Aardvark Alley

Lutheran Aardvark

Confessional Lutheran theology, hagiography, philosophy, music, culture, sports, education, and whatever else is on the fevered mind of Orycteropus Afer

21 January 2006
  Vocation and Penance
Living Right and Making Right

Sean just posted some Thoughts on Penance stemming from a "fun" class he's taking on "Medieval Saints and Sinners." He notices that there are instances where penance seems salutary (such as the armor-bearing priest in The Mission).

After some good observations about Confession and Absolution being superior to Penance, he still wonders if there isn't some salutary use of the practice. My short response would be, "No." My slightly longer response is that good Law-Gospel preaching leads to things better than Penance, including a full understanding and practice of one's Vocation.

The problem with Penance is that it assumes a guilt that Absolution cannot remove. It denies what Christ offers in Word and Sacrament. This is patent false doctrine. However, the Christian desires to love his neighbor as himself to the full extent of his God-given abilities. This includes an urge to make restitution whenever possible. However, restitution to individuals, groups, or all of society have no bearing on the full and free remission of sins one receives through Christ's words. The repentant Christian "pays back" those he offends not because he must but because Christ frees him so to do.

At other times, knowing his chronic weaknesses, the Christian might purposely take burdens upon himself, not as Penance, but for self-discipline and strengthening. Fasting, almsgiving, and additional prayers, all commended by Christ, are among the means of practicing this new resolve. This is all part of life under the cross: We mortify our own sinful flesh in response to Christ mortifying His sinless flesh on our behalf.

The Holy Spirit, working through Word and Sacrament, strengthens our resolve, guides our steps, and leads us on righteous paths as we respond in love to our Savior's love for us. The great thing about this kind of "non-Penance" is that we are free to practice it even when we haven't sinned!
 
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