Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Still Unsatisfied with Temporal Punishment

Rusty responded to my post over on his blog, becoming hinged.

Rusty says I got Trent wrong, that it says what Fr. Kimel says, that temporal punishment is not an external inflicted punishment:

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.

Fr. Kimel says that the sin brings with it its own punishment--for instance a drunkard with cirrhosis of the liver (my example, not his). The "punishment" is an effect, and not a punishment in the sense of getting a traffic ticket for speeding. But I don't think that does justice to either Trent, or even Rusty's use of "chastizing" point above, because "chastizing" is another word for punishment, and if punishment is not because we have done something wrong, i.e. "vengence", or "[i]nfliction of punishment in return for a wrong committed; retribution" {American Heritage Dictionary,, what is it for? I simply don't see what the difference is between Rusty's point above is, and the idea that God inflicts actual punishments on the penitent. Trent seems to support my view. Here is Trent 14 9 again:

It [the council] teaches furthermore that the liberality of the divine munificence is so great that we are able through Jesus Christ to make satisfaction to God the Father not only by punishments voluntarily undertaken by ourselves to atone for sins, or by those imposed by the judgment of the priest according to the measure of our offense, but also, and this is the greatest proof of love, by the temporal afflictions imposed by God and borne patiently by us.

Remember, according to Trent 14 8, there is no forgiveness without this satisfaction: "And it is in keeping with divine clemency that sins be not thus pardoned us without any satisfaction, lest seizing the occasion and considering sins as trivial and offering insult and affront to the Holy Spirit, we should fall into graver ones." Now, "satisfaction" is a work of penance, which in turn, according to Trent 14 9, is imposed by an agent; God himself, or a priest, or ourselves. The mere fact it is imposed is enough to show that it is not something which is an effect or "sin that brings with it, by divine ordination, its own punishment". In the Middle Ages, when a priest told a penitent he had to go to Jerusalem for penance, this was not sin's own punishment, it was imposed, and it was meant to "restrain from sin, check as it were with a bit, and make penitents more cautious and vigilant in the future; they also remove remnants of sin, and by acts of the opposite virtues destroy habits acquired by evil living". By the same token, Trent specifically states that God also inflicts punishment on the penitent. So, I don't see how Fr. Kimel's "clarification" has much in common with Trent.

Rusty goes on to say:

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.

Well, if it is true that without satisfaction--good works done to remit the temporal punishment we deserve because of God's justice, our sins are not forgiven, then isn't it true the Catholic can have no real confidence his sins are forgiven? I mean, how much "satisfaction" or "purging" does one have to do before God forgives our sins? Maybe we could remit this punishment with something, say an indulgence. That will soothe the conscience. ;-) (I am only half joking here, because these issues are intimately tied in with the Reformation).

I don't think the "pruning" and "purging" really captures what Trent is saying.


Nathan said...

“…this was not sin's own punishment, it was imposed, and it was meant to "restrain from sin, check as it were with a bit, and make penitents more cautious and vigilant in the future; they also remove remnants of sin, and by acts of the opposite virtues destroy habits acquired by evil living… I mean, how much "satisfaction" or "purging" does one have to do before God forgives our sins? Maybe we could remit this punishment with something, say an indulgence."

First, I am curious to know if anyone knows if biblically, a sharp distinction can be made between punishment and discipline. Historically, I have tended to associated punishment with a rather final thing (i.e. “eternal punishment”) – an action that assumes a final cutting off of the relationship, whereas discipline is more along the lines of “God disciplines those he loves”. I suspect in Scripture there is not this strict dichotomy. Second, I have understood Lutherans believe penance – or embracing the life that God has given us freely in Christ which helps us avoid evil patterns – logically follows the forgiveness of sins (and that understood broadly, repentance, or turning from sin to God, is included in the child-like trust [as UL put it recently: “Don’t leave me!”] that freely receives this forgiveness). All of these could be seen happening more or less simultaneously though. Likewise, in the most generous light, RCs seem to believe that “entering the act of penance” (includes virtue, love, good works), faith, and the received forgiveness happen simultaneously. There seems to be some overlap here – the difference however can be seen in the praxis of the individual Christians who say they hold to these particular doctrinal systems.

