Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mr. Henderson on (against) the Catholic doctrine on Indulgences


I don't have time to weave my thoughts into a proper essay-style rebuttal, so I'll just offer the following thoughts in bullet points, which (points) might be disorganised, so please excuse any incoherence in them:
  • The overall problem with Mr. Henderson's critique is the complete failure to address the distinction between objective redemption (the historical work wrought by Christ) and subjective redemption (how that redeeming work is applied to Christians down through the ages/how Christians participate in that redeeming work). So Mr. Henderson, late in his piece, says that

    The Indulgence, which is gained by performing the prescribed pious work - it may be saying the Creed or the Lord’s Prayer or a Hail Mary - remits (i.e. cancels) the temporal punishment. Here the sufficiency of Christ’s satisfaction for sins is clearly brought into question, as the temporal punishment due for sin is remitted by a satisfaction made by the believer himself, or in the case of the “poor souls in purgatory” by someone still living on their behalf.

    Well, no, the gaining of an Indulgence does not impugn the sufficiency of Christ's satisfaction for sin, for several reasons:

    1. The Indulgence is dispensed from the Treasury of Merit, which is the sum of the merits of Christ and His living members, but even if no-one after Christ merited anything, the superabundant merits of Christ would still be quite sufficient. (Mr. Henderson appears confused here in another way too, because earlier he had identified (correctly) the "prescribed pious work" of the Indulgence-gainer as a condition for the remission of temporal punishment, but now he speaks of it (incorrectly, in the context of Indulgences) as a cause of that remission. One of Christ's living members can indeed merit satisfaction for his sins and the sins of others, but then that would not, of course, be an Indulgence.)

    2. The question of whether the redemption wrought by Christ (objective redemption) was and is sufficient to satisfy for all sin is one thing, but the question of how that redemption is applied to any given Christian, and what should happen to that Christian if he or she falls back into sin after it is first applied, is another.

    In the same paragraph, Mr. Henderson goes on to ask

    What else is this [the Catholic doctrine on merit], I ask, but rank synergism, salvation by faith plus human works? How does it not undermine the doctrineof the vicarious satisfaction of Christ for the sins of the world and the sufficiency of the atonement made by Christ by teaching that there is still some satisfaction which must be made by the repentant sinner himself or by others - who have the "correct disposition" - on his behalf?

    There is more confusion on Mr. Henderson's part here, because in fact after Baptism there is no more satisfaction to be made for previous sins--that only becomes necessary if the baptised should lapse back into sin after his Baptism. So the question again is not one of whether Christ's satisfaction is sufficient, but of how that satisfaction is applied.

    Mr. Henderson's failure to distinguish objective from subjective redemption is at its most striking here:

    Then consider our Lord’s words “It is finished.” What was finished? The work he came to accomplish, making atonement to God for the sins of mankind.

    In other words, objective redemption was finished. But subjective redemption is another question altogether, and Mr. Henderson hence fails to refute the Catholic doctrinal claims on the matter. In his next paragraph, he goes on to write

    But what does this mean, the lay reader may ask? It means that the death of our Lord on the Cross not only removed the guilt of our sin, but also turned away the divine anger from repentant and believing sinners. God no longer punishes his children for their sins, for that punishment has been borne completely by Christ. God demonstrates his righteousness to us precisely by setting forth Christ as the atoning sacrifice for our sins, to paraphrase Paul in Romans 3 ...

    Here again we have the problem of objective vs. subjective redemption brought to the fore. It is as though for Mr. Henderson there is no distinction between the two. But that surely cannot be the case, for he is a Lutheran, and Lutherans at least administer Baptism, implicitly acknowledging that objective redemption needs to be applied subjectively.
  • Mr. Henderson writes that

    On the basis of these statements [by the Council of Trent and Paul VI.], we are entitled to draw the conclusion that for Rome the guilt of sin and its temporal punishment are two distinct things; guilt is atoned for by Christ’s death on the Cross, but temporal punishment must be expiated (suffered or paid for) by the repentant sinner, either in this life or the next.

    More confusion here, on two levels:

    1. Once again, Mr. Henderson fails to grasp that in Catholic doctrine, eternal and temporal punishment are both remitted in full when the Redemption is first applied to a soul by Baptism; no punishment whatsoever remains due after someone is baptised.

