Thursday, January 24, 2008

Purgatory, Indulgences and the Treasury of Merits

A little while ago when purported dogmatic differences between us and the RCC were being discussed, I commented a couple of times that I did not believe any such differences were genuinely irreconcilable, but that I couldn't say much more till I had access to a computer of my own. I have now replaced my dead laptop and re-accessed my old files. So, I am now able to spell out how I think the RC doctrines regarding Purgatory, Indulgences and the Treasury of Merits may be interpreted so as to successfully address traditional Anglican and Eastern objections while not denying anything Rome has given dogmatic status. Due to complications of formatting it is easier for me to post this at my personal site. Here it is.

18 comments:

andrew said...

Thank you for posting that paper. We need to hear more from you.

I tend to think of the dispensation of an indulgence as analogous to a situation in which a child has committed a misdeed that would normally call for some form of temporal punishment (how well I remember!), yet the parent, acting with mercy and in all prudence, decides to dispense with such punishment in this particular instance, deeming that, perhaps in some difficult to articulate way, this would be conducive to the child's moral and spiritual formation. Yes, it would be possible to mismanage such activity, causing misunderstanting on the part of the child and hindering its growth, but such a possiblity only entails that we should be careful in how indulgences are dispensed. It does not entail that we should repudiate indulgences.

Obviously, it would not be good to always dispense with these temporal punishments (the end of which, every bit as much as the indulgence, is the spiritual formation of the child). As the writer to the Hebrews tells us, God chastizes every son whom he receives. But he is also rich in mercy.

J. Gordon Anderson said...

That's an interesting piece, father. Thanks for posting it. You raise a good point in that bit about purgatory involving suffering for purification, and the difficulty that is raised when those on earth intercede so a person does not have to suffer. I had never thought of that before.

Death Bredon said...

Sorry, I'm not buying it.

First, a major problem for me is that Rome is such a moving target, as it constantly reinterprets its dogmatic definitions every so often and even at a fixed moment in time, much vagary surrounds the precise nature of Roman dogma, with many nuanced shadings by the various Orders and theologians. So, I am never sure what Rome precisely teachings on these matters.

Second, regardless how Rome's post-conciliar shading and nuancing of the Purgatory, Indulgences, and Merits (whether condign or superogatory) doctrinal complex is ultimately grounded in the Scholastic method, which method is what the English Reformation emphatically rejected as a basis for dogma.

Indeed, for authentic Anglicanism, Right Reason may play a role in doctrinal definition, but it cannot go beyond Scripture as Traditionally explicated. Hence, Scholasticism, in all its species and however soft pedaled, is just irreconcilable with perennial Anglican and Orthodox dogmatism.

Anonymous said...

This article strikes me as a long rambling piece of wishful thinking.
To deal with just one point, it disregards the EO rejection of Purgatory as Roman theology commonly presents it. Kallistos Ware and other EO writers are emphatic on this point. Like Death Bredon, I am not ready to buy into a religion which is constantly reinventing itself. There is a "great gulf fixed" between the religion of the Baltimore Catechism and the CCC, between the Council of Trent and Vatican II. Popular RC preaching bears little resemblance to either one. Who knows what the RCC will be like under the next Pope?
Laurence K. Wells

poetreader said...

Fr. Kirby said:
I am now able to spell out how I think the RC doctrines regarding Purgatory, Indulgences and the Treasury of Merits may be interpreted [emphasis supplied] so as to successfully address traditional Anglican and Eastern objections while not denying anything Rome has given dogmatic status.

At least from my late teens (in the dark ages of the 'fifties!) I have been a serious student of the varities of religious expression. I was brought up in a conservative Lutheran environment that had nothing good to say about the RCC. By talking to my friends, attending services, and reading such more formal theological works as the Library would yield, I came very easily to see that there was a dramatic difference between offocial dogmatic statements and what was actually taught and believed among the people. What was said by priests and embodied in tracts available in the parish churches was also what I heard from my friends and their parents, and tended to fit rather well with the worst of the stereotypes so often muttered by Protestants. At the same time, very little of what was really insisted upon as true by official RCC sources was very much different from what I had learned as a Lutheran, and what was different, even though I couldn't buy it, was not sufficient to make me upset.

I haven't chamged in that evaluation. I agree entirely that the differences in official formulations are reconcilable and can be so interpreted as to be compatible. The problem then (before Vatican II), the problem at the Reformation, and the problem today remains that they are not so interpreted by the usual teachers (the parish priests and popular religious writers) nor by the rank and file. My experience has been just as you outlined, that the centrality of salvation through Christ is rarely affirmed, rarely even understood.

Traditionalists often continue to preach a gruesome purgatory and a very legalistic effect of prayers and indulgences, while (at least in America) the average priest proclaims a vacuous liberal psychobabble or sociobabble. Much as I love and respect the RCC as she really is, I've had to walk out on sermons of both sorts because I felt that Our Lord was thus being insulted.

