The current list of the fines that we owe God on account of our sins is called our temporal punishment. We must pay the fines, either now or in purgatory. However, we are not allowed to see any of the amounts of the fines on the list. Except in the case of a "perpetual indulgence," we are also not allowed to know exactly what payments -- what kinds and quantities of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, etc. -- we could presently make that will definitively settle our current debts with the Lord prior to purgatory. But unless we are a great saint, there is a list of fines that we owe because of our sins, and our name is on it.
Once we are dead and in purgatory, we work off the remainder of our debt by suffering. We are not definitively told whether in purgatory there are things we personally can do to hasten the satisfaction of our debt and thus reduce our suffering, but majority theological opinion doubts that there is; once we are in purgatory, there is nothing we can do but suffer passively until we have satisfied our personal individual debt to God.
However, now that we are dead, the living can help to pay off our debt. Once we have worked off our entire debt in purgatory, or it has been paid, partially or in full, on our behalf by the prayers and efficacious works of the Church and of our brothers in the faith still among the living, our souls are purified, our attachment to creatures is cured, and we enter the eternal happiness of heaven.
Covenantal moral theologies could throw around dismissive adjectives like "dehistoricized," and "jerry-rigged" regarding something like the preceding account, but really, there's nothing 'wrong' with it. It genuinely is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead; purgatory exists, it's not pleasant, and we could well be in it ourselves some day, but it's infinitely less bad than going to hell; indulgences that we earn for ourselves, or that we earn on behalf of the departed faithful, are real and efficacious; our sins do cause harm not only to others but also to ourselves; and our deficiencies and weaknesses are going to have to be purified before we get to heaven.
So if the following essay has any pastoral efficacy, it would certainly not be because the faithful will at last be inspired to do exactly what Holy Mother Church already teaches them to do regarding sin and its temporal punishment; instead, this essay is only a theological essay, and if it has any pastoral efficacy at all, it would be to re-inspire any of the faithful who are vaguely dissatisfied with something in the traditional account, to yet continue to do exactly what Holy Mother Church already teaches.
On that note, we plunge in.
There exists no "natural" or philosophical or time-less or immediate connection to the dead. Our only solidarity with the dead is mediated in and through the New Covenant; that is, it is solely eucharistic, ecclesial, sacramental, historical, multi-personal.
Only the sacramental, historical, living work of the Lord with His bride in the New Covenant in His Blood moment by moment unites heaven and earth, and only as we eat the actual One Bread in actual history are we One Body. Apart from the continuing living work of Him and her in history; that is, apart from the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, all the dead are dead as doornails to us; nothing has ever changed that, and nothing ever will.
At the outset, we should be glad indeed that this is so. For the damned, at the moment of their deaths, have declared to the Just Judge that they permanently and decisively forswear and deny any covenantal relation to Him and His bride.
Within the terrible, the horrifying, freedom of the New Covenant, they have that final right, to deny Him once and for all; and when they do, He grants their demand, He gives them one last gift: He denies them, as they deny Him. [cf. 2 Tim 2:11-13]
And thus the damned can never touch us, for having forsworn any relation to Him and her, they have forsworn any possible relation to us. In life as well as death, human solidarity exists solely in the New Covenant; thus the damned are now beyond anyone's reach. They will never again be able to hurt us or affect us in any way, and, since the damned now belong totally and irrevocably to the Evil One, that will forever be a permanent great relief to the living.
Similarly, since our substantial human nature just is the New Covenant in the historical One Sacrifice, all who share that resurrected (resurrected, not "spiritual") human nature with the Bridegroom and His bride are in communion, whether in heaven or on earth or in purgatory.
However, none of us, even the greatest of saints, is in communion (a) organically, or (b) "naturally," and we are certainly not in communion immediately, for such immediacy is reserved to the Bridegroom and His bride.
Not even the greatest saint can disturb their exclusive and yet unfathomably unselfish nuptiality, or would ever wish to. In the One Sacrifice, God has joined the Bridegroom and His bride together, and no man can separate them: this is our victory, this is our triumph.
Thus we are, all of us: the Church Militant, the Church Suffering, and the Church Triumphant, in communion mediatively, ecclesially, multi-personally, historically, (which means, for the living, eucharistically, solely in sacramento, through signs which cause what they signify).
Here, as a matter of method, covenantal moral theologies must prescind themselves from the assumptions of much venerable theological speculation.
This is so because "satisfaction" or propter peccatum theologies, dehistoricized of their nature, dehistoricized by their own proud claim, cannot be quite right, because they scant the Christian revelation -- Who is Jesus Himself, the totus Christus, the Bridegroom with His bride in the historical One Sacrifice.
For first of all, Jesus the Lord does not "in the beginning" exist as an "immanent" Son ab aeterno. For that is a Son perforce, by definition, unknown to and unknowable by the Church's historical tradition and worship.
This "immanent" Son amounts to a being who presumably, but for the Fall, would not have been Incarnate of the Virgin, who indeed would never have been sent by the Father at all. Greatly to the contrary, Jesus the Lord is instead primordially pre-existent as simultaneously Son of Mary and Son of God:
... contemporary theology rejects out of hand the primordial pre-existence, i.e., "in the beginning," of the human Son, the divine Word who is Jesus the Lord, but rather takes for granted the pre-existence of a supposedly Trinity-immanent divine Son, whose existence can only be ab aeterno, who is nonhistorical by definition, and of whom in consequence the Church's historical tradition and worship knows and can know nothing.
[CT, Vol III]
And secondly, "satisfaction" or propter peccatum theologies can give none but a nominal account of the fact that "through Him all things were made;" which is to say, it is a deep theological error to "isolate the metaphysics of the Incarnation from the metaphysics of creation."
Instead, covenantal moral theologies do not isolate the Incarnation from the creation, but rather profess that the mission of the Son is economic. In brief, Jesus is sent by the Father not first to redeem the world but to give the Spirit, the Spirit Who "through Him" is the Spiritus Creator. Thus, the sin of Adam did not prompt or cause or necessitate the mission of the Second Adam. If counterfactually Adam had not sinned, Jesus the Lord would still have given the Spirit Who is the Spiritus Creator, for that is why He is sent by the Father, (and why Adam existed in the first place).
The Son is sent by the Father to give the Spirit. That is His mission: Creation exists in union with His Incarnation. The Lord's kenosis into sarx (and for that matter, our Lady's similar kenosis at her Immaculate Conception), is an additional gift, but not THE gift.
