Church of Rome's doctrine of absolution
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."
5:20-21, 24 NIV
What is 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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
The use of excommunication
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
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.)
On speaking ex cathedra
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,
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
NEXT: Islam and jihad
Catholicism vs. Protestantism