As noted in an earlier post, the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification made no mention of indulgences or of temporal punishment (neither did the explanatory Common Statement and Annex, which were also signed at the same time by the representatives of the Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican). It should come as no surprise, therefore, that these documents are equally silent on the related subject of satisfaction.
These matters are addressed, however, in critiques of the Joint Declaration by those Lutherans who did not agree.
The LCMS response, for instance, made the following statements:
9. Accordingly, JDDJ does not address itself directly to disputed beliefs and practices such as the “meritorious” value of good works, purgatory, indulgences, the papacy, the significance of the saints, devotion to Mary, and so forth. Lutherans cannot speak of consensus on justification as long as these related issues remain unsettled.
The issues related to indulgences (including satisfaction and temporal punishment) were at the heart of the Reformation! Luther’s 95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences of 1517 were the spark that lit the powder keg. How could this be overlooked?
Luther’s Babylonian Captivity of the Church of 1520 attacked the sacramental system of the Church. His basic insight was that sacraments are not works that we offer to God, but “visible words” by which the Gospel is proclaimed to us.
Hence it is a manifest and wicked error to offer or apply masses for sins, for satisfactions, for the dead, or for any necessity whatsoever of one’s own or of others. You will readily see the obvious truth of this if you but hold firmly that the mass is a divine promise, which can profit no one, be applied to no one, intercede for no one, and be communicated to no one, save him alone who believes with a faith of his own. Who can receive or apply, in behalf of another, the promise of God, which demands the personal faith of every individual? Can I give to another what God has promised, even if he does not believe? Can I believe for another, or cause another to believe? But this is what I must do if I am able to apply and communicate the mass to others. For there are but two things in the mass — the promise of God, and the faith of man which takes that which the promise offers. But if it is true that I can do this, then I can also hear and believe the Gospel for others, I can be baptised for another, I can be absolved from sins for another, I can also partake of the Sacrament of the Altar for another, and — to run the gamut of their sacraments also — I can marry a wife for another, be ordained for another, receive confirmation and extreme unction for another!
Pope Leo X condemned Luther in his 1520 bull, Exsurge Domine–in particular, Luther’s views on indulgences and satisfaction.
But none of this was touched on in the Joint Declaration. So, I wonder, how could it have resolved the issues of the Reformation if it never discussed them?!
Let’s now look at this matter of satisfaction, starting with citation from official Catholic sources.
First, the Council of Trent:
… [T]he holy Synod declares, that it is wholly false, and alien from the word of God, that the guilt is never forgiven by the Lord, without the whole punishment also being therewith pardoned. … And truly the nature of divine justice seems to demand, that they, who through ignorance have sinned before baptism, be received into grace in one manner; and in another those who, after having been freed from the servitude of sin and of the devil, and after having received the gift of the Holy Ghost, have not feared, knowingly to violate the temple of God, and to grieve the Holy Spirit. And it beseems the divine clemency, that sins be not in such wise pardoned us without any satisfaction, as that, taking occasion therefrom, thinking sins less grievous, we, offering as it were an insult and an outrage to the Holy Ghost, should fall into more grievous sins, treasuring up wrath against the Jay of wrath. .. Add to these things, that, whilst we thus, by making satisfaction, suffer for our sins, we are made conformable to Jesus Christ, who satisfied for our sins, from whom all our sufficiency is; having also thereby a most sure pledge, that if we suffer with him, we shall also be glorified with him. But neither is this satisfaction, which we discharge for our sins, so our own, as not to be through Jesus Christ. For we who can do nothing of ourselves, as of ourselves, can do all things, He cooperating, who strengthens us. … [N]o Catholic ever thought, by this kind of satisfactions on our parts, the efficacy of the merit and of the satisfaction of our Lord Jesus Christ is either obscured, or in any way lessened…
The Synod teaches furthermore, that so great is the liberality of the divine munificence, that we are able through Jesus Christ to make satisfaction to God the Father, not only by punishments voluntarily undertaken of ourselves for the punishment of sin, or by those imposed at the discretion of the priest according to the measure of our delinquency, but also, which is a very great proof of love, by the temporal scourges inflicted of God, and borne patiently by us.
