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The Roman penitential system and the emergence of Reformation doctrine (part II of II)

03 Jan

In a penitential act, Luther climbs the "Scala Sancta", supposedly the stairs "that led up to the praetorium of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem" (Wikipedia), and brought to Rome in the 4th c. by St. Helena (from the 2003 Luther movie)

Yesterday’s and today’s posts are a summary of some of the core elements of an introduction to a forthcoming book on confession and absolution from Lutheran Press by Pastor Holger Sonntag, where he claims “in studying his modifications of the sacrament of penance one can see how Luther’s ‘reformation breakthrough’ unfolds”, and demonstrates the same.  All quotes are from Pastor Sonntag unless otherwise noted, and all citations are taken directly from the introduction, and have not been checked by me.  I realize the connections between this and “theology like a child” may not be readily apparent to all readers.

Part II

Other important notes and factors involved here, prevalent in Luther’s day:

  • “an enumeration of all known mortal sins committed since the last confession” was required  (for the 2nd work)
  • “’secret’ sinners, that is those in mortal sin whose state is known only to God and themselves, ought to refrain from taking communion lest they commit another mortal sin.” (S. Th. III, qu. 80, 6)
  • “the performance of some sort of temporal punishment for the sins of the penitent which had been imposed by the priest”, depended on the gravity of the sin committed (for the 3rd work)
  • priests would be guilty of mortal sin for offering communion, for example, to persons known to have not received the sacrament of penance – including the fulfillment of the imposed works of satisfaction.
  • “the ‘quest for a gracious God’ led to the inclusion of a petition for long life into the common prayer for forgiveness (publica absolutio) that was read by the priest after the sermon” (to do one’s part “to shorten the stay of one’s agony in purgatory”)
  • concupiscence, or wrongful desire, was not understood as sin but only as an inclination to sin (CCC, para. 404-405, 1734-1736) – it was considered to be in the same category as things like disease, death, and weakness of character – these remaining “consequences” of original sin (“penalties” in Thomas: S. Th. III, qu. 69, 3) were all seen as helpful for training in godliness (for all 3 works: contrition, confession and satisfaction)
  • while standard works of satisfaction given by priests merited in themselves remission for punishment, works done to gain an indulgence merited this remission due to the “treasure of the church” (a bank of good works) administered by popes and bishops (S. Th. Suppl. III, qu. 25, 2, see also the 1343 bull Unigenitus Filius Dei by pope Clement VI).  Indulgences made works of satisfaction “easier”
  • by becoming a Lutheran one was automatically excommunicated
  • the excommunicated could not be absolved by his priest, but needed to wait until the competent authorities had lifted it, at which time works of satisfaction could commence
  • excommunication, unlike acts of penance, is not an expiatory punishment, but is “medicinal”, meaning that it is not meant to be, in part, a “payment of reparations to self, neighbor, and God by doing good deeds.”  It was not normally done by mere priests, and was not just a withholding of communion from the impenitent, but a severing of all communion between him and the church (to bring him to his senses)  – though starting in 1418 (Council of Constance) a person could associate with the excommunicated again

Who or what will finally save me in the last judgment?  Based on the information above, it does not seem unfair to say that for Rome, “faith in the divine mercy” means not the free forgiveness of all sins for Christ’s sake, but “God’s gracious acceptance of man’s works of virtue to blot out man’s sins” (Sonntag, summing up Chemnitz, Examen, 438).   Really, is the perfect love required in contrition and the following acts of penance possible for a person even after the word of absolution?  As Pastor Sonntag writes, “love seeking to fulfill the demands of the church, not trust in the gospel of Christ, was the common denominator of all such contributions of the sinner “ and “[the] human contribution to confession rendered its practice perpetually uncertain both as to the ultimate effectiveness of the works prescribed by the church’s human authority (“How can I be certain that these particular works will do the job, given that none of this is found in God’s Word?”) and the quality of their performance (“How can I be certain that I was in the right state of mind when doing what is required of me, have I given an accurate description of the circumstances of all my (mortal) sins, so that the priest’s evaluation would be accurate?”)”.  As Chemnitz argued following the Council of Trent (which did not condemn or even discourage the practices above, save the excesses on indulgence sales), “because the relation between faith and God’s certain word of promise was denied, faith, understood as assent to doctrines taught by the church, needed to be made valid by man’s uncertain love” (Sonntag, summing up Chemnitz, cf. Examen, 181, 190-192)

And for consciences like Luther’s – which were particularly attuned to both the teachings/requirements of God’s Law and those of the Church – this could only mean the necessary emergence of the doctrinal distinctions of the Lutheran Reformation- for the knowledge of the grace of God in Christ obliterates categories that obscure it.  As Pastor Sonntag sums things up: “one realizes that Luther became the ‘Lutheran’ and Reformer of the church he was in the context of his wrestling with the traditional sacrament of penance in light of God’s biblical Word.”

