Sunday, February 15, 2009

The return of indulgences

Last week, indulgences made the headlines again. Many Roman Catholic parishes recently have revived the practice of offering indulgences as a way to get people to think more about penance and return to confession. This move, which has received mixed reviews among Catholic scholars, is troubling and confusing to Lutherans who wonder how the Roman Catholic Church can continue this practice in light of the "consensus in basic truths" between Lutherans and Catholics in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ). Indulgences, after all, were the focus of Luther's 95 Theses, which sparked the Reformation in 1517. The practice, which fell into disuse after Vatican II, was revived by Pope John Paul II right on the heels of the adoption of JDDJ. This led to an outcry among many Protestants . In 2001, an ecumenical consultation of Lutherans, the Reformed, and the Roman Catholic Church met to discuss the theological issues involved in this practice in light of the consensus achieved in JDDJ.

Michael Root, a fellow member of the U.S. Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, published an essay around this time which helpfully clarifies what indulgences do (and don't do) in Catholic devotional practice, but even Root is not sanguine about the new attention given to this practice. “It has been something of a mystery to us as to why now,” Root is quoted as saying in the New York Times article, adding that the renewal of indulgences has “not advanced” the dialogue. Indeed, the latest round of dialogue, on the Hope of Eternal Life is discussing, among other things, pentiential practices related to the dead, including indulgences and prayers for the dead, and the recent attention to and encouragement of indulgences does make our work more difficult.

1 comment:

Jew Bob, Impervious To Literary Agents said...

It seems that Lutheran-Catholic dialog is not much further along than a quarter century ago when I was in seminary.

I wonder why it is still important to Lutherans. What good comes of it? It seems that Roman Catholic policy is in rather indifferent to all this. They have more to gain from relations with the Orthodox.

I am specifically concerned as to why Lutherans worry themselve so much about relations with Roman Catholics in contrast to not much worry about their relations with Jews. The Catholics have done far more in their relations with Jews.

It is my understanding that the late Walter Bouman, my teacher, came to a much more universal vision of "the Kingdom" in his later years. I have no idea how he figured Jews in that. He didn't seem interested in the discussion when I was young. But. My question is why Lutherans do not feel a moral mandate to not just have issued a few official apologies for the Holocaust, but rather, radically expand their vision of "communion" to the interfaith realm.