"God has always resembled his creators. He hated and loved what they hated and loved and he was invariably found on the side of those in power."

- Robert G. Ingersoll



The Church of Rome's doctrine of absolution


When Jesus saw their faith, he said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven." The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, "Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?"

But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . ." He said to the paralyzed man, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home."

- Luke 5:20-21, 24 NIV


5.1 What is absolution?

Absolution is the Roman Catholic belief whereby a person's sins are forgiven through the institution of the church or its agents. Note that the scripture quoted above indicates forgiveness of sins can only come from God, which Catholic teaching would not dispute. Catholicism, however, believes Jesus later empowered the church to be able to act on his behalf in this regard.

Belief in absolution is contested by Protestantism as being non-biblical, wrong, and presumptuous of God. Note that Protestantism's full theological argument against this doctrine is not presented here. But what shall be presented are examples of the exercising and consequences of absolution and infallibility which had influence over the Crusades and Inquisitions; terrible, unbiblical events that are nevertheless wrongly attributed to the Bible thanks in part to doctrines like absolution..

5.2 The use of absolution

On November 27, 1095, Pope Urban II issued an appeal for a war against Moslems of the Middle East (reasons for which will be made clear in the next section). This began the era known as the Crusades. In his issuance, the Pope declared,

If those who go thither lose their lives on land or sea during the journey, or in battle against the pagans, their sins will at once be forgiven; I grant this through the power of God conferred on me... 11

This absolution of sins was given for the purpose of (or at least had the effect of) freeing the Crusader of his conscience, and his soul of responsibility for whatever sinful actions were about to be taken to carry out what the Pope assured everyone was the will of God.

Which actions and exactly what circumstances absolution covered would vary with individual popes and decrees over the years. What remained the same was the idea that forgiveness for one's sins would be conditional upon one's cooperation with the military directives of the Vatican and its agents.

In the late twelfth-century call for the Third Crusade, Pope Gregory VIII promised total absolution and eternal life for every Crusader.12 Pope Innocent III did likewise for those of the Fourth Crusade around 1202 although he temporarily revoked it when the Crusaders attacked and massacred Christians in the Byzantine Empire.

In 1245, Pope Innocent IV went as far as granting inquisitors total absolution of whatever "violence" and "torture" they deemed necessary to route out and silence heretics. 13

5.3 The use of excommunication

While absolution served as the positive reinforcement to obey the will of the Roman church, negative reinforcement came in the form of excommunication. Excommunication is a form of condemnation and official removal from the Roman church. This was decreed by Pope Boniface VIII for any secular authority, magistrate, or civil lawyer who impeded the Inquisition, and for those who failed to carry out the death sentence of any known heretic.14

(Being excommunicated during the period of the Inquisitions gave you twelve months to prove your innocence to Roman church agents. If you failed to do so within the allotted time, you were declared a heretic and burned.)

5.4 On speaking ex cathedra

Modern Catholic apologetics rightfully describe as regrettable the periods of the Crusades and the Inquisition. Yet some Catholic writers insist that papal involvement in medieval atrocities in no way impugns Rome's unique doctrines of infallibility and absolution. Apologists offer the arguments that:

1.) The popes had good intentions in wanting to end what they honestly believed was ungodliness, and...

2.) The sanctioning of cruelties and torture by certain popes does not negate the possibility that the papal office possesses the ability to perfectly teach perfect faith and morals when speaking ex cathedra.
In other words, like the children's game Simon-says, the various popes in question did not qualify whether or not they were speaking ex cathedra when decreeing certain actions be taken, like war, murder, etc.

In response to the first argument, it is really less of an argument and more of an indirect admission that mistakes were made -- moral mistakes. This proves the folly of believing in the moral perfection of an institution that admits to (and commits) moral mistakes. As for the popes' "good intentions", some of those are detailed in the following sections on the Crusades, Inquisitions, and Reformations.

To the second argument, I find the ex cathedra defense reprehensible. This tries to pass off medieval barbarism to be the fault of those who were faithful to the popes' directives. Basically, "if the followers had not lacked the discernment to know when the pope was really speaking ex cathedra, then they would have known what or what not to obey." Even while the statement is true, how could the common man tell if the Pope had strayed from the Bible? It was the Church of Rome that had banned all common language Bibles so that it alone could "safeguard" its translation!

The barbarism of the Crusades and Inquisitions, from the non-Christian perspective, incriminates not only the kings and peasants who took part in it, but also the Church of Rome and, seemingly, the Bible and Christianity. Many of this period's so-called Christian leaders claimed to be acting on God's behalf. Pope Urban II, for instance, was quite clear on his perspective of the matter:

...I beseech you and exhort you - and it is not I but God who beseeches you and exhorts you... to make haste to drive that vile breed from the regions...[emphasis mine] 11

Yet in truth, it is clear that the notorious actions taken during those violent periods were not of the Bible. Even moderate familiarity with the Bible's teachings ascertains this beyond any reasonable doubt. Early Old Testament conquests were for the establishment of the nation of Israel from which God's messiah Jesus would come, and Jesus' clear directive is for us to love one another. (More specific instances here.) The fact that anyone may know or claim to know the truth of God is no guarantee that they are acting upon it; be they pope or parishioner, be it yesterday or today.

The cruelties of the Crusades and Inquisitions were the combined result of greedy kings, corrupt religious leaders, and the public's general ignorance of the Bible. With limited access to Scripture, the public was unable to hold church leaders accountable to that which they all professed to believe. The Church of Rome had initially hoped to safeguard the translation of Scripture by assuring that fewer and fewer people had direct access to it. But in doing so, the Roman Church ultimately hurt itself deeply along with the entire world.



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Absolution is the third contribution by the ancient Roman church which may have helped clear the way for the cruel and violent periods of the Crusades and Inquisitions.

Absolution eventually became a James Bond-like license to sin; and a rather freely issued one at that.

Also discussed are the practices of excommunication and speaking ex cathedra.

1. What is absolution
2. The use of absolution
3. The use of excommunication 4. On speaking ex cathedra


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