I don't find the problem, then, to be in the official teaching and belief of the RCC, but rather in what is actually taught and believed. There's very little in the official pronouncements of that church that I can't accept (though there are some points, such as the teaching about the papacy), but I have as much trouble with the possibility of being in an RC environment that refuses to teach essential truth as I dow with a TEC environment that does the same. The mere existence of an official standard does not impress me much if it is not being observed.

ed

sepcavanaugh said...

Ed, death bredon, Laurence, and anonymous have all noted that there is often a difference between the official teachings of the RCC and what the man or woman in the pew, or the priest in the pulpit is saying. While that's true, do you think it's not true in the Episcopal Church...or the Presbyterian...or even in Continuing Churches?

I never met a Protestant, outside of a church convention or combox, who didn't think that salvation either A) was purely a matter of having accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior in a "born-again" experience, regardless of any behavior thereafter (or whether there was any real content to the faith that the experience was supposed to embody) or B) was something to be expected because they had lived a good life.

Now, even a benighted RC like me knows that A and B are distortions of the teachings of the churches that these folks belong to. Nevertheless, that's what my fellow students in high school and college, and my coworkers since all seemed to believe. The poor catechetical foundation of the laity is not just a problem in the Roman Catholic Church.

andrew said...

I am sorry to see that DB still fails to appreciate (understand?) the scholastic method. One day, perhaps. Until then, I am sure that the S word will continue to serve as choice sophistical weapon (i.e., a substitute for well-reasoned argument for or against a thesis; oops! that would be the scholastic methodology).

An Anglican Cleric said...

I agree with much of what has been said here. There is a gulf between the Trentians who often flock to Rome for the theology of that council (Trent) and the level of knowledge and practice at the parish level. When I have attempted discouse with cradle Roman priests I have encountered warm ecumenism and a bit of modern elasticity in dogma (one even finds this a bit in the writings of the last two popes), but when I discuss the same things with those newly arrived on the shores of Rome I encounter strident dogmatism with little discussion possible.

Ultimately I have come to the conclusion of the Rev'd Dr. Toon: "To flee to Rome is not an option for an Anglican who is schooled in the classic Anglican Formularies and accepts the Reformed Catholicism of the Anglican Way. Rome teaches and requires certain dogmas and doctrines, rites and ceremonies, which to the Anglican go far beyond what Scripture teaches or allows. Informed conscience forbids this route, even when the mind sees the “attraction” of the Roman route."

Anonymous said...

Poetreader writes:
"There's very little in the official pronouncements of that church that I can't accept ..."

Which "official pronouncements" do you mean? The Canons of the Council of Trent read quite differently on many things from the Documents of Vatican II. Both are equally official. But I agree with the general thrust of your comment.
Laurence K. Wells

An Anglican Cleric said...

P.S. My previous post submission may seem a bit off topic, but I meant it to convey the concerns that many have with the Roman Catholic "official" position on many things, which makes ecumenical dialogue difficult (as it does with most bodies, for the "official" position may be different things at different times in different contexts).

rev'd up said...

Rome has definite Canons that deal with all matters theological and liturgical. Anglicanism does not.

In other words, we can easily note the disconnect between "talk" and "walk" in the Roman Church but there is no yard stick by which to measure Anglicanism.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

"All matters theological and liturgical" cannot simply be legislated rather than taught and considered; but, if Rev'd Up thinks that Rome is more thorough than Traditional Anglicanism, he need only compare the [real] Book of Common Prayer with its rubrics, to the endless variations of RC "liturgical committees." Or, if he thinks that the RCC is the legalistic paradise he longs for, he may want to swim the Tiber, and walk this walk he prises for himself. He would find, however, it is not so.

airforce_padre said...

I think the Rev'd up has a point. Rome does of canon and dogmatic statemtents on matters theological and liturgical (council of Trent, for starters). One can make a valid agrument that orthodoxy is rarely enforced in the Roman Church but the RC does make definitive statements unlike Anglicanism.

I have been very troubled reading this blog lately as it seems that many (not all) of the poster have adopdted a very Anti-Roman if not protestant stances on many issues.

This troubles me as an Anglo-Papalist who wished to be reconcilled with the Holy See while maintaining our Anglo-Catholic liturgical heritage.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Airforce Padre:

Have you read the 39 Articles? Have you noticed the rubrics? Have you read the formularies? Have you read the Homilies? Have you read the Anglican Divines, such as Andrewes and Hooker? If you think that Anglicanism is undefined and a free for all or mass of confusion, then you simply don't understand the facts.

Defending Anglicanism against the RC charges of nullness and voidness is a full time job, and it is not our fault that such a defense appears to be anti-Roman. We did not dictate the subject matter. I am not anti-Roman, but rather pro-Anglican; and I have no intention of being sheepish to Rome.

poetreader said...