There is in view then no immediate participation of creatures in Esse, as the "thin-essence" Thomists have supposed; all that we are, we are in Christ, i.e., in consequence of the mission of the Son. The hominization of the universe of man occurs at the level of its very existence, its creation; only if this radical Christocentrism is accepted can the enslavement of the universe, including the kenosis of the Christ, be seen to have occurred by reason of the fall, and its redemption be seen to be actual by the fact of the Resurrection. The New Covenant is the free immanence of God in man, and includes in its reality the whole of humanity, the whole of the created universe: all that is exists uniquely by reason of the Father's sending of the Son to give the Spirit. We cannot isolate the metaphysics of the Incarnation from the metaphysics of creation: they are mutually implicatory in their contingency. Only when this is realized is Esse understood historically, in the context of a theological metaphysics. Otherwise, viz., as in the context of a propter peccatum sensu negante Christology, existence can add nothing to the meaning of essence, as every nominalist has known; when the covenantal meaning of the Son's Incarnation is not taken seriously, i.e., given systematic standing, Esse has been dehistoricized.
[ CT II (Ch. V), p. 443 ]
We note that since, within propter peccatum sensu negante Christology, "existence can add nothing to the meaning of essence," so perforce all moral acts are also dehistoricized, even the acts of Jesus Himself, which acts also can add nothing to the meaning of essence; and the same can be said of every sacramental action in actual history -- even the Last Supper, which must inherently be only an "example" of some dehistoricized Higher Truth.
Again, covenantal moral theologies are well aware that such propter peccatum theologies, such "satisfaction" Christologies, are untroubled by these implications, while we note the minor flaw that, while much effort has been expended, and over centuries, to make their implications fit together in themselves, yet they do not fit the facts.
By contrast, for covenantal moral theologies, moral acts must be historical, as His acts with His bride in history have been, are, and will ever be; and this prompts us to revisit the meanings of "satisfaction" and "reparation" in the light of patterns of thinking about morality well within the tradition of the Catholic church, but more inherently historical.
We begin by constructing and opposing two toy moralities, gedanken moralities, didactic stories, fables contrasted to further our understanding: a toy or gedanken "kinship" morality, and a similarly didactic "rational" morality.
We will find that the concepts of "satisfaction" and "reparation" and "indulgence" have a different meaning when located within an actual historical family or kinship group. Within the morality of such communities, you have existence, you are yourself, not by means of some dehistoricized essence, but solely by means of your historical obligations, works, and gifts within the family or kinship group, and within their historical obligations, works, and gifts to you.
Thus, the causality is not: because your essence is thus-and-so, you have these obligations and do this work and are owed such-and such by others, and give and are given these particular gifts, but instead, because you exist within these particular historical obligations and this particular work and these particular historical gifts, you have a personal name, you are this named person, you are "you".
In "kinship" morality, the welter of historical obligations, works, and gifts within which you live and breathe and have your being are not one of many things that you have, or are, or that you are owed or owe; they are you. And the first gift by which you begin to be "you" as a named person, within which you are given your personal name, is your conception and birth.
Thus actions within the family or kinship group that do or do not satisfy obligations, or that do or do not do beneficial work, or that do or do not give gifts, cause a strengthening, or a diminishing, of your meaning, of your very existence.
Hence, to disavow your obligations, to cast off your work, or to refuse to give gifts, is not only to wound those from whom you have taken what belongs instead to them, or to whom you have not given what is owed or what is needed, but also is to wound yourself, and even more, it is to diminish your very existence, which, as we have said, just is what you historically owe and labor and gift to others, and what they owe and labor and gift to you.
There is a great gulf between a "kinship" moral universe and a "rational" one. For in a "kinship" moral universe, historical actions (and your own meaning, your very existence) are not rational (in the sense of ultimately dependent on a rationalization) but rather, either do or do not satisfy concrete obligations, or are or are not concrete work, or do or do not give and receive concrete gifts, located within, given within, an historical family/kinship group.
By contrast, in a "rational" moral universe, actions (and concomitantly, your own meaning and existence) are inherently dehistoricized -- "de-family-ed," as it were -- and thus exist as "examples" or instances of realities out of time, and are reasoned to in terms of abstract notions of justice, etc.
The fundamental charge a "kinship" morality makes against a "rational" morality is insanity -- stark raving disconnectedness, madness on the hoof. The corresponding charge a "rational" morality makes against a "kinship" morality is incomprehensibility -- if not precisely irrationality, then a-rationality, activity as a blank surd.
Both make the same complaint to the other: the failure to ground morality in reality. What differs between them is their answer to a fundamental question, if not the fundamental question: what is real?
From the perspective of "kinship" morality, "rational" morality must first diminish, then trivialize -- literally dis-integrate -- the truth and reality of all actual historical acts within actual historical kinship groups in favor of a dehistoricized Ideal or Form or Truth; for, by "rational" morality's own standards, such historical acts are only instances, "examples," of the Form or Truth, and differ not in essence but only in quantity, in extent in time and space; i.e., their "existence can add nothing to the meaning of essence."
From the perspective of "rational" morality, a "kinship" moral structure must "really" be an implicit "rational" morality, or it is arbitrary, absurd. Which is to say, a "kinship" moral structure must in principle be translatable into, or at least, comprehensible within, the known best "rational" framework, or one very much like it, or it is irrational.
By "irrational" we mean, not translatable into a rationality, not expressible in terms of a ratio, not strictly bound within, necessitated by, dependent on, "rationality" however defined.
Thus we mean "irrational" as literally incomprehensible, in the root sense of being unable to be contained or circumscribed within some Higher Truth 'beyond' or 'before' the concrete historical. From the perspective of "rational" morality, such an incomprehensible "kinship" moral structure is therefore arbitrary, literally meaning-less.
Of course, as we have said, both of these "moralities" are no more than toy moralities, gedanken moralities. Neither of them have any but a tenuous relation to the brutality, violence, suffering, complexity, and conflict possible in real life -- nor to real life's erratic sweetness. Nor, in this dilute form, do these "moralities" even hint that, in real life, brutality, violence, suffering, complexity, and conflict can at times stop, prevent, even remedy even graver ills, not just cause them.
Both of these "moralities" amount to didactic stories, fables contrasted to make a point, which is: if something like a morality of historical kinship/family obligations, works, and gifts could exist, concepts like "sin" and "debt," as well as "satisfaction," "reparation," and "indulgence," can still be understood, and easily understood, but solely within the reality of the historical web of obligations, works, and gifts that just is the particular kinship group, and concomitantly, which just is one's personal name, one's personal meaning and existence.
Within such a morality, particular reality is not an accident of a Substance, or a memory of a Form. Rather, those particular historical obligations, works, and gifts between real particular persons within that particular historical family/kinship group, just is substantial reality, without remainder,
For instance, within a "kinship" morality, there is nothing metaphorical about sin inevitably diminishing yourself, and not only others; for sin does this, plain as day. Sin is a disruption within history of the historical obligations, works, and gifts within which you possess your very meaning, your very existence.
For there is no dehistoricized "meaning" to you: you are the person with these particular obligations, who does this particular work, who gives these particular gifts to these particular others; you are the person who is owed these particular things from these particular others; you are the person who has received these particular gifts from these particular persons. That is you.
The bonds of obligation, work, and gift that both cause and sustain the kinship group, and your place within them, just are your meaning; in harming those, you do directly harm yourself. That's not a metaphor; nor does it have to be reasoned to; it simply is the case.