In sum:  “God… wants his free – that is, free for man, but costly for Christ – gifts to be received simply by faith in the gospel.”

(Think this was interesting?  Fair?  If so, now read this and this)

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11 Comments

Posted by on January 3, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

11 responses to “The Roman penitential system and the emergence of Reformation doctrine (part II of II)

  1. Dave Armstrong

    January 9, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    Of course every aspect of penance as taught in Catholicism, is grounded in the Bible: in many biblical passages, as I have repeatedly shown:

    A Fictional Dialogue on Penance

    Biblical Evidence for Formal Forgiveness of Sins and Absolution (Confession)

    Explicit Biblical Evidence for Indulgences + Some Important Historical Considerations

    Biblical (Pauline) Evidence For the Catholic Examination of Conscience

    Biblical Evidence for Penitential Mortification of the Flesh (Sackcloth / Hair Shirts)

    Biblical Evidence For Fasting and Abstinence (Lent)

    See all these on my web page:

    http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2006/11/saints-purgatory-penance-index-page.html

    That we must “do” something to appropriate the free grace given to us by God) — synergy and merit — is utterly, massively obvious from Scripture as well. St. Augustine stated that merit was merely God crowning his own gifts:

    St. Paul’s Teaching on the Organic Relationship of Grace / Faith and Works / Action / Obedience (Collection of 50 Pauline Passages)

    Biblical Evidence for the Nature of Saving Faith (Including Assent, Trust, Hope, Works, Obedience, and Sanctification)

    St. Paul’s Use of “Gift” in Romans 5 and Elsewhere as a Proof for Infused (Not Merely Imputed or Declared) Justification

    Biblical Evidence for “Power” as a Proof and Manifestation of Infused (Catholic) Justification

    Final Judgment in Scripture is Always Associated With Works And Never With Faith Alone (50 Passages)

    Did the Council of Trent Teach That Man is Saved By His Own Works?

    Biblical Evidence for Prayers of the Righteous Having More Effect and Power Than the Prayers of the Relatively Less Righteous

    Explicit Biblical Evidence of Men Helping to Save Themselves or Participating in Their Own Salvation (Which is Always Enabled by God’s Grace)

    Biblical Evidence for God Sharing His Glory With His Creatures

    Merit: Catholic Doctrine vs. Caricature (James McCarthy’s Distortions)

    Dialogue: “Doing Something” for Salvation (vs. Craig Kott)

    1 Corinthians 3:9 and Man’s Cooperation With God

    Human, Pauline, and Marian Distribution of Divine Graces: Not an “Unbiblical” Notion After All?

    Baptist Pastor Ken Temple Proves That St. Paul Was a Blasphemer Who Claimed That People Can Save Others (Mariology and Synergistic Soteriology)

    “There is One Mediator” (1 Timothy 2:5): Does This Rule Out “Mini-Mediators”?

    Grace Alone (Sola Gratia): Perfectly Acceptable Biblical and Catholic Teaching (Rightly Understood)

    Dialogue With Two Protestants on the Catholic Doctrine of Merit (vs. Chris Jones and “Nathan”)

    Defending Merit, Penance (and Ultimately Prayer) Against Lutheran Josh Strodtbeck’s Ludicrous Attacks

    All on this web page:

    http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2006/11/salvation-justification-faith-alone.html

    Happy New Year!

    Dave

     
  2. Dave Armstrong

    January 9, 2012 at 6:23 pm

    Who or what will finally save me in the last judgment? Based on the information above, it does not seem unfair to say that for Rome, “faith in the divine mercy” means not the free forgiveness of all sins for Christ’s sake, but “God’s gracious acceptance of man’s works of virtue to blot out man’s sins” (Sonntag, summing up Chemnitz, Examen, 438).

