The Roman Carousel

In November of 1994, Pope John Paul II promulgated Tertio Millennio Adveniente, a wonderful encyclical, loaded with double-talk. In common with just about everything Rome publishes, this document bristled with citations from the Bible; that book the Roman Church proclaims yet does not follow. One of my favorites is:

4. Christ, the redeemer of the world, is the one mediator between God and men, and there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved (cf. Acts 4:12)…--John Paul II, Encyclical Tertio Millennio Adveniente, released on November 14, 1994

“See?” the document seems to say, “We know and teach that Christ is the only Mediator between God and mankind. How can there be any doubt that we look to Jesus to intercede for us before the Throne of God?”

And yet in her Catechism the RCC teaches that:

969 This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfilment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation ....Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.--Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), © 1994/1997 United States Catholic Conference, Inc.

Sure seems to me that in the Catechism the Roman Church informs that Mary also is a mediator between God and man. Is this an aberration? Nope. The good old boys in St. Peter's have been building Mary up for some time now; as these few examples will show:

For God has committed to Mary the treasury of all good things, in order that everyone may know that through her are obtained every hope, every grace, and all salvation. For this is his will, that we obtain everything through Mary.--Pius IX, Encyclical Ubi Primum promulgated on February 2, 1849

O Mary, the guardian of our peace and the dispensatrix of heavenly graces.--Leo XIII, Encyclical Supremi Apostolatus Officio, promulgated September 1, 1883

It was granted to the august Virgin to be together with her Only-begotten Son the most powerful Mediatrix and Conciliatrix of the whole world. So Christ is the source . . . Mary, however, as St. Bernard justly remarks, is the channel, or she is the neck by which the Body is united to the Head... through which ALL spiritual gifts are communicated to his Body.--Pius X, Encyclical Ad Diem Illum, promulgated on February 2, 1904 [My emphasis]

4. ...With equal truth may it be also affirmed that, by the will of God, Mary is the intermediary through whom is distributed unto us this immense treasure of mercies gathered by God, for mercy and truth were created by Jesus Christ.[Jn 1.17] Thus as no man goeth to the Father but by the Son, so no man goeth to Christ but by His Mother....Leo XIII, Encyclical Octobri Mense, promulgated on September 22, 1891

Confiding in her intercession with Jesus, "the one Mediator of God and man, who wished to associate his own Mother with himself as the advocate of sinners, as the dispenser and mediatrix of grace.--Plus XI, Encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor, promulgated on May 8, 1928

The Roman Catholic carousel turns and turns. The figures pass before our eyes, seeming to change, but really always the same.

This gobbledygook is not what grabbed the attention of Christian watchers on the walls. After all, most already are familiar with Rome's incredible ability to maintain a straight face while speaking out of both sides of its mouth at once. No. What got their attention was John Paul II's mention of indulgences.

14. What needs to be emphasized, however, is what Isaiah expresses in the words "to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." For the Church, the jubilee is precisely this "year of the Lord's favor," a year of the remission of sins and of the punishments due to them, a year of reconciliation between disputing parties, a year of manifold conversions and of sacramental and extrasacramental penance. The tradition of jubilee years involves the granting of indulgences on a larger scale than at other times.--John Paul II, Op. cit.

“Whoa!” Some readers may have exclaimed. “I thought this indulgences thing had been settled about the time that German guy nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenburg church. Didn't the Catholic Church 'get religion' not too long after that?”

It would appear that the RCC really has never faced up to the reality of its sinful program of indulgence peddling. There were reactions to the accusations of the Reformers, and Rome promptly did what she always has and probably always will do when caught with her hand in the cookie jar; she denied having had anything to do with it. As far as official Rome is concerned, those guys who were peddling indulgences were not acting in accord with the official position of the RCC. Like Pilate, she washed her hands of responsibility. A familiar pattern.When Rome denies responsibility, those who claim to speak for her are quick to echo:

…The Catholic Church does not now or has it ever approved the sale of indulgences. This is to be distinguished from the undeniable fact that individual Catholics (perhaps the best known of them being the German Dominican Johann Tetzel [1465-1519]) did sell indulgences--but in doing so they acted contrary to explicit Church regulations. This practice is utterly opposed to the Catholic Church's teaching on indulgences, and it cannot be regarded as a teaching or practice of the Church.--This Rock, magazine, April, 1994, quoted in Quick Questions (1994) , New Advent Catholic Supersite (C) 2007 Kevin Knight

Well, of course, I suppose the above disclaimer could be true. As with almost everything involving the heresies and deceptions of the Roman Church, understanding depends upon the meanings one assigns to words and what the RCC's own documents really say – as opposed to what they appear to say. When dealing with the history and doctrine of the Lady of the Tiber, one needs always to bear in mind that there is no such thing as a fixed meaning for anything. Every interpretation is situational.

