Sunday, June 15, 2014

95 Theses IV: A Bad Vacation

16. There seems to be the same difference between hell, purgatory, and heaven as between despair, uncertainty, and assurance. My comment: I frankly don't know how any person who studied the Church's teaching in any depth could say this. Any era, any time. He should have listened to his confessor, and spiritual director. Any person who is this troubled (because scrupulosity is obvious here) should not have been teaching anyone anything. Personally, I know the feeling. I told a friend years ago, "I feel I should drop out of seminary, so I can figure out who God is." (And that's pretty much what I did.)

17. Of a truth, the pains of souls in purgatory ought to be abated, and charity ought to be proportionately increased. My comment: Whatever Purgatory is really like, the debts paid there are judged by the will of God. We cannot, and should not, wish for a respite for anyone in Purgatory, apart from the will of God.

18. Moreover, it does not seem proved, on any grounds of reason or Scripture, that these souls are outside the state of merit, or unable to grow in grace. My comment: Because Purgatory from time immemorial has been understood as the place where the elect are made perfect, as it is written, "Without holiness, no one shall see the Lord," it should be understood that the doctrine of Purgatory is a settled matter. This is a pointless speculation for someone trained in Sacred Theology. Growth in grace is proper to the time of testing that is this life. A soul judged elect but imperfect does not need to grow in grace.

19. Nor does it seem proved to be always the case that they are certain and assured of salvation, even if we are very certain ourselves. My comment: Again, the starting-points for anyone in theology are the dogmatic declarations of the Church, and the Magisterium in particular. You can believe anything you like, but if you doubt what is de fide, nothing you are doing is authentically catholic. All the great saints tell us not to gauge our spiritual lives by how we may feel at any given moment.

20. Therefore the pope, in speaking of the plenary remission of all penalties, does not mean "all" in the strict sense, but only those imposed by himself. My comment: I am not aware of any limitation on the Pope's authority to remit canonical penalties, even those lawfully imposed by others. He may choose, for the good of the Church and the individual, not to exercise that power, but any suggestion that he does not have it seems gravely mistaken.


Timothy R. Butler said...

A couple of points: as I said, Luther is targeting the understanding of purgatory presented by the official indulgence sellers, etc.

Also, Luther agreed with you: he did not want to teach early on. He was very uncertain about teaching when he felt so uncertain, but his "spiritual director" (the vicar general) insisted that he teach. So, if one should follow church authority, he should have been teaching.

Jason said...

One should always follow Church doctrine; obedience to authority is a trickier matter. Aside from lamenting the probable lack of mental health/assistance services available for troubled clergy, nothing makes the "new" doctrines true.

Timothy R. Butler said...

A few things: we have plenty of indications Church doctrine was being muddied at the time Luther wrote the 95 theses, so we can't impose on him a post-Trent form of clear structure and wonder why he didn't get it. Second, I don't think you can have it both ways on authority. If you want to say we can't be the sole arbiter of truth, and that the church authority is the solution to that, it seems to me Luther had little choice when his monastic vow of obedience to his order required him to teach.

Jason said...

It would serve if you could specify what you mean by "muddied." I do not intend to judge Luther by Trent which had not occurred. But insofar as the theology of Trent was known and in place prior to the Council, to that extent is a son of the Church and theologian responsible for any deviations from the received teaching.

Timothy R. Butler said...

Well, for example: indulgence sellers were busy trying to convince people that indulgences could essentially save dead loved ones. Indulgences were also being made to be better and more important than doing the things God calls us to do in Scripture. Just as the Pharisees would keep from giving money to their parents by saying it was for God, so too people were being encouraged to give money to the church rather than caring for the poor. Somehow I don't think James would be very happy about that.

Luther certainly wasn't the only one dismayed -- Erasmus and the humanists were, too. While Trent would standardize much of Thomistic theology, we have to remember the theological schools were leaning strongly to Biel's theological method.

Like I said, Luther isn't responding to ideal Catholic theology -- he is attacking bad theology that normal people were actually being taught and the church wasn't trying to fight.

Jason said...

Ideal Catholic theology is precisely what is at issue, and only this. If Luther's protest is essentially moral, then there is no need for the revision of Church dogma. You therefore concede that the protest is in kind no different than the Donatist, who claims that jurisdiction was vitiated by moral failure. On the other hand, if the Church's claim to authority had always been fraudulent, then the ground of Luther's supposed continuity and legitimacy has been lost.