Catholic Indulgences

I don’t know whether you all encountered this article in the Idaho Statesman yesterday (Feb. 11) but the article actually came from the New York Times and it is a fascinating article.  You can follow this link to the New York Times article.  What follows are my thoughts and observations about what was communicated in the Article.  According to the article the hoped result from issuing indulgences is to restore “fading traditions of Penance in what they see as a self-satisfied world.”  For those of you who are not familiar with the term an indulgence is a reprieve from punishment after death for sins committed in this life.  It effectively reduces or removes the need for a purgatorial purification for sins in this life.  As the article points out the church is not selling indulgences, which is a practice that served as part of the catalyst for Martin Luther to protest with his 95 thesis in 1517.  The selling of indulgences was forbidden in 1567, however the indulgences are granted in response to “charitable contributions combined  with other acts.”  According to this article, the issuing of indulgences became uncommon after the Second Vatican Council but this old practice is being brought back to help bolster numbers or as “a happy incentive for Confession” because “confessions have been down for years and the church is very worried about it.”

Now my purpose in writing this blog article is not to argue the theology of this practice because there are similar but less overt practices within protestant Christianity.  What struck me by this article and this renewed practice is that the Catholic Church, too, is struggling to find relevance for itself in an increasingly postmodern world.  Like many protestant groups which also have sought to return to beliefs and practices from earlier eras  when the church felt itself to have had a relevant and central place and identity within culture, the Roman Catholic Church is seeking to re-seed increasingly post-modern generations with the reminder “of the church’s clout in mitigating the wages of sin.”  The only challenge is that the concept of sin and atonement are not as universally held beliefs as they once were and especially amnesty for sins after death.  While I’m sure the idea of life after death is a concept most would hold in some way, the belief that the church has the scoop on afterlife and efficacious impact into that realm is probably not as widely held either.  

The anxiety felt in this current cultural milieu by many Christians, Christian leaders and sectors  of the Christian Church often manifests itself in a desire to return to former days when the church seemed to have influence, and relevancy in culture.  (If any of you would like to read a good book on precisely this subject the book “Missionary Congregation, Leadership, & Liminality” by Alan Roxburgh is a short but significant book on the topic.)  But I just found it interesting to see the Catholic Church engaging in a similar attempt to renew ideas of the importance of penance and atonement that seem to be increasingly less vital to congregants in this increasingly post-modern culture. 

What do you think?


How (Not) To Speak of God

The below posting comes from another blog that I write on for the Emergent Boise Cohort   and I thought I would post this here too.  The book our group is reading is “How (Not) To Speak Of God” by Peter Rollins.

As we prepare to discuss this book together, let’s preface our face to face discussion of this book by noting portions of our reading that resonate with us or are troubling to us.  This will start the conversation and will hopefully provide us an opportunity to have a better discussion in March, when we again gather face to face.  With that in mind, I am going to transcribe a portion of the introduction with which I resonated and appreciated. 

The below portions come from  the introduction pages XiV and XV.

“I found myself drawn to the mystics (such as Meister Eckhart), for while they did not embrace total silence, they balked at the presumption of those who would seek to colonize (italics mine) the name ‘God’ with concepts.  Instead of viewing the unspeakable as that which brings all language to a halt, they realized that the unspeakable was precisely the place where the most inspiring language began.  This God  whose name was above e very name gave birth, not to a poverty of words, but to an excess of them.  And so they wrote elegantly concerning the limits of writing and spoke eloquently about the brutality of words.  By speaking with wounded words of their wounded Christ, these mystics helped to develop, not a distinct religious tradition, but rather a way of engaging with and understanding already existing religious traditions: seeing them as a loving response to God rather than a way of defining God…For the mystic God was neither an unspeakable secret to be passed over in silence, nor a dissipated secret that had been laid bare in revelation.  Rather, the mystic approached god as a secret which one was compelled to share, yet which retained its secrecy.”

As I re-read these words I was again struck by two concepts that are presented here.  First the utility of words but also the weakness and limitations of them.  For the mystic, one whose discussion would be about the encounter of this mysterious God, words were used to point at truth and were not presumed to define facts about God.  Secondly, there was not the idea of carving out a new tradition but rather a discovery of God from within various traditions.  I wonder if, as I believe Peter is intimating, that our emergent discussion will not probably result so much in a new Christian tradition or sub-group but is another opportunity to re-imagine the traditions to which we currently belong.

What do you all think?

How has the church “colonized” the term God?