And the Catholic Carousel continues spinning around and around.

Richard McBrien, a respected Catholic theologian and educator, has this to say about Leo X:

The Protestant Reformation began during the pontificate of Leo X, in large part because of his decision to sell church offices and indulgences in order to pay off debts incurred through personal extravagance, military campaigns, and the construction of St. Peter's Basilica.--Richard P. McBrien, Lives of the Popes, © 1997 by Richard P. McBrien, p. 272

Oops! It seems that at least one prominent Catholic educator disagrees with the the above declaration that Rome never approved the sale of indulgences. Of course, if Pope Leo X had no authority to speak for the cult over which he reigned, then strength might be lent to The Rock's disclaimer.

And the Catholic carrousel goes 'round and 'round.

Now, let's see here. The reigning Pope is the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, latest in an unbroken line (we are told) of apostolic successors stretching from Peter. One would reason that, as undisputed ruler of so great an ecclesiastical empire, what he commanded be done would, in fact, become the 'official' position of the Roman Catholic Church.

Maybe Leo just made a little mistake. After all, we are told, Popes are good guys and in fact are Christ's personal representatives on earth, His Vicarius Christi. Leo's qualifications for high clerical office were excellent: he was the son of Lorenzo de Medici. Tonsured at age 7, cardinal-deacon at 13, he bought his way to the papal throne when he was 37. Leo was a big spender who enjoyed walking on the wild side. His high living was so costly that he was forced to pawn his palace furniture and silver and gold plates, and to sell church offices – even cardinal's hats. (McBrien, Op. cit., 273)

The Catholic Church, and those under her spell, find it remarkably easy to explain away the many glaring contradictions between the teachings and actions of RCC hierarchy and the clear words of Holy Scriptures. For example, Paul wrote these thundering words to the Corinthian church:

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.--1 Corinthians 6:9-10

Of course, he goes on to show that God's mercy and Christ's blood will cover even such grievous sins as these, when one is called by God's grace and is saved by faith. The truly regenerate person, though unable to live a perfect life, will continue to grow in sanctification and will repent, or turn aside from his former sinful ways. One certainly would imagine that Catholics would expect their pope to be a regenerate man, a man living as godly a life as is possible in this world. Well, that certainly was not the case with Leo X:

Guicciardini, the greatest historian of the Middle Ages and a Catholic, says that Leo was not accused of vice before his election, but "he was afterwards found to be excessively devoted to pleasures which cannot be called decent" (Storia d'Italia, lib. XVI, C. V, p. 254, in the 1832 edition), and the Pope's friend and biographer, Bishop Giovio, discusses at length (Vita Leonis X, lib. IV, pp. 96-9, in the 1551 edition) the charge that he was addicted to sodomy, and lamely concludes that it is difficult to be sure on such secret matters.--Joseph McCabe, A Rationalist Encyclopaedia , Leo X, © 1948

In fairness, it should be mentioned that Leo X did not originate the business of selling indulgences. In fact, he but continued the flourishing trade carried on by his predecessor, Julius II. Julius did not originate the trade, but had made use of a practice of long-standing in the Catholic Church. It was Julius' uncle, Sixtus IV – the first pope to license the brothels of Rome – who came up with the idea of applying indulgences to the dead, thus establishing a nearly infinite source of revenue.

Indulgence selling and other fiscal abuses of the Roman Catholic Church had reached such a sorry state by the middle of the 16th century that Juan de Valdez, brother of the secretary of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, wrote:

I see that we can scarcely get anything from Christ's ministers but for money, at bishopping money, at marriage money, for confession money – no, not extreme unction without money! They will ring no bells without money, no burial in the church without money; so that it seemeth that Paradise is shut up without money. The rich is buried in the church, the poor in the churchyard…The rich man may readily get large indulgences, the poor none, because he wanteth money to pay for them.--Juan de Valdez, quoted by Arthur Noble in The Resurrection of Indulgences or Is Tetzel really dead? © 1999 Ian Paisley.

