Purgatory part 3 ... dante & the council of lyons iiPresentation Transcript
Purgatory Edward J. Hahnenberg, BA, MA, MA, Ed.S.
Purgatory – Part 3 – The Divine Comedy & II Council of Lyons One of the greatest works of literature is the Divine Comedy, written by Dante Alighieri (1265-1361). Born in Florence, Italy, Dante was educated in Italian and Latin poetry; however, because of Florentine law, in order to participate in public life, one had to be enrolled in a sort of workers’ union. He chose to enroll in the apothecaries’ guild. He did not intend to actually be a pharmacist, but at that time books were sold from apothecaries' shops. As a politician, he accomplished little, but he held various offices over a number of years in a city undergoing political unrest. In his twenties, Dante turned his attention to philosophy and took part in the disputes that the Franciscans and Dominicans held in Florence, where he learned of the theological teachings of St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas concerning Purgatory.
The Divine Comedy – Cont’d Beginning in 1308, when he was in his early forties, Dante began work on the Divine Comedy. The poem is written in the first person, and tells of Dante's journey through the three realms of the dead. The Roman poet Virgil guides him through Hell and Purgatory.
Having survived the depths of Hell, Dante and Virgil ascend to the Mountain of Purgatory on the far side of the world. The mountain is on an island, created with earth taken from the excavation of hell. At the shores of the mountain, they meet Cato, a pagan who has been placed by God as the general guardian of the approach to the mountain. Dante and Virgil start the ascent of Mount Purgatory. On the lower slopes Dante meets first a group of those excommunicated from the Church. Ascending higher, he encounters those too lazy to repent until shortly before death. These souls will be admitted to Purgatory thanks to their genuine repentance, but must wait outside for an amount of time equal to their lives on earth. Finally, Dante is shown a beautiful valley where he sees the kings of the great nations of Europe, and a number of other persons whose attention to public and private duties hampered their faith. From this valley Dante is transported asleep to the gates of Purgatory itself.
The Divine Comedy – Cont’d From there, Virgil guides Dante through the seven levels of Purgatory. These correspond to the seven deadly sins, in which souls are purged of that particular sin in an appropriate manner. Souls can leave their level whenever they like, but essentially there is an honor system where no one leaves until they have corrected the nature within themselves that caused them to commit that sin. Souls can ascend upwards but never backwards, since Purgatory’s purpose is for souls to ascend towards God in Heaven.
The Divine Comedy – Cont’d The visual imagery Dante uses is memorable. For example, on the first level, the proud are purged by carrying giant stones on their backs, unable to stand up straight. On the second, those who were envious are purged by having their eyes sewn shut. On the third, those who were angry are blinded by smoke. On the fourth, the lazy must continually run. On the fifth, the greedy are forced to lie with their faces in the dirt. On the sixth, those who committed the sin of gluttony are unable to secure food or drink. On the seventh, the lustful must burn in a wall of flames.
The Divine Comedy – Cont’d The effect of such imagery upon the medieval mind must have been significant. Dante’s poem inspired artists to visually represent these levels and, thus, form an artistic tradition of Purgatory similar to the image of Adam and Eve eating an apple in Eden. (The use of the apple in early Christian art probably can be traced back to the Latin word malum, which medieval monks translated both as “apple” and as “evil.” What a pun! However, carved depictions of Adam and Eve with apples are found in early Christian catacombs and on sarcophagi. The apple was the favored representation of the forbidden fruit in Christian art in France and Germany beginning around the 12th century. In his Areopagitica (1644), John Milton explicitly described the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil as an apple, and that was pretty much the ball game.)
II Council of Lyons A Church Council, in the Orthodox and Catholic understanding of the term, is a gathering of bishops, theologians, and, either a Pope or his representative, called to debate and define both dogma or policies for the Church. The first Church council to address the issue of Purgatory was not an ecumenical council. The Council of Carthage, 394, was the first council to uphold doctrines of prayers for the dead and Purgatory. The first ecumenical council (#14) to address the issue of Purgatory was Lyons II, held in 1274.
The Council of Lyons II was truly ecumenical and extremely well-attended. A Pope, Gregory X, five hundred bishops, sixty abbots, more than a thousand prelates, the ambassadors of the Kings of France and England, the ambassadors of the Emperor Michael Palaeologus and the Greek clergy, and the ambassadors of the Khan of the Tatars were in attendance. Gregory called the council for two purposes: The conquest of the Holy Land and the union of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.
II Council of Lyons – Cont’d Lyons II encouraged crusaders to win back the Holy Land with the following declaration:
We therefore, trusting in the mercy of almighty God and in the authority of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul, do grant, by the power of binding and loosing that God has conferred upon us, albeit unworthy, unto all those who undertake this work of crossing the sea to aid the holy Land, in person and at their own expense, full pardon for their sins about which they are truly and heartily contrite and have spoken in confession, and we promise them an increase of eternal life at the recompensing of the just. To those who do not go there in person but send suitable men at their own expense, according to their means and status, and likewise to those who go in person but at others' expense, we grant full pardon for their sins. We wish to grant to share in this remission, according to the nature of their help and the intensity of their devotion, all who shall contribute suitably from their goods to the aid of the said Land, or who give useful advice and help regarding the above, and all who make available their own ships for the help of the holy Land or who undertake to build ships for this purpose. 21
Lyons II, interestingly, was also first council to enact rules speeding up papal elections, calling for the removal of food and even the roof of the room they met in if the election process went on too long. However, the above quote from Constitution I raises the issue of plenary indulgences (or full remission of temporal punishment due to forgiven sin) for those who went to liberate the Holy Land at their own expense. Not only that, but plenary indulgences were granted to those princes who, at their own expense, send suitable soldiers. Finally, plenary indulgences were granted to those who provide or build ships for the crusade’s purpose.
