Tuesday, 12 December 2017
Issues And Indulgences
A premise for alternative history fiction: no Protestant Reformation.
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.
(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!