That there was big money involved in indulgence peddling (A Middle Ages corollary to today's drug trade) may be recognized in the fact that secular rulers, always needing money to pay for their wars and such, became upset with the flow of their subjects' money out of their kingdoms and into the coffers of the Roman Church. Leo X figured out how to deal with that issue. He began offering kickbacks to secular rulers. For example, he offered English King Henry VII a fourth of Rome's English “take.” Henry held out for a third, however.

The Catholic apologist cries out, “Hey! The Church has admitted there were abuses, and she even addressed them at the Council of Trent. Since then, things have changed.”

Yep. Trent did look at the way indulgences were being handled and, surprisingly, hinted that there had been abuses. This is the outcome of the Council's deliberations:

Since the power of granting indulgences was conferred by Christ on the Church (cf. Matt. 16:19, 18:18, John 20:23), and she has even in the earliest times made use of that power divinely given to her, the holy council teaches and commands that the use of indulgences, most salutary to the Christian people and approved by the authority of the holy councils, is to be retained in the Church, and it condemns with anathema those who assert that they are useless or deny that there is in the Church the power of granting them.

In granting them, however, it desires that in accordance with the ancient and approved custom in the Church moderation be observed, lest by too great facility ecclesiastical discipline be weakened. But desiring that the abuses which have become connected with them, and by any reason of which this excellent name of indulgences be blasphemed by the heretics, be amended and corrected, it ordains in a general way by the present decree that all evil traffic in them, which has been a most prolific source of abuses among the Christian people, be absolutely abolished. Other abuses, however, of this kind which have sprung from superstition, ignorance, irreverence, or from whatever other sources, since by reason of the manifold corruptions in places and provinces where they are committed, they cannot conveniently be prohibited individually, it commands all bishops diligently to make note of, each in his own church, and report them to the next provincial synod, so that after having been examined by the other bishops also they may forthwith be referred to the supreme Roman pontiff, by whose authority and prudence that may be ordained which is expedient for the universal Church; that thus the gift of holy indulgences may be dispensed to all the faithful piously, holily and without corruption. —Council of Trent, Sess. 25, Decree on Indulgences; cf. Denzinger 989

Interestingly, the bishops participating in the Council of Trent acknowledged that there were abuses, blaming them on “superstition, ignorance, irreverence, or whatever other sources,” but did not mention the cupidity of popes, cardinals, bishops and others in the upper echelons of the Catholic Church. In effect, the bishops at Trent laid the blame for the abuses attendant to the sale of indulgences at the feet of those who purchased them, not those who sold them. Seems that the phrase, mea culpa, only applies to the folks in the pews and never to the anointed of Rome.

And the Catholic carrousel spins 'round and 'round.

“Well,” protests the Catholic apologist, “Trent was convened four and a half centuries ago. Times have changed. The Church no longer behaves in that way.”

Is that true? In the middle of the last century, Pius IX made it clear that indulgences would “continue to be gained in the same manner and form as heretofore.” (Letter of Charge d'Affaires of the Holy See to the Archbishop of Toledo, October 1, 1854)

Then, in 1967, Pope Paul VI reiterated Catholic teaching on indulgences and added a few reforms in his apostolic constitution Indulgentarium Doctrina (cf. Vatican II: The Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery, O.P, Costello, 1980, pp. 62-79.

Following Vatican II, the norms for indulgences were slightly changed. No longer were partial indulgences expressed in numbers of days or years. Seems folks had been confused, thinking those figures referred to a reduction in the time to be spent in Purgatory, when they actually were referent to public penances to be performed in the early church. The partial indulgence supposedly had the equivalence of the merits of the public penances of similar duration. All very confusing .

How does one obtain indulgences today? Well, you can get a partial indulgence by thinking pious thoughts, praying certain prayers, doing good works, stuff like that. Now, in order to obtain the indulgence, the individual must attend confession and communion within 8 days (before or after) the indulgenced action or prayer and pray for the Pope's intentions (whatever that means), traditionally with one “Our Father” and one “Hail Mary.”

Partial indulgences are OK, I suppose, but why not go for the big one, the plenary indulgence that remits all the temporal punishment for sin? You can do that by praying the Rosary in a church or with the family; praying the Stations of the Cross in a church or visiting a parish church on its feast day. Then, too, you could kiss a cross on Good Friday.

