Friday, February 05, 2010


“The good news is we’re not selling them [indulgences] anymore.”
-The Rev. Tom Reese, Jesuit priest.

Having just returned from a few quiet days in rural Maryland at the Maryland Military Department Chaplains’ Conference, I was blissfully unaware of the storm clouds roiling over the blogosphere. The viciousness of the public attack upon this corner of e-Christendom by soon-to-be-former Anglicans and their fellow travelers has been only equaled by the outrageousness of some of their private shenanigans. It is an effort by professed Christians that I can only place in the category of “ultra-Montanist convert rant.”

Even the most tenacious of my Roman Catholic colleagues in academe-and there are some pretty tenacious ones among our “posse”-do not plumb these depths. Indeed, I can say that not once in nearly seven years pursuing various Pontifical degrees have I ever been treated to behavior such as that exhibited by certain bloggers. Such is the nature of the convert—or at least some converts.

It was this sort of attitude that led a similarly zealous individual to pop round to my grandmother’s house where they were mourning the sudden childhood death of my uncle Jack. The well-meaning and tearful Roman Catholic convert lady expressed her condolences, particularly since the departed child “was burning in Hell” having died outside of the Church. Shocking? Yes. Commonplace “in the day”? Of course. And today?

Well, today there is a particular ugliness to one side of the debate that is reminiscent of the days of Fr. Feeney’s peculiar take on extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. Here’s a bit of cautionary Roman Catholic trivia for any wannabe Slave of the Immaculate Heart of Mary to take into account. What happened on 13 February 1953? (Hint: Fr. Feeney wasn’t a happy camper!) First to give the correct answer will receive a special Indulgence for yourself or a loved one.

This brings us to the clever segue to the topic of this column.

The Curse

One curse of having served in the Continuum for any length of time is having seen so many characters come and go-frequently transiting through the law courts. There are alleged continuing Anglicans who are now Episcopalian apologists, having mined the faithful for all they could. There have been grifters, grafters, frauds, fakes, “Angricans” and outright criminals, well-turned out by C.M. Almy, Wippell and the like. There has been denominational drift along a whole spectrum, frequently one step ahead of sheriffs and receivers. All of these characters takes attention away from the incredible work that actually has been done for Christ Jesus in the Continuum for thirty-plus years.

Another curse is that these folks like to write letters and, more recently, e-mails. Lots of e-mails. Apart from the mundane and banal (which many are), there are veritable trenchers of steaming e-mails served up for the purposes of self-aggrandizement, vendetta or an admixture of the two. Many of them have washed up on my own electronic shore and, like a variety of deformed seashell or, for fans of The Simpsons, the three-eyed fish spawned near the nuclear plant. I have collected them all and, from-time to-time, savored re-reading these epistles which range from the fantastic to the petty. Perhaps I read too much late nineteenth-century English literature and derive a peculiar fascination for such things. However, the current debate warrants a brief exposition as a segue to the segue.

What Is Meant

On June 26, 2009, the following drifted in over the electronic transom and wafted gently to the virtual floor:
The ‘coherent theological vision’ of the Traditional Anglican Communion is to be found in the copy of the Catechism signed by the bishops of the Traditional Anglican Communion, and the text that elucidates their intention in signing, to be found in a separate document. And it is what the bishops teach, in union with the Bishop of Rome and catholic bishops in communion with him, that is where the faith of the Church is to be found. There can be doubt and trouble elsewhere in the Church, but the yardstick is the teaching of the Holy Father – and we are blessed to have in a single volume the teaching of this Holy Father, in glorious continuity with bishops of Rome before him, but lucid on the unique problems of our moment. And that is the yardstick that the Traditional Anglican Communion bishops adopted, and which they are taking to their people. Progress differs from place to place – some parishes in North America have purchased several hundred copies of the Catechism and have weekly studies, others are at the “pondering” stage, but all will be well...
This is the statement of Abp. John Hepworth who was having trouble posting it to an e-mail list and sent it around to a number of people in lieu of posting. From the text, both in italics and not, I think it fair to say that the TAC leadership has embraced the Catechism of the Catholic Church as the “yardstick” of faith, adopted and “taken to the people” by the bishops.

