Sunday, May 27, 2012

What is the Treasury of Merit?

A Catholic.com forums poster recently asked about the "Treasury of Merit" (sometimes called the "Treasury of Satisfaction" or the "Treasury of the Church"). The poster asked if it's infallible teaching and what Scriptural examples support the doctrine. I assembled some of my notes on the subject and thought it would be worth while posting on the blog here as well, with a few edits.

From the Catechism:

#1475 In the communion of saints, "a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things." In this wonderful exchange, the holiness of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others. Thus recourse to the communion of saints lets the contrite sinner be more promptly and efficaciously purified of the punishments for sin. 
#1476 We also call these spiritual goods of the communion of saints the Church's treasury, which is "not the sum total of the material goods which have accumulated during the course of the centuries. On the contrary the 'treasury of the Church' is the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ's merits have before God. They were offered so that the whole of mankind could be set free from sin and attain communion with the Father. In Christ, the Redeemer himself, the satisfactions and merits of his Redemption exist and find their efficacy." 
#1477 "This treasury includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are truly immense, unfathomable, and even pristine in their value before God. In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints, all those who have followed in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by his grace have made their lives holy and carried out the mission in the unity of the Mystical Body."
#1475 reminds me of Paul's discourse on the unity of the body of Christ: If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Cor 12:26)


According to Dr. Ludwig Ott, Catholic theologian, the "source of Indulgences is the Church's treasury of satisfaction which consists of the superabundant satisfactions of Christ and of the Saints" is a doctrine that is "sententia certa." (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 442) According to Ott, such a degree of certainty is "a teaching of the faith, theologically certain, ...a doctrine, on which the Teaching Authority of the Church has not yet finally pronounced, but whose truth is guaranteed by its intrinsic connection with the doctrine of revelation." (p. 9-10)

I lay terms, that all pretty much means it's a truth of the faith whether or not there has been an "official" pronouncement of the doctrine. One could probably find a number of theologians who would argue the Treasury of Merit is infallible teaching based on the consistent voice of the Ordinary Magisterium alone (which means the Church has been consistent on the teaching, even if a council of papal decree didn't write for the specific purpose of defining that issue as a Magisterial proclamation).

Anyway, the teaching is quite sound. At the heart of it, if the Church is the body of Christ (cf. Col 1:24, Eph. 1:22-23), then of course, the members are going to have merit - if they don't, then Christ himself doesn't have merit because he extends through his members. At the heart of opposing the doctrine is a denial of Christ himself!

Here is an excerpt Dr. Scott Hahn wrote on the subject:
How did Moses deliver them from the punishment they deserved? By invoking the merit of their ancestors. He told the Lord: "Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by yourself, and said to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it for ever'" (Ex 32:13).
Moses did not try to plead the case of the current generation, except insofar as they were offspring of the great patriarchs. In this story, we can see the temporal remission of punishment. God is going to destroy the Israelites; but he doesn't. We can see Moses' intercession, based upon the treasury of merits, the merit of the Fathers.
When the ancient rabbis discussed this story, they found no other way to explain it. The treasury of merit enabled them to safeguard God's mercy and his justice simultaneously. They applied the same principles to the stories of Noah, whose righteousness served to redeem future generations from the ravages of the flood, and David, whose goodness alone saved his son Solomon from the disaster he merited for himself. (Hahn, Scott, Signs of Life: 40 Catholic Customs and Their Biblical Roots, 192-193)
There are all kinds of Scriptural examples of person A benefitting from the faith of person B. Think of the centurion's servant who is healed because of the faith of the centurian (Matt. 8:5-13), or the paralytic who was healed and forgiven because of the faith of his friends (Mark 2:3-5), or the Canaanite woman who interceded for her daughter, healed by Jesus through the faith of the mother (Matt. 15:22-28).