AF Padre:

"...as an Anglo-Papalist who wished to be reconcilled with the Holy See while maintaining our Anglo-Catholic liturgical heritage."

While I have a lot of respect for much of the Anglo-Papalist position, there is a serious problem in much of the thinking and expression, such things as the quoted statement. If Rome requires a visible union with the Pope in order to be considered fully a part of the Catholic Church, and if one professes to accept all that Rome teaches, and yet allows any concern of externals (such as our Anglo-Catholic liturgical heritage) to keep one away from such visible union, how can one claim to be in entire agreement with Rome? If Rome is what she claims to be, then she has full authority to require whatever liturgical form she desires. If therefore, liturgical preference is one's sole, or even chief, reason for maintaining separation, it is not a sufficient reason, and immediate conformity to what Rome does require, theological, administrative, and liturgical, becomes necessary. I see no way out of that.

If, however, one is convinced, as am I and most of those posting here, that Anglicanism has theological insights that are not identical with those of Rome, and is convinced that they represent a less altered expression of the ancient and ecumenical Catholic Faith, then it is appropriate, yea, necessary, to seek a way to remain Anglican. Yes, there are non-Roman ideas expressed here. That's what we do because we are what we are, non-Romans. Criticizing us for not being what you want us to be is not really an appropriate thing to do. That's what you will find here. Get over it.

That said, this is a place for discussing theological concepts. We do indeed welcome disagreement on matters of substance, and are always willing to listen and to respond. If you desire to express such ideas in a clear and reasoned fashion, who knows, you might even help us to change our minds on something? Scolding us for not already being there is not going to help. I, for one, have changed, and likely will change again, for, unlike the claims made for the papacy, I am not infallible.

I am Catholic. I am not Roman Catholic, nor do I feel it would be good to be so. Classic Anglicanism seems a far better expression of the Faith of the undivided Church. If I speak truth that happens to agree with something Protestants have said, that does not make me a Protestant.

To sum it up, if I were convinced of Roman claims, I'd be under the Roman obedience as we speak, and, though I'd work to improve things, I'd willingly put up with whatever liturgical foolishness I'd have to put up with, in order to be in union with Rome. I am convinced that the Anglican liturgical heritage that I so love is what it is, not because its esthetically better (though that is true), but because it is indeed Anglican and not Roman in its teaching of the Catholic Faith. That's why I'm here, in this jurisdiction and on this site. Why are you here?

airforce_padre said...

There was never a requirement in ECUSA (now or in the good old days), ACC, APCK, or TAC (I am not sure about smaller jurisdictions) that one subscribe to the 39 articles. Cardinal Newman tried to make a defese of these articles but as an Anglo-Papalist I renounce the articles and believe they (not all but some of the articles) should be condemned as heresy as the openly renounce the council of Trent.

I say these things not to start a fight on a blog or to be nasty, but these are issues that need to be resolved if the TAC or any other Anglican Jurisdiction is to be reunited to the Holy See.

I believe that we as Anglicans can keep our Liturgical heritage and piety if brought under Rome but we cannot hold quasi-heretical positions or goofy Philo-Orthodox arguments that want to have it both ways by combining Eastern theological formularies with Western formularies. This simply does not work and is intellectually dishonest.

To respond to poetreader: I would consider myself to be an heir of Cardinal Newmann and Fr. Faber in wanting Anglicanism to be reconcilled with Rome. They left as they saw no possibilty of this happening. I firmly believe that there is a chance of this happening in my lifetime as times have changed. The bishops of the TAC have made their request to Rome and have signed a copy of the catechism of the Roman Catholic Church implying that they are united with Rome on all matters of faith and morrals. This is why I remain an Anglican.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Airforce Padre:

I am sure that if we sat down and discussed the 39 Articles in detail you would be shocked by everything I would point out about their meaning, and how that would be based on both doctrine and the historic context that gives them their true, as opposed to misperceived, meaning.

An Anglican Cleric said...

"The bishops of the TAC have made their request to Rome and have signed a copy of the catechism of the Roman Catholic Church implying that they are united with Rome on all matters of faith and morrals."

So the TAC bishops did indeed sign the C(R)CC? This is lamentable, and when push comes to shove most of the ACA parishes will switch to another jurisdiction. I was part of a parish that left the ACA because we were told (ok, it leaked out, but our bishops would not deny it) that we would submit to Roman ordination without reservation and agree with all Roman doctrine. Sorry, but that was not the theology I was taught through Anglicans such as Andrewes, Staley, Moss, etc. I was taught Catholicism, not Romanism.

Such moves suggests what Air Force Padre has given evidence of: the only thing that Anglicanism means, to many, is the nice Elizabethean prose and (perhaps) married priests. Nothing else matters. The writings of the great Anglican divines which defended the true via media as a correct middle way between two groups equally in error (Puritan deletions from the Catholic Faith and Roman additions to it) is reduced to the nonsensical notion of a "bridge church" between Rome and the Protestants (with the bridge only going in one direction).