Dr. Ed Peters Gives Hillenbrand Lecture on Indulgences
Dr. Ed Peters of Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit offers Liturgical Institute students and faculty a lecture entitled “A Modern Guide to Indulgences: Rediscovering This Often Misinterpreted Teaching." On May 2, 2013, the Liturgical Institute hosted a Hillenbrand Distinguished Lecture with Dr. Edward Peters, a specialist in canon law who holds the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, Michigan. Dr. Peters’ lecture was entitled “A Modern Guide to Indulgences: Rediscovering This Often Misinterpreted Teaching,” and sought to bring common understanding to the notion of indulgences since Pope Paul VI’s fundamental reform of indulgences in 1967.
Dr. Peters began his lecture with a laugh from those in attendance for noting that all in attendance were eligible for a partial indulgence because Specific Grant number 6 of Enchiridion Indulgentiarum “grants a partial indulgence to those who study Christian doctrine.”
Peters centered his talk on the foundation of canon law, especially section 992 and six other canons which draw heavily on Pope Paul VI’s apostolic constitution Indulgentiarum doctinra. An indulgence, he noted, “is the remission before God of temporal punishment for sins whose guilt is already forgiven, which a properly disposed member of the Christian faithful gains under certain conditions by the assistance of the Church which as minister of redemption dispenses and applies authoritatively the treasury of the satisfaction of Christ and the saints” (1983 cic 992).
Dr. Peters went on to investigate each phrase of the definition, emphasizing clearly those ideas which are frequently misunderstood. First, he was clear to distinguish between “remission” and “forgiveness,” noting that remission remits the “liability of punishment” by drawing “more deeply on the infinite merits of Jesus Christ.” Forgiveness, on the other hand, comes only from God “who generally uses the sacraments that Christ left to his Church to achieve that reconciliation.”
Peters was careful to emphasize that though indulgences are given by the assistance of the Church under certain conditions, ultimately, the Church draws indulgences from the merits of Jesus Christ. “When Christ took on the task of Savior,” he said, “it so far exceeded the Father’s demands that he won in the Father’s eyes an inexhaustible treasury of merit and mercy that could be drawn upon ceaselessly without diminishment.”
The remainder of his lecture discussed the two major areas of reform instituted by Pope Paul VI. First, Peters discussed the nature of plenary and partial indulgences, highlighting Paul VI’s understanding of the wide differentiation of acts undertaken for indulgences. Some indulgenced acts are more significant than others, and “the worth of an indulgence should recognize this fact.” He then examined Paul VI’s innovation of developing General and Specific Grants, which allow indulgences to be woven into the “very fabric of a Christian’s daily life.” These include donation of goods or services, every occasion of charity and rendering a public sign of the Faith. For Paul VI, he said, growth in holiness was “not simply to be a project to be included among others...but to be our very path through life.”
We thank Dr. Edward Peters for his generosity, his fine talk and an opportunity to gain an indulgence!