For a Church doc, refer to Indulgentarium Doctrina (1967) by Pope Paul VI:
This treasury also includes the truly immense, unfathomable and ever pristine value before God of the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints, who following in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by His grace have sanctified their lives and fulfilled the mission entrusted to them by the Father. Thus while attaining their own salvation, they have also cooperated in the salvation of their brothers in the unity of the Mystical Body.
Also, keyword search that document for "treasury" to find additional references. Notice the emphasis on unity of the body, tying into being joined to Christ's body, the Church.

Here are some other related Scriptural examples I think apply:
Sirach 29:9-13 Help a poor man for the commandment's sake, and because of his need do not send him away empty. Lose your silver for the sake of a brother or a friend, and do not let it rust under a stone and be lost. Lay up your treasure according to the commandments of the Most High, and it will profit you more than gold. Store up almsgiving in your treasury, and it will rescue you from all affliction; more than a mighty sheild and more than a heavy spear, it will fight on your behalf against your enemy. 
Sirach 3:14 For kindness to a father will not be forgotten, and against your sins it will be credited to you. 
Matthew 6:19-21 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 
Matthew 19:16-30 Jesus advises rich man to give to poor to acquire treasure in heaven. 
Mark 10:21 (parallel of Mat. 19) And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."  
Proverbs 19:17 He who is generous to the dontrodden makes a loan to the LORD; He will repay him his due.
Most of these quotes focus on treasury as it benefits the depositor (except for the Sirach 29 verse which also speaks of laying up treasure for one's "brother"). But I think they all apply to the Treasury of Merit which benefits satisfaction (CCC#1459-1460) for the depositor as well as others. The verses refer to acts of almsgiving and such and how that covers sin, is a "credit" or "loan" so to speak. It might be worth quoting CCC#1460 to quell any notion that Catholics believe that the Treasury of Merit or satisfaction for sin is something "man" does for himself:
CCC#1460 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.



Saturday, May 12, 2012

Book Review: The Broken Path

The Broken Path (2011) by Judie Brown catalogs recent behavior among American Catholic bishops. The title refers to the many instances when bishops have "strayed from the path," so to speak, and acted scandalously or contrary to the teachings of the Church. I give the book 7 out of 10 stars.

This book is not an easy one for faithful Catholics to digest. Reading it made me uncomfortable at times. One is forced to confront the idea that bishops do not always act in defense of life, moral doctrine, or other teachings of the Church. I think recognizing the value of this book demands a certain level of maturity, to be able to admit one's own failings and the failings that take place at high levels in his Church. It also takes a certain degree of catechesis to understand that such failings do not mar the unblemished doctrines of faith and morals within the Church. Sometimes the ignorant or anti-Catholics advance the idea that a failure in individual Church leaders' behaviors is a good apologetic against the Catholic idea of infallibility, but such is not the case. Even the very idea of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is not an "infallible" body. Brown quotes Pope Benedict XVI stating: "episcopal conferences have no theological basis; they do not belong to the structure of the Church as willed by Christ..." (p 64)

Brown details several programs supported by the USCCB, for instance, Catholic Charities or the Catholic Health Association, which often advance anti-Church causes like the Obama Administration's health care plan and all it entails, including funding for abortion, contraception, and sterilization. Other groups mentioned throughout this book have influences within the Church that are opposed to Church teaching. Many of these arrangements have gone without much historical protest from bishops. Groups include Planned Parenthood, the largest U.S. abortion provider; the USCCB's "Safe Environment" office which has been met with opposition for reducing parental influence in their children's sexual understanding; and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, a group headed by supporters of abortion, same-sex "marriage," and contraception in schools; to name a few. Brown devotes a number of pages to these and other organization bringing scandal and dissent to the Church.

