Fair dues to the Pope, though: out he went into a wet, Italian night, all dressed-up in his best – and whitest – gear, to perform an act of public faith as some sort of counter-argument to the criticism of his organisation’s approach to Lent that he read here yesterday morning and which, obviously, stung him into action. He picked a very handy day for it too; St Peter’s Square in the Vatican is usually bunged with people, but he had the place almost to himself last night. Probably because of the unseasonable rain.
If you happened to see the ceremony on the television, you have, apparently, received the possibility of receiving a plenary indulgence along with a riveting hour’s viewing. Only the possibility, mind you; as always with the Catholic Church, there are terms and conditions attached (one of these is ridiculously easy, though: “… and have recited a few prayers during their lifetime”). For the spiritually-afflicted among you (non-Catholics, that is), a plenary indulgence is a class of IOU signed by the Church which you can cash in after death to get some time off the period you have to spend in Purgatory. Not much use to you, granted, if you are a non-Catholic who does not believe in Purgatory, but it may have some residual value on the spiritual stock market. Indulgences, of course, had a role to play in that whole falling-out-of-close-friends business with Martin Luther that has not yet been successfully resolved – both sides are still bickering over the actual facts of the matter, a bit like the less than gruntled participants in the Norn Iron contretemps – and the great unwashed (it is Saturday; remember the lessons about ‘clean’ dirt) among you may be surprised that they are still around. But, to quote St Gerry on another matter, “They haven’t gone away, you know!”
Naturally, with so much time on my hands these days, I have thought this matter thoroughly through and would like to expound here today from my isolation shed (see above) on what I judge to be a fatal flaw in the whole indulgence pyramid scheme. But don’t worry, Francis, I am not going to fall out with you about it, or nail any declarations to anything à la Martin Luther (fake news, according to the Vatican, by the way). Apart from anything else, if the part-time wife caught me on nailing anything other than the pictures that have been waiting to be hung since we moved in here about 13 years ago, so would I be. Or hanged, actually, to be grammatically correct, but to spoil the joke: these are the trade-offs one has to make in the name of entertainment.
What was I on about? Ach now, c’mon off it, lads! At least one of us has to be listening to this daily diatribe or the whole communicatio ab isolatio thing will not work. Sorry about that, I lapsed into made-up Latin there because of the emphasis on things Vatican this morning. Yes, indulgences, thank you, smart boy at the back of the class. Plenary indulgences apparently reduce the time you spend in Purgatory doing penance for sins that have already been forgiven. Not much of a forgiveness there, if you ask me, if you still have to do the time for the crime. But, and here is the big but I have with the whole business, surely be to God there is no Time in the afterlife? To be honest, that has been one of its major attractions for me, the release from the tyranny of hours and minutes and the entering into an eternity of late nights not followed by importune early mornings that would allow me to indulge my penchant for Spanish sleeping patterns to the full. Given that a) Purgatory is in the afterlife, if it is anywhere; b) there is no time in the afterlife; c) both a) and b) are Church teaching, it therefore follows, as clearly as night follows day or as day follows night, that the time you get off Purgatory by cashing in your indulgence is not worth the paper it is (no longer) written on. The emperor has no clothes.
I, on the other hand, am attired as you see in the picture. I wonder are there any nails in that shed behind me?