This is not the Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer, or the innumerable and oftentimes very useful catechisms written by Anglicans such as A.G. Mortimer, or even a catechism of the TAC’s own choosing. No. It is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a comprehensive, weighty, but non-Anglican work. This is the benchmark for understanding the faith promulgated by TAC’s bishops.

Make no mistake. This is a most-valuable document and resource. However, let’s be clear who’s in control. “The sole Church of Christ [is that] which our Savior, after his Resurrection, entrusted to Peter's pastoral care, commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it. . . . This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in (subsistit in) the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him.” CCC 816. This would be the Roman Catholic Church in case anyone missed it.

And the rest? “Outside the Church there is no salvation.” As if translation were necessary, the plain language is that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church (again, that would be the Roman Catholic Church) which is his Body. CCC 846. And, bluntly, “they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.”

At a minimum, this means that, if you accept the proposition that “the [Roman] Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ”, your very salvation is at risk by refusing to enter in to it. So, why is there a wait? Why delegations and bargaining and maneuvering? If this is the measure and you haven’t crossed, you had better be looking both ways before stepping off the curb as it might be a very long, very warm drop.

So it is in the land of the special deal, the secret arrangement and the hidden interpretation of Apostolic Constitutions, doctrinal statements and the occasional Encyclical. This reluctance, though, is nothing more than “cafeteria Catholicism”-a Burger King faith built on “have it your way.” And the Apostolic Constitution as has been repeatedly pointed out here and elsewhere doesn’t allow for “hold the pickles, hold the relish” special orders. You get the burger just as advertised, or you are the one on the eternal grill.

And just what is that “our” way? Let’s take a look at one of these key elements of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to which you will have to accede, but which have caused spiritual heartburn: The Indulgence.

Talkin’ Tetzel

Many will dimly recall a trigger point in the Protestant Reformation from their church history lessons. Johann Tetzel (1465–1519) was a Dominican preacher accused of selling indulgences. We know him from the couplet attributed to him, “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings/the soul from purgatory springs.” In 1517, Tetzel was trying to raise money for the ongoing reconstruction of St. Peter's Basilica, and it is believed that Martin Luther was inspired to write his Ninety-Five Theses, in part, due to Tetzel's actions during this period of time.

And what precisely is an indulgence? According to church teaching, even after sinners are absolved in the confessional and perform penance, they still face punishment after death, in Purgatory, before they can enter heaven. In exchange for certain prayers, devotions or pilgrimages in special years, a Roman Catholic could receive an indulgence, which reduces or erases that punishment instantly, with no formal ceremony or messy sacrament of confession and penance.

Tetzel seemed the very image of the ecclesiastical huckster. He had early discovered his vocation as a preacher of indulgences; he combined the elocutionary gifts of a revivalist orator with the shrewdness of an auctioneer. He painted in lurid colors the terrors of purgatory, while he dwelt on the cheapness of the indulgence which would purchase remission and his prices were lowered as each sale approached its end. It’s not a struggle to find such characters haunting the modern blogosphere or even in the episcopate-“lurid pictures” and “special conditions” being a common theme.

In any event, Tetzel’s efforts were thought to have “irretrievably damaged the complicated and abstruse Catholic doctrine on the subject of indulgences.” The storm caused by Luther’s criticism, overwhelmed poor Tetzel, and even “sober Catholics” felt that his vulgar extravagances had prejudiced Catholic doctrine. He hid himself in the Dominican convent at Leipzig in fear of popular violence, and died there on the 4th of July 1519. As a result of the whole mess, the Roman Catholic Church outlawed the sale of indulgences in 1567. Thank God for small mercies. But, that’s not the end of the story.

They’re Baaaack!

In October, 1999, the Christian Century reported that the Vatican had released a new edition of the Manual of Indulgences. According to a French-language news agency in Fribourg, Switzerland, Agence de presse internationale catholique, “This manual of a hundred pages, published by the Apostolic Penitencery, the Vatican body responsible for matters of conscience, explains in 33 points the concrete methods for remission of sins--by prayer, receiving the sacraments, works of charity and acts of penance.”