Plenary indulgence The definition of a plenary indulgence, even today in Catholic parlance, is meant the remission of the entire temporal punishment due to sin so that no further expiation is required in Purgatory.
So, what is temporal punishment due to sin?
Catholic theology teaches that there are two punishments for sin; one is called eternal and is inflicted in hell, and the other is called temporal and is inflicted in this world or in Purgatory. According to Catholic theology, the sacrament of penance remits the eternal punishment and only part of the temporal. Doing penance (prayer, fasting, almsgiving, works of mercy and patient suffering) remits temporal punishment. The purpose for temporal punishment is a satisfaction for sin, and to teach the penitent the great evil of sin and to prevent him or her from falling again.
But the plot thickens. If one could gain a plenary indulgence for almsgiving to the crusade effort, outlined in Lyons II, then it was not a big leap for Luther to want debated the entire practice of indulgence-granting when money was involved.
Tetzel’s famous saying The story is still promulgated to this day of the German Dominican friar, Johann Tetzel (1465-1519), who apocryphally spoke the couplet "As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the rescued soul from Purgatory springs." Apparently, though, Tetzel even went as far as creating a chart that listed a price for each type of sin. However, remission of “temporal punishment” due to forgiven sin is different than what Tetzel was accused of ... namely forgiveness of past or future sins for a price. The charge that the forgiveness of sins was sold for money regardless of contrition or that absolution for sins to be committed in the future could be purchased is baseless. A careful reading of the above quote from Lyons II makes that clear.
More about indulgences… As was just noted, Johann Tetzel became the focus of what might be called “Indulgence-gate” today. Tetzel was the Vatican's "Apostolic Commissary for all Germany and Inquisitor of Heretical Pravity" during the reign of Pope Leo X (1513-1521). Tetzel’s indulgence-brokering activities, which soon aroused Martin Luther's righteous indignation, were part of an ambitious plan of Leo’s to provide funds for the reconstruction of St. Peter's in Rome. St. Peter’s Basilica would take 111 years to build, and would consume huge amounts of money. Leo was advised by Cardinal Pucci to publish a sale of indulgences throughout Europe for the purpose of replenishing pontifical funds and finishing the work on St. Peter's begun by Julius II (1503-1513). Never mind that Leo himself was given to providing lavish parties for his friends...
A little history… The practice of doling out severe physical penances for apostasy, murder, or adultery in the early Church, which might involve several years of dressing in sackcloth at the church door or other humiliating practices, led to eventual mitigation of these penances. From the seventh century on, beginning in Ireland and England, redemptio, a sort of commutation of penance to less demanding works, such as prayers, alms, fasts and even the payment of fixed sums of money depending on the various kinds of offences (tariff penances) became fashionable. However, this practice was considered a mitigation of the penance imposed on the penitent in the Sacrament of Penance (today called Sacrament of Reconciliation.)
However, reducing a physical penance within the Sacrament was not an indulgence. Beginning in the 11th century, the possibility of providing for the multiple works of piety through the imposition of a donation as a condition for the remission of punishment, even outside the sacrament, led the way to indulgences in the strict sense of the term, i.e., apart from sacramental Penance.
As seen from Constitution I of Lyons II, plenary indulgences, outside of the sacrament of Penance, were granted. However, indulgences had taken up a portion of the four ecumenical councils: Lateran I (1123), II (1139), III (1179), and IV(1215).
More history… In 1095, Pope Urban II had called for a crusade to rescue the Holy Land from the Muslims. Thirty years later, Lateran I pardoned the sins of crusaders. In the 1100s, the custom of seeking an absolution in every circumstance and on every occasion, and before any work, became widespread in medieval society. In other words, the faithful were administered a prayer formula, so that God would forgive their sins. Absolutions entered the liturgy of the Mass and the Office (this is the meaning of the Confiteor), and were used on various other occasions not only for the living but also for the dead as a prayer on their behalf.
Modern explanation… According to Fr. EnricodalCovolo, writing in L'Osservatore Romano, 1999:
In any case, by the end of the 11th century indulgences in the strict sense of the word are found with all their essential elements. It remains difficult, however, to identify the precise point of transition from the reduction or commutation of sacramental penance to the extrasacramental remission of temporal punishment due to sins committed: with the 11th and 12th centuries it is still hard in many cases to determine whether we are dealing with one or the other practice.
The granting of indulgences, outside of the sacrament of Penance, came to become common-place, inviting abuses, many of which have been recorded. Fr. EnricodalCovolo continues:
Indulgences were attached to many works that were not only good but also served the common good, both religious and civil. Many churches were built or restored — at least in part — with the revenue from indulgences; this also explains the impressive architectural and artistic activity of the Middle Ages. Moreover, hospitals, leprosariums, charitable institutions and schools were built with support from the receipts of special indulgences. Along the same lines is the well-known construction of roads and bridges. Sometimes an indulgence was also granted for certain reclamation projects...
Permission began to be granted to Catholic kings and princes, particularly on the occasion of Crusades, to retain for themselves a rather considerable part of the alms collected for the gaining of indulgences. Later on, similar permission was frequently granted for many other projects, and princes were not always too scrupulous.
In comes abuse… The door had been opened for the abuse of indulgences. Almsgiving is, and always, has been a good work. However, when money became the trading currency for delivery from God’s justice, the stage was set for a whole series of consequences. Ecclesiastical powers, comfortable with income from the uneducated faithful for good works done, did not want to see this source of wealth dry up...and so it continued. Meanwhile the idea of Purgatory was about to get more official recognition in the Council of Florence.