Atonement pilgrimage of St. Attilanus


My understanding of atonement (justification) is that it is by grace alone by means of the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. Although this grace is offered to everyone one way or another (i.e. “Christ died for all”) only some will accept (“the many”). This atonement is effected in the many by means of faith and works which are a necessary consequence of faith, which is otherwise dead. Neither faith nor works atone for our sins, else that would actually be a works salvation. (Even if we say faith alone, if it is our act of faith that actually atones for our sins, that is still a works salvation because it is OUR act rather than God’s. It is proper, therefore, to say that grace atones for our sins but faith effects it in us.)

(Lest someone bring up a comment about baptism effecting the grace, remember that the baptism is dependent upon either the 1) Church in the case of an infant or mentally retarded person, 2) the one baptized in the case of a mentally capable adult)

So then, why the following story from the October 2007 Magnificat, pg. 87, for Friday October 5th?

Saint Attilanus, Bishop (d. 915)

A native of Tarazona de Aragon, Spain, Attilanus was consecrated to the episcopate on the same day as his mentor Saint Froilan, having assisted the latter in founding the monastery of Moreruela. After serving laboriously and prayerfully as bishop of Zamora for ten years, Attilanus became overwhelmed with the thought that he had not done enough to atone for certain sins of his youth. He thereupon resolved to undertake a penitential pilgrimage. As he crossed a bridge, he dropped his episcopal ring into the river, making the intention that if he found it again he would take it as a sign that God had forgiven all his sins. After spending two years on pilgrimage disguised as a pauper, he experienced a locution enjoining him to return to his diocese, for his prayers had been answered. Shortly before reaching Zamora, as he prepared to eat a fish, he discovered within it his episcopal ring. Immediately he fell to his knees to offer thanksgiving to God. Miraculously all the church bells of Zamora began to toll. As the people came out to greet the bishop, his pauper’s garb was instantly transformed into resplendent episcopal vestments.

The Saint is described as atoning for his own sins, and by this pilgrimage being forgiven. I can understand if he wanted to do the pilgrimage as penance for sins already atoned for, but he cannot atone for his own sins. Furthermore, in light of the story of the lost and found ring, it would not make sense if the story should have been rendered merely as penance rather than atonement. The prayer would have to have been something along the lines of “God, when I have performed penance such that I will spend no time in purgatory, please return my ring to me” rather than “God, when I have atoned my sins and you have forgiven me, please return my ring.”

But even if that is the explanation we take, that the story should have been rendered as being purely as penance and not as atonement, it nevertheless reflects a “works salvation” attitude in an otherwise orthodox Catholic publication.

Is this bothersome only to me?

Please do not turn this into a sola fide vs. faith and works thread. There are hundreds of those already. Rather, I am seeking either 1) a correction on my understanding of atonement and justification, or 2) a better understanding of the story of Saint Attilanus.


Does the Catholic church approve of pilgrimage as a mean of penance?


Yes, in fact, last year Pope Benedict XVI granted a plenary indulgence to those who made a pilgrimage to a papal basilica, a Christian catacomb, a cathedral church or a holy site designated by the local ordinary for the Year of Faith (for example, minor basilicas and shrines dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Apostles or patron saints).


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit