A Pope's Promise to Forgive Sins

In 1094 or 1095, Pope Urban II is reported to have said this in promoting the First Crusade: “All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested…” (See, e.g., fordham.edu/halsall/source/urban2-5vers.html)

How are we to undersatnd this? What exactly is the pope promising - that people who go to war in the Crusade will be forgiven of all their sins? Does this mean that they didn’t have to repent of their sins? Can a pope - or possibly someone else - link the forgiveness of sins to something that does not involve individual conversion from sin? Can a pope tie the forgivenss of sins to warfare and killing?

I ask this because it seems from the context of the sermon that the pope was exercising his charism of infallibility. I am not saying anything about whether the Crusade was justified, nor about whether the pope had to play a role in preserving Europe and Christianity. I’m focusing on his teaching that those who joined the Crusade were forgiven of their sins because they were in the Crusade, because they were killing their enemies, etc. If that is what Pope Urban II was teaching, wasn’t that a change in Catholic doctrine? Or, were there implied conditions that were not stated? (Although, from some of the documents I’ve read, if there were such implied conditions, those requirements were almost completely lost on most of the people.)

Thanks for any help in better understanding this.

He was promising a plenary indulgence. A pope could definitely tie that to giving one’s life protecting other Christians.

I ask this because it seems from the context of the sermon that the pope was exercising his charism of infallibility.

No he wasn’t. He was not defining a dogma.

I hope that helps :slight_smile:

Notice also that not all the versions of the speech even say that. Who knows which is the most accurate version.

A good article on the Crusades:
christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/118/52.0.html

Here’s a good one on papal infallibility:

catholic.com/library/Papal_Infallibility.asp

And here’s a couple on indulgences:
catholic.com/library/primer_on_indulgences.asp
catholic.com/thisrock/1994/9411fea1sb2.asp
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At that time it might have been the practice to delay abolution until after the completion of the penance for confessed sins and going on the Crusades could be substituted for the penance. So, what the pope was saying may have been that repenent sinners who confessed their sins and went on the Crusades as a penance would receive absolution for those past confessed sins, if they happened to die along the way.

(dlnoga) In 1094 or 1095, Pope Urban II is reported to have said this in promoting the First Crusade: “All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested…”

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia: newadvent.org/cathen/15210a.htm

The Eastern Emperor, Alexius I, had sent an embassy to the pope asking for help against the Seljuk Turks who were a serious menace to the Empire of Constantinople. Urban succeeded in inducing many of those present to promise to help Alexius, but no definite step was taken by Urban till a few months later, when he summoned the most famous of his councils, that at Clermont in Auvergne…Then the burning question of the East was discussed. Urban’s reception in France had been most enthusiastic, and enthusiasm for the Crusade had spread as the pope journeyed on from Italy. Thousands of nobles and knights had met together for the council. It was decided that an army of horse and foot should march to rescue Jerusalem and the Churches of Asia from the Saracens. A plenary indulgence was granted to all who should undertake the journey pro sola devotione, and further to help the movement…

(dlnoga) How are we to understand this? What exactly is the pope promising - that people who go to war in the Crusade will be forgiven of all their sins?

No. An indulgence is the “forgiveness” (remission) of “temporal punishment due to sins” ALREADY forgiven by the ordinary means: either by 1) perfect contrition (sorrow for sins motivated by the pure love of God) or by 2) imperfect contrition (sorrow for sins motivated by the fear of punishment) plus Sacramental Confession.

See newadvent.org/cathen/07783a.htm

To facilitate explanation, it may be well to state what an indulgence is not. It is not a permission to commit sin, nor a pardon of future sin; neither could be granted by any power. It is not the forgiveness of the guilt of sin; it supposes that the sin has already been forgiven. It is not an exemption from any law or duty, and much less from the obligation consequent on certain kinds of sin, e.g., restitution; on the contrary, it means a more complete payment of the debt which the sinner owes to God. It does not confer immunity from temptation or remove the possibility of subsequent lapses into sin. Least of all is an indulgence the purchase of a pardon which secures the buyer’s salvation or releases the soul of another from Purgatory. The absurdity of such notions must be obvious to any one who forms a correct idea of what the Catholic Church really teaches on this subject.

(dlnoga) Does this mean that they didn’t have to repent of their sins?

(jmt) No, it does NOT mean such. It presupposes that the one who desires to receive the Indulgence has ALREADY repented of their sins for otherwise they absolutely CANNOT receive ANY Indulgence.

(dlnoga) Can a pope - or possibly someone else - link the forgiveness of sins to something that does not involve individual conversion from sin?

(jmt) No, of course not. Conversion from sin is an indispensable prerequisite for receiving an Indulgence.

(continued)

(dlonga) Can a pope tie the forgiveness off sins to warfare and killing?

(jmt) Not “the forgiveness of sins” but rather the remission of “temporal punishment” due to sins already forgiven. As Catholics we acknowledge that to fight a war against unjust aggressors is not only just but a moral responsibility of the State and it’s citizens. As such, soldiers are to be honored for their pure sacrifices offered out of love for God and the service of mankind.

(dlonga) I ask this because it seems from the context of the sermon that the pope was exercising his charism of infallibility.

(jmt) No. He was exercising his authority to “bind and loose”. He was not teaching ex cathedra which alone has the promise from Christ to be preserved from error by the working of the Holy Spirit on behalf of Christ’s Church.

(dlonga) I am not saying anything about whether the Crusade was justified, nor about whether the pope had to play a role in preserving Europe and Christianity. I’m focusing on his teaching that those who joined the Crusade were forgiven of their sins because they were in the Crusade, because they were killing their enemies, etc.

(jmt) I guess all this will depend on whether or not you can conceive of a case when to “kill an enemy” is actually a “good work”. I think that such is possible in light of St Paul’s affirmation that the State wields “the power of the sword” from God to punish evil doers.

(dlonga) If that is what Pope Urban II was teaching, wasn’t that a change in Catholic doctrine?

(jmt) Nothing has changed as far as I understand the issues involved. If in the future, an Islamic army wages an unjust war against Chrisitans for the purpose of imposing Islam on them and their country, I wouldn’t be scandalized if the Pope at that time offered a like indulgence.

See catholic.com/library/endless_jihad.asp

(dlonga) Or, were there implied conditions that were not stated? (Although, from some of the documents I’ve read, if there were such implied conditions, those requirements were almost completely lost on most of the people.)

(jmt) From your reading, what was misunderstood by the people who accepted Pope Urban II’s offer of a Plenary Indulgence? I don’t doubt that such may have been the case given the human condition, but more to the point, is there evidence that Pope Urban II’s understanding of what he was offering differed from what is dogmatic Catholic teaching?

Keep the Faith
jmt

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