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St Theresa's relics in town

I was shopping in Oxford and noticed a long queue outside the Catholic Church on Woodstock Road. It turns out Holy relics are being displayed over two days, and Catholics are going to venerate them and also to gain a Plenary Indulgence.

The Church's website says:

"The Apostolic Penitentiary has granted a Plenary Indulgence to all who venerate the relics of St Thérèse in our church. To gain the Indulgence:

1. Make a good sacramental Confession
2. Receive Holy Communion (within a few days)
3. Pray for the Holy Father's Intentions
4. Take part in a service or devotion in honour of St Thérèse, or spend some time in prayer, concluding with the Our Father, Creed and invocations to Our Lady and St Thérèse."

Source here.

I had no idea what a Plenary Indulgence is. This explanation is from the Catholic Encyclopedia.

"An indulgence that may be gained in any part of the world is universal, while one that can be gained only in a specified place (Rome, Jerusalem, etc.) is local. A further distinction is that between perpetual indulgences, which may be gained at any time, and temporary, which are available on certain days only, or within certain periods. Real indulgences are attached to the use of certain objects (crucifix, rosary, medal); personal are those which do not require the use of any such material thing, or which are granted only to a certain class of individuals, e.g. members of an order or confraternity. The most important distinction, however, is that between plenary indulgences and partial. By a plenary indulgence is meant the remission of the entire temporal punishment due to sin so that no further expiation is required in Purgatory. A partial indulgence commutes only a certain portion of the penalty; and this portion is determined in accordance with the penitential discipline of the early Church. To say that an indulgence of so many days or years is granted means that it cancels an amount of purgatorial punishment equivalent to that which would have been remitted, in the sight of God, by the performance of so many days or years of the ancient canonical penance. Here, evidently, the reckoning makes no claim to absolute exactness; it has only a relative value."

It appears that, by following the above 4-part instruction, Heaven-bound Catholics can go directly to Heaven without having to spend any intervening time in Purgatory during which their sins would be fully cleansed prior to their encountering God. Almost every Heaven-bound soul ends up being punished - and purged of sin - in Purgatory for a period; how long depends on how big a sinner you were [See here and scroll down to Purgatory for more info].

The offer, if you like, is a get-out-of-Purgatory card (POST SCRIPT 11TH NOVEMBER - My use of this phrase is intended to put into a nutshell, for the benefit of those unfamiliar with the idea, what such an indulgence essentially is. It was NOT chosen deliberately to cause offence to Catholics, as one commentator, appears to think! However, I guess the breezy tone probably implicitly communicates that I don't take the idea terribly seriously). That partly explains the length of the queue outside the church, I suppose.

Anyway, the reason I mention the relics and the Indulgence is: I wonder what Karen Armstrong would say about it all (see three posts earlier)? All sounds very literal to me!

Image - souls in Purgatory.


Joe Otten said…
The film Dogma is all about a plenary indulgence.
anticant said…
What hope is there for the world when supposedly adult intelligent people believe in such twaddle?
Anonymous said…
I can't help but recall the church spokesman that said in regards to Mary being seen in a tree stump, "While we do not wish in any way to detract from devotion to Our Lady, we would also wish to avoid anything which might lead to superstition."
anticant said…
Presumably that was said with tongue very much in cheek.
Anonymous said…
I think it was just regular old fashioned obliviousness. The man had several good one-liners like, "There’s nothing’s just a can’t worship a tree." and, "[The] church’s response to phenomena of this type is one of great scepticism."
Steven Carr said…
The article about Plenary Indulgences is very much the kind of knowledge that is unavailable to scientific enquiry or empirically-based methods of knowing.

There are two distinct ways of obtaining knowledge, and only one is science-based.

I should point out that this knowledge by the church is very much not the sort of knowledge that is got by making things up.
wombat said…
Idolatry. Magical thinking.

At least as interesting is the mechanism whereby the Apostolic Penitentiary decides the tariff for these things either on behalf of God or by direct conference with Him or perhaps they have a software package nowadays.

The link describing heaven hell & purgatory was quite hopeful. Let me see hell simply "indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God," So its not a problem for those who reject God anyway is it? Sounds like the only ones who have a rough time are those who miss out on the old indulgences.
anticant said…
"I should point out that this knowledge by the church is very much not the sort of knowledge that is got by making things up."

