The concept of an indulgence is based on the medieval Catholic doctrine that states sinners must not only repent of sins that they have committed; they must also confess these sins and pay some sort of retribution. Author and historian Richard Hooker states that the history of medieval Catholic doctrine is in many ways an attempt to find ways to present exterior signs for the state of the individual believer. In order for an individual to demonstrate that he or she is truly repentant and not just mouthing the words, the concept of “temporal punishment” was created. The sinner needed to undergo some punishment or task; the sin would not be forgiven until this was accomplished. Temporal punishment involved doing good deeds such as feeding the poor or caring for the sick. Sins that were not expiated would land the sinner in purgatory. If you are not familiar with purgatory I suggest reading a little Dante. Careful, this is not for the faint of heart. Since the expiation of sin involves temporal punishment and this temporal punishment involves the doing of good works, why not substitute someone else’s good works for the good works you are required to do. In essence, buy your way out of hell.
The one and only reason the church created indulgences was to collect money. The medieval Catholic Church was a lot like our government today. It was the source of practically all social programs and chock-full of corruption. Social programs and corruption both carry hefty price tags, so the church, like our current government, is constantly in search of new and clever ways to raise money. The idea of selling indulgences is no different then a carefully hidden tax or in the case of Wall Street, a payoff. Buy your way out of purgatory 600 years ago; buy your way out of jail today.
“This agreement will permanently change the way Wall Street operates,” declared Eliot Spitzer after handing down a $1 billion fine. The curtain is down. The fat lady is singing at the conclusion of one of the most talked about scandals of recent memory. We tried very hard to get some reform and put some Wall Street crooks behind bars. However, we were thwarted by the power of money. I have seen so many Wall Street scams, ghastly brokerage firms, and shoddy IPO’s I could write a book larger than our tax code. The one thing that links all of these sins and sinners is the uniformity in how our justice system has dealt with them. Jails all over the country are littered with Wall Street scam artists from boiler room operations, and rightfully so. However, the cartel kingpins are out planning and plotting for another day. Their debt to society was paid by check, signed, sealed, and delivered to Eliot Spitzer. Under the administration of Pope Spitzer, whoops, I mean Attorney General Eliot Spitzer; we are proclaiming that the practice of selling indulgences is alive and well. The new mantra for white-collar crime should be, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t pay the fine.”
In the late thirteenth century, the church argued that the clergy were doing more good works than they needed to; they had more than enough good works in their spiritual bank accounts then they had sins to pay for. Why not sell them? Unfortunately, for honest citizens this dreadful system has returned. Our government being all knowing and omnipotent has decided that it can sell justice to the highest bidder. The government feels that these fines paid are for the greater good for all. This is disaster. Allowing individuals of infinitesimal moral character to remain in their positions of power and influence is a recipe for disaster. I do not know what the next rip off or scam will be or what angle it will be coming from, although I have a couple of ideas. However, one thing I know is for certain, the newly reincarnated practice of granting indulgences will keep me busy for a long time.