When some bishops work in tandem with or act passively in the face of such organizations, Catholics are sent a confusing or contradictory message. A good summary of such problems is in Brown's words is: "lack of consistency sends a mixed message to Catholics." (p 156)

One example she gives of the USCCB's confusing action occurred in 2004. Catholic Answers produced a voters guide identifying five "non-negotiables." Brown writes:
The lawyers for the bishops rejected the voting guide, claiming that it was confusing to people and that only its officially approved material should be used. This is strange, indeed, since the Catholic Answers publication agrees 100 percent with Catholic teaching that identifies five 'non-negotiable' subjects by which a politician is to be evaluated: abortion, euthanasia, human embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and homosexual marriage. (p 100)
If one researches the background of this matter, it seems the USCCB's lawyers discouraged use of the guide because it could appear to favor a political candidate and thus jeopardize non-profit status. However, it seems there is a difference in actively discouraging something's use versus not legally claiming ownership of it. At the least, the USCCB lawyers' actions and subsequent refusal to clarify causes confusion and scandal in the Church.

One of the problems Brown cites is a culture of "Americanism." By this term, Brown refers to a sentiment prevalent in the United States that "any group, or individual, could 'correct the pope' with impunity..." (p 19) It is "an amalgamation of pluralism, modernism, atheism, Gnosticism, and Arianism." (p 32) The Arian heresy was a 4th century doctrinal scandal in the Church in which the priest Arius sought to correct doctrine taught by the Magisterium. Such attitudes depart from the chain of Apostolic succession through which Christ promised truth would be taught by the Holy Spirit. Individuals and even individual bishops who thus depart from the consistent teaching of the Church cause error, scandal, and confusion.

Brown details a variety of quotations and actions/inactions by individual American bishops in recent years, bringing what is a significant problem in the American Church to the attention of the faithful. For example, she describes the of silence from some bishops who remain idle on the sidelines while openly pro-choice politicians continue to receive Holy Communion while supporting the so-called "right" to terminate an infant in the womb. In chapter 8 of the book, Brown reviews Canon 915 on providing the Eucharist and scandals within the Church violating that Canon.

Another specific example includes a letter written by Bobby Schindler to his bishop, Robert Lynch, in 2007. Schindler was critical of the bishop's lack of voice when his sister Terri Schiavo was publicly starved to death in Florida in 2005 in an act of euthanasia. (p 157ff)

Brown's book is fraught with footnotes linking to various articles and publications. It would be daunting to cross-reference them all, and the ones I perused were sound references. There was one long story she relayed, of which I was familiar, that I found wanting for detail. (p 124ff) In 2010, Phoenix archbishop Thomas Olmsted renounced St. Joseph Hospital's Catholic status and notified an involved nun that she had incurred excommunication. A woman received an abortion at the hospital. Brown did point out that Church teaching forbids surgical abortion, but the story did involve complexities that I thought warranted further explanation. The hospital justified the abortion in the following words:
Tests revealed that [the mother] now had life-threatening pulmonary hypertension. The chart notes that she had been informed that her risk of mortality was close to 100 percent if she continued the pregnancy. The medical team contacted the Ethics Consult team for review. The consultation team talked to several physicians and nurses as well as reviewed the patient’s record. The patient and her family, her doctors and the Ethics Consult team agreed that the pregnancy could be terminated, and that it was appropriate since the goal was not to end the pregnancy but save the mother’s life. (quoted in National Catholic Register, Dec. 22, 2010)
Brown's focus in this story was to demonstrate the scandal of nuns involved with the hospital complicit in the abortion against the bishop's position. However, I would liked to have seen Brown provide more information on why the bishop's position was what it was. Bishop Omsted wrote of his decision:
[E]arlier this year, it was brought to my attention that an abortion had taken place at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix. When I met with officials of the hospital to learn more of the details of what had occurred, it became clear that, in the decision to abort, the equal dignity of mother and her baby were not both upheld; but that the baby was directly killed, which is a clear violation of ERD #45. It also was clear that the exceptional cases, mentioned in ERD #47, were not met, that is, that there was not a cancerous uterus or other grave malady that might justify an indirect and unintended termination of the life of the baby to treat the grave illness. In this case, the baby was healthy and there were no problems with the pregnancy; rather, the mother had a disease that needed to be treated. But instead of treating the disease, St. Joseph’s medical staff and ethics committee decided that the healthy, 11-week-old baby should be directly killed. This is contrary to the teaching of the Church (Cf. Evangelium Vitae, #62).
In other words, the goal of the procedure was to kill the baby. It was an abortion. The baby was a healthy human being. The baby was not given due consideration as a person. They were not treating the mother's cancer that resulted in the death of the baby. This perspective, though a difficult one, is why the bishop stood his ground.