Are you kidding?
Andrew Louis said…
What a load of crap!
I should point out that this knowledge by the church is very much not the sort of knowledge that is got by making things up.

Interesting comment but I'm not sure about what you mean by two distinct ways of obtaining knowledge. Please elaborate.

Bsed on my assumption that you are referring to divine revelation, may I suggest a few other equally (or more) reliable ways of acquiring knowledge:

1. Reading tea leaves.

2. Acid trips.

3. Séances.

4. Reading anything written by Ted Geisel.
Greg O said…
Two thousand and nine. TWO THOUSAND AND FUCKING NINE.
Martin said…
Part of me wants to blow raspberries from the sidelines, and part of me marvels at the absolutely bonkers but magnificent reality that the Catholic Church has carved out. On the whole I think the world would be a much poorer place if all of these believers suddenly got a reality check. After all, what useful purpose could the clergy fulfil in an atheistic heaven on earth? And what could be done to occupy the time of all the people who take such nonsense seriously? Leave them be to their nutty rituals, as long as they don't harm anybody else.
Paul P. Mealing said…
The really bizarre premise to all this is believing that someone on earth can intervene on God's behalf, assuming you believe in a God who rewards and punishes you for all your sins.

This is a con trick of the biggest and worse kind. And, yes, I know that the Catholic Church has been practicing it for centuries, with inordinate success.

anticant said…
"Leave them be to their nutty rituals, as long as they don't harm anybody else."

They do harm others by believing and propagating such nonsense. Ditto Muslims, Jews, and 'Born again' Christians.

Some of them are prepared to fight, to die, and to kill others - including us - for their particular bran of nonsense.
Martin said…
There's both a practical and a moral problem from stopping people believing and propagating nonsense. One is unachievable and the other is inconceivable.
anticant said…

Read some European history. For centuries it was largely about pointless, futile, and murderous religious wars.

As for stopping nonsense, my parents' generation had to do it to the Nazis - far too late.

I think Stephen and many others posting here dislike religion because it is irrational. I attack it because it is social poison.
Martin said…
Anticant, in your rush to condemn my education and my personal experience you seem to have overlooked that I only wrote about harmless nonsense.

"Social poison" - is this a new term for "things I don't like"?
Mike said…
You've mentioned the Nazis an you've used the lovely phrase "social poison." You've listed the groups that you disapprove of: not only Catholics, but... "Ditto Muslims, Jews, 'Born again' Christians." Is atheist intolerance an improvement over any other form of sectarian religious intolerance?
anticant said…

I wouldn't dream of condemning your education, the details of which I don't know. I simply asked you to reflect on what history tells us about the malign role of religion in human affairs.

As for "harmless nonsense", how do you define it? Do you think the Catholic Church's massive abuse of children - intellectually, and sometimes physically - down the present time, not least in Ireland, is "harmless"?

My answer to Mike is "Yes". 'Social poison' is not a lovely phrase; it is a nasty fact.

As for tolerance, do you think that anything and everything should be tolerated? Genocide? Concentration camps? Honour killings? Child genital mutilation? Come off it.

Voltaire, one of the greatest Enlightenment advocates of a tolerance which didn't exist when he wrote in the mid-18th century, but is now taken too much for granted, pointed out that the one instance where tolerance should not be exercised is when it is confronted by intolerance which harms society.

That is the price we have to pay if we want to live in a decent world.
Mike said…
In addition to extreme intolerance, you display another hallmark of the religious fanatic: a nauseating self-righteousness. (I'm not going to say anything more.)
Martin said…
I don't feel the need to respond to Anticant's perverse allegation, so I'm out too.
Anonymous said…
I loved all this stuff as a child growing up Catholic. Having a miraculous medal pinned to your vest, going to mass on nine consecutive Fridays. All to avoid time in purgatory. As an adult I did, inadvertently, get an indulgence by walking the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela. My own kids miss out on all of this since they are not being brought up Catholic. Perhaps that is why they are so obsessed by Pokemon.
anticant said…
Well, well. Ad hominem abuse is no substitute for argument.

I would have thought that a philosophy blog was the ideal place for a serious discussion of the limits of tolerance.
Andrew Louis said…
Saucer a’ milk, table two, ssssss.


The problem with your position is that (whereas I agree) it’s not a product of religious practice, but a product of absolutism, (or so I’d suggest). i.e. intolerance is abound in an institutional system of belief, theist or atheist, where absolute ideals exist.

