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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Dedicated To the Poor Souls In Earth's Purgatory

Alright, so I'm working on a project for someone, and doing a bit of research. As I do it, I come across this oddity. In the Catholic Encyclopedia, we see the corporal and spiritual works of mercy listed this way:

The traditional enumeration of the corporal works of mercy is as follows:

  • To feed the hungry;
  • To give drink to the thirsty;
  • To clothe the naked;
  • To harbour the harbourless;
  • To visit the sick;
  • To ransom the captive;
  • To bury the dead.

The spiritual works of mercy are:

Very nice, Catholic sites all agree that these are the traditional works of mercy, etc., etc., etc., as the king of Siam might say.

But, when I cross-checked the CCC to see what it said, I ran into this:

2447 The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God:

He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none and he who has food must do likewise. But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you. If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?
Omissions
Do you notice anything missing?

Among the corporal works of mercy, "ransoming the captive" has disappeared.

In fact, while the words "ransom" and "captive" both appear separately in the CCC, there is no single article where they even appear together. Six articles point out that Christ gave His life as "a ransom for many" from sin. Two articles use the word "captive," one in reference to my sin, the other in reference to Adam and Eve who were captive and in bonds (although the word "sin" does not appear in the latter reference).

Among the spiritual works of mercy, "prayers for the living and the dead" is gone.

In fact, in the CCC, the words "prayers," "living" and "dead" appear together only in article 1096, which simply points out that such prayers are common to both Jewish and Catholic liturgies.

Why did we throw out "ransoming the captive" and "prayers for the living and the dead"?
O Gentle Reader, read on.

Addition
Do you notice anything added?

Well, how about this phrase:
Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity...
Wow.

This is brand new.

Almsgiving has traditionally never been lumped in with the corporal works of mercy, rather it has always been specifically associated with a spiritual work of mercy, a sub-class of the spiritual work that has entirely disappeared from the CCC: prayers for the living and the dead.

Oddly, the CCC does not even formally associate almsgiving with the corporal work that it has traditionally been most closely associated: ransoming the captive.

Instead, almsgiving has been stripped entirely of its traditional spiritual dimension.

Let me explain.

Of the three traditional classes of indulgences, we find (1) prayer, (2) almsgiving, and (3) fasting. Christian witness was formally added as a fourth general class of indulgence with the 1999 manual of indulgences.

But, the CCC does not list almsgiving as a class of indulgence. In fact, the CCC doesn't list the general classes of indulgences at all. Instead, it distinguishes almsgiving from indulgences, listing the two acts separately.

So, almsgiving is no longer listed as a subset of indulgences nor as a sacramental, that is, as a means of praying for the living and the dead. Instead, it is now treated as the chief act of corporal mercy in this world.

Almsgiving is no longer strongly oriented towards a spiritual work, assisting the poor suffering in purgatory. Instead, it is transformed into the chief corporal work of mercy, a work which implicitly and apparently encapsulates several of the original corporal acts (feeding, clothing, giving drink to).

Problems
This creates certain theological problems.

If a beggar on the street approaches me and asks me for money, traditional Catholic understanding said that I could fulfill my duty by taking the beggar to a local restaurant, feeding him and giving him drink. Or I could take him to a hotel and pay for his lodging. Or I could take him to a store and buy him clothes. You see the theme here, of course. Christian charity requires Christian fraternity, walking with the poor in some fashion.

I didn't have to give money directly to the beggar - I had to care for his needs.

If I gave him money, I did so not to help the beggar so much as to assist the spiritually poor in purgatory. The beggar man before me becomes the one who the poor in purgatory help through me. I, in turn, help them fulfill their duties towards him which they did not fulfill while they lived. I help them now in the body because their bodies are gone.

When I helped the beggar by giving him Caesar's money, I simultaneously, and by the very same act, acted in place of those in purgatory, doing for them the charitable work they should have done on earth. They didn't do this work because their own venial sin rendered them not entirely willing to do it.

Now they see their error. Now they wish they could offer some charitable thing. Since I don't know exactly which corporal work of mercy they would have offered, I give alms to the poor, to cover the multitude of sinful omissions of charity that Sirach 3:29 and Tobit 12:9 reference.

But, with this new emphasis, giving money to the poor is no longer a spiritual act of prayer. I am no longer standing with the multitudes of those who have gone before me, acting with them in charity.

Now, almsgiving is the chief act of mercy in itself, without reference to other acts. It is my act of mercy, and no one else's.

Worse, if I give food, drink, lodging or clothes, I am giving a subsidiary mercy, not a chief mercy. I am supposed to give the beggar money first, not food, drink, clothing or shelter.