Another nitpick I had in the book was with this statement: "Magisterial teaching refers to doctrinal pronouncements from the pope on matters of faith and morals." (p 5) That statement is not quite accurate and may give the impression that only the pope ever formulates dogma. From the catechism:
CCC#100 The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him.
CCC#892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a "definitive manner," they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful "are to adhere to it with religious assent" which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.
The Pope, though he has a special role, is not on an island. There is a real unity there that includes not only the Pope but the other apostolic successors. Though that was just a small snippet of Brown's book, I know, as one who delves in the world of Catholic apologetics, someone might find themselves confused by, or an anti-Catholic might consider it opportune to utilize Brown's sentence as it is worded.

Brown has a significant amount on President Barack Obama and those who influence the Church. Obama is certainly well-known as perhaps the greatest opponent to Catholic teaching in the history of the United States executive office. The current HHS mandate is a violation of the very rights of religious persons in the U.S. I thought that section tended to carry on lengthily as Brown gave detail after detail of Obama's political appointments, health care, and other actions.

Although many of the politically-intertwined scandals in the Church involve Democrat politicians, Brown does not limit her criticism only to one party. For instance, she praises Bishop John Smith of New Jersey for writing a critical letter to a school for inviting Republican and pro-choice politician Christine Todd Whitman to speak. (p 84) The problem is not one limited to political lines. And as some good writers have pointed out, the Church is neither Republican or Democrat. The Church advances the truth of Christ.

Along with the likes of Bishop Smith, Brown is sure to include a number of uplifting stories throughout the book of brave bishops who have stood up to politicians or other Church dissenters, upholding the teaching of the Church despite the criticism they knew they would receive. So even though the main purpose of the book is to show what is the problem, Brown includes a balance of positive stories for the faithful, offering hope that our bishops often do what they are, as shepherds, called to do.

And even after the writing of this book, perhaps there are more signs of faithful shepherds in the U.S. At one point, Brown writes: "What is it about birth control that scares bishops into silence." And yet in February 2012, after the publication of The Broken Path, 100% of all 181 diocesan U.S. Catholic bishops publicly condemned the HHS mandate, which demanded even religious bodies fund birth control. Perhaps voices like Brown's have helped remind the U.S. Bishops to all stand for the teaching of the Church as many of their peers have done in the past. Her last chapter is called: "Holy Priests are the Cure" which includes sections on several heroic bishops.


Monday, May 7, 2012

Church & Science: Fr. Faura, Fr. Algue, & cyclones

Earlier this year, I heard a radio interview involving skeptics who took as gospel the idea that religion is simply an impediment to "progress" (a term not clearly defined by said skeptics). Following is another review of Catholic contributions to science.