    The fact remains that in every passage we can find about judgment in Holy Scripture, the emphasis is always on works as the proof of an authentic faith. That’s all God talks about! It simply does not square with the faith alone / imputed justification mentality. It’s not what we would expect to find at all under that false premise. I proved this in my paper:

    Final Judgment in Scripture is Always Associated With Works And Never With Faith Alone (50 Passages)

    http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2008/02/final-judgment-and-eternal-destiny-in.html

    The great Catholic apologist Bishop Bossuet cited Matthew 19:17: “. . . If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” Then he commented:

    “It is permitted, in the new Reformation, to say, that good works are necessary, as things, which God requires from man, but it cannot be said that they are necessary to salvation. And why, then, does God require them? Is it not in order to save us? . . . It is, therefore, precisely for obtaining life and eternal salvation that good works are necessary according to the Gospel, and it is what the whole Scripture preaches to us. But the new Reformation has discovered this subtlety, that one may without difficulty allow them to be necessary, provided it be not for salvation. The question regarded the adult, for as to little children, all were agreed. Who would have believed the Reformation was to bring forth such a prodigy? and that this proposition, ‘Good works are necessary to salvation,’ should ever have been condemned?”

     
  3. Nathan

    January 9, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    David,

    It appears than that you are saying I have fairly represented the RC doctrine then.

    Glad to here that. : )

    “That we must “do” something to appropriate the free grace given to us by God) — synergy and merit — is utterly, massively obvious from Scripture as well.”

    Babies don’t do much in their baptism though, and baptism saves not without faith.

    Of course, the Lutheran position is that good works are not necessary for salvation – only true repentance and faith are necessary. This, teaching, which we regard as wholly biblical, safeguards absolution. At the same time, good works are necessary, and we will certainly be rewarded (although not with “eternal life”) for the good works God does in us.

    +Nathan

     
  4. Nathan

    January 9, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    Dave,

    I did not see your comment #2! One more comment today and this will have to suffice.

    D:

    “Final Judgment in Scripture is Always Associated With Works And Never With Faith Alone (50 Passages)

    http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2008/02/final-judgment-and-eternal-destiny-in.html

    Yes, of course. The final judgment however, is not for God’s eyes, but the worlds. He knows His sheep by faith, the world by their works (but imperfectly). In the last day, all that is secret will be laid bear, and the world will not cease to know who are His by works, but this time, without fail, for it will be His own words that reveal it.

    D:

    “The great Catholic apologist Bishop Bossuet cited Matthew 19:17: “. . . If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” Then he commented:

    “It is permitted, in the new Reformation, to say, that good works are necessary, as things, which God requires from man, but it cannot be said that they are necessary to salvation. And why, then, does God require them? Is it not in order to save us? . . . It is, therefore, precisely for obtaining life and eternal salvation that good works are necessary according to the Gospel, and it is what the whole Scripture preaches to us. But the new Reformation has discovered this subtlety, that one may without difficulty allow them to be necessary, provided it be not for salvation. The question regarded the adult, for as to little children, all were agreed. Who would have believed the Reformation was to bring forth such a prodigy? and that this proposition, ‘Good works are necessary to salvation,’ should ever have been condemned?””

    It may indeed be right to say that they are necessary to save our neighbor (the feet that bring good news in Romans 10….), but strictly speaking, not ourselves.

    Because of course, we believe that our good works proceed from our salvation. Again, our position is that Christians are saved for good works, not saved by good works. The Christian makes the works – the works don’t make the Christian. The Christians is good because He is God’s, not to be God’s. The Christian reflects, not effects, their salvation. The Christian inherits, not merits, eternal life.

    These posts deal with both of these topics a bit:

    https://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2009/07/31/babies-in-church-part-v-the-arrogance-of-the-infant-a/

    https://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2009/10/23/babies-in-church-part-vi-the-arrogance-of-the-infant-b/

    By the way, I hope to answer Adomnan very soon here: http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2011/10/justification-is-not-by-faith-alone.html

     
  5. Nathan

    January 9, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    …or the tree makes the fruit, and not vice-versa….

    Luke 7 helps with all this (the sinful woman who loves much)

    +Nathan

     
  6. Dave Armstrong

    January 11, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    I didn’t get notified of a reply in my e-mail (I checked the box off!), so I just saw your replies. Will counter-reply as soon as I can . . . but it’ll probably rapidly descend into endless discussions on the meaning of justification and faith and works, that I have done 100 times and have no particular interest in . . . 🙂 I was sparring with a Lutheran minister the last few days on my Facebook page about related issues.

     
  7. Dave Armstrong

    January 11, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    I just happened to come across the following argument from Nicholas Cardinal Wiseman (1802-1865): a very brilliant apologist, who should be a lot more known:

    Leviticus 5:5-6 (RSV): When a man is guilty in any of these, he shall confess the sin he has committed, [6] and he shall bring his guilt offering to the LORD for the sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin.

