints) is a reminder of the Communion of Saints that we refer to in the creed. We're in some way very fundamentally connected, a communion.

Yeah, this is all pretty mystical, for sure. Can't help it!

10:37 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

No, I do pray for others too. Every night I pray for my family friends, the animals that live in the yard, loved ones who are dead, people I read about in the news, etc.

I do it, but in a way I feel it doesn't make sense - is God not already taking care of them as much as he can? Would he not help those I pray for if I don't pray for them? I still do it anyway because it's what I hope for and I want to communicate that to God, but I also hope he's always already helping everyone whether I've thought of them or not.

I almost never say "Thy will be done" - I'm so going to purgatory :)

12:54 AM  
Blogger Deacon Denny said...

I just revisited this conversation, and called to mind a 15-minute DVD that I used this weekend with an Engaging Spirituality group. It was entitled The Awakening Universe, and features Brian Swimme, whom you've noted a couple of times before in your blogs.

The reason I mention that is because the video makes the point that we're ALL connected, every being in the universe...we all came from the same moment of time and space, at the very beginning. It further affirms that connectedness of all beings and species on the Earth, that we're all related, brother and sister.

I thought of it in connection with what I wrote here about the Communion of Saints ... that we're really connected, that prayer can touch others, even through time.

Anyway...Swimme is so enjoyable, and I love cosmology; maybe this isn't so "mystical" after all.

1:51 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I remember Swimme :) I think cosmology is interesting too. The guy who was my spiritual director was especially interested in that.

2:11 PM  

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