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Dec 15

Just Indulge Me

2016 will be an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy for Catholics worldwide. For those of us who aren’t Catholic that may require some explaining.
The concept of Jubilee dates back to Leviticus 25:8-13. The passage refers to a special year occurring once every 50 years (the year after seven Sabbath years, which occur every seven years) during which debts are canceled, slaves are freed, and land is restored to the families of the original owners. In Christianity the concept of Jubilee was revived around 1300 by Pope Boniface VIII. He announced that those who were truly penitent and visited St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s Basilicas once a day for at least 15 days would be granted a full indulgence for their sins. Subsequent Jubilees have happened about every 25 or 50 years, although, as in the case of 2016, extraordinary ones are occasionally called.
In Catholic doctrine, while sins are forgiven by God, the believer is still expected to pay penance for those sins. An indulgence is, essentially, a way to lessen or eliminate the penance needed for one’s sins, such penance typically taking place in Purgatory (even though technically in official Catholic doctrine purgatory is a process and not an actual place). Those who seek indulgences must have their sins absolved in the traditional manner.
At least that is the way its described now. In 1517, Pope Leo X offered indulgences for those who gave alms to rebuild St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The aggressive marketing practices of Johann Tetzel (a noted “pardoner” and Grand Commissioner for Indulgences in Germany.) in promoting this cause provoked Martin Luther to write his Ninety-Five Theses, condemning what he saw as the purchase and sale of salvation. In Thesis 28 Luther objected to a saying attributed to Tetzel: "As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs". The Ninety-Five Theses not only denounced such transactions as worldly but denied the Pope's right to grant pardons on God's behalf in the first place: the only thing indulgences guaranteed, Luther said, was an increase in profit and greed, because the pardon of the Church was in God's power alone.
So the language, and history, of indulgences is likely to seem odd with non-Catholics. We should, perhaps think of it more as a way for the Pope to promote an agenda, no different than any other organization would. While we may not agree with the Catholic economy of grace, with the role of priests and penance and the church, I think we can agree that Mercy is a needful thing in our world.
And if we cannot applauded the celebration of Mercy we are miserable creatures indeed.

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