chapter  5
20 Pages

Places, Objects and Salvation: e Materiality of Pardons

In the Confessions, St Augustine relates how, in his youth, he used to be troubled by the question of God’s substance: was He a physical body; how did He relate to the material universe? Did He permeate it, or was He coextensive and coincident with it? As Robert Bartlett summarizes, ‘the issue was how literal, physical, corporeal, God was. e breakthrough for Augustine, that allowed his conversion, was the realization that God was spirit’.1 How that spirit operated in and through the physical world – immanence – was one of the great questions of the Reformation, for its working in sacred places and through objects was hotly contested. Protestants largely rejected sacred materiality and in its Reformed version at least, ‘tended towards iconoclasm and asceticism as attempts to foreground the importance of immateriality to spirituality’.2 Catholics, however, retained the belief that grace could work in special locations and through physical objects and that one of the best ways to express transcendence was through materiality. e greatest expression of this was in the real presence in the Eucharist and also in saints’ remains and holy places. In the Counter Reformation, therefore, relics and shrines were restored, images defended and objects revived. Indulgences, too, had a material aspect to their operation and in this chapter, the physical aspect of their mediation of divine power is considered.