Here’s the Catechism of the Council of Trent:
Satisfaction is the full payment of a debt; for that is sufficient or satisfactory to which nothing is wanting. Hence, when we speak of reconciliation to favour, to satisfy means to do what is sufficient to atone to the angered mind for an injury offered; and in this sense satisfaction is nothing more than compensation for an injury done to another. But, to come to the object that now engages us, theologians make use of the word satisfaction to signify the compensation man makes, by offering to God some reparation for the sins he has committed. …
The first and highest degree of satisfaction is that by which whatever we owe to God on account of our sins is paid abundantly, even though He should deal with us according to the strictest rigour of His justice. This degree of satisfaction appeases God and renders Him propitious to us; and it is a satisfaction for which we are indebted to Christ our Lord alone, who paid the price of our sins on the cross, and offered to God a superabundant satisfaction. No created being could have been of such worth as to deliver us from so heavy a debt. He is the propitiation for our sins, says St. John, and not for ours only but also for those of the whole world. This satisfaction, therefore, is full and superabundant, perfectly adequate to the debt of all sins committed in this world. It gives to man’s actions great worth before God, and without it they would be deserving of no esteem whatever. This David seems to have had in view when, having asked himself, what shall I render to the Lord, for all the things that he hath rendered to me? and finding nothing besides this satisfaction, which he expressed by the word chalice, a worthy return for so many and such great favours, he replied: I will take the chalice of salvation, and I will call upon the name of the Lord.
There is another kind of satisfaction, which is called canonical, and is performed within a certain fixed period of time. Hence, according to the most ancient practice of the Church, when penitents are absolved from their sins, some penance is imposed, the performance of which is commonly called satisfaction.
By the same name is called any sort of punishment endured for sin, although not imposed by the priest, but spontaneously undertaken and performed by ourselves. …
This, however, does not belong to Penance as a Sacrament. Only that satisfaction constitutes part of the Sacrament which, as we have already said, is offered to God for sins at the command of the priest. Furthermore, it must be accompanied by a deliberate and firm purpose carefully to avoid sin for the future.
For to satisfy, as some define it, is to pay due honour to God: and this, it is evident, no person can do, who is not entirely resolved to avoid sin. Again, to satisfy is to cut off all occasions of sin, and to close every avenue against its suggestions. In accordance with this idea of satisfaction some have defined it as a cleansing, which effaces whatever defilement may remain in the soul from the stains of sin, and which exempts us from the temporal chastisements due to sin. …
Such being the nature of satisfaction, it will not be difficult to convince the faithful of the necessity imposed on the penitent of performing works of satisfaction. They are to be taught that sin carries in its train two evils, the stain and the punishment. Whenever the stain is effaced, the punishment of eternal death is forgiven with the guilt to which it was due; yet, as the Council of Trent declares, the remains of sin and the temporal punishment are not always remitted. …
Why in the Sacrament of Penance, as in that of Baptism, the punishment due to sin is not entirely remitted is admirably explained in these words of the Council of Trent: Divine justice seems to require that they who through ignorance sinned before Baptism, should recover the friendship of God in a different manner from those who, after they have been freed from the thraldom, of sin and the devil and have received the gifts of the Holy Ghost, dread not knowingly to violate the temple of God and grieve the Holy Spirit. It is also in keeping with the divine mercy not to remit our sins without any satisfaction, lest, taking occasion hence, and imagining our sins less grievous than they are, we should become injurious, as it were, and contumelious to the Holy Ghost, and should fall into greater enormities, treasuring up to ourselves wrath against the day of wrath. These satisfactory penances have, no doubt, great influence in recalling from and, as it were, bridling against sin, and in rendering the sinner more vigilant and cautious for the future. …
Furthermore (these satisfactions) serve as testimonies of our sorrow for sin committed, and thus atone to the Church which is grievously insulted by our crimes. God, says St. Augustine, despises not a contrite and humble heart; but, as heartfelt grief is generally concealed from others, and is not manifested by words or other signs, wisely, therefore, are penitential times appointed by those who preside over the Church, in order to atone to the Church, in which sins are forgiven. …
Again, by undergoing these penances we are made like unto Jesus Christ our Head, inasmuch as He Himself suffered and was tempted….