If I sit with him through a dinner, walk with him to a hotel, help him try on clothes in a clothes store, etc., I am not giving the "chief witness." Not even a decent burial compares with money.

Whereas before, when I gave coin engraved with Caesar's image, I was giving to Caesar what belonged to Caesar, but to those in Purgatory I gave myself, along with the spiritual work of charity I had performed on their behalf.

They, in turn offered both that work of mercy and me to God as their own completed work of charity.

With this new emphasis, all of that is gone. Now, the chief witness to corporal mercy is coin, engraved with Caesar's image. Not food, drink, clothes or lodging - just money, small bills, unmarked. Now it is my own cooperation with God's grace, without reference to anyone else, that is "one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity." It's just Jesus, the money and me.

Conclusion
I understand that the CCC does not mean to present ecumenical obstacles, and so gives an emphasis that has historically never been given. I recognize that article article 1096 does mention almsgiving as a way to help the poor, so the old teaching has not entirely disappeared. But this new emphasis seems to be a Protestantizing of both indulgences and the spiritual/corporal works of mercy.

If nothing else, and at the very least, the fact that the handbook of indulgences continues to list almsgiving as a work of indulgence, not as a separate work, puts the CCC in an awkward position with the other documents of the Church.

That is disheartening.




12 comments:

I am not Spartacus said...

That is not the only problem with The CCC.

Please email me and I will send you something I wrote which I would like you to address.

I will not email you any other materials unless requested but I have had a real problem with The CCC and I have had that problem since the day I first read the official CCC the year it was issued.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

My email address is skellmeyer@bridegroompress.com

I don't guarantee that I'll do anything with it, but I can look at it.

scotju said...

In all my years in the Catholic Chrch, I've never heard one sermon on purgatory or hell. And I live in what is considered a conservative diocese!

I am not Spartacus said...

Dear Mr. Kellmeyer. Thank you. I just beamed it to you.

Estase said...

Awesome point.

Jordanes551 said...

I think you might be making much ado over nothing, Stewve. I believe you'd have a point if the Catechism were offered to us as an exhaustive presentation of the Catholic faith, and if the lists of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy were presented as exhaustive. But they're clearly not.

Well, how about this phrase: Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity...Wow.
This is brand new.


Given the fact that Jesus instructs us to give alms, and the Church has always encouraged us to give alms, it can't be that new.

Almsgiving has traditionally never been lumped in with the corporal works of mercy, rather it has always been specifically associated with a spiritual work of mercy, a sub-class of the spiritual work that has entirely disappeared from the CCC: prayers for the living and the dead.

Really? Got any proof of that? It seems pretty strange to me that giving material, bodily assistance to the poor would be classified as a spiritual work rather than as a corporal work, and indeed as a subset of prayer.

I'm not especially perturbed that the Catechism's summary of the spiritual works of mercy doesn't mention prayer, since the Catechism has a whole huge section on prayer, including prayers for the dead. Also, besides CCC 1086, there is CCC 958:

Communion with the dead. "In full consciousness of this communion of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the Church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of the Christian religion, has honored with great respect the memory of the dead; and 'because it is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins' she offers her suffrages for them." [LG 50; cf. 2 Macc 12:45] Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.

So I don't think it means much, if anything, that "prayers for the living and the dead" appears in the Catechism only once, in the context of describing essential and constant elements of Jewish and Christian liturgy.

"To feed the hungry;To give drink to the thirsty;To clothe the naked"

These are often, indeed usually, accomplished through almsgiving. Even more, they are in fact kinds of almsgiving.

Where you go wrong is in your false belief that almsgiving means giving money. But the same Catholic Encyclopedia from which you obtained the tradition enumeration of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy defines almsgiving in this way:

Any material favour done to assist the needy, and prompted by charity, is almsgiving. It is evident, then, that almsgiving implies much more than the transmission of some temporal commodity to the indigent. According to the creed of political economy, every material deed wrought by man to benefit his needy brother is almsgiving. According to the creed of Christianity, almsgiving implies a material service rendered to the poor for Christ's sake. Materially, there is scarcely any difference between these two views; formally, they are essentially different. This is why the inspired writer says: "Blessed is he that considers the needy and the poor" (Psalm 40:2) — not he that gives to the needy and the poor.

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01328f.htm

"Any" material favor, not just cash and change. And "material," not only or chiefly spiritual. When the Church refers to "almsgiving," she means any and all of the corporal works of mercy.

Reading the old Catholic Encyclopedia's article on almsgiving, we find that it isn't merely the Catechism that fails to lay out explicitly the connection between almsgiving, indulgences, and purgatory -- neither does this old encyclopedia article. It is, of course, implied under the heading, "Qualities of spiritually fruitful almsgiving," but isn't spelled out as such.

