My friend, UpstateLutheran (as much friend as someone I’ve never really met and with whom I constantly bicker over theological/apologetical issues can be), has responded to a post I made at TheologyWeb concerning an article over at The Anastasis Dialogue, which was a quote of a post made by Fr. Al Kimel over at Beggars All . . . got that? :)

Now, I don’t necessarily agree with Fr. Al Kimel’s position, especially in light of some unclear language he uses. Until I’m comfortable with what he’s exactly saying, I can’t agree or disagree. One such example is his use of the term “existential consequences.” I’m not a philosopher or theologian, so without some clarification on Fr. Kimel’s part, I can only guess at what he means, and guessing isn’t good enough.

I did post the article over at TheologyWeb, but I did it merely for discussion sake. A discussion that UpstateLutheran has taken up in this post on his blog.

Now, before I begin addressing UpstateLutheran’s post directly, I’ll simply link to a wonderful article by Mark Shea on Indulgences and use some of his insights to help clarify terms.

Shea writes, ” Catholic theology has an incorrigible knack for obscuring marvelous insights in confusing terminology.” He couldn’t be more right. Shea goes on to say, “In reality, temporal punishment is just Catholicese for what Protestants call chastisement.”

Firstly, is he correct? In the section on indulgences, the Catechism states, “While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds . . . the Christian must strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace.” The Bible often speaks of chastisement as God’s act of correcting what is ‘not correct’. For lack of more imagination, I would say God’s chastisement is the act of straightening what is crooked. Or, as Christ puts it in John 15:2, the unfruitful branches, though abiding in Him, will be purged so that they may be fruitful.

Shea continues, “In short, temporal punishment is part of how God redeems our sinful actions and turns their consequences into occasions of sanctity rather than damnation.” That is enough from Mr. Shea, as the remainder of his article deals more specifically with indulgences.

Now, on to our friend’s post:

In any case, what is being developed is what “temporal punishments” we have to make “satisfaction” for.

I do not believe that this is the gist of what Fr. Kimel was trying to say or indeed said. In the comment section at Beggars All, Fr. Kimel first quotes from Pope Benedict XVI (I think from a book when he was Cardinal Ratzinger):

Purgatory is not, as Tertullian thought, some kind of supra-worldly concentration camp where man is forced to undergo punishment in a more or less arbitrary fashion. Rather it is the inward necessary process of transformation in which a person becomes capable of Christ, capable of God, and thus capable of unity with the whole communion of saints.

So, here we have Fr. Kimel’s main point: Purgatory, or the suffering of ‘temporal punishments’ (whatever that may be – to be explored later) is the process by which we are transformed into that ‘straightness’ God desires for each of us. I hope Fr. Kimel will forgive me if I butchered his actual sentiment.

After all, sin is (in its Eastern understanding especially), the ‘missing of the mark’. The incorrectness or unfruitfulness that necessitates purging by the Husbandman. Fr. Kimel states:

. . . . the key to understanding the Catholic teaching on “temporal punishments” is to realize that these punishments are not external acts of divine vengeance but are the existential consequences of our sins to ourselves and to others. Since God has willed that we suffer these consequences, they are and must be an expression of divine justice.

UpstateLutheran’s contention that ” what ‘temporal punishments’ we have to make ‘satisfaction’ for” is in question is not exactly accurate. Fr. Kimel definitely believes that we have to ‘make satisfaction’, etc., as he clearly states:

Only when the Catholic doctrine of the atonement is understood can we begin to address the meaning of purgatorial purification as “punishment” for which “satisfaction” must be made. One thing is very clear: these two words (“punishment” and “satisfaction”) are being used analogically in this context. The words came into the tradition through the ancient penitential system and its assignment of penances. They are an attempt to explain the ancient intuition of the Church that post-mortem purification is necessary for most of the redeemed–hence the moral and spiritual imperative to pray for the faithful departed.

In other words, the question isn’t what temporal punishments we have to make satisfaction for – it’s what is temporal punishment? Fr. Kimel states that temporal punishment can be understood as “existential consequences of our sins,” and I believe that this is the phrase that throws UpstateLuthern (and me, to some degree) off Fr. Kimel’s message.

I think that Fr. Kimel’s meaning of “existential consequences” should be taken to be only those natural consequences arising from our sins. In other words, those things that happen as a result of our sins. Fr. Kimel states that these consequences “are not external acts of divine vengeance.” And here, I think is the key dispute. Fr. Kimel, of course, is exactly right and he’s following the Catechism in stating that the temporal punishments should not be understood as ‘divine vengeance’. But UpstateLutheran states:

Unfortunately, this seems to contradict Trent Session 14, section 8

So, what does Trent say about this issue? Before I get there, let me dwell a bit on what Fr. Kimel states so plainly: the words satisfaction and punishment are deeply rooted in the ancient penitential practices of the Church. This practice is well attested in Church history and the Fathers of the Church, and I won’t linger on it at this point – though I’m more than willing to come back to the topic later. I wanted to reiterate Fr. Kimel’s point in order to put Trent in perspective. The act of penance after confession of sin was and is considered a healing remedy. It is also directly related, in the mind of the Church, to the power of the Church to bind and loose sins. And, taken as a whole, the penitential system should be seen as one more way God chastises those whom he loves.