Speaking in Rome earlier on September 17, 1999, Cardinal William Wakefield Baum, the Vatican’s leading authority on indulgences, said that they “are a structural element of Jubilee years.” He added that indulgences, correctly understood and piously performed, are a vital part of the continuous process of sanctification with which supernatural life is identified on earth.

Vatican theologian and Croatian Jesuit priest, Ivan Fucek, punctuated the statements following the release of the manual opining that Catholic doctrines on indulgences and purgatory, approved by the Council of Trent in the 16th century, constitute a doctrine “of faith” and therefore are not up for discussion. Does everyone understand that? Not up for discussion. There are no special deals, secret arrangements or doctrinal waivers.

How Do They…Um…Work?

There are partial indulgences, which reduce purgatorial time by a certain number of days or years, and plenary indulgences, which eliminate all of it, until another sin is committed. You can get one for yourself, or for someone who is dead. You cannot buy one, but charitable contributions, combined with other acts, can help you earn one. There is a limit of one plenary indulgence per sinner per day.

The doctrine to which converting Anglicans must accede, and to which TAC bishops already have agreed is this. In the communion of saints, “a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth…” CCC 1475 In this exchange, the holiness of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others. “Thus recourse to the communion of saints lets the contrite sinner be more promptly and efficaciously purified of the punishments for sin.” So, we are talking about a more prompt and efficacious expiation of sin by “borrowing a cup of holiness” from saints who have more than they need.

But, we call these spiritual goods of the communion of saints the Church's treasury. CCC 1476. “This treasury includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are truly immense, unfathomable, and even pristine in their value before God. In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints, all those who have followed in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by his grace have made their lives holy and carried out the mission in the unity of the Mystical Body.” CCC 1477. An indulgence is obtained through the Church who intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins. CCC 1478.

So, because the faithful departed now being purified are also members of the same communion of saints, one way we can help them is to obtain indulgences for them, so that the temporal punishments due for their sins may be remitted. And we get these by dipping into the spiritual piggy bank maintained by the Church, move a few thousand years from one corner of the cosmic ledger to another and, there we are.

An Anglo-Catholic Perspective

In looking at the question of indulgences, I consulted our substantive Anglican patrimony-a patrimony either deliberately overlooked or simply deliberately ignored by some purported Anglo-Catholic cognoscenti. The Rev. Francis J. Hall (a/k/a the “Anglican Aquinas”) not surprisingly had much to say on the subject. In his monumental ten volume Dogmatic Theology, Fr. Hall considered the matter in the context of the larger issue of purgatory. Hall was of the view that even the saved, pardoned though they be, must "pay the last farthing" of penalty for sin before the scales of divine justice could be brought to their necessary final balance. However, he is clear on the notion that “sufferings inflicted by God are wholly reformatory and purificatory, ceasing when repentance is achieved, is not Christian.” It does not agree with the analogies of divine providence in this world.

However, Hall cautioned that Divine forgiveness does not exempt us from suffering sufficiently for our sins. For example, if a pardoned sinner suffering execution for murder, but dying penitent, has not fully endured the requirements of divine penal justice, it is reasonable to think that he will suffer sufficient some temporary penalty after death. “But”, according to Hall, “a qualifying consideration, already laid down in treating of purificatory suffering after death, has to be safeguarded. That is, we must not so conceive of suffering in Purgatory, whether purificatory or penal, as to nullify the scriptural description of the faithful departed as comforted and at peace.” In, short, these are matters of Divine justice and committed to God.

Now, here’s the real rub: a second limitation is that we should not even seem to estimate the penalties for pardoned sin in quantitative terms, as if each species of offence had a determinate amount of punishment assigned to it, as in human criminal law.”

Divine justice takes all things into account, and has preeminently a moral equation and personal character in view. We are not able to boil that down into quantitative or temporal terms, as if there were some cosmic menu of offenses and sentences that can be applied.

As Hall noted, the just punishment of a given sin will necessarily be governed in each several case by its punitive effect and significance for the individual involved; and this depends upon subjective susceptibilities, for which there can be no quantitative standard of measure. When divine justice has been sufficiently vindicated punishment will end. True justice is not vindictive. Accordingly, the suggestion involved in granting so many “days” or “years” of indulgences from purgatorial penalties is clearly erroneous and harmful. We just do not get to make the call on Divine justice.

