Absolution Certificates

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Absolution Certificates were a form of indulgences used in the Orthodox Christian churches of the eastern Mediterranean area during the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries, a use that arose from the influence of western European culture, particularly Latin, as Greek scholars and theologians increased their contacts and education at western schools.

These contacts allowed Roman Catholic influence to work more effectively. This was especially true with the foundation of the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda of the Faith in 1622 and, according to Fr. Georges Florovsky, led to the Greek Church in great part undergoing a Western metamorphosis. Among the manifestations of such a metamorphosis was the introduction of the sale of Christian indulgences into the practice of the Greek Church. [1]

These certificates were real indulgences that anyone could obtain which absolved them from sin. These were often obtainable for a specified amounts of money. According to Christos Yannaras, the absolution granted by these certificates had no connection with any participation by the faithful in the Mystery of Penance, nor in the Mystery of the Eucharist.[2] These indulgences began to be used among Greeks living under the Turkish yoke and were widespread in the sixteenth century. Early in the eighteenth century, the Patriarch Dositheus Notarius of Jerusalem wrote of indulgences as a well-known and ancient tradition.

The practice of issuing indulgences, having existed unofficially at first, received official confirmation at the Constantinople Council of 1727. The Council was called in response to increasing Latin propaganda, spreading mainly in Syria, Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Egypt. In the thirteenth clause of "The Confession of Faith" from the Council, the text of which was compiled by Patriarch Chrysanthus of Jerusalem and was signed by Patriarchs Paisius II of Constantinople, Sylvester of Antioch, and Chrysanthus of Jerusalem, and other hierarchs in Constantinople at the time who participated in the Council, said, "The power of the forgiveness of sins, which is termed by the Eastern Church of Christ Absolution Certificates when given in writing, but by the Latins Indulgences, is given to the Holy Church by Christ. These Absolution Certificates are issued in the whole Catholic Church by the four most holy Patriarchs: Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem."

Even a theologian and expert on the canonical tradition of the Church as Venerable Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain not only did not oppose, but participated in the practice of indulgences. In his letter, dated April 1806, to Paisius, Bishop of Stagonas, who at that time was living in Constantinople, he asks him to obtain an Absolution Certificate at the Patriarchate for a living monastic, also named Nicodemus, and send it to him. The Venerable Nicodemus promises Bp. Paisius that he would send the money necessary to purchase the certificate as soon as he knows how much it would cost.[3]

Indulgences as a means of enrichment were condemned at the Council of Constantinople in the year 1838. That Council, like the Council of the year 1727, was devoted to the extermination of Latin dogmas and usages. Its main theme was the Unia. An encyclical, published by the Council, was signed by Patriarchs Gregory VI of Constantinople and Patriarch Athanasius of Jerusalem. It was also signed by eleven hierarchs of the Synod of Constantinople. The text was also sent to the absent Patriarchs, Hierotheus I of Alexandria and Methodius of Antioch.


  1. Philip Ilios: Sygkhorokhartia: The History, Athens, vol. 1 (1983) pp. 35-84, vol. 3 (1985), pp. 3-44. See also Chr. Yannaras, Orthodoxia kai Dysi sti Neoteri Ellada (Orthodoxy and the West in the Greece of most recent times).
  2. Christos Yannaras. Op. cit. 31996, p. 150
  3. Philip Ilios: Sygchorochartia // Ta istorika, Athens. Vol. 3 (1985), 22-23.


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