Thus also, "you," the real you, can never profit from your sin. For sin just is your personal rupturing of the historical kinship bonds of particular obligations, works, and gifts -- a rupturing and diminishing of the real you -- in favor of some Thing else. Thus in not only a real but also an obvious way, sin inevitably dis-integrates the only real self you can be.
Your historical dis-connection, slight or great, from those kinship bonds, can only make you lesser, not greater. Literally, in beginning to disconnect from these kinship bonds (which, remember, are a web not only of particular obligations and works but also of particular gifts), you -- your self -- begins to disconnect from reality.
In our gedanken, toy, "kinship" morality, in every case, the cause of your obligation to another, the reason for it, why you owe it, just is that you owe it. That is, you owe it to him as a result of the history so far of your kinship group's web of obligations, works, and gifts, and correspondingly the history so far of your personal obligations, works, and gifts within your kinship group -- and there exists no other "reason," no other cause 'before' or 'beyond' that, for your obligation.
The cause of your particular obligation to him may be thoroughly personal, completely in terms of your own history so far of obligations, works, and gifts, or it may be thoroughly communal, completely in terms of the history so far of the obligations, works, and gifts of your kinship group, or be an admixture of these. (We stress again that there is no cause, no meaning, no understanding, 'before' or 'beyond' the particular history thus far of these particular obligations, works, and gifts).
Which is to say, within a "kinship" morality, finding the cause of your obligation by examining essences, or in "reasoning" from first principles, or in terms of abstract justice, is not only beside the point, it is literally insane -- it is a refusal to ground one's obligation in substantial reality, which just is the history of kinship obligations, works, and gifts thus far, within which you are "you."
To repeat, a "kinship" morality refuses and repudiates any attempt to "rationalize" morality, for within the terms of "kinship" morality, within its own understanding, such "rationalization" amounts to dehistoricization, to dis-integrating the history so far of the concrete particular obligations, works, and gifts of the kinship group into a mere Example of a Higher Truth.
Or in other words, "kinship" moralities find it, not just incorrect, but downright insane, to attest that "existence can add nothing to the meaning of essence."
Covenantal moral theologies can do no other than ground themselves within the radically historical character of Christianity, and hence of morality. The preceding development, of a gedanken or toy morality we are calling "kinship" morality, has been done for the purpose of inching a step further "towards" such a radically historical moral theology.
We note again that, while nowhere in Covenantal Theology can we find a sustained development of a moral theology that takes seriously the radically historical character of morality, we can find an explicit statement of its necessity.
Moreover, within the pages of Covenantal Theology we can find explicit recognition that a covenantal moral theology, by refusing to make its ground a dehistoricized cosmology, is not thereby 'by definition' irresponsible.
Rather, Fr. Keefe points out that the cause of current irresponsibility in Catholic moral theologizing is not a lack of foundation in a dehistoricized cosmology -- moral degenerates immersing themselves in a fundamentally "irrational" because radically historical sacramental history.
Far rather, that irresponsibility is generated by our self-proclaimed betters, who trivialize sacramental history in the very act of choosing a dehistoricized cosmology -- but a different dehistoricized cosmology than their opponents, one they like better.
b) The historicity of morality
In the contemporary climate, a moralist of orthodox persuasions may well wince at talk of the historicity of morality: today's shibboleth of "historical consciousness" equates historicity with a lack of universal moral norms: what is historical is taken to be conditioned by the circumstantial ambiguity, the final lack of intrinsic meaning and hence of salvific value, finally of moral freedom, which Luther, following the Nominalist devaluation of creation, ascribed to the whole of human history--viz., of "works"--and which the Pietist movement of seventeenth-century Lutheranism taught to the German Enlightenment. Clearly enough, such a negative reaction to talk of the historicity of morality rests upon a fear of the dehistoricizing with which the Enlightenment interpretation of historical consciousness has afflicted the Catholic tradition over the years since the second Vatican Council. The earlier discussion of the intellectual poverty of that program for the dehistoricization of the Catholic tradition, still the commonplace of Catholic "middle management" circles, need not be reviewed here.
The historicity of morality is the historicity of sacramental worship: the free unity of the Old Covenant, the New Covenant and the Kingdom of God which is instituted on the Cross, and effective in the Eucharistic representation of the One Flesh of the New Covenant, by which all of the pagan past is validated by its orientation to the Old Covenant, which itself is validated by its ordering to the New Covenant, and the New Covenant by its ordination to the Kingdom of God. This sacramental and finally Eucharistic ordo of history has been sufficiently pointed out: here one need only recognize the sacramental unity of the historical manifestation of the Trinity, and of the worship which in Christ is revealed to have been Trinitarian, from "the Beginning". This worship, radically Eucharistic in its historical unity across the millennia, is the ground of all freedom, and so of all morality, whether of the pagan world, of the Old Covenant, the New Covenant, or the Kingdom of God, within that order of anticipation, realization and fulfillment which has its cause and source in the sacramentum tantum, res et sacramentum, and res tantum of the Eucharist.
[ CT Vol II Appendix p. 658-9 ]
Accordingly, we have developed a toy morality we call "kinship" morality. Here we point out that, at the very least, the charge of "irresponsibility" cannot be applied to such a radically historical morality, at least in its own terms, for the meaning, the existence, the personal name, of all persons within the kinship group just is their personal history so far within the history thus far of the particular specific bonds of obligation, work, and gift that is their family, their kin. This is as close to the opposite of "arbitrary" ("Depending on will or discretion; not governed by any fixed rules") as it may be possible to get.
The "kinship" morality we are developing here is not yet a covenantal morality. However, it already has features that can shed light on the meaning of "sin" and "debt," as well as "satisfaction," "reparation," and "indulgence," within a covenantal moral theology, and already can help us edge closer to a covenantal understanding of the temporal punishment that satisfies for forgiven sin.
Before we do that, we take note of the work of economic historian Michael Hudson, who with colleagues has discovered that "sin" and "debt" have been closely related concepts, even identical ones, within many historical cultures. From our perspective, we can identify some features in the following brief excerpt: that sinful acts disrupt bonds; and that gravely sinful acts disrupt bonds so severely that they may prompt living exile, or the exile of death.
Actually, the word for sin and debt is the same in almost every language. Schuld, in German, means the debt as well as the offense or the sin. It's devoir in French. Basically you had exactly the same duality in meaning [in] Akkadian, the Babylonian language. The reason goes back to an idea, called wergeld in parts of Europe, which is universal - we have it in Babylonia too. If you injure somebody: if you hurt him or you kill him, either you have to go into exile in the city of refuge, or the family gets to kill you, or you settle matters by paying. And the payment - the Schuld or the obligation - expiates you of the sin. So the word for the payment of the offense is the same as the offense, and you'd expect this similarity to occur in every language.
Speech to Kairos group, Union, Columbia [ Edited version for clarification, January 23, 2017 ]
We do not press Dr. Hudson to develop a covenantal morality; we deploy his results here by way of demonstrating that notions of sin and debt can be historical, not ideal, and nonetheless, not arbitrary.