    Wiseman: We find, in the old law, that there were institutions for the forgiveness of sin, and that those institutions were so appointed as to make the manifestation of the transgression necessary, and preliminary to their application. God divided the sacrifices into different classes. There were those which were lor absolute sin, there were those which were only for ignorant and almost involuntary, or at least unwilling transgression against the law of God. In the fifth chapter of Leviticus, we have it expressly said, if any man shall have transgressed in such a way, he shall confess —that is, he shall manifest the sin, and then shall the sacrifice be appointed; so that it appears from the very nature of the institution, and from the express enactments of God in the old law, that the manifestation of sin to the priest of his temple was a condition, a preliminary of their forgiveness—of course, so far as a sacrifice could be considered a means of forgiveness—that is to say, as the means of exciting faith in that great sacrifice through which alone forgiveness of sin was to be obtained. As I have again and again pointed out to you, the analogies between the system established by God in the old law, and by our blessed Saviour in the new, it cannot be necessary for me to dwell upon this circumstance, farther than to observe how, in the first place, we should naturally expect that, if there was a provision made for the outward manifestation of sin, and it was made as a preliminary step tor the authoritative outward forgiveness of it, we should expect, at least, a continuance of it in some form in the new law, and, particularly that we should expect it in greater perfection—that there should not be a falling off, but an advancing in the new.

    (Lectures on the Doctrines and Practices of the Roman Catholic Church [London: J. S. Hodson, 1836], pp. 235-236)

    http://books.google.com/books?pg=PA233&dq=inauthor:Nicholas+inauthor:wiseman&id=SJYOAAAAYAAJ#v=onepage&q=inauthor%3ANicholas%20inauthor%3Awiseman&f=false

     
  8. Dave Armstrong

    January 11, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    He continues on pp. 236-237, commenting on James 5:16:

    I need hardly observe, that in the same way as we have seen that in the old law, confession or manifestation of sin, was appointed as a means of obtaining forgiveness of sin [Leviticus, ch. 5], that so we have expressions in the new quite sufficient to recal to the early Christians the former institution, and to make them suppose that Providence had not completely broken up the system that was anciently pursued. They are told to confess their sins to one another. Now, it is very true, that that text is exceedingly vague; that it does not say, that they are to be confessed to the priest, that they are to be confessed to a private individual. It may only signify, that a general confession of sin is to be made in the church, and yet I think, the very expression, “confess your sins one to another,” signifies something of a more private nature, than the mere general declaration, in which all the community join, or in saying what even a hardened sinner will not hesitate to unite in saying, when all around repeat it, that he has sinned before God. It seems to imply an act of greater humiliation, of a more close communication between one member of the church and another. But still I only bring it forward to show, that there was not an end to the obligation of manifesting sin; that there is nothing said in the New Testament to show us, that such a natural and obvious method of obtaining relief was abandoned or abolished in the new law.

     
  9. Nathan

    January 12, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    David,

    Fair enough – a way to “manifest sin” should precede absolution. I agree – true repentance is necessary. Still, one may go through all of the actions above and do so without true repentance – and we don’t believe that we should say that this will do that person any good. I note that while private confession is certainly to be preferred – and in fact is given to us by God for our comfort and encouragement (why would we resist this wonderful gift) – public confession does indeed “manifest sin” by the words people speak. Again, it can be done without repentance as well, and, as we say, faith “lives in repentance”. Faith in God’s word lives in repentance.

    The Lutheran position on these Levitical laws and sacrifices is that they pointed to Christ. Although *by faith* they certainly could positively serve a person in their relationship with God – because of the comforting words of forgiveness by the blood which ultimately pointed to the true lamb and sacrifice (Isaiah 53, Gen. 3), these laws and sacrifices also served to keep “law and order” not only in the Church, but in the Nation of Israel. I think that is important to recognize – I don’t think that these things should be understood to define (as opposed to representing) and contain within them the whole of the Israelites’ relationship with God.

    So how much attention do you think we ought to give to the sincerity of our repentance as indicated not only by our words but by our deeds? What do we see in the Gospels and Epistles?

    +Nathan

     
  10. Dave Armstrong

    January 12, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    Repentance must be heartfelt and sincere, of course.

    Once again, the Catholic Church has followed the biblical, apostolic, and patristic practice, and Lutheranism has departed from it. The Lutheran task is to rationalize this departure away, but (surprise!) I don’t think it works at all.

    Have a great day!

    Dave

     
  11. Nathan

    January 12, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    Dave,

    Well, that is all assertion. You should take a look at all that is said about these things (the evidence and argument) in the Apology to the Augsburg Confession. It seems quite clear to me that the shoe is on the other foot.

    Blessings,
    Nathan

     

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