    2. Here, and throughout his piece (such as when he quotes St. Anselm asking "What else does it mean to remit sins than not to punish them?"), Mr. Henderson implicitly rejects a distinction between eternal and temporal punishment. Yet according to no less an authority than another Lutheran Pastor and S.C.E. commenter, namely William Weedon,

    the Lutheran Symbols distinguish between temporal and eternal punishments and we acknowledge that God’s remission of eternal punishments does not always eliminate temporal ones. The thief on the cross died a forgiven sinner and was welcomed to Christ kingdom; but the forgiveness didn’t get him out of his cross.

    (That quotation is all the more apposite here for its reference to the Good Thief, a reference which Mr. Henderson also makes.)
  • Mr. Henderson asks

    Now, what strange love is this, that [sic] forgives, but still punishes? Strange indeed!

    Here the maxims 'beggars can't be choosers' and 'don't look a gift horse in the mouth' come to mind; if we have been given the gift of new life, and with it the remission of all the punishment we owe, in Baptism, then we can hardly complain if the Giver of this gift requires that some satisfaction be made for sins commited after receiving it. Whereas acts of justice involve giving to someone what is his own, acts of charity/love involve giving to someone what is one's own, and hence an act of charity can be as great or as small as one pleases. Thus there is nothing 'strange' about a love which pays all of someone else's debt at one point in time, but which requires that, if and when future debts are incurred, the debtor pay some share of the newly-acquired debt.

    Furthermore, The Catechism of The Council of Trent explains thus how the Catholic doctrine on post-Baptismal satisfaction involves no contradiction of Divine mercy/charity/love:

    It is also in keeping with the divine mercy not to remit our sins without any satisfaction, lest, taking occasion hence, and imagining our sins less grievous than they are, we should become injurious, as it were, and contumelious to the Holy Ghost, and should fall into greater enormities, treasuring up to ourselves wrath against the day of wrath. These satisfactory penances have, no doubt, great influence in recalling from and, as it were, bridling against sin, and in rendering the sinner more vigilant and cautious for the future.
    See also Trent, Session XIII, Ch. 8, from which the foregoing was originally drawn and which contains a wealth of relevant Scriptural references. And the whole of the Roman Catechism's section "Advantages of Satisfaction" is worth reading.]

  • Mr. Henderson concludes with the following (a little 'epilogue' follows the conclusion, though):

    We cannot, and need not, add to the sacrifice of Christ through our own penal sufferings. To assert that we can is to deny the completeness and sufficiency of Christ’s atonement and deny the Word of God.

    We "cannot ... add to the sacrifice of Christ through our own penal sufferings". So the sufferings of a living member of the Body of Christ are worthless? We "need not ... add to the sacrifice of Christ through our own penal sufferings". So there is, then, no deterrent against falling back into sin after one's Baptism? "To assert that we can is to deny the completeness and sufficiency of Christ’s atonement and deny the Word of God." No, it isn't, since God is perfectly free to apply the fruits of the Redemption as He sees fit.
  • I conclude with the following: Mr. Henderson asks

    Need I remind the reader of how this system [of "rank synergism"] contradicts scripture? There is a catena of passages one could cite, but suffice it to point to the chief passages and let the reader examine each passage for himself in context and follow through by using the cross-references in his own Bible: Isaiah 43:25, John 3:36, 5: 24, Romans 3,5:9, Romans 8, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Colossians 2:13, Hebrews 1:3; 1 John 2:1-2, 5:10-13, Revelation 1:5.

    That's a perfectly Protestant approach to take--"to point to the chief passages and let the reader examine each passage for himself in context and follow through by using the cross-references in his own Bible" (and here he is in complete accord with Mr. Weedon--"[t]he Lutheran approach is to invite anyone and everyone to read for themselves the Sacred Scriptures and to compare our teaching with them" (source)--but is it the right one? Mr. Henderson has said in the past that "we [Lutherans] hold that everything necessary for salvation and for the faith and life of the church has been set down by the Apostles in the NT", which we can broaden, given Mr. Henderson's Old Testament references here, to say "... by the Apostles and Prophets in the NT and OT." Where, then, is it set down in the Old and/or New Testaments that 'everything necessary for salvation and for the faith and life of the church has been set down by the Apostles and Prophets in the NT and OT'?
Reginaldvs Cantvar
Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of Our Saviour, and (the feast) of St. Theodore, Martyr, A.D. 2010

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