We also take note that while "sin" and "debt" are able to be simultaneously radically historical and wholly responsible, their historical meaning -- hence, all of their meaning -- evaporates in the absence of a particular history-thus-far, whether within a particular kinship group, or between kinship groups who desire their joint history to proceed.
Bluntly, the bad guy from the other tribe who killed your brother is not going to pay wergeld to your family, if his tribe won and made your tribe subject to them; and there exists no dehistoricized, "un-family-ed," Eternal Rulebook in the Sky to say otherwise.
If one is tempted to opine that "irrational" or historical justice existed only among the pagans, one should resist the temptation. In Andrew Willard Jones's magisterial 2017 work, Before Church and State, he documents that it was commonplace for adjudicators sent in the name of King Saint Louis IX to rule that a party's claims for redress of injury were automatically null and void, if the redress had lain unpursued for (somewhere around) 30 years.
Suppose that Family A now told the King's adjudicator that in years past, it possessed land that Family B had taken and held. If that claim had for a long time been acquiesced to, then the claimed debt was neither owed nor unowed, was neither real nor unreal, neither true nor untrue, neither paid nor unpaid -- it was moot. Or in our terms, that debt -- and, if we believe Dr. Hudson, perforce also that sin -- exists or does not exist solely as historical, not as time-less, not as an "accident" of a substantial Ideal.
Within a "rational" moral theology, the fact that that particular debt was moot, would of course have to be rationalized; for within "rational" moral theologies, all acts, all deeds, all judgments, have to be rationalized, made somehow time-less, or they are absurd, arbitrary, meaning-less.
Even more, "rational" moral theologies must rationalize -- dehistoricize -- the existence or non-existence of the sin (which, we recall, just is the debt). Within them, a sin that is moot is an impossibility. The sin must either have existed or never have existed.
So the rationalization of the sin would go something like this. If the sin never existed, no debt is owed to Family A -- end of story. However, if the sin/debt existed, then it is now forgiven (the debt has in effect been deemed by the King's adjudicator to have been paid). The difficulty with this account is that it is literally nominalism -- absolutely nothing but the words of the King's adjudicator 'pays' the debt owed to Family A.
Within a "rational" moral theology, the only alternative is that the sin exists as a kind of "Schrödinger's cat" -- it exists, and also, does not exist, until the King's adjudicator intervenes, makes his decision. But this is intolerable.
We can go down this rabbit hole as deeply as we like: what is so special about 30 years of acquiescence? And anyway, why is Family A's continued resistance to the injustice so vital? Doesn't the sin exist anyway, isn't the debt owed regardless? By what standard is the adjudicator's judgment 'prudential'? By what standard is his historical judgment itself a violation of justice, a further sin? And so on.
Again, covenantal moral theologies are well aware of "rational" moral theology's inability to countenance (which is to say, to comprehend, to get its head around) any "kinship" morality whatever, except as "really," implicitly, a "rational" morality.
"Kinship" morality simply refuses to be subsumed within a "rationality" supposedly time-lessly 'before' or 'beyond' the kinship group's own particular history-thus-far of particular obligations, works, and debts.
As Before Church and State frequently observes, it is the work of the King's adjudicator to "find the peace."
In our terms: this is the adjudicator's meaning within the history thus far of the obligations, works, and gifts that just is the kinship. By his decision, he makes an authoritative and responsible gift into that history-thus-far. That is the meaning of his decision, it is the meaning of his work, it is the meaning of his obligation within the history thus far of the kinship. There is nothing 'before' or 'beyond' his historical authority and that historical gift.
The adjudicator -- take note of the word -- "finds" the peace in the kinship's ongoing history-thus-far. He "finds" it -- but did that particular historical peace exist time-lessly prior to his "finding" of it?
Within "kinship" moralities, that question cannot be answered, and can only be refused -- because the question is insane. Its asking perforce dehistoricizes and hence dis-integrates the historical authority of the adjudicator, makes him a mere instance, an Example, a Vessel of some Thing time-lessly 'beyond' him. And in doing so, its asking perforce dehistoricizes and hence dis-integrates the substantial reality of the entire history-thus-far of obligations, works, and gifts which just is the kinship. In short, the question can only be refused because it assumes that which is insane: that existence can add nothing to the meaning of essence.
We can also characterize the contrast between "kinship" and "rational" morality in alternative terms: by his decision, the King's adjudicator "found" the peace by gifting something new into the history-thus-far of the obligations, works, and gifts that is the kinship. His decision does not restore a stasis, but sets that history-thus-far on a new course.
However, even the idea of "new" is a problem for "rational" moralities. Within them, an adjudicator is a mere Instrument who applies 'right reason' to restore an eternal stasis which has been disrupted; that is the "peace" the adjudicator "finds" -- because it is the only "peace" that can be "found."
But within "kinship" morality the adjudicator exists to make something new into the kinship's history thus far -- something that the kinship history thus far has been unable to provide for itself. This peace is not a stasis restored, but a history refreshed, able now to continue by "routing around" whatever damage.
The water is now officially under the bridge. Whatever loss is now officially a 'sunk cost'. Any grudge is not to exist through countless generations; now, the grudge must no longer be held on to. The envy and anger, or alternatively, the gloating and self-satisfaction, must now stop. The history between Family A and Family B can and must now proceed, without further harm to that history: this is the peace that the King's adjudicator "found."
We can now edge closer to a radically historical covenantal moral theology. We can begin to incorporate a covenantal perspective into our toy "kinship" morality, and so cast further light on what begin to be explicitly dogmatic and theological concepts.
Within a "kinship" morality, sin is the personal harming of the historical relationship of obligations, works, and gifts within which one has one's very meaning, one's very existence.
Sin incurs a debt, an obligation to those who have been harmed. As in Dr. Hudson's examples, paying the debt atones for or "expiates" the sin. Yes, but as scholarly discussions of wergeld note, the wergeld was paid both to "atone" and to avoid reprisals.
From within the terms of our "kinship" morality, we are able to see that both the "atonement" and the avoidance of reprisals mean the same thing: with the paying of the debt, the history thus far between the parties may now continue, but importantly, it may now continue without the addition of even more injury to that history (no reprisals).
Therefore, (and here we begin to explicitly introduce covenantal concepts) this debt can only be repaid creatively, by the insertion of something new and good into the history you share with those that you have harmed: that is, by a gift.
Here we begin to define temporal punishment for the first time. A gift that must be given to allow the history of obligations, works, and gifts to be fully renewed between the parties is called temporal punishment. The gift "satisfies" the debt, revivifies the relationship; it "expiates" the sin, which is the wound in your shared history thus far. With the payment of the temporal punishment, that history thus far of obligations, works, and gifts between the parties is now repaired "enough" to continue without instigating further harm to that history.
