Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Issues And Indulgences

Poul Anderson's works inspire discussion of current, historical or perennial issues. In any given work, an issue may be addressed or implied.

A premise for alternative history fiction: no Protestant Reformation.

Examples:

the alpha and beta timelines in Poul Anderson's The Shield Of Time;
an emulated timeline in Anderson's Genesis;
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman;
The Alteration by Kingsley Amis.

So what were the issues in the Reformation? Even if not explicitly stated, these issues would have been present in the minds, e.g., of the Puritan characters in Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest. It is interesting to try to summarize the theology because it engages the same kind of imagination as a work of fantasy:

Christ's sacrifice created an infinite treasury of grace;
martyrs and saints somehow add to this already infinite treasury;
the Church is empowered and authorized to bestow on any individual Christian an "indulgence," i.e., a finite quantity of grace from the infinity treasury;
the Church is also able to impose on the Christian conditions for the bestowal of the Indulgence;
God has created this treasury but has delegated control of it to the Church;
any sin, even if forgiven, still warrants a finite period of punishment either on Earth or in Purgatory;
however, a finite quantity of grace from the treasury can negate the requirement for a corresponding quantity of punishment;
thus, whereas Protestants expect immediate admittance to Heaven after death, a Catholic expects a period in Purgatory which can be shortened by indulgences.

Comments
(i) The Protestant idea that - assuming the truth of Christianity in the first place - Christ's grace is freely accessible by all who opt to receive it makes sense.
(ii) I do not buy into the ideas of sacrifice, sin or punishment for sin.
(iii) I do accept the Buddhist ideas of wrong action and of individual responsibility to cleanse karma.
(iv) The Buddhist concept of "transfer of merit" is very similar to indulgences but I regard it as mythological.
(v) Buddhism has had its equivalents of Martin Luther.
(vi) Even if I accepted Christian, and even Catholic, premises, I would find "indulgences" highly questionable.
(vii) If I were living in the sixteenth century, then I would be on the extreme left wing of the Reformation - unless I were living in a country where it was imprudent to express such views!

12 comments:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

A very fair and reasonable view of the Catholic teaching on indulgences. And if Martin Luther had limited himself to the undoubted and laxity about the right use of indulgences, no reasonable Catholic would have objected. In fact, Leo X, that quintessential Renaissance pope, agreed that far with Luther and had his delegates in the Holy Roman Empire take steps to correct them.

But the more fundamental source of disagreement between Catholics and Protestants is how the former takes a SACRAMENTAL view of Christianity where the latter does not (excluding for now various kinds of "high church" Protestants). That is, the Catholic Church teaches that the grace of Christ is granted to us mostly thru the seven sacraments.

Also, I simply don't believe in the two core Protestant ideas or doctrines of "sola scriptura" or "sola fide." I'v never seen any convincing arguments by Protestants for either idea. Nowhere in either the OT or NT can we find either "scripture alone" or "faith alone."

I've never believed the Protestant "Reformation" was a good thing. Rather, it was contrary to the wish of God and has brought only disunity to Christianity. To say nothing of how the existence of literally thousands of different kinds of Protestants shows how they themselves are unable to agree on matters of faith, theology, ecclesiology, etc.

Sean

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Your point (vii) caught my eye. Does that mean you would have supported Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans in Anderson's A MIDSUMMER TEMPEST? Myself? I would have backed the Royalists. For both theological and political reasons I would have strongly disliked the Puritans. And I would have found many of them personally "off putting."

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
I was referring to theology rather than politics but, as far as politics goes, I would have been with the Levelers that were too far out even for Cromwell. No Lords. Land in common.
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

If I recall correctly, the dominant school of thought among the Puritans was Calvinism. Something I would have you too would disagree with.

I think there has been some discussion of the Levelers in this blog. And what I recall of their ideas makes me emphatically disagree with them. Their notion of having all property in common is simply impossible and unworkable. Also impossible would be any attempt to abolish social distinctions because the mere fact that all human beings are DIFFERENT will inevitably cause social distinctions to exist.

