"As St. Augustine puts it, there is a difference between having a poison dart
removed and having the body recover afterwards. Hence the total triumph over sin involves not only its removal (forgiveness), but a healing of those wounds (its
Professor clarifies myths about practice of indulgences
As the controversy over a recent editorial in this newspaper illustrates, indulgences are easily misunderstood by non-Catholics and even by Catholics themselves. One cannot do justice to the topic of indulgences in a 680-word article, but at least the following clarifications can be offered.
Myth No. 1: Indulgences are a part of Catholicism's doctrine of works-based salvation. There is a double myth here, that the Catholic Church has a "works-based" soteriology (it doesn't) and that indulgences stem from it. The key to understanding indulgences is not the prism of faith and works, but of what is called operative and cooperative grace. Operative grace is grace that God works in us without us, such as the gift of faith, which none of us deserve and for which none of us has meritoriously prepared ourselves. Receiving operative grace is like being brought back to life on the operating table after spiritually flat-lining. Cooperative grace, on the other hand, is akin to our cooperating with the Divine Physician in rehab, doing what he tells us in order to facilitate our recovery.
It is not that we are "healing ourselves" through our good works; rather, we are simply cooperating with the healing process orchestrated by the Physician. In Catholic life, indulgences can be one part of this healing process.
Myth No. 2: Indulgences are an "excuse" for sin or a "do-over" of some kind. Indulgences do not forgive or re-forgive sins; they help to remove the effects of sins that have already been forgiven. Sin is not only a transgression against God; it is also a wounding of oneself and of one's community -- and wounds leave a lingering effect.
As St. Augustine puts it, there is a difference between having a poison dart removed and having the body recover afterwards. Hence the total triumph over sin involves not only its removal (forgiveness), but a healing of those wounds (its effects). Indulgences only deal with the latter....
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