Indulgences, Purgatory, and Justification
I have taken a break on this series due to school but have been reminded of it’s importance due to an incident at Moody Bible Institute where I study. Recently the Student Theological Society put on an event titled “Evangelical/Catholic dialogue” centered on the question: “Is unity possible between Catholics & Evangelicals?” This was held between Dr. John Armstrong, Professor at Wheaton Graduate School and Founder of ACT3 Ministries and Fr. Robert Barron, Leading Catholic Preacher and President of Mundelein Theological Seminary. What was truly troubling about this was that there was no discussion about the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism. As I have shown through examining the Catechism of the Catholic Church, there are major differences between the two that center around the very Gospel we preach. It was as if the reformation was completely arbitrary, or the two have reconciled on major doctrine. This is not the case. Even more absurd was the claim by Fr. Robert Barron that Catholics, in a sense, agree with the Protestant doctrine of Justification by faith alone! Of course he changed, mid-explanation, to say that faith was primary (which leads us to ask what is secondary in salvation?).
As we shall see in this next section on the Sacrament’s on Healing, there is a major difference. Many think that Indulgences are a thing of the past, however this is not true. What is true, is that researching them is somewhat complicated. Let us remember that indulgences are an attachment to penance in the sacraments of healing. Penance is a part of what Catholics call “second conversion.” While we experienced the initial conversion through the sacraments of initiation (where justification was received by being infused with righteousness), we continue to experience conversion until death (we need to continually grow in our righteousness and justification until totally purified of our sin). This is received through penance and indulgences.
In order to understand indulgences, first one must understand a distinction made in Catholic theology. This is the distinction between “Eternal” and “Temporal” punishment.
To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the “eternal punishment” of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.
Now that the distinction is clear, the catechism proceeds to explain the different ways of punishing and relieving these sins.
The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains. While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace. He should strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the “old man” and to put on the “new man.”
The first effect of sins (eternal punishment) is forgiven by faith and receiving the grace of God through Christ. However, the second effect (temporal punishment) still needs to be paid for, this is done through good works. Next the Catechism explains who this works out in the body of Christ. In Catholicism, all persons who are “in Christ” are connected mystically in His body. This fact will play an important part in understanding how this all connects together.
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. Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things.” In this wonderful 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.
There are three categories of Christians: 1) those who are now in heaven 2) those who are still in purgatory 3) those who are still alive on the earth. While separated by where they reside, there is a communication of holiness between the three levels. This communication is discussed next.
We also call these spiritual goods of the communion of saints the Church’s Treasury, which is “not the sum total of the material goods which have accumulated during the course of the centuries. On the contrary the ‘treasury of the Church’ is the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ’s merits have before God. They were offered so that the whole of mankind could be set free from sin and attain communion with the Father. In Christ, the Redeemer himself, the satisfactions and merits of his Redemption exist and find their efficacy.”
Here it is expressed that within this community there is a treasury of merit. It must be recognized that this “treasury” of merit first contains the merit of Christ which is of “infinite value.” If it stopped there it would not be so bad, however, this treasury does not contain only Christ’s merit.
“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 the Father entrusted to them. In this way they attained their own salvation and at the same time cooperated in saving their brothers in the unity of the Mystical Body.”
Here is the important part of this treasury. It does not only contain the merit gained by Christ, but also contains the merit (good works) of all the saints including Mary. By their super holy lives, they merited their own salvation. However, they also gained extra merit which is then put into this treasury. Mary, as Catholics believe, was born without sin. All of here good deeds went directly into this treasury. Since this treasury is now dispensed to other less holy believers, they don’t just save themselves, but they also participate in the salvation of others.
By making a distinction in the effects and punishments of sin, I suppose it is their hope to escape the accusation that they are here speaking of saving ourselves by works. A Catholic person will claim that this is not true, because they are all founded on the work of Christ. Our forgiveness is based on the work of Christ! However, this distinction makes it necessary for two punishments to be made. While the first eternal punishment is satisfied by Christ’s work, the second still remains. There are punishments for sin that Christ’s death did not satisfy. These must be paid for by the people in order for them to truly be purified. So then, they are saying that Christ’s sacrifice does not totally purify the people it is made for, instead, extra work by men is required in order to receive total purification. This is why Purgatory is so necessary in their system. Most (all in protestantism) die before becoming totally purified, therefore, how can they enter into the presence of God? Remember, we are not justified until we are made completely righteous. Since sin and its temporal punishment still remain, these people are not ready. They of course, do not want to say these people go straight to hell, they need to add another place for these people to go. This is purgatory, a place of punishment where the temporal punishments for sin are worked (or burned) away until they are totally purified. Briefly we will look at Purgatory because of it’s importance in this discussion.
