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§ 118. Penance and Indulgences.


The year 1200 marks the dividing line between opinions differing most widely on the meaning of the priests absolution. Peter the Lombard represented the prevailing view of the earlier period when he pronounced the absolution, a declarative announcement. Alexander of Hales represented the later period, when he pronounced it a judicial sentence. According to Peter, God alone remits sins. It was the Lord who restored the lepers to health, not the priests to whom be sent them. They did nothing more than bear witness to the healthy condition of the lepers. The priest’s prerogative is ended when he "shows or declares those who are bound and those who are loosed."17331733    Potestas solvendi et ligandi, i.e.ostendendi homines ligatos vel solutos, etc. IV. 18, 6, Migne, p. 887.

Before the end of the thirteenth century, the petitional form of absolution was in general, though not exclusive, used and the priest made intercession for the grace of forgiveness upon the offender.17341734    See the form used by Honorius of Autun about 1130, indulgentiam et absolutionem de omnibus ... tribuat vobis Pater et Filius et Sp. Sanctus et custodiet vos a peccatis et ab omnibus malis et post hanc vitam perducat vos in consortium omnium sanctorum. Lea, I. 206.17351735    Summa, III. 84, 3, Migne, IV. 857. It was not sufficient to say, "The onmipotent God absolve thee," or "God bestow on thee absolution," etc. this form and pronounced the contrary form more laughable and frivolous than worthy of refutation. He was followed by Richard of St. Victor who emphasized the distinction between the priest’s right to remit the punishment of sin and God’s prerogative which is to forgive the guilt of sin.17361736    De sacr., II. 14, 8, Migne, 176. 568 .... De potestate ligandi et solvendi.

The absolution from certain offences was reserved to the bishops, such as murder, sacrilege in the use of the eucharist or the baptismal water, perjury, poisoning, and letting children die without being baptized.17371737    So the synods of Treves 1227, Canterbury 1236, London 1237, etc. The unchastity of nuns came under the bishop’s jurisdiction. a priest or monk, the burning of church buildings, and falsifying of papal documents.

In the article of death, the sacrament of absolution is in no case to be refused. At such times works of satisfaction cannot be required, even as they were not required of the thief on the cross.

The extent to which absolution is efficacious called forth careful discussion and statement. Does it cover guilt as well as punishment and does it extend to the punishments of purgatory? The answer to these questions also was positive and distinct from the time of Alexander of Hales. Peter the Lombard was the last of the prominent Schoolmen to declare that the priest did not give absolution for guilt. The later Schoolmen with one consent oppose him at this point and teach that the priest absolves both from the guilt and the punishments of sin in this world and in purgatory. Thomas Aquinas asserted that, "if the priest cannot remit these temporal punishments,—for the punishments of purgatory are temporal,—then he cannot remit at all and this is contrary to the words of the Gospel to Peter that whatsoever he should loose on earth should be loosed in heaven."17381738    Si non potest remittere quantum ad poenam temporalem, nullo modo remittere potest quod omnino contrarium dictus evangelii. Supplem., VIII. 2, Migne, IV. 988; Sent., IV. 20, 1, 1-5.

The ultimate and, as it proved, a most vicious form of priestly absolution was the indulgence. An indulgence is a remission of the guilt and punishment of sin by a mitigation or complete setting aside of the works of satisfaction which would otherwise be required. A lighter penalty was substituted for a severer one.17391739    Beringer-Schneider, the chief Rom. Cath. writer on Indulgences, p. 2, defines an indulgence "as an act of mercy and goodness, a salvation by the order of the Church, an act of grace and forgiveness."17401740    Kreuzablass, etc., pp. 10 sqq. Gottlob, p. xv, says indulgences occupy a central place in the political and religious life of the last three centuries of the Middle Ages.asses: (1) indulgences which are secured by going on a crusade; (2) such as are secured by the payment of money for some good church cause, and (3) such as are secured by the visiting of certain churches.

Towards the close of this period this substitution usually took the form of a money-payment. For a lump sum absolution for the worst offences might be secured. It became a tempting source of gain to churches and the Roman curia, which they were quick to take advantage of. The dogmatic justification of this method of remission found positive expression before the practice became general. Alexander of Hales here again has the distinction of being the first to give it careful definition and unequivocal emphasis. Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventura, and the other Schoolmen follow him closely and add little. Thomas Aquinas declared it impious to say the Church might not dispense indulgences.17411741    Supplem., xxv-xxvii, Migne, IV. 1013 sqq. Lea devotes the entire third volume of his Hist. of Confession to a noteworthy discussion of indulgences.

