A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH

Indulgences are not Invention of Medieval Age

Vatican Publishes New Guidelines on Indulgences

VATICAN CITY, 17 SEP 1999 (ZENIT).

"When correctly understood and fully received, indulgences are a vital element of that continuous conversion, the constant process of sanctification that characterizes supernatural life on earth," Cardinal William Wakefield Baum said this morning, during the presentation of the new edition of the "Enchiridion Indulgentiarum," or guidelines on indulgences, at a press conference in Vatican City. The new edition of the document on indulgences was prepared by the Apostolic Penitentiary.

Addressing the much debated topic of indulgences, Cardinal Baum added that "an indulgence is intimately connected to the sacrament of Reconciliation, and offers an effective contribution to the global growth of the people of God, not only because it gives interior help to the salvation of each Christian, but also because it is united to ecclesial communion, the practice of public prayer, lived charity and voluntary asceticism."

Indulgences and Jubilee This is the fourth edition of the document published by the Vatican. The third Latin edition was published in 1986. During the press conference, Bishop Dario Rezza, a Vatican canonist, explained that "the Jubilee of 2000 is a wonderful reason to rediscover this treasure, which many of today's Catholics ignore. The indulgence is an integral part of the Jubilee event."

Silence on Indulgences Bishop Rezza admitted that a curtain of silence was drawn on this issue for two reasons: its rejection by the Reformed Churches, following the challenge to the indulgences themselves and their application during the Reformation; as well as some recent historical research on the Middle Ages, which has considered them to be 'abuses of devotion,' which arose together with the so-called 'Medieval invention' of Purgatory."

"Catholic doctrine on indulgences is based on very precise theological assumptions and on well-documented historical precedents of Tradition," Cardinal Baum explained. In the doctrinal section of the 1967 Apostolic Constitution, known by the Latin name "Indulgentiarum Doctrina," indulgences are given their theological foundation, reminding the faithful above all that the nature of sin confers a penalty that must be assumed; in the second place, there is a law of spiritual solidarity among all men, what Catholics call the "communion of saints," by which sin not only has a personal dimension, but also a communal one that must be repaired; and, finally, there is the Church's treasure, which includes Christ's merits, as well as those of the Virgin and saints, which can be put at the disposal of the faithful through the Church.

Bishop Rezza admitted that the meaning of indulgences has often been misinterpreted; it is not automatic reparation for sin. Rather, it inspires Christians to do works of penance and charity, especially those that contribute to the common good and growth in faith. "This is the reason why the Church offers indulgences and convokes jubilees."

Novelty The novelty of the new Vatican document on indulgences, the Cardinal explained, is precisely the emphasis on "the way its granting helps to increase the quest for supernatural charity, be it in each one of the faithful or in the ecclesial community itself." Specifically, among the new reasons that make the granting of an indulgence possible, the text that the Holy See has just published states the consolidation of the Christian basis of the family, participation in the days and weeks of prayer with specific religious ends, the Eucharistic devotion, the extension of the plenary indulgence through group prayer of the Rosary and the 'Akathistos' hymn."

Medieval Invention? Fr. Ivan Fucek, assistant theologian of the Apostolic Penitentiary, said that the Church's doctrine on indulgences and Purgatory, which is denied by some, is clearly expressed in St. Thomas. But, he was not the one who invented it; it was implicit in the Church's doctrine from the very beginning. The Councils that followed merely confirmed it.

Fr. Fucek admitted it is not easy to come to an agreement with Protestants, since "they do not recognize the sacraments and an indulgence is part of the sacrament of Confession." However, "many steps forward have been taken," he added.

Fr. Fucek concluded by addressing the issue of the sale of indulgences. "The Church has never sold indulgences; some persons did this, and others have accused the Church of doing so. In his 95 theses, Martin Luther accused the Church of faults she did not commit." ZE99091701

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