Trent states:

And it beseems the divine clemency, that sins be not in such wise pardoned us without any satisfaction, as that, taking occasion therefrom, thinking sins less grievous, we, offering as it were an insult and an outrage to the Holy Ghost, should fall into more grievous sins, treasuring up wrath against the Jay of wrath. For, doubtless, these satisfactory punishments {penances} greatly recall from sin, and check as it were with a bridle, and make penitents more cautious and watchful for the future; they are also remedies for the remains of sin, and, by acts of the opposite virtues, they remove the habits acquired by evil living.

We see in this passage the understanding of ‘punishments’ being the actual penances given to those who have sinned after baptism. Notice their purpose: to make straight the crooked, to correct the uncorrected. This is a perfect example of the chastising of God’s beloved. Now UpstateLuthern bolded the first portion of that passage. If I had my druthers, I’d emphasize the last portion. I’ll just leave it be for now.

But Upstate says:

Now, at first I thought “Hey!, they are saying that God forgives the sin and the punishment! Well, that is not so bad.” But then I re-read the passage and realized it says just the opposite, it does not say God forgives our sins and our punishment, it says that unless we make satisfaction, i.e. are punished, our sins are not forgiven.

In this particular instance yes. It is the clear teaching of the Church, both in Trent and in the new Catechism, that ‘satisfaction’ (penance) must accompany the penitent’s confession. In fact, the Catechism quotes from Trent quite liberally in the paragraphs concerning satisfaction and temporal punishment. The emphasis, in the above quote, should not be the necessity of satisfaction, but of the purpose of satisfaction – to purge us, God’s branches.

UpstateLuthern continues:

Not only that, it seems to me that, contrary to Fr. Kimel’s claims about the “development” of this doctrine, the council clearly calls the “effects” punishments. i.e. they are not “accidents of sin” as it were, but punishments inflicted by God, or ourselves.

I’m not sure what UL’s point is, for it is obvious that Fr. Kimel never called temporal punishments “accidents of sin”. He plainly stated that use of the word ‘punishment’ is derived from the penitential practices of the Church and that the acts of satisfaction (penances) are tools of the Church used to conform us to the image of Christ. Neither the Catechism, nor any writing cited by Fr. Kimel called the temporal punishments due to sin “accidents of sin”. They are, as Fr. Kimel states plainly, consequences brought about by our own sin. The Council of Trent goes on to say,

But not therefore did they imagine that the sacrament of Penance is a tribunal of wrath or of punishments; even as no Catholic ever thought, by this kind of satisfactions on our parts, the efficacy of the merit and of the satisfaction of our Lord Jesus Christ is either obscured, or in any way lessened . . . .

In other words, this ‘punishment’ should be understood in exactly the way that Fr. Kimel (and the Catechism) explicitly states: not external acts of divine vengeance. So how should it be understood? Well, remember that the Bible teaches that the Husbandman purges the branches in Christ. Also, that God chastises those whom he loves. Corrects those who need correction. So, if we, as Mark Shea advocates, understand ‘temporal punishment’ as the purging, correcting, chastising of God’s people – I think we are closer to the truth of what both Trent and Fr. Kimel are getting at.

One interesting passage of Scripture which illustrates this concept in a unique way is II Timoth 2:19-21:

But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: The Lord knows those who are his, and, Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity. Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.

This is from the ESV, and I love the translation, but the King James Version is even more explicit: If a man therefore purge himself. This penitential action by the believer, this act of ‘purging’ is encouraged to be performed by the believer. We can see here the Biblical and Catholic understanding of penitence – this undertaking of identifying ourselves with the sufferings of Christ. As Trent states so plainly:

But neither is this satisfaction, which we discharge for our sins, so our own, as not to be through Jesus Christ. For we who can do nothing of ourselves, as of ourselves, can do all things, He cooperating, who strengthens us.

UL spends the remainder of his post aghast that the Catholic “can have no confidence our sins are forgiven unless and until we have made enough “satisfaction” for our sins.” Of course, he neglects the most important part of the whole of Trent’s treatment of satisfaction, a part which is prominently quoted in the Catechism – that when we enter the very act of penitence, we unite ourselves with His suffering, His supreme satisfaction. That any acts of penance are done through his efficacy won on the Cross. Any purging, any correcting, any straightening is done because we have entered the realm of surrender to Him, He who strengthens us. I’m reminded of Hebrews 12. We are not told to just look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith; but that we should throw off the weights that weigh us down, and sin which ‘clings so closely’. This is the act of ‘satisfaction’ of ‘penance’ of ‘conformity to Christ.’

And so, we come to the conclusion and purpose of Fr. Kimel’s comments: Purgatory is a post-mortem continuation of this ancient and truly apostolic belief.