One of the greatest scientists in the study of tropical cyclones was Father Jose P. Algue, a Jesuit priest (1856-1930). The Philippine Encyclopedia states:
A momentous meeting with the great Jesuit scientist Fr. Federico Faura [1840-1897] in 1889 changed the young Algue's life. He accompanied Father Faura to Italy and France to acquire scientific equipment for the famed Manila Observatory. It seemed that Father Algue was destined for a life of science in the tropics. To this end, his superiors sent him in 1891 to Georgetown university in Washington DC, for advanced studies in meteorology, seismology, and astronomy.
The priest is perhaps best known for his studies on tropical cyclones. Some of his works on the science of cyclones are available online. One of his books, The Cyclones of the Far East, offers detailed hour by hour accounts of various tropical cyclones, the cloud and barometer patterns that precede and accompany them, and includes methods for sailors to identify weather threats. For instance, he wrote:
In a general way, we may say that when the monsoon increases considerably above the sixth parallel of north latitude, or when the winds from east to north tend to freshen, without any increase of pressure, but with a steady or falling barometer, we may be certain that some atmospheric perturbation is passing or will pass by very low parallels. When this happens the currents in the Surigao Strait are very strong, and navigation is very dangerous for small boats close to the eastern coasts of Mindanao and even more so in the Jolo Sea, and the south of the China Sea. (Algue, The Cyclones of the Far East, p. 240)
After perusing Fr. Algue's book, I chose this excerpt because it contributes to dispelling the myth that the Church and science are conflicting enterprises. Fr. Algue's contribution to sea-faring safety incorporated the importance of empirical observation, the hallmark of scientific study.

The historical author Augstin Udías Vallina wrote in his book Searching the Heavens and the Earth: The History of Jesuit Observatories of how Fr. Algue's work was taken and utilized in the world of science, perhaps even by way of plagiarism:
Algué identified the zones of origin and average trajectories of typhoons. He discovered two basic types: trajectories of parabolic shape that moved around the annual center of high pressure in the North Pacific in a clockwise direction, and a second type of storm moving in a linear path westward from the Philippines to decay over southern China. In 1900 Paul Bergholz, director of Bremen Observatory, Germany, published under his own name what was really a German translation of Algué's book. This was recognized in 1903 in the journal Nature by R.H. Scott who made the revision of the English version of Bergholz' book. Bergholz was not satisfied with his appropriation of Algué's book, but in England also constructed an instrument under his name which was an exact copy of Algué's barocyclonometer. Bergholz's book and instruments were extensively used in German ships. (Vallina, Searching the Heavens, p. 152)
The history of the barocyclometer has a trail involving other priests. As accounted in the Manila Bulletin:
In 1869, the Spanish government put [Father] Faura in charge of the observatory in response to the need for advance warnings against typhoons. The Jesuit missionaries, who operated the observatory, later acquired the Universal Meteorograph, a device used for weather forecasting. The device was an innovation of Fr. Angelo Seechi [1818-1878] who headed the Vatican Observatory in Rome during that time. On July 7, 1879, Father Faura warned of a typhoon crossing northern Luzon. In November of the same year, he predicted a strong typhoon crossing over Manila. The accuracy of his warnings boosted the reputation of the observatory. ... With the success of the Manila Observatory, the Spanish government designated it as an official institution. Secondary stations were set up throughout Luzon. Faura designed the aneroid barometer and the most accurate weather gauge in the country.
According to a 1910 entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia, many lives were saved as a result of Fr. Faura's November 1879 warning:
At other ports, to which warning of the approaching storm could not be sent for lack of telegraphic communication, the destruction was enormous. Forty-two vessels were wrecked in Southern Luzon alone, and may lives were lost. (Finegan, P. (1910). Manila Observatory. In The Catholic Encyclopedia.)

Fr. Faura also founded the Manila Observatory, for which Fr. Algue would later serve as director. In his work, Fr. Faura invented what is now known as the 1886 "'Faura barometer'" [which] was offered to the public, and it passed immediately into general use among the navigators of the Philippine waters and the China Sea." The Catholic Encyclopedia article concludes:
[Fr. Algue] gave the public his 'barocyclonometer', an improvement on Father Faura's invention, by which storms may be foretold, not only in the Philippines, but throughout the entire Orient.
So that's just a light biography of these two Catholic priests, along with the above mentioned Fr. Seechi, who contributed immensely to the world of science.