All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.
The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:
“As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.”
They say that the punishment of hell (which does not cleanse the person) is different than the punishment in Purgatory (which does cleanse the person). This shows that the person does receive cleansing and purification by the works offered in this life, or in purgatory. While it is connected to the merits and work of Christ, it is also ours joining with his. A protestant will say that good works are only the result of saving faith. The faith is what purifies, and after being purified we are enabled to do good works. However, Catholics say that faith is joined with good works which both purify the person.
Lets look at how indulgences do this.
Obtaining indulgence from God through the Church
An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, 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. Thus the Church does not want simply to come to the aid of these Christians, but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity.
Since 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.
It must be said that a Roman Catholic would say that these merits are not their own, separate of Christ. Because we are “in Christ” everything is intimately connected to Him. However, these are real works that are being done by real people that are being added to the purification of real people. So that while they claim it is all of Christ, it is still really also of men. In Catholicism Christ does not completely merit purification from punishment of sin because they make the distinction discussed earlier. We participate in this purification from punishment by our works on behalf of ourselves and others. Again, this is connected to their understanding of Justification. This will come even further into view when we examine the definition of Justification and Merit in Roman Catholicism.
The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleans us from our sins and to communicate to us “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” and through Baptism: (quotes Romans 6:8-11 omitted here due to space).
Note the equal position given to both Faith and Baptism.
The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion (a sacrament discussed in earlier posts), effecting justification in accordance with Jesus’ proclamation at the beginning of the Gospel: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high. “Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.”
Here is an affirmation of the fact that Justification is combined with Sanctification. In paragraphs 1990 says that justification detaches us from sin and reconciles us to God. Next is discussed the “infusion” of grace.
Justification is at the same time the acceptance of God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. Righteousness (or “justice”) here means the rectitude of divine love. With justification, faith, hope, and charity are poured into our hearts, and obedience to the divine will is granted us.
Here is expressed in straightforward manner that Justification is poured into us along with all other things. Remember, all of this is received in the sacrament of baptism.
Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men. Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith. It conforms us to the righteousness of god, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy. Its purpose is the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life: (quotes Romans 3:21-26 omitted here due to space).
In the act of Baptism Justification is poured into us making us righteous. This Justification is intimately connected with Sanctification as we grow in our righteousness. Remember, this Justification is not completed until we are totally purified. Because we still sin we need to continually receive grace through the sacrament of the Eucharist, and also expiate our own sin through the Sacrament of Penance (of which indulgences are part of the merit achieved as we pay for the temporal punishment of sin). This illustrates the cooperation between Christ’s work and our own work in our salvation.
Justification establishes cooperation between God’s grace and man’s freedom. On man’s part it is expressed by the assent of faith to the Word of God, which invites him to conversion, and in the cooperation of charity with the prompting of the Holy Spirit who proceeds and preserves his assent:
“When God touches man’s heart through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, man himself is not inactive while receiving that inspiration, since he could reject it; and yet, without God’s grace, he cannot by his own free will move himself toward justice in God’s sight.”
Justification is our cooperation with Jesus in salvation. Our part is by having faith in the word, and also adding our charity which they say is prompted by the Holy Spirit, but really our work because we are freely doing it. We could refuse if we so choose. This is obviously an unbiblical representation of Justification which is said to be a righteousness that is credited to us through faith. Paul says this clearly in Romans 3:21-28:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
What boasting do we have? None because we are doing no work to contribute to our justification. We receive it simply by believing it is true, which is not a work. Paul says we are justified by a gift of grace. In Ephesians 2:8 Paul also included faith as a gift along with grace. It is not something we do, it is a gift given to us. But, more importantly, here Paul says we receive Justification by faith and not works. Catholicism says that we must also add our charity in cooperation with this faith for justification.
Concluding the discussion of Justification, the Catechism says this.
The Holy Spirit is the master of the interior life. By giving birth to the “inner man,” justification entails the sanctification of his whole being: (quotes Romans 6:19,22 omitted due to space).
Again, an admission that Justification is connected to sanctification which is achieved through penance as shown in this and the former post. We will now conclude this long post with a discussion of Merit.
The term “merit” refers in general to the recompense owed by a community or a society for the action of one of its members, experienced either as beneficial or harmful, deserving reward or punishment. Merit is relative to the virtue of justice, in conformity with the principle of equality which governs it.
With regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man. Between God and us there is an immeasurable inequality, for we have received everything from him, our Creator.
Here, they are saying that we do not have any right to merit on our behalf because we receive it from Him. Still, as seen above, this is contradicted by the merit achieved in penance and Purgatory. What they have given with the one hand, however, they take away with the other.
The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man’s free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man’s merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit.
As we see here, Grace does indeed proceed our merit, however we are cooperating or adding our merit onto God’s grace. This is a classic example of double speak where you affirm two mutually exclusive propositions as equally true. While they say that our merit is all of Christ, they also say that we must ad our merit in collaboration with his for our justification. While they say we are operating out of the prompting of the Holy Spirit, we may still freely reject it and there is nothing in God to determine whether we do so. It all comes down to our free will decision to add merit to our purification. In the next paragraph (2009) they do say that these merits of our own are gifts that obtain eternal life. But again they arise out of our free will decision.
Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God’s wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions.
This is, as can be seen here, intimately connected to indulgences where we can merit for ourselves, and others, purification (which is sanctification) and justification. This is completely denied by the bible. Isaiah says in 64:6, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” Even our good deeds are like a filthy rag (menstrual rag in Hebrew) before God. We cannot count on any of our deeds when we stand before God because they are without merit. Christ, however, did merit righteousness because He was without sin and perfect. This righteous merit is the foundation of our standing before God.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)
The requirement of the Law (perfection) was met by Christ so that it might be fulfilled in us. How does the bible say we obtain this righteous fulfillment of the Law (merit)? By faith! That is it and nothing more. Because Roman Catholics are adding our merit upon the merit of Christ they are now denying the true Gospel. Our purification rests solely in his work alone and never talks about our meriting anything but judgment. Because they reject the true Gospel we must adhere to Galatians 1:6-9:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
Paul is here responding to the Judiazers who are saying the Gentiles must also be circumcised to be saved. This incident is much like what we face with Catholicism. The Judiazers were not saying anything wrong about Christ or this revelation. They believed in the trinity and they believed in the two natures of Christ because Paul does not condemn them for denying those. Many want to say that Catholics are our brothers because they agree on these basic tenants of orthodoxy and can confess the same confessions. Yet, they, just like the Judiazers only wanted to add something upon the work of Christ. Paul condemns them in the strongest terms saying that if anyone adds anything to the Gospel for salvation, then they are condemned to hell! It is clear by everything above that this is indeed what Roman Catholicism is doing and we must stand with Paul. Rome preaches a false Gospel which cannot save, and we must bring the true Gospel to them. This may seem harsh, but it is the biblical truth and we would do well to listen to it. I will close with a summary of the Sacrament of Healing.
To return to communion with God after having lost it through sin is a process born of the grace of God who is rich in mercy and solicitous for the salvation of men. One must ask for this precious gift for oneself and for others.
The movement of return to God, called conversion and repentance, entails sorrow for and abhorrence of sins committed, and the firm purpose of sinning no more in the future. Conversion touches the past and the future and is nourished by hope in God’s mercy.
The sacrament of Penance is a whole consisting in three actions of the penitent and the priest’s absolution. The penitent’s acts are repentance, confession or disclosure of sins to the priest, and the intention to make reparation and do works of reparation.
Repentance (also called contrition) must be inspired by motives that arise from faith. If repentance arises from love of charity for God, it is called “perfect” contrition; if it is founded on other motives, it is called “imperfect.”
One who desires to obtain reconciliation with God and with the Church, must confess to a priest all the unconfessed grave sins he remembers after having carefully examined his conscience. The confession of venial faults, without being necessary in itself, is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church.
The confessor proposes the performance of certain acts of “satisfaction” or “penance” to be performed by the penitent in order to repair the harm caused by sin and to re-establish habits befitting a disciple of Christ.
Only priests who have received the faculty of absolving from the authority of the Church can forgive sins in the name of Christ.
The spiritual effects of the sacrament of Penance are:
— reconciliation with God by which the penitent recovers grace;
— reconciliation with the Church;
— remission of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins;
— remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments resulting from sin;
— peace and serenity of conscience, and spiritual consolation;
— an increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle.
Individual and integral confession of grave sins followed by absolution remains the only ordinary means of reconciliation with God and with the Church.
Through indulgences the faithful can obtain the remission of temporal punishment resulting from sin for themselves and also for the souls in Purgatory.