Carried over into the practice of granting indulgences, interpreted though it be by theologians as meaning that the Church pledges itself to pray for the relief of the souls in Purgatory in whose behalf they are granted, has led to another erroneous supposition — that of a treasury of merits which the Church's prayers can make available for reducing purgatorial penalties.

Hall is succinct on the point that, “merits cannot be transferred either in possession or in effect from one person to another, and no saint's merits are personally superfluous in amount.” There is no warrant for a “Divine piggy bank of merits” that can be traded upon, swapped or sold…sorry…given in exchange for the gift of a new wing on the parish hall by the Church or anyone else.

This “assertion is not weakened by our acknowledging, as we do, that holy souls have great power in prayer and in their interaction through the mystical Body of Christ upon the souls of others.” Our prayers for the departed are somehow surely useful. As we would pray for one another in this present life, so too may we pray for those who have entered the larger life. (And, we hope, they are praying for us and with us.). “But the result in reducing the sufferings of souls in Purgatory, if, as we think, there are such sufferings, cannot without misleading effect be expressed in the terms which we have been criticizing.”

Indulge Me-A Contest

This particular piece continues a series of articles I began with the writings of Bp. Charles Grafton, to whom we will return from time to time. My aim is to examine and exposit those issues which differentiate the Anglo-Catholic position from that of the Roman Catholic Church. The point here is not to denigrate those soon-to-be-former Anglicans for whom the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church is now (and perhaps always was) their “yardstick”. Judging from the venom that has come from certain quarters, I believe that any position other than utter “submission” to borrow a Newmanian term, will suffice. Certainly, the avowed position of those who have converted and their bishops renders Anglican apologetic of any sort problematic.

So be it. Our task is to be clear in our own positions, and to let those who might be lulled or gulled into believing that the plain language of Catechisms, Constitutions and Encyclicals does not mean what it says. To maintain otherwise is nothing more than post-modernist linguistic technique at it basest form.

Now to capitalize on one of the best attributes of this particular forum—the knowledge and erudition of our readers and “commentators.” Not to lead you all into the sin of pride, but we have some fairly robust discussions, and, I confess that I enjoy reading the readers’ comments as much as writing the articles. So, indulge this columnist and proffer your thoughts on the topic of indulgences and the treasury of merits. We’ll review them, and our impartial panel of judges will award special prize to the best among them: First Place Winner will receive 1000 years “good time” and Runner-Up 500 years off. Those simply quoting “the Magisterium” or the Thirty-Nine Articles will have 1000 years added on…to be served in Newark.


Anonymous said...

13 February 1953, one Fr. Feeney excommunicated.


Sean W. Reed said...

Father Nalls wrote:

"...which reduce purgatorial time by a certain number of days or years,..."

As a minor correction, the days or years (or quarentines) listed do not now, nor have they ever, reflected a specific reduction of time in purgatory in terms of days, years, or quarantines.

That method of describing the relative merit of indulgences was always a reference to the equivalent time of pennance in the early church. This is well explained in the citation below from the Catholic Encyclopedia.

"...A partial indulgence commutes only a certain portion of the penalty; and this portion is determined in accordance with the penitential discipline of the early Church. To say that an indulgence of so many days or years is granted means that it cancels an amount of purgatorial punishment equivalent to that which would have been remitted, in the sight of God, by the performance of so many days or years of the ancient canonical penance..."


Sean W. Reed

LSP said...

I fear I'm badly in need of a Plenary... nice post, sorry about the venom.

Fr. Nalls said...

Newsome is the winner of our Feeny-ite Bobble Head Doll. (If we had one.)

T said...

I've always wondered how one gets "time off" measured in Earthly tme in a place outside of Earthly time, or even time itself. I realise Sean Reed has tried to explain it, but it still makes little sense and has nil in terms of scriptural support. Anyway, since plenary indulgences are really easy to get, I suppose it matters little? Nothing beats a "get out of jail" ticket that is a simple as a prayer done with the right conditions etc.