It is important to note that the shared history can be renewed, but it can never be restored, not even by God -- especially, not even by God, Who so honors the decisive, covenantal character of history that His only Son did not give the Spirit by making Adam's sin vanish, but by taking it upon His shoulders.
For it is never possible for a reparation to be a genuine restoration of the status quo ante. After all, the tears were still shed, the vase was still stolen, the window was still broken, the life was still lost. Even in the case of a broken window, it is not that window which will be set in the frame to replace the broken one.
And, most importantly, the history of the relationship of obligations, works, and gifts remains altered by the sin. Even if the stolen vase is returned, good as new, the history of that harm which led to the taking of the vase cannot be "restored," as if it never happened. That harm now joins the history of that relationship; and you can't take that back.
Your history thus far within that web of relationships, works, and gifts just is you, and the harm you did is now a (distinctly non-metaphorical) part of you, just as it is a part of those you harmed. So reparation for sin can never be an exact "restoration." When you sin, there are no take-backs.
This is also why reparation must always be creative, must be a gift. If "order" were a dehistoricized Thing, a stasis, then it might be possible to imagine that it could be time-lessly "restored"; but since instead order is only real and can only be found in the history-thus-far of a family, of a kinship group, the dis-order of sin within that history cannot be restored, but only compensated for, by gift.
The gift can and should bring a new positive impetus to that history, create something new in it, which did not exist before; but it can never turn back the clock. The gift can help to "route around" the evil that was done, but it cannot erase the history within which the evil was done.
In the history of the Catholic church, the prescribed gift that "routes around" the evil that is now sadly forever a part of the shared history of obligations, works, and gifts of the kinship group that is Christ with His Church, has often been a suffering freely undertaken by the sinner. It is thus understandable that it has been called temporal "punishment."
But this is not precise, for the gift-nature of the temporal punishment remains. First of all, the Church is clear that the acts the sinner does in reparation must be voluntary. A penance is said to be "imposed," but it is not really imposed, since it is of no merit unless the sinner himself freely assents to it. (He can always walk away instead, and take the consequences).
Moreover (as the Baltimore Catechism says [ Baltimore Catechism #3, Lesson 19, Q. 805 ]), "Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving; all spiritual and corporal works of mercy, and the patient suffering of the ills of life," have also been recommended for the same purpose, for the sinner to make reparation for his sins.
Thus "kinship" morality understands temporal punishment as a creative gift within the recommendations or requirements of the Church, freely given by the sinner, that adds something new and good to their shared kinship history of obligations, works, and gifts, so that that history can be helped to "route around" the damage the sin has done to it.
We return to Dr. Hudson's historical examples to unpack the relationship between forgiveness and temporal punishment a little more. As we know, the Church herself makes a sharp distinction between a sin forgiven and a sin expiated. A temporal punishment is still owed, even after a sin is forgiven.
At first glance, this does not seem to be the case in Dr. Hudson's examples, for in them it would seem that the payment of the prescribed debt for the grave sin just is the forgiveness of the debt, as well as the means by which the debtor rejoins the history of the kinship group (and thus, in our terms, by which he reclaims his existence, identity, and meaning).
This certainly seems to be what Dr. Hudson also thinks, but we submit that this is an illusion. Even in Dr. Hudson's examples, forgiveness still comes first. Forgiveness remains the necessary pre-condition for the expiation of the sin by the temporal punishment. For the injured party must first agree that the prescribed payment of the debt does in fact satisfy the injury made by the sin.
In other words, a pre-condition for the satisfaction made by the temporal punishment is that the injured party, despite his injury, still desires the sinner to return to and continue the history of their shared obligations, works, and gifts. Without that prior desire from the injured party -- which desire just is his forgiveness -- no gift from the debtor, no temporal punishment, however great, is great enough to bring about a continuation of their shared history that does not instigate further harm within that history.
Regardless of the remorse of the sinner or the magnitude of his gift, the prior desire of the injured party to continue the shared history -- his forgiveness -- is the only way their shared history may continue without the addition of even more injury to that history.
With the preceding in mind, we are equipped to begin to understand the relationship between eternal punishment and temporal punishment. In a previous essay, we were able to establish that eternal punishment is caused by a final gift of Jesus the Lord to those who wish to forever deny and be rid of Him and His bride. The damned freely wish to deny Him and be rid of Him forever, so He gives them what they wish. This is the eternal punishment of the damned, and it is irrevocable, because in the decisive moment of their Particular Judgment, that is what they freely chose.
The Lord would have wished to continue the free concrete history of obligations, works, and gifts with them, but they forswear that history; so He denies them, as they deny Him. [ 2 Tim 2:11-13 ]
By contrast, outside of a soul's Particular Judgment, the Lord always manifests His forgiveness in His ever-present desire for the sinner to return to and to continue the free history of their shared obligations, works, and gifts.
So, there exists for the sinner the fundamental thing needed: the possibility of forgiveness, ever-present within his personal history-thus-far with the Bridegroom and His bride and with those who are His adopted brothers and her adopted sons.
Next, the contrition of the penitent sinner manifests, and is, First, his acknowledgment within concrete history of the harm he has done to the history thus far of obligations, works, and gifts within which he has his very being, his meaning.
But it is also more than this. Second, his contrition also is his historical desire to continue his free personal history thus far with the Lord and His bride -- which perforce means, Third, his contrition is also his desire to continue the free personal solidarity and history he shares, within the One Flesh of the One Sacrifice, with His adopted brothers and her adopted sons.
But the sinner must freely give a gift -- something recommended and/or prescribed that is new in history, and good. The gift helps to "route around" the injury the sinner has inflicted on the free history of obligations, works, and gifts that is the great kinship group which St. Augustine calls the totus Christ, Christ with His Church.
That free history (which includes your personal history, your personal existence and meaning) was concretely and particularly damaged by the sinner's sin; there are no take-backs, no do-overs. The sin happened; that it happened, will always be part of their free shared history now. The Church prescribes something positive, new, creative, to be added by the sinner to that damaged history. The new gift does not and cannot "restore" their shared free history thus far, but rather, the gift adds something new and good and positive to that free history. This is the sinner's temporal punishment.
We now have begun to uncover a covenantal meaning to eternal punishment, forgiveness, contrition, and temporal punishment. We can also now understand, covenantally, the meaning of the sinner's firm purpose of amendment.
It all fits together. The opportunity for forgiveness is gifted to the sinner by the Lord's ever-present desire to continue the free history thus far with Him, without any further injury to that history.
The sinner's contrition is the act of his personally now (a) concretly admitting that his sin has damaged his free shared history of obligations, works, and gifts; (b) admitting that there are no take-backs -- his sin can never be made to vanish but will now forever remain a part of his shared history of obligations, works, and gifts; and (c) desiring nonetheless that his shared free history with the Lord and His bride continue, and be renewed, without any further harm to it.
And the gift of the sinner's temporal punishment creatively contributes something new and good to the shared ongoing history of him and the Church, "routing around" the injury that has been done to that history, and not causing additional harm to it.