To put it in yet another way, religious practice in and of itself does not bread intolerance, so on and so forth, rather it’s the metaphysical stance one takes towards they’re world view that does.

My "word verification" to post was "amen". Nice.
anticant said…
Of course I am not saying that every individual believer is socially toxic, filled with active hatred against those of a different belief or none, etc. The problem is tribalism. If you are an adherent of a particular faith - especially if you have been indoctrinated into it from childhood - you will automatically side with your pastors - clergy, rabbis, imams - who preach that your faith is threatened by those who don't share it, and who are therefore your enemies.

This type of preaching is all too common in today's strife-ridden world.
theObserver said…
1) There was a minor squabble in Ireland over the state honour guard supplied to escort these relics from church to church.

2) The mass card industry is still an important money spinner for the Catholic church in Ireland. My older relatives still pay a priest to 'bless' a card or to have a mass dedicated to a deceased loved one.

3) I was raised in a Catholic family; my granddad raised 9 kids piled two and three into a bed; I attended a Catholic school and was taught by nuns and priests until I graduated aged 18; I attended mandatory school religious retreats and 'talks'; I attended weekly mass for 18 years; I was shown graphic abortion videos during religion class, taught seven day evolution, punished for forgetting to capitalize the ‘g’ in God (“At the very least He deserves a capital letter”), listened to my English teacher inform the class that “if Saint Anthony failed to help find your keys, then you have to give him a bigger donation”. Yet I have *never* heard of this “God cannot be the member of any set” nonsense until Dawkins started ruffling a few feathers.

Sam Norton considers me half-educated. Yet having attended the Catholic school system from the early 80’s until 1995 in one of the most religious countries in Europe, the God I was taught to believe in bares absolutely no resemblance to the God of Sam.

Atheists are 100% correct in attacking the God of the people, the God worldwide institutions are built upon, the God representative of the majority of Christians. Not the whimsical God of the theologians, of ‘Class 1 mystics’, the indescribable god who maintains all of creation through love and intellect beyound human standing.

This battle is as much about culture as truth. Perhaps more so.
theObserver said…
"Of course I am not saying that every individual believer is socially toxic, filled with active hatred against those of a different belief or none, etc. The problem is tribalism. If you are an adherent of a particular faith - especially if you have been indoctrinated into it from childhood - you will automatically side with your pastors - clergy, rabbis, imams - who preach that your faith is threatened by those who don't share it, and who are therefore your enemies."

It doesn't help when Christians consistently claim modern Europe/USA was founded upon Christian institutions, with Christianity being responsible for everything from music and art to human rights and science.

But Irish people have an easy answer to the usual objection of "You want to destroy 1000 years of Christian culture?" :- We had 800 years of British rule. Would you like to keep that too?
wombat said…
Andrew - "My "word verification" to post was "amen". Nice."

A miracle!

We can petition for beatification. Soon it will be

Maybe we will get the first saint whose remains fit in a 19" rack.
Paul P. Mealing said…

What you are demonstrating is something I have observed first hand and is exemplified by Dawkins' book: intolerance creates intolerance of itself.

I learnt through personal exposure (not to religion but to prejudice and exonophobia) that, like yourself, I am intolerant of intolerance. In fact, I've argued that the limits of tolerance is determined by the intolerance of others. The corollary to this is that intolerance makes normally tolerant people intolerant, and so it expands and accelerates into the larger community. I've seen this happen on a national scale.

But when it comes to religion I'm a bit more selective - I don't assume that all religious people are intolerant, and, in fact, I know that that is not the case.

I grew up in an 'Us' and 'Them' society (based on so-called religion, but, in reality, politics) and no one where I live, who remembers it, wants to go back to it.

Regards, Paul.
anticant said…
Well, Paul, as someone observed earlier, you are very fortunate. From what you say, the Southern Hemisphere is on a different cultural and religious planet to Europe, where "Us" and "Them" along religious lines is the current political growth industry.
Mike said…
The original discussion here had nothing to do with the intolerance of religious people. It was about irrational beliefs -- holy relics, plenary indulgences -- which, as Stephen pointed out, are quite literal despite what Karen Armstrong says. So if intolerance arose it was not in direct response to someone else's intolerance. And anyway, isn't that a bit like the little boy blaming the other kid for a fight by saying "He started it"? We atheists have an ugly tendency to do exactly what the religious extremists do -- to demonize the other group (in our case not a specific religion but all religions) and to assert that the world will not be right until the other belief systems have been eradicated.
anticant said…

I doubt that the world will ever be "right", and I don't wish to eradicate anything except the invocation of 'God', 'Jehovah', 'Allah' or any other supernatural entity as "proof" that one's beliefs and opinions are divinely inspired and therefore entitled to trump everybody else's.

