Plenary Indulgences and the Plenitude of God’s Sovereignty in Salvation

In the late Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church fully accepted the Augustinian (second council of Orange) view that salvation is totally of the Lord, that is, God draws sinners, preserves them and grants them eternal life, as we read in John’s Gospel:

“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never go hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty. But I told you that you have seen me and still do not believe. Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never send away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. Now this is the will of the one who sent me – that I should not lose one person of every one he has given me, but raise them all up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father – for everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him to have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” ( John 6:35-40).

So, in spite of the theoretical acceptance of the Augustinian/Johannine monergistic view of salvation – where faith is the result and not the cause of regeneration – in reality, however, the Roman Catholic Church taught the opposite: sacraments, indulgences, penance, purgatory, pilgrimages.  All these are human efforts to assure one’s salvation, a merit, a works salvation. So, what is different today? Nothing in substance; today we have Plenary indulgences for such occasions as the Bi-millenium of St Paul and the World Meeting of Families and Sydney World Youth day.

If you had attended this Youth day in Sydney officiated by Pope Benedict and if you had died during or immediately after the meeting (having had no time to sin in thought or deed), you would have been granted a plenary indulgence and so have circumvented purgatory, whether one or one million years or more of it.

In “Santa and the Christmas Spirit: A Jew sneaks a peak into a Catholic Church,” I described Dan Goldberg’s fascination with the Catholic Mass.

What if Dan Goldberg also happened to attend World Youth Day In 1988 at the Sydney showgrounds where he was told that he was granted a plenary indulgence, that is, he would go straight to heaven without suffering in purgatory, purely for rocking up at the event in a spirit of pilgrimage? Wouldn’t that have made Dan, or any other non-Catholic, think at least twice about “crossing the Tiber” (to Rome).

Here is the reference to World Youth Day:

VATICAN CITY, 5 JUL 2008 (VIS) – According to a decree made public today and signed by Cardinal James Francis Stafford and Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, O.F.M. Conv., respectively penitentiary major and regent of the Apostolic Penitentiary, Benedict XVI will grant the faithful Plenary Indulgence to faithful who “gather at Sydney, Australia, in the spirit of pilgrimage” to participate in celebrations for 23rd World Youth Day, and Partial Indulgence to “all those who, wherever they are, will pray for the spiritual goals of this meeting and for its happy outcome”.

One of the reasons I left the Roman Catholic Church was this idea – purgatory itself was bad enough – of plenary indulgences.