But absent the sinner's willingness to at least hope to avoid a repeat of the sin, the temporal punishment is no longer a gift, a surprise of hope and creativity, freely contributed to the future of his free shared history with the Bridegroom and His bride and with all the members of His body.
A refusal to have a firm purpose of amendment represents an unwillingness to be rejoined to, to genuinely continue, the sinner's free personal history, warts and all, in union with the free history of the Bridegroom and His bride. The temporal punishment -- even the contrition itself -- becomes dehistoricized, an attempt to make history vanish; it becomes a refusal to continue a shared history.
Absent a firm purpose of amendment, the temporal punishment that is meant to be a free gift into the future of a free shared history becomes sterile, unfruitful. It becomes a dehistoricized 'deal', a transaction, a tit-for-tat: "I do thus-and-so, and my actual history thus far with you goes away, it does not matter, it never happened."
Simply in human terms: a wergeld is paid not only to atone, but also to avoid reprisals, to allow the history-thus-far of the parties to continue without further harm to it. So, suppose some guy from another family killed your brother.
If you knew that he still intended to kill your other brother, a wergeld in any amount would not renew the history-thus-far between your family and his. Even if he pays the designated wergeld, the sinner has made it plain that he doesn't care about a good, peaceable ongoing history with your family. As far as he is concerned, the wergeld is a dehistoricized transaction, not a gift given in order to renew a history between the families that does no further harm to that history.
Here we note that the Church has refused to dehistoricize the temporal punishment due to sin. For instance, the Church has not definitively said that the explicit penance the priest gives us in confession is always and everywhere sufficient to remove all the temporal punishment for our sins.
To the contrary, (almost) definitively, she has said that it's probably not sufficient. For example:
Q. 802. Is the slight penance the priest gives us sufficient to satisfy for all the sins confessed?
A. The slight penance the priest gives us is not sufficient to satisfy for all the sins confessed:
- Because there is no real equality between the slight penance given and the punishment deserved for sin;
- Because we are all obliged to do penance for sins committed, and this would not be necessary if the penance given in confession satisfied for all.
The penance is given and accepted in confession chiefly to show our willingness to do penance and make amends for our sins.
[ Baltimore Catechism #3, Lesson 19, Q. 802 ]
Yet still, and to our dehistoricized annoyance, the Church will not say how much temporal punishment is in fact removed by the penance the priest gives us. Is it a little? A lot? Practically none? We want temporal punishment to be like a fine, we want it to be a definite transaction, so that we can proceed as if our sin -- and perforce that free history with Holy Mother Church in which we sinned -- never happened. But she won't allow us to try that.
The Church won't make either that penance, or the temporal punishment, into a transaction -- she writes the ticket, you pay the exact fine indicated, and you're done. Nor in most circumstances will Holy Mother Church even tell us what is 'enough' temporal punishment to "satisfy" for our particular sins.
Thus, despite all theological efforts to turn the New Covenant into a dehistoricized cosmology (in which there would indeed be a time-less set fine for a set offense, all nicely written down in The Eternal Rulebook in the Sky), the Church simply refuses this path.
We submit that what accounts for this, better than the traditional explanations, is that temporal punishment is not part of a transaction. Temporal punishment is a gift, a surprise, freely contributed by the sinner to his personal history within the history-thus-far of the Bridegroom with His bride in the One Sacrifice, to help to "route around" the harm the sinner has -- irretrievably -- done to that history.
Thus, covenantal moral theologies can attest that, whether the state of a suffering soul in purgatory be 'active' or 'passive', his gift of the temporal punishment of his suffering in purgatory remains within the historical New Covenant of the historical One Sacrifice, because he remains part of that history, of our history, of the history we also share with the saints, the history of the bride, 'breathing' the Holy Spirit sacramentally into history not as, but with, her Lord.
Before further development, we make a relevant point. The dead faithful have not at all passed beyond our shared history of obligations, works, and gifts in the New Covenant, but they have now definitively passed beyond mortal time as we know and experience it.
Thus, the 'moment' of death, and the 'time' a sinner spends in purgatory, must be dealt with as strictly theological categories. As a matter of theological method, we cannot 'back-reference' any conception of time that we have into their continuing existence; that does nothing but self-generate theological contradictions and absurdities.
Thus it is only from a fully covenantal perspective that we may understand in what respects the faithful souls in purgatory remain covenantally connected to the whole history-thus-far of obligations, works, and gifts of the Church with her Lord.
From the tradition of the Church, it is plain that the sinner's gift of temporal punishment while in purgatory can only directly improve or "route around" the harm his own sins have caused his personal history within the history thus far of the New Covenant.
Indeed, from the perspective of covenantal moral theologies, the present Catechism says in effect that the sinner who owes temporal punishment in purgatory owes it because his still-extant attachment to creatures renders him (as dead) no longer able to give gifts in their fullness into the history thus far of Christ and His Church.
While he is in purgatory, he is in part, separated from the full history-thus-far of the Church -- he is unable to give any gifts to us the living.
Instead, his gift of temporal punishment is now severely limited: whether he be deemed 'passive' or 'active' while in purgatory, it is clear that his gift of temporal punishment in purgatory can only directly improve his own personal history-thus-far with the Lord and His bride, it is 'passive' at least in that sense.
But his gift of temporal punishment in purgatory purifies him, so that eventually he is able to rejoin the full history-thus-far of Christ and His Church, and thus, he is able to give gifts-in-history to the faithful on earth, as the blessed do -- for he is now among them.
We can therefore identify a key difference between the faithful in purgatory and those in heaven. In purgatory a suffering soul's connection with the history of obligations, works, and gifts that is the full Catholic Church (the totus Christus) is severely restricted, and one-way. He can still receive gifts from us, but he has no ability to gift anything to us in return.
By joyous contrast, the blessed are fully, super-abundantly connected to the history-thus-far of the totus Christus, and therefore, in the Eucharist (and especially, at every Eucharist) they are fully, super-abundantly connected to the history-thus-far of all the faithful on earth. In and through the Event of the New Covenant in the One Sacrifice, the blessed can, and do, constantly and personally, gift us with all manner of gifts.
When, even as dead, a suffering soul's giving into the history thus far of the New Covenant in the One Sacrifice is no longer limited to directly benefiting only his personal history-thus-far in the Church, then he fully re-joins the history-thus-far of Christ and His Church, he gives as the blessed give, and in doing so and in now being able to do so, he joins the blessed in heaven, his charity becomes fervent, and thus fruitful beyond himself.
His giving now can be fruitful not merely within his own personal history in the New Covenant, but now also within the history thus far of the faithful on earth. Thus the former sinner now joins the blessed in heaven, because in the Holy Eucharist, in the historical New Covenant in the historical One Sacrifice which alone unites heaven, purgatory, and earth, he is now able to give unreservedly, as the blessed do -- his charity is now as theirs:
1472. To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the 'eternal punishment' of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the 'temporal punishment' of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.
