One of the merits of this blog is that one encounters some very able Roman Catholic apologists; Servus Fidelis, is one such, as is Jessica’s friend, Joseph, and they are both well worth reading, not least for those who come to Catholicism with the Protestant view of what it teaches. Our recent discussions on Purgatory and Indulgences have prompted some interesting responses, but I remain unconvinced that Christ’s saving blood was not the once and for all intercession needed to save us.
One of the many false charges levelled at the Catholic Church is that it teaches a works-based salvation. It does not, but it is not too hard to see whence the charge comes. In response to a comment of mine on his blog (and do read the whole series, it taught me much I did not know), Joseph wrote:
The Church eventually comes to speak of a “treasury of merit” from which the pope dispenses satisfaction to apply it to your penance and remit it by means of an indulgence — but what that really means is that somebody — or even everybody, all the righteous people of all the Church — offered up the satisfaction they performed so that united with Christ, they could bear the sufferings of those of us who hurt.
Now then, language matters, and at the words ‘a treasury of merit’, my old Protestant hackles rose. We have no ‘merit’, I am afraid. What we ‘merit’ is damnation for our sins. Nice though the thought is, I do not see how we can cooperate with Christ to bear the sufferings of others, Christ bore that for us all, we are not coeval with him here; he does it alone. The very idea that all the good deeds and prayers somehow add up to a great treasury from which anyone can dispense anything is, in my eyes, a clear invention of man and designed to preserve the privileges and powers of a priestly caste. After all, if you really do believe that Pope has the power to remit aeons of time out of purgatory, what would you not offer the fellow in return?
One of the first acts of the Reformers was to close down chantry chapels. These were non-monastic houses of Religious who were paid (often by endowment) to says masses which would reduce the time of the benefactor in Purgatory. The Reformers, rightly, rejected such an idea: a poor man as much as a great was saved by the blood of the Lamb, and anyone who thought their wealth would get them time off was not reading their Gospel of Luke.
Yes, one can, if one wants, call in aid passages from Maccabees and decide to interpret a passage from Paul as verifying Purgatory and what follows from that belief. But the Orthodox do not so hold, nor does the Reformed Faith. There is no Treasury of ‘merits’, and there is no need to go to the Mother of the Son of Man, or one of his chief courtiers for justice. Those things were products of medieval society, and it was natural for such people to think in such ways. But to do this one needs to catch fragments and to build upon them elaborate superstructures. How much simpler to hold that Christ is the sole intercessor we need (although if one wants to pray to others, fair enough, but why?), and that the Blood of the Lamb saves us all.