In order to make the plenary indulgence work, one must do everything required for the partial indulgence, plus meet another condition. The individual must be completely separated from his sins, even those itty-bitty daily sins. If the individual is not able to completely detach himself from his sins, then he only gets a partial indulgence. Now, how can one know whether he is fully detached? Ah! That is part of the mystery of Catholicism.

Not to worry. Not so long ago, John Paul II proclaimed the Y2K Year of Jubilee. Keeping the faithful pumped up is part of the business of indulgences. Like the hype that precedes the Olympic games or the Super Bowl, the Roman Church kept the approaching Jubilee in the forefront of Catholic minds. In his Bull of Indiction of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, JPII kept the adrenalin flowing with phrases such as: “Every Jubilee Year is like an invitation to a wedding feast.” Was this a hint to start saving up for a nice gift?

Here's a lovely statement which, if read for content, seems to direct indulgence seekers to the “right” places to leave their offerings:

5. How many historic memories the Jubilee evokes! We can recall the year 1300 when, responding to the wish of the people of Rome, Pope Boniface VIII solemnly inaugurated the first Jubilee in history. Resuming an ancient tradition with offered “abundant remission and pardon of sins” to those who visited St. Peter's Basilica in the Eternal City, he wished on that occasion to grant “a pardon of sins with would be not only more abundant, but complete.” From that time onwards, the Church has always celebrated Jubilees as significant steps on her journey towards the fulness of Christ.—John Paul II, Incarnationis Mysterium , promulgated on November 29, 1998

Appended at the end of Incarnationionis Mysterium is a set of instructions for indulgence seekers called Conditions for Gaining the Jubilee Indulgence. This document, issued by the Apostolic Penitentiary on November 29, 1998, gives the details of the works necessary to satisfy the requirements for earning a Jubilee indulgence. The rules are fairly loose, making allowances for one's limitations. There is, however, one inflexible rule: A person can only earn the full remission of sin but once a day. Reckon it would be good for a Catholic to perform his required indulgence works late in the day – just in case he might sin and die before he gets a chance to do some more good works and earn another plenary indulgence.

And the Catholic carrousel goes on spinning.

Do good works, give money to the church, say set prayers, doing stuff like that will gain one the full remission of the temporal consequences of sin. In Hebrews 12, we are told that God sometimes chastises those He loves. Does the RCC's ruling on Jubilee and other plenary indulgences take precedence over God's clear teaching? It appears to me that the Roman teaching tells us that even the chastisement of the Loving Father might be avoided by earning plenary indulgences. The Whore on the Tiber would never fly against the clear teaching of Scripture. Would it?

And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.-- Hebrews 12:5-13

Here is the whole Catholic program of salvation and indulgence as I see it: Salvation is by grace alone, through Christ alone. However, access to that grace is controlled by the Roman Church, which also controls to some extent Christ Himself (The priest commands Christ to come down from Heaven to become a cookie and a glass of cheap wine a million or more times a day). The Catholic Church teaches that Christ is the only mediator between God and man, but Mary is the mediator between man and Christ. God will forgive sin, but the RCC controls the process. God's forgiveness is not final or eternal, and one can fall into sin and lose his salvation again and again. The RCC provides the means to earn salvation again and again. Even forgiven sin bears consequences that must be paid by penance in this life or by simmering in Purgatory in the next. The Catholic Church provides the means to avoid the temporal consequences of sin. In other words, God is not in charge of God's program of salvation; the Pope is. Sigh!

One writer defined indulgences like this:

…Rome, by means of deft definitions, lifts the burden of eternal guilt and punishment of sin off the Roman Catholic sinner – only to re-impose, by means of her definition of “poena temporalis” (temporal punishment), another burden scarcely less appealing. The pains of Purgatory are substituted for the pains of Hell – and then this 're-imposed penalty,' as we might call it (practically the only penalty which Romanists yet fear) – this one the Catholic Church graciously takes away “in whole or in part” by her indulgences. Rome is an Indulgent Mother!--Fulano, Romish Indulgences of Today – An Exposure, London, (1902), p. 82f., quoted by Arthur Noble, Op.. cit.

What does Almighty God have to say concerning buying and selling indulgences?

Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:--1 Peter 1:18-19

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