A covenantal understanding of indulgences is thus not far to seek. First and foremost, we begin with the naked true fact: indulgences earned by the faithful on earth for the poor souls in purgatory are efficacious. This shows that the souls in purgatory remain within the historical New Covenant of the historical One Sacrifice.
Which is to say, the sole cause, and the only possible cause, of our ability to obtain indulgences for the poor souls is the historical New Covenant in the One Sacrifice. For the Eucharist of the totus Christus -- not a static 'Real Presence', but an Event that is covenantal, eucharistic, ecclesial, sacramental, mediated, historical, multi-personal, 'time-full', not time-less -- is the one Event utterly within history and forever transcending it.
Indeed, the sole cause of our ability to perform moral acts at all is that same Event of the New Covenant in the One Sacrifice. Apart from the Eucharist, we are simply trapped in stasis, between the jungle and the cage; apart from Him with her as they continue to 'breathe' the Holy Spirit into our actual history, we are flat unable to gift things new and creative into anybody's history-thus-far.
But in the Eucharist, we are One Body with the Bridegroom and His bride within our particular history, for their Covenant exists both within history and transcends it.
Whether that poor soul be 'active' or 'passive' in purgatory, his personal history, thus his personal name, his meaning, his very being, still remains within our shared history-thus-far of the Covenant of the Bridegroom with His bride in the One Sacrifice.
And because of that Event, the faithful on earth can in fact gift historical gifts, gifts new and creative, into the history-thus-far of a poor soul in purgatory. The particular gifts prescribed by the Church for this purpose are called indulgences.
These indulgences do indeed bring a new positive impetus to the poor soul's history, create something new in it, which did not exist before, and thus help to 'route around' the damage which that sinner personally did to his and to all our shared history with the Bridegroom and His bride. The sinner's sins are and remain an ineradicable part of that history; but now, so also our gifts in reparation.
Or, as the case may be, so also the prescribed gifts the sinner gives on his own behalf during his life. They too bring a new positive impetus to the sinner's history, create something new in it, which did not exist before, and thus help to 'route around' the damage he has done to his shared history-thus-far with the Lord and His Church, a history which, we repeat, just is also his personal name, his meaning, his very existence.
We pause here to take note of a very special plenary indulgence: the Apostolic Pardon, in which a designated priest of the Catholic Church, in a historical act and blessing, accepts as a plenary indulgence the only gift a sinner has (to be precise, will shortly have) left to give in this life: just his death, simply his death. We give the relevant section (12) here, in its entirety:
AT THE POINT OF DEATH
A priest who administers the sacraments to someone in danger of death should not fail to impart the apostolic blessing to which a plenary indulgence is attached.
If a priest is unavailable, Holy Mother Church benevolently grants to the Christian faithful, who are duly disposed, a plenary indulgence to be acquired at the point of death, provided they have been in the habit of reciting some prayers during their lifetime; in such a case, the Church supplies for the three conditions ordinarily required for a plenary indulgence.
In this latter case, the use of a crucifix or a cross in obtaining the plenary indulgence is commendable.
The faithful can obtain this plenary indulgence at the hour of death, even if they have already acquired a plenary indulgence on that same day.
The catechetical instruction of the faithful should ensure that they are duly made aware and frequently reminded of this salutary benefaction of the Church.
Manual of Indulgences
NORMS AND GRANTS
Translated into English from the fourth edition (1999) of Enchiridion Indulgentiarum:Normae et Concessiones
UNITED STATES CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS
And we note particularly that the Church is clear that this gift of the sinner's death into his history-thus-far in the Church is literally a history-altering gift for that soul -- the Church grants a plenary indulgence to him.
We further observe that (nowadays) the Apostolic Pardon is granted even "if a priest is unavailable" [ Manual of Indulgences (2006), 12.2 ]; yet still, only for sinners who have at least some good history-thus-far of obligations, works, and gifts with the Bridegroom and His bride ("provided they have been in the habit of reciting some prayers during their lifetime," ibid.), and who have not repudiated that history by unconfessed or unrepented mortal sin ("who are duly disposed," ibid.).
Finally, we observe that the sign recommended as "commendable" in the case, "the use of a crucifix or a cross in obtaining the plenary indulgence," is congruent with our argument here: that even the lowliest Catholic sinner's death, his real, particular, distinctly non-generic, non-Ideal, historical death -- all he has left to give in this life -- can be made a gift into his personal history-thus-far in the Church, a gift of world-shattering, heaven-opening, significance, as that death is enfolded or encompassed into the death of the crucified and resurrected Lord, through the intercession of Holy Mother Church.
Should we be envious, if God is that generous? And if we are still then angry, how can we retain that remaining anger, knowing that, in actuality, it is our Mother who is actually responsible -- who instructs her Son to be so generous on behalf even of the history-thus-far of the lowliest sinner among the faithful, to make the gift even of that lowliest faithful sinner's death able to sufficiently repair his personal history with Him and her, to gift something so new and creative and good into it, that he can now become one of the blessed in heaven?
Or should we rather consider our joy in a sinner now completely healed -- despite our own reservations and cavils, now at last become fully willing, capable, and active within the eucharistic (not time-less) history of gifts and giving that is the life of the blessed with the Lord and His bride?
For it is a fact that the blessed, however lowly their place in heaven, all fervently desire to shower us all with gifts, bless us with gifts within our own history-thus-far of obligations, works, and gifts with Christ and His Church which is our personal name, our life, our meaning, our existence.
Indeed, from a covenantal perspective, they are blessed because their charity into our history is now fervent, because their desire to give to us in the New Covenant is now unreserved.
We now return to "rational" morality's charges against "kinship" morality. For the question can readily be asked: within "kinship" morality, how can one judge between the conflicting historical moralities of different historical kinship groups?
To take an example at random: One kinship history of obligations, works, and gifts sees a man as a harmless, inconsequential loon, while another finds the same man dangerous, vile, and obviously guilty of the most heinous capital crime:
When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, "Crucify him, crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no crime in him." The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and by that law he ought to die, because he has made himself the Son of God." [ Jn 19:6-7 ]
Within which kinship history of obligations, works, and gifts was Jesus seen correctly: that of the Romans, or of the Jews? Which was 'right'? And we recall that from within the two histories, these are the only choices: either He is a man who can comfortably -- take your pick -- be ignored or ridiculed ('innocent' in that sense merely), or He is an outrageous criminal worthy of the most excruciating and humiliating death.
"Rational" morality claims to be able to 'step outside' the particularities of historical moral conflicts and find in each case the time-less 'natural' one real truth. It contends that it is only man's occasionally clouded intellect, and especially, his sinful and wayward will, that accounts for man's failure to do what his 'natural' intellect tells him is 'naturally' and obviously and clearly good. For "rational" morality claims to be universal, and universally available to autonomous reason ('right reason'), in all times and places. This universal and universally-available "rational" morality is the 'natural law' written in every man's heart.
