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?

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