The first known case occurred about 1016 when the archbishop of Arles gave an indulgence of a year to those participating in the erection of a church building.17421742    See for the text Köhler, pp. 5 sq. of such papal franchises. That journey, Urban said, should be taken as a substitute for all penance. Granted at first to warriors fighting against the infidel in the Holy Land, they were extended so as to include those who fought against the Slavs, as by Eugenius III., 1147, against the Stedinger, Albigenses, and the Hussites, 1425, and against all enemies whatsoever of the papacy, such as Frederick II. and Manfred. Innocent II., in 1135, promised full remission to those who fought the battle of the papal chair against Roger of Sicily, and the anti-pope, Anacletus II. In these cases such expressions are used as "remission and indulgence of penances," "relaxation or remission from the imposed penance," "the relaxation of the imposed satisfaction," and also "a lightening or remission of sins."17431743    relaxatio, remissio, indulgentia de injuncta poenitentia, etc. See Brieger for these expressions, and Brieger and Lea for numerous examples of papal indulgences of this sort.

The free-handed liberality with which these franchises were dispensed by bishops became so much of a scandal that the Lateran council of 1215 issued a sharp decree to check it. More than half a century before, in 1140, Abaelard had condemned the abuse of this prerogative by bishops and priests who were governed in its lavish exercise by motives of sordid cupidity.17441744    Ethica, XL. See Köhler, p. 8.

The construction of bridges over rivers, the building of churches, and the visiting of shrines were favorite and meritorious grounds for the gifts of indulgence. Innocent III., 1209, granted full remission for the building of a bridge over the Rhone; Innocent IV. for rebuilding the cathedrals of Cologne, 1248, and Upsala, 1250, which had suffered from fire.17451745    Potthast, 3799, 12938, 14122.ssion of all penances for six years and one hundred and forty days to those who would worship the Holy Blood at Westminster.17461746    Luard’s ed., IV. 90, 643.17471747    See Jusseraud, Engl. Wayfaring Life in the M. Ages, London, 1890, pp. 41 sqq., for many cases of indulgence for building bridges.

To the next period belongs the first cases of indulgence granted in connection with the Jubilee Year by Boniface VIII., 1300. Among the more famous indulgences granted to private parties and localities was the Portiuncula indulgence giving remission to all visiting the famous Franciscan shrine at Assisi on a certain day of the year,17481748    Sabatier, F. Bartholi de Assisio tractatus de indulgentia S. Mariae de Portiuncula, 1900.17491749    See p. 366, Lea, III. 270 sqq., and Wetzer-Welte, Sabbatina.

The practice of dispensing indulgences grew enormously. Innocent III. dispensed five during his pontificate. Less than one hundred years later, Nicolas IV., in his reign of two years, 1288–1290, dispensed no less than four hundred. By that time they had become a regular item of the papal exchequer.

On what grounds did the Church claim the right to remit the works of penance due for sins or, as Alexander of Hales put it, grant abatement of the punishment due sin?17501750    Summa, IV. 83.1, relaxatio poenae debitae pro peccato, quoted by Brieger. up merit beyond what was required from them for heaven. These supererogatory works or merits of the saints and of Christ are so abundant that they would more than suffice to pay off the debts of all the living.17511751    Th. Aq., Summa, III. 83, 1. quorum meritorum tanta est copia quod omnem poenam debitam nunc viventibus excedunt. See Gottlob, pp. 271 sqq.eritorum, or fund of merits; and this is at the disposal of the Church by virtue of her nuptial union with Christ, Col. 1:24. This fund is a sort of bank account, upon which the Church may draw at pleasure. Christ relaxed the punishment due the woman taken in adultery, not requiring her to do the works of satisfaction which her offences would, under ordinary circumstances, have called for. So, likewise, may the pope, who is Christ’s viceregent, release from sin by drawing upon the fund of merit. Thus the indulgence takes the place of the third element of penance, works of satisfaction.

These statements of the Schoolmen received explicit papal confirmation at the hands of Clement VI. in 1343. This pontiff not only declared that this "heap of treasure,"—cumulus thesauri,—consisting of the merits of "the blessed mother of God and the saints," is at the disposal of the successors of Peter, but he made, if possible, the more astounding assertion that the more this storehouse is drawn upon, the more it grows.17521752    Quanto plures ex ejus applicatione trahuntur ad justitiam, tanto magis accresit ipsorum cumulus meritorum. See Friedberg, Corp. Jur. can., II. 1304 sq.nfession of the recipient.17531753    Vere poenitentibus et confessis was the common formula.