In a previous essay, we have not merely challenged, we have refuted, that contention, Not only "rational" 'natural' morality, but also any 'natural' morality whatever, must found itself, and therefore, break itself, upon the radical contradiction at the heart of any 'natural' analogy of being.
Absent any possible 'natural' link of historical being to the ineffable, the entire methodology and mechanism of some moral theologies fails from before the outset. For the 'natural' law written in Man's fallen heart is death. And if there exists no salvific 'natural' ordo, then there exists no basis by which some acts can 'naturally' be judged to be intrinsically dis-ordered.
This world -- human, animal, vegetable, mineral, material, and immaterial -- is fallen; absent the continuing work in time of the living Christ with His bride, absent the sacraments, this world -- all of it -- is fallen into 'flesh', sarx, trapped between "the jungle and the cage."
Apart from the Eucharistic worship of the Church, a 'natural' unification of "an otherwise chaotic space and time into world and history" does not exist. Thus the immediate origin of the radical theological misunderstanding of Natural Law is the contradiction that refutes the "natural" analogy of being, but its fundamental origin is the theological misunderstanding of the Lord Jesus that Covenantal Theology observes over and again. He and He alone is the Lord of history; there is no other.
And here we say it out loud: apart from the Lord of history, all "kinship" moralities also break themselves on the radical contradiction at the heart of any 'natural' analogy of being.
The advantage of "kinship" moralities is that they are historical; the trouble is, absent the New Covenant, flowing as blood and water from the Cross and side of the Lord, the ground of "kinship" moralities is fallen history, history dis-integrated into 'flesh', sarx, thus trapped, utterly, entirely, irrevocably, between the jungle and the cage.
One historical kinship group can do great harm to other historical kinship groups. That harm, by the kinship group's own standards, might be quite unobjectionable, even praiseworthy.
And there remains the harm that the kinship group can do to itself. The kinship group can fail, by its own standards. Its particular history thus far of obligations, works, and gifts can almost self-generate ways for the kinship group to remain trapped in miseries of its own making, and to sicken, be conquered, die.
Comparing, filtering, sifting, amalgamating, the conflicting fallen historical obligations, works, and gifts of particular kinship groups, and hence their conflicting historical moralities, into a 'natural' best historical morality, is a fool's errand. There is no possible way that endeavor can succeed.
For the same reason, finding a fallen 'natural' morality in a dehistoricized cosmology, in a time-less "rationality," in autonomous 'reason', is equally a fool's errand.
There is a standard, but it is not "natural" (not fallen-as-normative). It is an eternal standard, but it is not a dehistoricized one: there is no Eternal Rulebook in the Sky. That one reliable true eternal standard is bound in no way by Necessity but exists ex nihilo, which means not only "out of nothing" but also "out of no prior possibility," as living, utterly free and utterly responsible acts-in-history.
These continuing eucharistic, ecclesial, sacramental, historical, multi-personal acts-in-history constitute, and are, the New Covenant in the One Sacrifice. That New Covenant establishes a kinship history of obligations, works, and gifts within which we receive our personal names, meaning, and eternal life. That standard of which we speak is solely covenantal, radically historical: the Cross of Christ.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart." Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
[ 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 ]
In this essay, we have developed a covenantal, hence a radically historical, understanding of temporal punishment. Sin harms the history thus far of the historical obligations, works, and gifts that is the Event of the Eucharist, the radically historical ordo of "the holy society by which we belong to God."
Forgiveness is the Lord's desire, ever present in history, for the sinner to return to that history thus far, without further harm to it. In the Rite of Penance the priest gifts that forgiveness into your concrete, personal history within the Church: "I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
Contrition is the sinner's concrete act within his personal history thus far, to acknowledge his sin within the history thus far of the Church, and to seek to do no further harm to that history.
Temporal punishment is a prescribed or recommended gift that the sinner freely and creatively gifts into the history thus far of the Church, something new and beneficial that does genuinely help to "route around" the harm he has done to that history, thereby renewing and repairing it.
However, attempting to make temporal punishment into some Thing that "restores" that history thus far to its status quo ante, as if that history were not radically historical but a mere stasis, is ever a futile (or a cynical) act.
There are no 'take-backs' in history. The repair or "routing around" of the harm done to the radically historical ordo of obligations, works, and gifts (which just is the holy society by which we belong to God) requires free gifts into that history, not dead fines.
In purgatory, the faithful sinner's relation to the radically historical ordo of obligations, works, and gifts that is Christ with His Church is diminished. The sinner in purgatory can no longer give gifts into the history of others -- he is 'passive' in purgatory at least in that sense. While in purgatory, his gift of his suffering can only repair his own personal history thus far within the history of the New Covenant.
However, the faithful on earth still retain their eucharistic, and hence historical, ties to that poor soul in purgatory. They may still -- though solely mediatively, eucharistically -- give prescribed historical gifts that help to repair the sinner's personal history within the history thus far of the Church.
Even though as a matter of method we are unable to 'back-reference' our conception of time into that of purgatory, we are even now gifted to know that 'at last' a poor soul's history-thus-far is repaired in purgatory sufficient to enable his charity to be fervent -- to be capable of giving gifts that benefit the histories of those beyond himself.
And at that 'moment', the poor soul is no longer a poor soul -- he takes his place among the blessed, who joyously give gifts into our own histories-thus-far in the Church. Within the Eucharistic history-thus-far which alone, and mediatively, unites the historical obligations, works, prayers, and gifts of all the faithful, the blessed may give us gifts in abundance, if we but ask.
We note in passing that the meaning of the "treasury of merit" must be covenantal, radically historical, or it becomes merely a theological conceit, invented to save the appearances of some theology vainly attempting to ground its Christology and thus its ecclesiology in a dehistoricized cosmology; for there is no Box of Merit in the Sky.
The Eucharist, the historical New Covenant in the historical One Sacrifice, the primordial, historical, and eschatological union of the Bridegroom and His bride, One Flesh in His blood, creates, and is, the only radically historical kinship group that unites heaven, purgatory, and earth, not time-lessly, not Ideally, but continually and radically within history.
There is, there can be, only one free and responsible kinship history of obligations, works, and gifts in all the world that is, or will ever be, true and substantial reality: the free and responsible ordo of "the holy society by which we belong to God." [ Augustine, De civ. Dei, 10, 6 ]
There is, there can be, only one substantial, covenantal, eucharistic, ecclesial, sacramental, multi-personal free kinship history of obligations, works, and gifts that can ground a morality that does not fade into the past, dis-integrate within history, and thus within which our personal history of obligations, works, and gifts are fully and truly responsible.
There is, there can be, only one New Covenant in the One Sacrifice, ever within history and transcending it -- though in sacramento; that is, substantially, yet mediated, yet "veiled" -- within which our personal history of obligations, works, and gifts can be, and is, our free true personal name, our true meaning, our good and enduring and responsible existence.
For He with His bride, One Flesh in the One Sacrifice, freely is the Lord of a free and responsible history: there is no other.
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