On Forgiveness

I have been meaning to blog on this but haven’t gotten around to it before.

The ABC Radio National program “Big Ideas” is consistently interesting and thought provoking. This lecture, given by theologian, philosopher and poet Kevin Hart (from the University of Virginia) was given at ACU last year, and is on the topic of “Forgiveness”.

I hadn’t heard of Hart before listening to this lecture. He has a wikipedia page here and you might also be interested in reading the transcript of this program from an RN’s Encounter which was probably recorded at about the same time as the lecture. It seems that he converted to Catholicism in his twenties.

In any case, the lecture on Forgiveness is, as I said, thought provoking. He distinguishes between “lyrical” forgiveness – the kind of forgiveness that is heroically and freely given without asking for any recompense from the one who caused the hurt – and “narrative” forgiveness – which is more about restitution and change in the one foregiven. Interestingly, he says that while “lyrical” forgiveness is symptomatic of Christianity, it can give the impression that it is unconcerned with justice. “Narrative” forgiveness on the other hand looks for a just result. It is an interesting analysis of the exchange that takes place in the process of forgiveness.

I find it especially interesting because of the help it might furnish in the consideration of penance and purgatory in Catholic dogma. Hart doesn’t go there, but we have (on this blog) discussed the matter at times in the past. The issue is whether, when God extends forgiveness to us for the sake of Christ, this forgiveness is “lyrical” or “narrative”. Does God forgive me in such a way that it is no longer necessary for me to make restitution for my sin (in other words, does God’s forgiveness in Christ wipe out the full effect of my sin, and not just the guilt of it?) or does his forgiveness include and require a “setting to rights” of the wrong done? It seems to me that while Catholicism extols the miracle of “lyrical” forgiveness, the actual penitential system of the Church (which includes Purgatory) is more “narrative” in the sense that it still requires justice to be done and a change to take place in the sinner.

Have a listen to the program (there is, unfortunately, no transcript) and see what you think.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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