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
Theologically, I would go all the way with private, although preferably informed, interpretation of scripture.
The Levelers at least expressed an aspiration as in the early church in Acts.
Paul.

Paul Shackley said...

Kaor, Paul!

I should have listed "private judgement," the notion that God will infallibly guide the believer to a correct interpretation of the Scriptures, as one of the three, not two, basic Protestant errors. That sounds fine on the surface, but what do you do when Tom, Jack, Harry, et al, all sincerely claim to be divinely guided but all of them contradict one another on the meaning of a Biblical text? That conundrum too has enormously contributed to the doctrinal and ecclesiastical chaos of Protestantism!

No, the Catholic view that only the Church's bishops, when lawfully convened into Councils by the Pope, can speak with infallibility on matters of faith and morals, guided by the Tradition and teaching of the Church, makes sense. Or, the Pope, when invoking his authority of "confirming the brethren," and speaking ex cathedra as supreme teacher of all Christians, and also guided by Sacred Tradition and the teaching of the Church, can be infallible.

More briefly put, Protestants believe everyone can be the Pope, Catholics say, more modestly, that only one man can be pope.

As regards the Levelers of Cromwellian times, I would point out that if they advocated FORCING everyone, small and large alike, to surrender their property, then they would not be behaving like the early Christians in Acts. We see NOTHING about the Apostles commanding and coercing believers to surrender their property. If the Levelers wanted to use the power of the state to force everyone to hold everything in common, they become no better than the ideological tyrants of the 20th century.

No, as Christians increased in numbers the common ownership of property became an impossibility. So the Church came to put more stress on Christians being charitable, to do things like endowing hospitals, hospices, schools, etc.

The Church also made provision for those who wished to do more by founding monasteries or convents. That is, small groups of men and women would agree to live together according to certain rules to attain certain ends. And monks or nuns would often contribute according to their means from their own resources to help do so. Or wealthy patrons might endow a monastery or convent.

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
Since private judgment yields different interpretations, the Bible is an inadequate basis for either a world view or a moral system. It should be valued as an important document but not as a basis for living.
A regime enforcing equality would be a dictatorship whereas the majority dispossessing a minority would be IMO democracy.
Paul.

Paul Shackley said...

Kaor, Paul!

Not if an authority exists which both collected the books of the Bible and has the right to speak authoritatively on its meaning. And I believe that authority to be the Catholic Church. Given that, the Bible can be an ADEQUATE "basis for either a world view or a moral system.

Whether a majority, minority, or a one party regime, any gov't forcing a Leveler style "equality" on its people WOULD be dictatorial and tyrannical. It would be absolutely wrong to strip people of their property that they lawfully owned in good faith. It would be wrong to ruin and impoverish people who strove thru frugality, patience, investing, hard work, etc., to better their lot in life. Why should the hard working or frugal ant be stripped of all he has in favor of the careless, thoughtless, improvident grasshopper?

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
They should not! A "Leveler" program would aim at dispossessing the very wealthy, not the hard working.
Paul.

Paul Shackley said...

Kaor, Paul!

I cannot and never will support such a program. Because, without having any illusions about many (not all) rich people, it would be wrong to strip them of their property. I don't trust any regime with that kind of power and doing things like that.

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,

So the Church's functions are:
to preach the Gospel;
to interpret the Bible;
to interpret its own traditions;
to administer sacraments;
to dispense indulgences?

(I find this incredible.)

If the Church is infallible, then it should know that it is infallible. However, if it is fallible, then it might mistakenly think that it is infallible. Therefore, the teaching of the Church about its own infallibility is consistent either with its infallibility or with its fallibility.

Paul.

Paul Shackley said...

Kaor, Paul!

Exactly! Even tho these functions of the Church seems to be either foolishness to the Greeks or a stumbling block for Jews, that is what I believe. I would argue that the Catholic doctrine about infallibility goes straight back to texts like Matthew 16 where Our Lord promised the Gates of Hell would not overcome the Church.

Sean