Anyway- one heresy very few people are talking about is the all still too common practice of communion in one kind. To the rest of Christianity, it is an open and shut case and the determination is that it's heresy. Why TAC bishops now think this is perfectly acceptable and not an impairment to communion is beyond me.


Fr Matthew Kirby said...

While I agree that elements of the Purgatory/Indulgences theological complex can be dangerous and misleading, I also think that they can be interpreted in an orthodox fashion. I have argued for this here before:

Sean Reed has identified another point I would have made in clarification of the RC doctrine. Let me make one more. The application of indulgences to the dead is by request/suffrage only, as the dead, Rome freely admits, are not under the jurisdiction of the Church Militant.

In brief, I believe that if we consider the Treasury of Merits to be, fundamentally, the infinite merits of the Cross, with the Saints not adding to this (how can one add to infinity?) but having their own "merits"/rewards subsist in this primordial treasure, orthodoxy is maintained. And this interpretation does not contradict the RC doctrine. Similarly, if we consider the action of the saints as not so much a literal, quasi-mathematical transfer of merit but as intercessory prayer undergirded by their sanctification ("the prayer of a righteous man availeth much"), there is little to which to object. Part of their reward is the power of their prayers.

Bruce said...

A Touchstone editor (not this one) once described to me Rome's doctrine as the priestly control and trafficking of the merits of Jesus.

RSC+ said...

I think Fr. Nalls hits on a key point that needs to be our hermeneutic concerning the interpretation of the Apostolic Constitution. I don't necessarily want to call it a hermeneutic of suspicion. Perhaps it would be better to call it something like "A hermeneutic of 'Are you sure you know what you're getting yourself into?'"

But. If the clergy signed the Catechism, they need to be certain of what they just signed--like acceptance of Indulgences. How SWR can peddle the niggling details of it with a straight face escapes me. I used to get in trouble for selling them in parochial school.

More importantly, the lay people who are being dragged along with them need to know what their clergy have just signed. (Cf. previous comments about vestries, deputies, and salaries, all which are gone, gone, gone with accepting the AC.)

This, really, is the trouble with the smoke and mirrors act in progress: We don't know a lot of anything about how the AC will be executed. Rome has published a few juicy bits, but the rest is not in play yet. Hasn't been written. Our choice, then, is a) to go with the plain meaning of the published text and the implications that follow from it, or b) go with assurances that do not reflect what the text says.

To be clear, I don't hold a grudge against Rome in the least. In fact, I applaud what must be a sincere effort on the Bishop of Rome's part. I disapprove, however, of anyone spouting on about things that the text doesn't say and that Rome hasn't officially published.

Why? Because those are the bits that actually matter. Not the opinions of the TAC. Not the opinions of auxiliary bishops. The ball, as I've said before, is entirely in Rome's court here.

I don't think our role necessarily needs to be to talk folks out of swimming the Tiber, but to keep discussing the implications of conversion. I would probably do the same for someone considering Orthodoxy. ("You do realize they have no use for St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas, right?")

vita sine Augustino (aut C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, FD Maurice, Pusey, et cetera) non valde vivantis, as they say. Not that I would ever indulge in hyperbole.

Mark VA said...

From the Roman/Traditionalist perspective:

I like your contest, but the stakes seem too low, since we’re merely talking about those whom we comfortably perceive as members of the Body of Christ.

In this vein, I submit two supremely heroic lives for your contemplation, and then I’ll pose a question. Both men were murdered in very similar circumstances, sacrificing their lives for others. Both did so willingly. Both were offered opportunities to choose another path and save their lives. Both refused those offers.

The first is Janusz Korczak, whose incredible sacrifice for his young charges should challenge our concepts of mercy and charity to their limits. Roman Polanski offered us a touching glimpse of this great man, in his movie “The Pianist”:

The second man, St. Maximilian Kolbe, seized a moment and offered his life in exchange for another, and on behalf of that man’s family. His death was accomplished very slowly (three weeks), yet in that time he continued to comfort those with whom he shared his death cell. No greater human love than this can be imagined.

In my view, in the light of the sacrifices these two men made, their worthiness for a spiritual reward (i.e. merit) is beyond any dispute.

