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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Vatican II and indulgences

I'm still reading What Happened at Vatican II by John O'Malley SJ, and I thought I'd post some bits on indulgences (the full or partial remission of temporal punishment in Purgatory, due for sins which have already been forgiven, and gained through ritual prayers, the doing of certain acts, or in the past, money paid) from the book (pp. 280-282) ........


[...] 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 ..........


An interesting past article on all this is He who holds the keys to the kingdom from The Tablet. You can read most of the material that Maximos IV had for Vatican II, including all that he had to say about indulgences, at this website - The Melkite Church at the Council. And there's another interesting article on a similar subject subject - Punishment, forgiveness, and divine justice by Tom Talbott. Myself, I don't like the ideas of either Purgatory or indulgences.


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