Finally, the punishment which the sinner endures disarms the vengeance of God and averts the punishments decreed against us. …
Nor does this lessen the most perfect and superabundant satisfaction of Christ our Lord, but, on the contrary, renders it still more conspicuous and illustrious. For the grace of Christ is seen to abound more, inasmuch as it communicates to us not only what He merited and paid of Himself alone, but also what, as Head, He merited and paid in His members, that is, in holy and just men. Hence it can be seen how such great weight and dignity belong to the good actions of the pious. For Christ our Lord continually infuses His grace into the devout soul united to Him by charity, as the head to the members, or as the vine through the branches. This grace always precedes, accompanies and follows our good works, and without it we can have no merit, nor can we at all satisfy God.
Hence it is that nothing seems wanting to the just. Through their works done by the power of God, they are able, on the one hand, to satisfy God’s law, as far as their human and mortal condition will allow; and, on the other hand, they can merit eternal life, to the fruition of which they will be admitted if they die in the state of God’s grace. Well known are the words of the Saviour: He that shall drink of the water that I will give him shall not thirst for ever; but the water that I will give him shall become in him a fountain of water, springing up into life everlasting. …
Pastors should teach that all kinds of satisfaction are reducible to three heads: prayer, fasting and almsdeeds, which correspond to three kinds of goods which we have received from God, those of the soul, those of the body and what are called external goods. …
In this the supreme mercy and goodness of God deserve our grateful acknowledgment and praise, that He has granted to our frailty the privilege that one may satisfy for another. This, however, is a privilege which is confined to the satisfactory part of Penance alone. As regards contrition and confession, no one is able to be contrite for another; but those who are in the state of grace may pay for others what is due to God, and thus we may be said in some measure to bear each other’s burdens.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives a much shortened explanation, but it clearly assumes these longer statements:
1459 Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g., return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). Simple justice requires as much. But sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused.62 Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must “make satisfaction for” or “expiate” his sins. This satisfaction is also called “penance.”
1460 The penance the confessor imposes must take into account the penitent’s personal situation and must seek his spiritual good. It must correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature of the sins committed. It can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear. Such penances help configure us to Christ, who alone expiated our sins once for all. They allow us to become co-heirs with the risen Christ, “provided we suffer with him.”63
The satisfaction that we make for our sins, however, is not so much ours as though it were not done through Jesus Christ. We who can do nothing ourselves, as if just by ourselves, can do all things with the cooperation of “him who strengthens” us. Thus man has nothing of which to boast, but all our boasting is in Christ . . . in whom we make satisfaction by bringing forth “fruits that befit repentance.” These fruits have their efficacy from him, by him they are offered to the Father, and through him they are accepted by the Father.64
Let’s distill what we’ve learned. In baptism, according to Catholic teaching, both guilt and punishment for sin are remitted, freely, through the merits of Christ (which is said to be a full satisfaction). In confession, guilt is removed, the eternal punishment due sin is remitted, but “temporal punishment” is not. It is “wholly false” said Trent to suppose that God entirely remits both guilt and punishment to the repentant sinner. The forgiven Christian must make satisfaction for his sins, must expiate his sins, must “make amends” or “reparation” for his sins, must “appease” God.
Oh, it is said, glory still goes to Christ, who works in us. Oh, we don’t imagine we are doing anything apart from him. Oh, he made full and complete satisfaction for sins. And yet he didn’t, did he? The Catholic teaching wants it both ways, and clearly, the demand for personal satisfaction outweighs the lip service paid to the satisfaction of Christ. We need to suffer, like Christ did. We need to offer up prayer, fasting, alms. We need to accept whatever penance is given by the priest when we confess, but we can also offer things up freely, for ourselves and others, and can get credit for enduring patiently the struggles of life.
This is the idea at the root of the system of indulgences, whether it be those sold by Tetzel or offered by a bishop or pope today. It’s tied to the idea of the mass as a sacrifice and to the idea of purgatory. And it is all about human merit and works. It’s all about trying to make satisfaction for my own sins or those of another.
It is to this that Luther addressed Paul’s teaching of justification by faith alone–we have no works that can make up for failings in the past; even our good deeds fall short of the glory of God. But Christ is our substitute; Christ made full and complete atonement for sins; Christ’s righteousness is ours through faith. Christ “is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). “Now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself”; he “was once offered to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews (9:26, 28). “By the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life” (Romans 5:18).
But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. (Romans 3:21-28)
What a great gift we have in Jesus Christ! His blood covers all. Through faith in him, all our sins are forgiven, all punishment wiped away, and we stand before the throne of the Father clad in the white robes of the spotless righteousness of Christ.