Now, considering the fact that in terms of their faith one of these men was Jewish, and the other Christian, what can we say about God’s mercy as we understand it? We also believe that as our Lord told us “No one can come to the Father except through Me” - no one who calls himself Christian can ignore this reminder. In view of all this, what will God do with the undisputable merits of these two men?

Fr. Robert Hart said...

The Orthodox Church has never taught the doctrine of a penal Purgatory. The doctrine is not from Antiquity and has no Universal Consensus.

Frankly, I see no need for "the merits of the saints as something to be credited, even if such a thing were possible, inasmuch as St. Paul has written, "But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord." (I Cor. 1:30,31). Saints are all sinners themselves, who owe their salvation, and their sanctification, to the grace of God.

The idea of Purgatory as a place for justice to be dispensed in the form of punishment, is a frank denial of the sufficiency of Christ's cross, and everything that the various Epistles teach about it. It also makeslight of what sin truly is. Furthermore, if we do not give proper weight to the death of Christ, it is because we do not understand rightly just Who He is.

The demands of perfect justice were met on the cross. There can be no more need of justice to balance any scales, nor could we suffer enough to do so.

What remains is the question of sanctification, and the possibility that the change from this nature of death and sin may be fearful and painful as it gives way to glory. Coming face to face with God may, indeed, involve a final dread or pain; but, if so, it is about sanctification, not penal justice. For that the price was paid already by the only One Who could pay it; and Who said, "τελέω."

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Mark VA:

John 14:6 is one verse in a long discourse on the Trinity and the Incarnation that begins at Chapter one, verse One. Think of "no man cometh unto the Father but by Me," in terms of the Trinity and the Incarnation.

Michael said...

Fr. Nalls, if I understand correctly, you were once an advocate of corporate reunion between Anglicans and the Holy See.

Moreover, I believe that you were once hoping that you would be able to be ordained as a Roman Catholic priest under the terms of the Pastoral Provision.

Around this time, some things you wrote implied that you no longer really believed in the idea of an Anglican Rite (which might leave some room for a distinct theological patrimony, similar to that claimed by the Eastern Catholic churches in communion with Rome).

However, if you were yourself willing to be received into the Roman Church and to serve as a Roman Catholic priest, it would stand to reason that you, yourself, had no major theological squabbles with the Roman Catholic Church at that time - at least not to the point of becoming an issue of conscience in your entrance into the church.

I'm not trying to attack you - I have a lot of respect for your work. But I am curious, because you seem to have a very strong "re-conversion" of sorts, back to Anglicanism. So, I'm curious. I'm wondering what it was that originally made you feel that you could become a Roman Catholic, and what it was that changed your mind.

Anonymous said...

"In view of all this, what will God do with the undisputable merits of these two men?"

First off, I stand in grateful awe of the Church which produced St. Maximilian Kolbe. Unflinching Son of the Reformation that I am, I would be the first to acknowledge the glory of the RCChurch as a school of saints.

While I am less familiar with your Jewish example, truly "the power of God unto salvation" reaches far beyond the boundaries of the Church visible to us.
I once knew a lovely Jewish couple, the backbone of their small Reformed synagogue, who never failed to attend the Christmas pageant at the local Baptist Church, because "we just love the music so much." They are surely now with the Lord in the company of the redeemed.

The word merit, apart from the work of Christ, is meaningless gibberish. Wherever merit exists, boasting is possible. St Paul was quite clear that all boasting is excluded by the Gospel.

So to answer your question, God will claim all the glory for transforming two hell-deserving sinners into vessels of His love and mirrors of His grace.

"For by grace you have been saved through faith;and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God--not because of works, lest any man should boast."

Whether we are heroes like St Maximilian or just mediocre specimens like the present writer, when we face the Lord we will all say,

"Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to thy cross I claim."


T said...

Mark VA,

I hope I am not misunderstanding you. Often discussion on this point with Roman Catholic brethren can get confusing because this mystery is expressed so differently one person to another, so forgive me if I've misunderstood your perspective on this.

