Indulgences: Luther, Catholicism, and the Imputation of Merit

By Mary C. Moorman



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At the five-hundredth anniversary of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses and the dawn of the Protestant movement, Indulgences: Luther, Catholicism, and the Imputation of Merit sets forth a revised theological interpretation of the Church’s practice of indulgences. Author Mary C. Moorman argues that Luther’s sola fide theology merely absolutized the very logic of indulgences which he sought to overthrow, while indulgences in their proper context remain an irreducible witness to the Church’s corporate nuptial covenant with Christ, by which penitents are drawn into deeper fellowship with the Church and the Church’s Lord. As Robert W. Shaffern, Professor of Medieval History at the University of Scranton, writes in his foreword to Indulgences, “Mary Moorman’s book joins a number of recent scholarly studies that revise substantially the old convictions about indulgences. She is mostly interested in how theological thinking about indulgences should be done today, with of course the help that patristic, medieval, and early modern authorities might lend. She brings to bear a broad range of primary and secondary sources on the issue of indulgences and constructs an impressive series of covalent images with which to understand the role of indulgences in today’s Christian Church.”

About the author:

Mary C. Moorman brings her combined interests in law and theology to the fore in her debut work on the legal and theological framework which undergirds the Church’s indulgences. Moorman holds a Juris Doctor in law with a focus on religious legal systems from Boston University, the Master of Arts in Religion from Yale, and a PhD in Systematic Theology from Southern Methodist University. She has served as a lecturer in both law and religion at Southern Methodist University, the University of New Haven, and Boston University. Moorman’s research has been presented at the Sixteenth Century Society and the American Academy of Religion, and her most recently published work has appeared in The Wesleyan Theological Journal and in the anthology Seeing the Medieval: Realms of Faith and Visions for Today.

Endorsements:

“The penitential value of indulgences remains very much a matter of Catholic teaching and practice, yet for decades Catholic theologians have passed over indulgences in almost complete silence. In this original and thought-provoking book Mary Moorman ends the silence. She offers a rich and detailed theological interpretation of indulgences, rooting their power and efficacy in Christ’s nuptial relationship with his Church. In the process she sheds needed light on how much was really at stake when indulgences became a matter of divisive conflict in the Western Church five hundred years ago.”—Bruce D. Marshall, Lehman Professor of Christian Doctrine, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University

“A fascinating and timely contribution, important for anyone interested in the theological history of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation.”—George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies, Ethics and Public Policy Center

“There is probably no other topic in theological discourse that is more poorly understood than the practice of indulgences in the Roman Catholic Church. The work of Mary Moorman takes a giant step forward in trying revive a proper appreciation for what was and is at stake in this fundamental doctrine.”—Gary Anderson, Professor of Catholic Theology and Biblical Studies, University of Notre Dame

“Few things in the modern world have been so burdened with the outrageous weight of propaganda, hyperbole, and misunderstanding as has the complicated but merciful doctrine of indulgences. For the last five hundred years, the West has been unable to carry this burden well. Indeed, many of our most egregious divisions as well as the flourishing of false ideologies for a half millennium stem from this tragic failure. In this fascinating and necessary work, Moorman ably removes the many burdens history, theologians, and confusion have brought to the issue and upon Christian civilization. In so doing, she beautifully rebuilds the truth around this necessary Catholic teaching, demonstrating that the doctrine is not only intelligent, but pious. Moorman has done the high work of restoring order to chaos and understanding to confusion. Let us hope the culture will follow.”—Bradley J. Birzer, Russell Amos Kirk Chair in American Studies and Professor of History, Hillsdale College

“For five hundred years, there has been confusion and separation among Christians over the doctrine, significance and use of indulgences. Mary Moorman does an extraordinary job not only in engaging the principal questions and clarifying the common misconceptions, but also in demonstrating audaciously and astoundingly how, rather than dividing Christians, the teaching and practice of indulgences ought to bring Catholics and Protestants together. Along the way she nourishes our understanding of the centrality of the Church’s nuptial relationship with Christ and fleshes out its consequences for our life and salvation. In a day when indulgences have been made lavishly accessible but when many believers seldom hear about them or seek them, this scholarly masterpiece could not be more timely.”—Fr. Roger J. Landry, National Chaplain, Catholic Voices US

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