Personal devotion, mysticism, spirituality, and other ways of exploring self-awareness are fine by me. Religious dogma as a political weapon isn't.
Anonymous said…
I think this post, the content and the tone of it, is appalling. It is intolerant, rude and offensive. If you consider yourself "intelligent", why do you think this kind of writing does can do any good? Suffice to say that some people believe in God, in heaven, and in building a better world before they get there: if you don't believe in these things just get on and enjoy life while you can and leave others alone.
anticant said…

Don't you Little Oratorians distinguish between faith and superstition?
Stephen Law said…
Hello Secretary. I accept you are offended. But I am not entirely sure why (really - I am not feigning ignorance here). I added a post script to the post, btw, partly in response. Also, why is the post "intolerant")?
anticant said…
Martin said…
I called the Catholic Church "absolutely bonkers", clerics not useful, said it was time-wasting nonsense and mentioned "nutty rituals". I could accept that Secretary might find my comments rude but think it would be stretching a point to call then offensive, surely.

On the other hand I was arguing that we should be tolerant towards believers and the Church, as long as they weren't harming others. This is something Secretary is asking for. Since he says "leave others alone" is he asking that we don't even discuss our opinions?
Paul P. Mealing said…
Hi Mike,

"We atheists have an ugly tendency to do exactly what the religious extremists do -- to demonize the other group (in our case not a specific religion but all religions) and to assert that the world will not be right until the other belief systems have been eradicated."

Sounds very fundamentalist to me. Personally, I think you give atheism a bad name.

I agree completely with Anticant's comment:

"Personal devotion, mysticism, spirituality, and other ways of exploring self-awareness are fine by me. Religious dogma as a political weapon isn't."

As for Stephen's question about what Karen Armstrong would think, the only person who can answer that is her. But she did leave the Catholic order a disillusioned nun, so maybe that provides a clue.

Regards, Paul.
Mike said…
I don't think there was anything intolerant about your original post, Stephen. As for Secretary's finding it "rude and offensive," I suspect he is being a bit disingenuous. If a religious believer reads this blog it is surely because he knows it is a place where atheist views are expressed. When I was growing up as a Catholic I remember being taught in catechism class that non-Catholics could not enter heaven and would most likely go to hell. If a non-Catholic had been in the room I imagine he or she would have found this more than a little rude and offensive. But I doubt there were any non-Catholics lurking about. (It wasn't a blog.) Your characterization of the plenary indulgence as essentially a "get-out-of-Purgatory card" is fair.
anticant said…
You have put your finger on it, Mike. Don't all sincere religious believers think that they are 'the elect', and that those who don't share their faith are 'infidels' beyond the pale who will go to Hell or wherever? Surely that is one of the main attractions of being a believer - knowing you have God on your side, and that those who don't belong to your team are damned.

Not content with that, believers now seek, ever more stridently, to have their beliefs ring-fenced from criticism - by law, if possible. Keep a wary eye at what's going on at the UN and EU, where the Organisation of Islamic States is striving to water down the Universal Declaration of Human Rights so as to make criticism of religion a 'disrespectful' offence and to pave the way for worldwide acceptance of Sharia law.
anticant said…
Further to the above, see:
Mike said…
Speaking of Karen Armstrong, here is a scathing review of her book in the Washington Post:
Mike said…
Well, I see the URL was cut off. But if anyone's interested in reading the review they can go to and do a search of the author's name, Susan Jacoby. It will come up as an Oct. 10 article, "Thanks, But No Thanks, From A Happy Atheist."
anticant said…
This saint's "bones" are being hawked around the country for display and veneration at various venues, including Wormwood Scrubs!

IMHO in this day and age this isn't just harmless religious loopiness - it's gross superstition and both moral and intellectual degradation
which most certainly doesn't deserve 'respect' but should be laughed to scorn by any sensible person.

We seem to be rapidly retreating back into the pre-Reformation Middle Ages when stuff like this is solemnly reported as 'news'.
wombat said…
Matthew Paris has a article on the topic - "In the cathedral I saw a sign"

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