Jordanes551 said...

Arrgh. Sorry for the typo in your name.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Jordanes,

Strawmen abound.

I stipulated that the CE was fine.
It's the CCC that's the problem.

So, quoting from the CE to prove to me that the CE is fine is ... pointless.

I also didn't say alsmgiving was new. I said the total disconnect of almsgiving from indulgences is new, as is evidenced in the fact that the CCC lists them SEPARATELY.

But I already pointed that out in the essay.

As for my proof that almsgiving has traditionally been associated with indulgences, I point you to... Tradition... embodied in the latest Manual of Indulgences (1999), but also present in all previous manuals and in the old raccolta.

Which I also already pointed out in the essay itself.

Mystic Rose said...

Some lists of the seven corporal works of mercy say "ransom the captives" while others say "visit the imprisoned." See for instance this catechism:

http://www.catholicapologetics.info/thechurch/catechism/Cafferata.htm

321. Which are the seven corporal works of mercy?

The seven corporal works of mercy are:

l. To feed the hungry.
2. To give drink to the thirsty.
3. To clothe the naked.
4. To harbour the harbourless.
5. To visit the sick.
6. To visit the imprisoned.
7. To bury the dead.

This goes back before the CCC or even Vatican II. There's an old recording from the 1950's, a song about the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, which is still used by some Catholic homeschoolers. It goes like this:

"The chief corporal works of mercy,
they number seven.
Practice the corporal works of mercy
and go to heaven.
Give food to the hungry,
drink to the thirsty,
clothe the naked,
visit the imprisoned,
shelter the homeless,
visit the sick
and bury the dead....

So there's a 1950's example.

Jordanes551 said...

I stipulated that the CE was fine.
It's the CCC that's the problem.

So, quoting from the CE to prove to me that the CE is fine is ... pointless.


Speaking of Strawmen -- as you know, I didn't quote from the CE to prove that the CE is fine, but to show that your definition of and understanding of almsgiving is erroneous, and that the CCC's usage of the term "almsgiving" has precedent. And that is what I did.

I also didn't say alsmgiving was new. I said the total disconnect of almsgiving from indulgences is new, as is evidenced in the fact that the CCC lists them SEPARATELY.

Well then. Perhaps that is what you meant to say, but it is clearly not what you in fact said.

As for my proof that almsgiving has traditionally been associated with indulgences, I point you to... Tradition... embodied in the latest Manual of Indulgences (1999), but also present in all previous manuals and in the old raccolta.

However, I did not ask for proof that almsgiving has traditionally been associated with indulgences (and still is, even though the CCC does not list the three kinds of indulgenced works). The fact of that association is not in dispute. What I asked for is proof that "almsgiving has traditionally never been lumped in with the corporal works of mercy, rather it has always been specifically associated with a spiritual work of mercy, a sub-class of the spiritual work that has entirely disappeared from the CCC: prayers for the living and the dead."

If there is such proof, I sincerely would like to see it. It strikes me as counterintuitive, but that obviously doesn't mean you're wrong.

Jordanes551 said...

Also, though the CCC could have said more about indulgences and been more explicit about the three basic kinds of indulgenced works, the CCC is far from silent on the matter. The CCC addresses indulgences in its section on the sacrament of penance and reconciliation. In the course of that discussion, "fasting, prayer, and almsgiving" are listed together in CCC 1434 as three things that the Scriptures and the Fathers teach as "means of obtaining forgiveness of sins." Almsgiving again is listed as a penitential act or discipline in CCC 1438. Then, after describing the sacrament of penance at length, the Catechism teaches about indulgences and their relationship to penance, to our need to purify ourselves from sin and to become holy, and to the suffering souls in purgatory. The subsection on indulgences does not specify what acts of penance are indulgenced, but refers to our obligation to do penance -- and in the discussion leading up to the section on indulgences, almsgiving and several other penitential actions are mentioned.

So, almsgiving is no longer listed as a subset of indulgences nor as a sacramental, that is, as a means of praying for the living and the dead.

You're wrong. You even link to CCC 1032, which is about offering prayers for the dead, and says that in addition to prayers for the dead, "The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead."

Almgiving undertaken on behalf of the dead. Contrary to your claim, the CCC does list almsgiving as a means of praying for the dead. The Catechism does not list "almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance" in order to teach that almsgiving and works of penance are never indulgences, but rather, I think, because sometimes they aren't undertaken with the intention of achieving indulgences. The CCC in its section on penance and its section on indulgences does teach that works of penance and almsgiving are among the kinds of acts that are indulgenced.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Well, the CCC is certainly inconsistent in its representation of almsgiving and indulgences.

I still find that disheartening.