The Catholic World: How is the Catholic understanding of forgiveness unique?I don't know when Part 2 comes up ... however, maybe it might be nice to have a good explanation as to why an institutionalized way of dealing with such spiritual realities is even necessary. I see a similar response when canon law is mentioned, or annulments discussed -- what does this have to do with Jesus? I guess it's the an American mindset that thinks laws and structures are bad in themselves, and somehow the religion of Christ meant freedom from structure.
Cardinal Stafford: One of the highest expressions of the Catholic understanding of reconciliation and forgiveness is found in Dante’s Pugatorio in the last cantos. In order to enter the heavenly paradise from the terrestrial paradise, the penitent, Dante, must go through two waters, each in their proper order. The first was the waters of the River Lethe or the Waters of Forgetfulness. When Dante drank the water he forgot all of his past sins. What a blessing it was for him. The other was the River Eunoe or the Waters of Happy Remembrance. Here the draft of water brought about a remembrance of his past, but recreated through God’s mercy and forgiveness; so that even past events which seem so negative have been transformed through the mercy of God into something that the sinner may now joyfully embrace. And this is not simply a dead, mediaeval insight. I was surprised by a recent film in which Jon Voight starred, called “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.” At the very end before he was admitted to the terrestrial paradise, he had to swim a body of water. I thought to myself immediately that this scene was rooted in Dante’s Purgatorio.
Dante’s vision differs from that of the Protestant reformers two centuries later. Theirs is a less magnanimous vision. For them man needs simply to forget his forgiven sins; but he has no experience of the inner transformation wrought by God’s forgiving his past sins. Divine justification is an extrinsic, juridical judgment in response to the confession of faith by an individual. What has been lost is tragic: the transformation, the transfiguration of the whole human person, by the Father’s forgiving love in Christ. With Mary’s ‘fiat’ as a model, Christian perfection has no limit. By divine love and its acceptance through the Church God creates something new out of the nothingness of evil human actions. That God makes a new creation through the acceptance of God’s love for oneself. This was lost in the Reformation with excision of the Waters of Eunoe.
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