April 13, 2012

Be Our Guest / Jim Welter

Why not include good news of joint dialogue statement between Catholics and Lutherans in ‘Question Corner’ response?

Jim WelterFather Kenneth Doyle’s response concerning the granting of indulgences in the “Question Corner” column in the March 16 issue of The Criterion raises more questions than it answers.

As he states, the Church’s teaching about indulgences has been around for about 1,000 years. It follows then that they were not around for an equally long period of time. So the time length alone would not seem to justify their usefulness in Catholic teaching.

The Church, during Vatican II, found expressions that more adequately described the nature of sin, as well as God’s mercy and forgiveness, so the emphasis on indulgences under the guidance of the Holy Spirit was diminished as the reader correctly notes.

Father Doyle could have ended his answer on such a pastoral tone. Instead, he chose to expand his answer by short-changing history and only telling half of the story.

Historically, we know that there were many Catholic reformers in addition to Martin Luther who opposed the abuses to indulgences prior to and during the Reformation period.

Erasmus of Rotterdam, who corresponded with Luther, was perhaps the best known. The selling of indulgences did not “ignite” the reformation as Father Doyle states because by the time Luther returned from exile in the Castle at Wittenberg—after only two years—the practice of selling of indulgences had largely been discontinued.

The real issue for Luther was much larger as it addressed the theology of indulgences themselves and the authority of the pope to be the dispenser of God’s forgiveness.

A series of dialogues which took place between the Catholic and Lutheran traditions following Vatican II resolved many of the divisive issues of the 16th century to the extent that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger—now Pope Benedict XVI—actually signed a document in 1999 supporting the revocation of Luther’s excommunication.

The conclusion of these modern dialogues and the final agreement between the Catholic and the Evangelical Lutheran traditions can be summarized in a simple phrase and puts to death the centuries-old, and totally unnecessary, argument of whether we are saved through works or grace. “We are saved by grace to free us for good works!”

As a committed Catholic, I wonder why Father Doyle did not choose to share the good news of this joint dialogue statement in his column rather than place upon her shoulders the burden of “a theology with a checkered past.”

(Jim Welter is a member of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis.)

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