Relationships, by their nature, are informed by the principle of reciprocity and structured within the framework of mutuality. Religion typifies, embodies, and transmits the relational currency of the asymmetrical relationship between man and God. Humans enter this relationship for identity, meaning, fulfilment and, ultimately, for salvation. We engage in this relationship with God to offset the anonymity, fatality and nihilism associated with human existence. This relationship, therefore, provides a compass for man’s existential journey. In other words, it situates life within an appropriate matrix and context, the end of which is salvation.
Salvation, as such, is a gift of God, who saves us so that we bear witness to Him. We receive the salvific grace through the Church as the basis for our necessary response to God. In other words, Christianity takes everything as granted. Hence, there is a priority of receiving over making and the primacy of grace over merit. Within this category, the gratuity of salvation is self-evident in the doctrine of indulgence. Indulgence affirms two truths, namely, the gratuitousness of salvation and its mediation through created realities. Irrespective of the real possibilities and existence of abuses, God allowed His salvation to be transmitted and mediated through earthen-ware vessels and imperfect grace-borne actions. As a result, salvation is both ecclesial (communal) and personal since Christ-the-Head living in the Spirit saves and sanctifies His body and bride by deploying the merits of His Paschal death.
Relative to grace, the personal is weaved within the communal signifying that the Church as the Bride of Christ stewards His ever-present merits, and deploys them as the need arises. Precisely, without God’s grace, a Christian lacks in profundity and possibility and falls into deficit and decadence. Grace entirely funds the authentic Christian life and transforms it into maturity with the transformative power of the Spirit, leading us to “sanctity without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). As a result, indulgence runs on grace and demonstrates the liberality of God’s salvation. As a sequel, being in the grip of God’s grace enables us to benefit from the salvific capital of Christ, which liquidates the punishment due to already remitted sin. The Church dispenses this unearned favour (indulgence) to those who are connected to the Body of Christ.
The absolute sovereignty of grace relative to salvation warrants a question, namely, when does the possibility of divine mercy on a Christian elapse? While objectively God’s mercy is eternal, subjectively, the possibility of being an object of forgiving power of God ceases when one seals his affirmation or rejection of God definitively. In death, one makes the final and definitive act, which is the ultimate affirmation (Yes) or negation (No) to God. Nevertheless, the Christian hope rests on God’s gracious mercy. Without His grace, all our Yeses are imperfect. No one says that Jesus is Lord unless inspired by the Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 12:3).
All those who said Yes to God are His people, and God delights in His people (cf. Ps 149:4). However, some of these Yeses are weak, imperfect and blemished. At the crossing of the existential rubicon, of which there is no going back, the quality of our Yeses to God typifies the quality of our white garment. At this point of helplessness, we depend only on the Lord to whom we belonged while alive and who, in saying to Moses, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Ex 33:19), reveals the absolute liberty of His grace. By that statement, He accentuates that His eternal mercy goes beyond human categories and constraints. As such, He alone is the norm of His mercy without any obligation to compensatory justice. Such awareness sustains our faith that the blood of the Lamb will be the final bleach that will remove every stain. In other words, Christ will be the agent of the ultimate laundry service, or rather the last great bath of purification.
This purification that happens in Christ is the fate of many who loved God, transmitted His light and lived by His grace in loving their neighbours. These helpless, indigent and weak holy souls by being part of the Body of Christ benefit from the Head of the Body, who readies His body for the eternal banquet. He cleanses His Bride for the wedding feast by deploying the merit of His Paschal mystery. What belongs to the groom (Christ), he shares with the Bride (Church) for his love is intimate. Through the Paschal capital Christ deploys to the Church (His Body and Bride), the Church ministers to the needy part so that, ultimately, the bride will be worthy of the marriage feast (cf. Rev 19, Is 25).
Adam and Eve typify the relationship between Christ and His Church. When Eve fell, Adam being a copy could not deliver Eve instead fell with her. However, being the real and the original Adam, the type of whom Adam was, Christ saves His Eve, the Church. His Eve indulges His holiness, His perfection and His Holy Spirit. Each faithful member of the Body, the Church, by being part of the Bride, has access to this.
In a perpendicular perspective, indulgence entails that the Church deploys the salvific capital for the remission of the punishment due for already forgiven sin. The recipient, by indulging the currency of Christ’s holiness and Holy Spirit, experiences salvation as an entirely gratuitous gift. Yet, he has to stretch out his hand to receive by indulging Christ’s mercy through the acts prescribed by the Church, the Bride of Christ and the conduit of grace. We indulge His mercy and express our gratitude for the gift of indulgence and live a grace-attitude, which is beatitude. In the end, His salvation is a gift, which we get by indulging His grace and mercy. Yes, a Christian substitutes self-indulgence with Christ-indulgence. It is the indulgence of His mercy that saves!
Fr George ADIMIKE