Thursday, February 12, 2009

Indulgences Are The New Black

I saw this very curious article this week in the NY Times: For Catholics, A Door to Absolution is Reopened. You might want to check it out.

Indulgences, in case you've forgotten your high school Medieval History 101, are priest-prescribed acts of penance that you perform to avoid jail time in Purgatory (and I'm not talking about Purgatory, Colorado). Back in the Middle Ages, indulgences included gifts of money to the church--meaning a priest could absolve you of punishment in the afterlife if you gave a tidy sum to the church coffers. This became a great source of corruption in the church, and was a central issue in Luther's split from the Pope. Nowadays indulgences can't be "bought" with money, but still can be secured through acts of service or contrition--acts that can vary widely depending on the person's sin (for which he's getting an indulgence) and the inclination of the priest prescribing it.

If all this "indulgence" stuff sounds confusing, it's because it is. The article does a pretty good job of trying to explain it. But my real question is this:

What is this really all about?

I seriously doubt this move has anything to do with Indulgences themselves. They are a symptom or signal of some deeper dynamic happening in the Vatican right now. What is it?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this, Michael.

It concerns me, because it tastes like people trying to be their own saviors. As though Jesus didn't completely handle the sin problem for us. As though, somehow, we can buy or work our way into God's good grace. As if humanity needs another mediator, other than Jesus, who ever lives to make intercession for us. It intimates that who Jesus is, and what He did, isn't enough to make things right between us and God. It detracts from the beauty and simplicity of faith in Christ. It minimizes the gift of forgiveness, as though being forgiven isn't quite good enough.

It's a trap. It's a trap that has shown up, time and time again, with different names and faces, in different denominations, but all preaching the same message - "What Jesus did for humanity isn't enough."

It's heartbreaking.