[St. Paul at his writing desk. Rembrandt. Click here.]Roman Catholic theology can be confusing if only because it is so complex and nuanced. It begins with the notion of "original sin." Adam and Eve sinned against the creator God and because of their sin, all human beings are guilty, tainted and deserve eternal punishment.
I know, it doesn't make sense, but that's the way it is.
The Sacrament of Baptism removes the guilt of sin and "all the penalties attached to sin. In the Sacrament of Penance the guilt of sin is removed, and with it the eternal punishment due to mortal sin; but there remains the temporal punishment required by Divine justice, and this requirement must be fulfilled either in the present life or in the world to come, i.e., in Purgatory."
But, lucky for you, there are such things as indulgences! "An indulgence offers the penitent sinner the means of discharging this debt during his life on earth." Then you can go straight to heaven when you die and bypass Purgatory!
Here's why: "An indulgence is valid both in the tribunal of the Church and in the tribunal of God. This means that it not only releases the penitent from his indebtedness to the Church ... but also from the temporal punishment which he has incurred in the sight of God and which, without the indulgence, he would have to undergo in order to satisfy Divine justice."
So, you must get right, not only with God, but with the Church. Divine justice, you know!
It gets even more confusing. An indulgence doesn't mean "that the Church pretends to set aside the claim of God's justice or that she allows the sinner to repudiate his debt. As St. Thomas says ..., 'He who gains indulgences is not thereby released outright from what he owes as a penalty, but is provided with the means of paying it." [My emphasis]
It's sort of like a spiritual loan company which controls a spiritual treasury. You owe the Great Poohbah, and the Church lends you or provides you with the resources out of its treasury to pay off your obligation.
There are different types of indulgences, but we're concerned here with only one - the Plenary type.
Last May, the Pope offered indulgences to those who commemorated the birth of the Apostle Paul.
Here's how the decree, titled "Special Indulgences are conceded to the faithful on the occasion of the 2000th anniversary of the birth of St. Paul the Apostle," begins:
"In the imminence of the liturgical Solemnity of the Princes of the Apostles, motivated by pastoral solicitude the Supreme Pontiff intends to provide promptly for spiritual treasures to be granted to the faithful for their sanctification, so that on this pious and happy occasion, from First Vespers of the Solemnity mentioned, they may renew and reinforce with even greater fervour intentions of supernatural salvation, principally in honour of the Apostle to the Gentiles, the 2000th anniversary of whose birth on earth is now approaching."
In other words, the Pope will grant indulgences to people who honor the birthday of St. Paul. That's easy, you think. You'll just go to your local Roman Catholic church and light a candle and say "Happy Birthday, Paul."
You can only get an indulgence by following these instructions:
1. First, you've got to get right with God and the Church by observing the Sacrament of Reconciliation and partaking in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Then you must "devoutly" make "a pilgrimage to the Papal Basilica of St. Paul on the Ostian Way," and pray "for the Supreme Pontiff's intentions."
This will be sufficient for you to receive a "Plenary Indulgence from temporal punishment" for your sins, once sacramental forgiveness and pardon for any shortcomings has been obtained."
[A Plenary Indulgence provides "remission of the entire temporal punishment due to sin so that no further expiation is required in Purgatory."]
2. You can gain a Plenary Indulgence by involving yourself "devoutly in a sacred function or in a pious public exercise in honour of the Apostle to the Gentiles; on the days of the solemn opening and closure of the Pauline Year, in all the sacred places; on other days specified by the local Ordinary, in holy places dedicated to St. Paul and, for the convenience of the faithful, in other places designated by the same Ordinary."
3. If you are ill or if for "another legitimate and important cause," you can't fulfill "the usual conditions as soon as possible," you can get a Plenary Indulgence, so long as you "spiritually join in a Jubilee celebration in honour of St. Paul, offering [your] prayers and sufferings to God for Christian unity.
You may need a lawyer to understand exactly what to do and how to do it, but how happy you will be to obtain relief from purging your unpurged sins in Purgatory!
It's amazing to a non-Catholic like myself, how the Roman Church developed into God's regent on earth with the ability to provide proper payment for the sins of its members.
What a creative bunch! And Purgatory; wow, that was dreamed up by some kind of theological genius!
If you're not Catholic, or even if you are, you really needn't worry about any of this stuff; it's all based on mythology and theological absurdities. None of it has any basis in reality. It's purpose is to keep the faithful in line and protect the power of the hierarchy. Guilt and fear work wonders.
What's even more humorous when you think about all this pompous piety is that no one has a clue when Saul, known as Paul, was born. There is absolutely no evidence to back up any of the "details" of Paul's life (of which there are very few) outside of the New Testament and the New Testament material is confusing and contradictory.
We can't even be sure where Paul was born much less when! If 2008 was the 2000th year of his birthday, he would have been born in 8 C.E., or about 12 years after the mythical birth of the legendary Jesus. But nobody, including the Supreme Pontiff, has a clue
I'd say, forget all this nonsense. Indulge yourself. Grab a beer and relax. Remember, God so loved the world ... and you have faith, right? You're gonna be OK!
More biblical artwork here.
Explanation of indulgences here.