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.

4 thoughts on “Plenary Indulgences and the Plenitude of God’s Sovereignty in Salvation

  1. Vivator, what do you make of the following passage from St Augustine?

    It is not enough simply to have choice of will, which is freely turned in this direction and that, and belongs among those natural gifts which a bad person may use badly. We must also have a good will, which belongs among those gifts which it is impossible to use badly. This impossibility is given to us by God; otherwise I do not know how of the to defend what Scripture says: ‘What do you have that you did not receive?’ (1 Cor.4:7) For if God gives us a free will, which may still be either good or bad, but a good will comes from ourselves, then what comes from ourselves is better than what comes from God! But it is the height of absurdity to say this. So the Pelagians ought to acknowledge that we obtain from God even a good will.

    It would indeed be a strange thing if the will could stand in some no-man’s-land, where it was neither good nor bad. For we either love righteousness, and this is good; and if we love it more, this is better. If we love it less, this is less good; or if we do not love righteousness at all, it is not good. And who can hesitate to affirm that, when the will does not love righteousness in any way at all, it is not only a bad will, but even a totally depraved will? Since therefore the will is either good or bad, and since of course we do not derive the bad will from God, it remains that we derive from God a good will. Otherwise, since our justification proceeds from a good will, I do not know what other gift of God we ought to rejoice in. That, I suppose, is why it is written, ‘The will is prepared by the Lord’ (Prov.8:35, Septuagint). And in the Psalms, ‘The steps of a man will be rightly ordered by the Lord, and His way will be the choice of his will’ (Ps.37:23). And what the apostle says, ‘For it is God Who works in you both to will and to do of His own good pleasure’ (Phil.2:13).

    On the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, 2:30

  2. Below is what Augustine also wrote:
    Therefore, my dearly beloved, as we have now proved by our former testimonies from Holy Scripture that there is in man a free determination of will for living rightly and acting rightly; so now let us see what are the divine testimonies concerning the grace of God, without which we are not able to do any good thing.
    Augustine, A Treatise on Grace and Freewill Chapter 7
    When God says, “Turn ye unto me, and I will turn unto you,”[Zechariah 1:3] one of these clauses–that which invites our return to God–evidently belongs to our will; while the other, which promises His return to us, belongs to His grace.
    Augustine, A Treatise on Grace and Freewill Chapter 10(V)

    • Vivator your quote from Augustine:

      When God says, “Turn ye unto me, and I will turn unto you,”[Zechariah 1:3] one of these clauses–that which invites our return to God–evidently belongs to our will; while the other, which promises His return to us, belongs to His grace.
      Augustine, A Treatise on Grace and Freewill Chapter 10(V).

      In contrast, this is what the Bible says:

      Romans 9
      10 …Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
      14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses,
      “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
      and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
      16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.

      Vivator, as you know, Augustine’s “Retractions were written very soon (a few months, weeks, days, minutes, seconds?!) after his “On grace and free choice.” (426/27 seems to be the dates when these two were written).

      In his Retractions, he does indicate that on the issue of the relationship between free will and grace, he was sometimes not sure whether he was Arthur or Martha. I think it would be fair to say that Augustine’s famous ”quip”, which made Pelagius froth at the mouth, goes to the heart of Augustine’s thought on the matter:

      “There can be no hope for me except in your great mercy. Give me the grace to do as you command, and command me to do what you will!”

      (I think that the two clauses should be switched to read:
      “Command me to do what you will! AND Give me the grace to do as you command!!” I say this because it seems that one is confronted with God’s commands before one learns how to fulfill them).

      One thing one should not say is that Augustine was a synergist. A sillygist yes, but then who hasn’t at one time or another – except God and the Apostle Paul.

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