Down to the latter part of the thirteenth century, the theory prevailed that an indulgence dispensed with the usual works of penance by substituting some other act. Before the fourteenth century, another step was taken, and the indulgence was regarded as directly absolving from the guilt and punishment of sins, culpa et poena peccatorum. It was no longer a mitigation or abatement of imposed penance. It immediately set aside or remitted that which acts of penance had been designed to remove; namely, guilt and penalty. It is sufficient for the Church to pronounce offences remitted. Wyclif made a bold attack against the indulgence "from guilt and punishment," a culpa et poena, in his Cruciata. Now that it is no longer possible to maintain the spuriousness of such papal indulgences, some Roman Catholic writers construe the offensive phrase to mean "from the penalty of guilt," a poena culpae.

Such was the general indulgence given by pope Coelestin V., 1294, to all who should on a certain day of the year enter the church of St. Mary de Collemayo in which he had been consecrated.17541754    Dr. Lea, III. 63, has shown the significance of this document.17551755    Köhler, p. 27, quae securam et mundatam animam ab omni culpa et poena fecerunt.rtiuncula church to be an "indulgence for all sins and from all guilt and penalty."17561756    See Sabatier, Fr. F. Bartholi, etc., in part reprinted by Köhler, pp. 27 sqq.

Boniface VIII. probably included the guilt of sin when he announced "full pardon for all sins," and succeeding popes used the form constantly.17571757    See a number of instances in Brieger and especially Lea, III. 55-80. Lea quotes Piers the Ploughman’s Crede to show that this expressed the popular belief.
   The power of the Apostells they posen in speche

   For to sellen the synnes for silver other mede

   And pulchye a pena the purple assoileth

   And a culpa also, that they may cachen

   Money other money wothe and mede to fonge.

   

   One of the most striking instances of this form of indulgence is the absolutio plenaria a poena et culpa issued by Alexander V. to the members of the council of Pisa, Von der Hardt, Conc. Const. III. 688.
ndulgence and in vain did the council of Constance attempt to put some check upon the practice. Tetzel was following the custom of two centuries when he offered "remission and indulgence of guilt and penalty."

As for the application of the sacrament of penance to souls in purgatory, Alexander of Hales argued that, if the sacrament did not avail for them, then the Church prays in vain for the dead. Such souls are still under the cognizance of the Church, that is, subject to its tribunal,—de foro ecclesiae.17581758    In contrast to de fore dei, God’s tribunal. See Lea, II. 296-371, and Brieger. Altars and chapels, called in England chantries, were built and endowed by persons for the maintenance of a priest, in whole or in part, to pray and offer up masses for their souls after their departure from this life. The further treatment of the subject belongs properly to the period just preceding the Reformation. It is sufficient to say here, that Sixtus IV., in 1476, definitely connected the payment of money with indulgences, and legislated that, by fixed sums paid to the papal collectors, persons on earth may redeem their kindred in purgatory. Thus for gold and silver the most inveterate criminal might secure the deliverance of a father or mother from purgatorial pain, and neither contrition nor confession were required in the transaction.17591759    Lea, III. 595 sq., and the instructions of Albert, abp. of Mainz, quoted by Brieger, nec opus est, quod contribuentes pro animabus in capsam sint corde contriti et ore confessi. was the ultimate conclusion of the sacramental doctrine of penance, the sacrament to whose treatment the Schoolmen devoted most time and labor. The council of Trent reasserted the Church’s right to grant indulgences.17601760    Schaff, Creeds, II. 205. Harnack, Hist. of Doctr., II. 511 sqq., expresses his moral indignation over the mediaeval theory of penance. Of attritio, sacramentum poenitentiae, and indulgentia, he exclaims, das ist die katholische Trias! "That is the Catholic triad!"eable to the plain statements of Scripture than that men have the right of immediate access to Christ, who said, "Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out," and what more repugnant to its plain teachings than to make confession to a priest and the priest’s absolution conditions of receiving pardon!

The superstitious, practical extravagances, which grew out of this most unbiblical penitential theory of the Middle Ages, are reported in the pages of the popular writers of the age, such as Caesar of Heisterbach and De Voragine, who express no dissent as they relate the morbid tales. Here are two of them as told by De Voragine which are to be taken as samples of a large body of similar literature. A bishop, by celebrating thirty masses, helped out of purgatory a poor soul who was frozen in a block of ice. In the second case, a woman who had neglected, before dying, to make a confession to the priest, was raised from her bier by the prayer of St. Francis d’Assisi. She went and confessed to the priest and then had the satisfaction of lying down in peace and dying over again.17611761    Legenda aurea, under All Souls and Francis d’Assisi. Temple Classics ed, VI. 113, V. 231.



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