YOu have made a valid and interesting point, but as I understand this discussion it is not really about merit being a currency that is transferable from one human being to another. The scriptures tend to keep it far simpler than that. Christ's merit alone is given for our salvation, and that alone is sufficient. Our works of charity change the world, ushering in the love of God (what Janusz Korczak would have called Tikkun Olam), sanctifying His name among the nations (what Janusz Korczak would have called Kiddush HaShem)

Indeed, there is a measure of reward (what Paul calls "crowns") in Heaven, and perhaps there is an understanding mutally agreeable to Roman Cathlics and others which could be framed around this language, but Christians should really do good works not seeking reward, but only because it is our duty as "unprofitable servants" (as the Gospel teaches).

As for God's mercy on Janusz Korczak and the millions of other Jews killed in the Shoah, I believe we can rely 100% that His justice is pure and righteous. He has not forsaken His eternal Covenants. However, I do not think He has weighed their merits and transferred merit between humans to the credit of others. Our righteousness is as filthy rags, and God alone is our righteousness, as the Hebrew Bible tells us.

One thing is for sure- if you trust in Christ and lead a Christian life in obedience and love you are certainly in GOd's grace- so Maximilian Kolbe certainly was on the right path. We can know for certain where God's grace can be found- in the Gospel. However, we know His grace is beyond comprehension and thus we know His judgment on those of other faiths will be true and just.


RC Cola said...

Newsome is the winner of our Feeny-ite Bobble Head Doll. (If we had one.)

Would do I win for noting that Feeney was reconciled in 1972 without recanting or even merely revising his position? Nothing. OK, fine. Winning nothing is better than what I typically get for such comments. ha ha ha

BTW, at my former RC seminary, they taught us almost-universal salvation. That is, everyone would be saved except for traditionalists and ex-Roman Catholics. Thank God von Balthesar cleared that up!

Mark VA said...

From the Roman perspective:

Thank you Father Hart, LKW, and T, for your replies. I had nothing up my sleeve when I asked this question, except the desire to explore the issue of merit further, so as to come to a better understanding of it.

I would like to follow up on something T wrote, still with nothing up my sleeve, except the desire to understand better:

“However, I do not think He has weighed their merits and transferred merit between humans to the credit of others.”

If the word “sins” is substituted for “merits”, could we then say that the following is true and applicable to groups, such as nations or religious bodies:

“He has weighed their sins and charged them with their transgressions to the n(th) generation.”

For example, let’s say there was a nation made up of two predominant religious groups, who more or less got along fine. Then, an outside agent brought a calamity to both of them, except that he chose to afflict one much worse than the other. Let’s say that in God’s judgment, those less afflicted, as a group, did not sufficiently love their more afflicted neighbors. Some less afflicted individuals did rise to the occasion and helped, but God expected many more.

May we then say, that once the calamity is over, the less afflicted group merits to be placed under a collective and purifying discipline (what we perceive as punishment) by God? Could that collective discipline extend in time to include their future generation(s), so as to allow them to sufficiently appreciate the past afflictions of their neighbors, and thus learn from and repent of their past collective failure? Could the severity of this collective discipline be mitigated by the merits of those who did rise to the occasion?

Fr. Nalls said...

In answer to Anonymous' question concerning my "re-conversion" to Anglicanism, there are a number of considerations that kept me from "crossing over". This could be a long comment, perhaps an article. What I am willing to share at present is that foremost was the matter of orders and the demand to immediately renounce them and become a Roman Catholic layman. I pondered the need to "renounce" if my orders were invalid; and, concomitantly, I weighed the demand to jettison what I am (metaphysical change being a function of Ordination). Could I say that all of my sacramental acts were invalid and thatI was committing a kind of spiritual faud as did one Anglican Use priest several years ago on EWTN's "Coming Home" program? I could not, because I know (let me underscore the epistemic sense) better.

In the year I spent in prayer on these questions of ordination, other considerations came to the fore. Among them are the issues I am writing about on the Continuum. I found that on key matters such as purgatory, the Assumption of the BVM, infallibility, later developed doctrine and so on, I remained an Anglican-Catholic in my theological outlook. In turn, I engaged in a thorough reappraisal of my Anglican "roots" and awoke to the fact that there was no need to go anywhere.