In short, only a Lutheran can say the following *and not have it contradict his systematic theology*:

This reconciling contact from God Himself breaks into personal and shared histories, bringing to bear upon all people everywhere communion with His own self – the One who creates and enters history in human flesh. As Luther says, “Christ comes to us, or we are brought to him”. Therefore, even the one who is His adversary and enemy – i.e. the one whose experience tells him that deep down he is not a God-lover but rather a God-hater – may yet cling and cleave to God in frantic and desperate trust. First one trusts and is filled with God’s love – and only then does one loves in return (of course, also by His grace alone). This “pigpen” repentance – again born not of love, but rather real fear – is nonetheless real repentance. For he is no longer the kind of apathetic, lazy, and wicked man who, feigning the fear of God in his heart (“there is no fear of God before their eyes”) seeks to outwit and outmaneuver the one he calls the “hard man” (Luke 19) – thinking Him vulnerable to his own powers of manipulation – but rather recognizes the strength of the Strong Man. He is the person who now gives in to the Hound of Heaven after He has been violently hurled down and been told that he is indeed a sinner, and that in doing this or that he has certainly sinned… but also that He has a Savior from sin, death, and the devil who had held him fast. All feigned repentance, ever-aware of God’s claim on one’s life, yet confidently seeking to betray Him and His assessment at the first opportunity, dissipates as the God-hater no longer fights, but rather fully recognizes and confesses the truth in the innermost part of his shattered self. And this is literally a damned good thing – for Jesus Christ is only the friend of sinners – those who know themselves to be righteous need not apply.
“then isn't it true the Catholic can have no real confidence his sins are forgiven?”

I don’t see how this can’t be the case. My mind has been so filthy this week I have had to fight away the sense that I am no longer saved. With the RC theo and the realities of sin (Rom. 7), how do Romans 5:1 and I John 5:12 not get lost?

Ann Marie said...


I just came upon this post because I, a cradle Catholic, have been investigating and trying to clarify in my own mind the idea of temporal punishment in light of the recent hoopla surrounding the resurgence of the practice of indulgences in the RCC. (I was infuriated by the NY Times article this week on the issue.)

I think the use of the words "punishment", "vengeance", "retribution" don't do justice to the full Catholic idea of temporal punishment. I think the word "correction" comes closer to my own understanding of it. We have an extremely strong predisposition to sin due to man's fallen nature (concupiscence.) When we sin, and give in to those hungers, our hunger only grows in strength. We confess the sin and receive God's forgiveness. Our relationship with God is restored, but our hunger for sinful things needs to be purged, corrected, we need to be purified of it. This is like the chastisement of the loving father. A father punishes not so much out of a sense of justice (although that may be part of it) and not out of anger or vengeance for their beloved child who has come to him with sorrow and regret, but out of a need to reform the child's behavior for HIS OWN BETTERMENT AS A HUMAN BEING. Temporal punishment purifies and betters us as Christians, so that we may "be perfect as our heavenly Father is Perfect." It cleanses us of our desire to sin and prepares us for heaven, since nothing "unclean" (Rev 21:27) can enter there. If we are lucky (or more accurately vigilant) we can see the end of the process of purification in our earthly life (though I think very few do.) If not, the process is completed after our death before we enter, cleansed, into heaven. 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 says "his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames." Notice, the reward is eternal life. The second scenario can not be hell, because there is no salvation in hell and it cannot be heaven, because there is no suffering in heaven. It suggests a third, temporal state. Catholics call this idea Purgatory.

I hope that makes it a little clearer. If nothing else, it helps me to solidify my thinking if I need to write out an explanation. :)

A fellow sojourner in faith,
Ann Marie

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