Patheos and SoulPancake

Lately I've been checking out a couple of new-ish websites devoted to religion and spirituality.

I first heard about Patheos on Carl McColman's blog, Anamchara, and at first it seemed like it might have some promise. Alas, most of the discussions I've seen so far have been, frankly, moronic. On the Catholicism discussion board, for example, one of the discussion topics was "Same-Sex Intimacy: A Form of Masturbation?"

Enough of that.

Far more edifying is SoulPancake. One of the people behind this site is Rainn Wilson, best known for his brilliant portrayal of Dwight Shrute on The Office. Wilson says in an introductory video that he wants to "de-lameify" talk about God and religion. Some of the questions being discussed in the Life's Big Questions section include, "Is there a relationship between creativity and spirituality?" and "Can revenge ever be therapeutic?" SoulPancake is worth checking out just for the funky background artwork.



Brokering forgiveness

Not long ago, in response to this post on Mystical Seeker's blog, I posed a question about indulgences:
Indulgences were granted for specific acts or prayers, and they were given with the promise of a remission of a very specific length of time.

My question is, where did the bishops get this information? How did they know that saying this or that prayer would shorten one's purgatorial tenure by 40 or 100 or 300 days? Or the whole thing, in the case of a plenary indulgence?

Did they actually do empirical research, or were they just guessing?
At the time I was assuming they simply pulled those numbers out of their posteriors, but then I read this from an online edition of the big book of indulgences, the Raccolta. Pope Clement VI wrote,
Jesus Christ did by his superabundant holy Passion bequeath to His Church militant here on earth an infinite treasure, not laid up in a napkin, nor hidden in a field, but committed by Him to be dispensed for the welfare of the faithful by the hands of blessed Peter, who has the keys of heaven, and by his successors here on earth, the vicars of Jesus Christ.
Indulgences are basically a share of this treasure, dispensed as the pope sees fit. As the article in the Raccolta explains,
Christians are not at liberty to take and to use this treasure as they please; but only as determined by the Holy Church and this Sovereign Pontiff, when, and how, and in what measure. (italics in original)
Of course! The popes didn't claim to have discovered the relationship between indulgences and the corresponding remission of sin, they claimed the authority to decide themselves what it should be!

Look at me, always underestimating the authority of the pope!

The interesting thing is that, now that I think about it, I seem to remember learning about that as an undergrad, but somewhere along the way I forgot that popes had claimed that kind of authority for themselves. Am I repressing things? I kind of wonder about that...

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