The Corner

Time off Purgatory

The ways of God are mysterious indeed, bringing good out of evil.

First, let me back up: A couple of readers have contacted me to point out that the system of indulgences–which specified the number of days a sentence would be commuted if various penances were performed–was not designed to reduce the sinner’s time in Purgatory, but to calculate an equivalent to the time of punishment of sins under the Church’s old system of public penances. These readers are, of course, correct historically–and thereby hangs a very important tale.

What happened was that the old system of penances fell into disuse, but the system of indulgences remained on the books–and this led to opportunities for great mischief. At the level of popular catechesis, the understanding I was referring to earlier arose and was encouraged by unscrupulous officials. Indulgences were bought and sold, with slogans like this famous one: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, The soul from Purgatory springs!” This shocked a young monk named Martin Luther . . .

So the abuse of the system of indulgences was a great evil, but out of this evil came a great good. The Reformation, enkindled by the abuse of indulgences, set in motion the events that led to the system of political and religious liberty that–as thinkers including Richard John Neuhaus and Michael Novak have so eloquently described–has been such a boon to human flourishing.

(And please, lest any readers misunderstand, I’m not saying this in any secular-messianistic sense. Heaven knows liberty has its own problems, because it allows man to indulge his evil impulses as well as his good ones. All I’m saying is that liberty, on the whole, is good. As Pope Benedict writes in his new encyclical: “If there were structures which could irrevocably guarantee a determined–good–state of the world, man’s freedom would be denied, and hence they would not be good structures at all.” )

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More
Elections

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More
U.S.

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More