As for the Apostolic Constitution, I think it is perfectly fine for those who wish to become Roman Catholics and retain a flavor (or is it flavour) of Anglicanism. The purpose of my writing is to say to those who do not have the benefit of years of education in a great Roman Catholic seminary, be sure to read the document and understand what you are getting. Trust that Rome is saying what she means and beware of claims of secret deals or that plain language has hidden meaning.

Obviously, there is a much longer story than will fit in the Comment box. However, I hope that I have given the Reader's Digest version. I note that I have been surprised at the vehemence of the public and private personal attacks from soon-to-be former Anglicans (not you Anonymous) for having undertaken a spiritual and theological reappraisal and re-discovered the beauty and faithfulness of that catholic part of Christianity called Anglican. I find disturbing the need of certain Roman Catholic converts from Anglicanism to liken fellow Christians to skin-heads, football hooligans and worse.

The point that I will continue to make is that if one believes all-and it must be all-of the Roman Catholic doctrine contained in its Magisterium, then go and do so as Christians. Pardon the rest of us who cannot make the journey with you, and who rise in defense of the Anglican Way and a true Anglo-Catholic renewal.

Finally, to Anonymous or others, if you would like the longer version of the story, step from behind the curtain and e-mail me at or ring 202-262-5519. I am always happy to talk.

T said...

Mark VA,

Thanks for your reply. Personally, I don't think it is possible to codify God's judgement so simply. National sin and personal salvation are treated rather differently in the scriptures. A nation can be sinful, and God may (or may not) judge that nation as a whole, but He always leaves a faithful remnant- and even if that remnant is persecuted they still enjoy His favour. The personal sins of the unfaithful are not used as a currency that is applied to the faithful. Likewise, the righteousness of the faithful is not credited to the sinner.

The relationship between the sinners and the "saints" in a nation or religious body is one of intercession and mission. The righteous pray for the rest, and try to hold back God's judgement on them. Consider Abraham's example. Also, the righteous must witness to the world. This is the pattern and command God has given us in the Great Commission. This is what we are to actually do.

All this theorizing about the tranfer of merit and guilt is really not the vineyard that Christians are meant to be toiling within. We are to follow the Lord's great commission, and thus change the world and spread righteousness. We cannot rely on a theoretical treasury of merit that can somehow benefit us in ways that are actually found for certain in the merits of the Cross, obtained directly by faith through Word and Sacrament.


Mark VA said...

From the Roman perspective:

T, you wrote:

"Likewise, the righteousness of the faithful is not credited to the sinner"

Their righteousness may not wipe out their sins, but it may be of spiritual help to them in other ways. For example, it may prompt God to grant them more time to reflect and repent. Two cities destroyed by God, due to the insufficient number of such virtuous persons, come to mind.

T said...

Mark VA,

You said "Their righteousness may not wipe out their sins, but it may be of spiritual help to them in other ways. For example, it may prompt God to grant them more time to reflect and repent. Two cities destroyed by God, due to the insufficient number of such virtuous persons, come to mind."

That was my point, actually. Abraham interceded for those cites, his righteousness was not credited to them. The cities were still destroyed ultimately.

Another example might be found at the end of Job, where God would not hear the prayers of Job's friends, so instead He commanded Job to pray for them. Again, Job's righteousness was not credited to them, but his intercession was effective.

I think this is the bottom of the matter. Your initial question was what would God do with the merits of saints (Kolbe and Korczak)? I would say he used their God-given merits in their earthly lives, spreading His grace and love through their good works and witness. I do not think there is any scriptural example of a meritorious currency system where a saint's merits are credited to others.

Thanks T

Fr_Rob said...

I salute Fr. Nalls on this brilliant, insightful, and truly witty essay that goes to the heart of what Fr. Wells often brings up on this blog as the real bone of contention between genuine Anglicans and Roman Catholics: the nature of salvation, the Gospel, and the whole question of “merit.” While I appreciate the complexity and nuances of the issue of indulgences and the treasury of merit from the RC point of view as pointed out by Sean and especially Mark VA, there is no getting around this fundamental issue: just what did Jesus’ death on the cross accomplish? Especially delightful and helpful as well were Fr. Nall’s quotation of Bp. Grafton and Hall. Kudos!