Catholic Church and indulgances

Okay, got some questions for you guys. I’m doing research into this and hope some things can be cleared up:

I know Pope Francis has admitted that the Pope can make mistakes. I know that the Catholic Church of today teaches that the Pope is not impeccable. I know that Papal Infallibility is often mistaken as impeccability. But, let’s go through a history lesson here to help out our protestant separated brethren who I know:

  1. Has there been an instance during the Reformation where the Pope(such as Pope Leo X) made a fallible statement that the Pope is impeccable based from his own opinion? If so, is there any examples of this.

  2. Even though selling of indulgances is against Church teaching, did Pope Leo X ever give permission to sell indulgances? Where did this idea come from that he did if he never actually sold them? Let’s get to the root of this false accusation if it really is a false accusation and lay it to rest.

  3. Did the Pope ever say something along the lines of “Yes, it’s okay to do that[sell indulgances]—to get finances for the Church.” And therefore, gave blessings for corrupt priests to sell indulgances. If this is true, I want to make the distinction that the Pope is not impeccable and this in no way affects or has anything to do with Papal Infallibility.

  4. A protestant told me "The Pope gave permission, and he gave his blessing for the Church to sell indulgances. He gave his blessing that indulgances would be sold to the people, and that they would be going to their seat in Heaven—their way to Heaven. The Protestant Church—Martin Luther in particular, said: THAT is not biblical. And he pointed there, “You are saved by faith in Jesus Christ.”

How historically accurate is this accusation against the Pope during Martin Luther’s time and the Catholic Church?



Someone ought to address your historical questions, but I want to simply point out that even if this issue is not one of impeccability (and instead involves teaching), that does not mean it is thereby under the category of infallibility. Infallibility is more than just a papal decision. For an extraordinary use of papal infallibility (as opposed to ordinary, which is expressing the universal teaching of the church from history and around the world), the pope must be speaking for all of the faithful in a binding manor in a matter of faith or morals. He must be speaking ex cathedra, meaning as successor of Peter as chief pastor of the church. Simply giving permission or approval of some matter of faith is, simply, not under the scope of infallibility.

Thanks. I have some people in mind who may be able to address this. Thank you for getting back to me with a response. Much appreciated.

Indulgences were given for charitable donations to your Church or to help with the construction of Saint Peter’s. Also for giving alms. This easily lent itself to abuse where it was no longer just charity but where it took on more of a sales atmosphere, and certain people peddled such things that way. There is nothing wrong in theory with giving indulgences for charitable donations. But in practice, it did cause problems, and it’s why the Church no longer grants indulgences for anything to do with transactions of money, even if I were to make a donation to an extremely transparent foundation for homeless children in which 100% of the donation indisputably went to the poor.

It’s the line between charity and sales that was the issue. The Church never intended it to be used as a sales practice. But the Pope did give approval particularly to grant indulgences for donations made for the construction of Saint Peter’s. The theology was fine, but in practice it was a poor judgment call given the failings of men.

Also note that indulgences have nothing to do with salvation, per se – when applied on behalf of the dead, they will at best speed an already-saved soul through purgatory. Everyone in the place or state Catholics call purgatory is already saved and going to Heaven; purgatory is just a handy name for the unspecified but logically necessary step that takes us from “saved sinner” at death to “perfected saint” in Heaven. It might not involve literal time or space or fire, but something happens to bring our wills into perfect alignment with God and remove any lingering attachment to even venial sin, even if our sanctification has not been completed at the time of our deaths.

These should help…
Myths about Indulgences
Primer on Indulgences

See item 26 from Boettner’s “List” here:
Boettner’s List Part 6

Early Church Fathers on Indulgences (by Daniel Marcum)

I understand the reason you want to know about these things.

However, some attempt to discredit the Catholic Church by using errors or sins as the proof (rightly or wrongly), while at the same time admitting that no man is perfect other than Jesus. I am not certain whether or not that was your friend’s thought process, but errors or sins do not take away the fact that Jesus explicitly gave authority to the apostles and their successors before the bible was canonized.

Peter and Paul also sinned, but did not lose their authority from Jesus as a result.

In order to speak or write with infallibility, the pope has to speak ex cathedra to the whole church, using the seat of Peter, with the backing of the college of cardinals. As you indicated, it isn’t every word out of his mouth like some attempt to suggest.

Martin Luther also believed that the pope was the anti-Christ and that he was living in end times.

While there was some corruption, it was not everything portrayed by Luther and subsequent Protestants.

I am going to stop giving money to a charity, otherwise people might think I am trying to buy my way out of purgatory.

I am instead going to give my money to a protestant church, they only need 10%, and apparently the rewards are great.

95 theses later and the protestant church has become worse than the Catholic Church ever was.

I would give money to build St Peters, I wouldn’t give money to buy a protestant church on every block.

Check out

Encyclopedia Britannica has never been the best source of theological debate. In the sphere of history, biased. Lets drop that source and assign it to the status of a poor witness, and venture instead into the realm beyond that.

True indeed. But why? When could something be wrong with “giving indulgences?” My first communion missal - which I still have - has a prayer in the back with the number of days my time in purgatory would be shortened if I prayed that prayer. How could that possibly be misinterpreted by a youngster? Or, if instead of a prayer, let’s imagine that the indulgence could be earned by giving a charitable donation or performing a merciful act. What could be wrong with that? After all, when I went to confession (sacrament of reconciliation) the priest would give me certain prayers to say right away in order to have those sins absolved. Is getting a reduction in purgatory time (indulgence) really different from absolution for venial sins in the context of the sacrament of reconciliation?

Somehow I’m missing the distinction. I understand the difference between charity and commercial transactions, but their advertising promotions are similar.

Good thing. Why? Purgatory is for cleansing, for making the soul pure for heaven. It’s all about the state of that soul. Prayers and other actions that aid in that process could indeed shorten the time in purgatory (though I have a hard time understanding how any mortal could know the number of days :).

Point is, the value of good work is in its positive impact on the person’s soul.

Problems arise when the value of the good work lies elsewhere. Whether for charity or not, the Church should avoid incentivizing any kind of good work for the sake of that work. Instead, keep the incentive on aiding the soul of the sinner (each of us, of course).

Good works do indeed have their own intrinsic value apart from their positive impact of the doer of the work.

But, I think Catholics and Lutherans now agree that those works cannot save us.

So, we do the works out of thanksgiving to God for God’s love, and a desire to imitate God in being merciful.

The “days” method of counting indulgences was not time out of purgatory. The indulgence was equivalent to that many days spent in penance according to the methods of penance used in the early Church. The Church was entrusted with the power to bind and loose, and this is an exercise of that authority.

Indulgences have nothing to do with absolution of sins. It was about detaching oneself from sin and accounting for the temporal discipline due for sins as a matter of God’s justice.

No, you take this too far. Various opportunities for me to do good works will present themselves to me over the course of my life. By God’s grace, I can cooperate with His desires for me and do those works. However, one can essentially imagine saying, “Hey, God! Listen, I believe in you. I do! Really! You are my God, and Jesus Christ is my Lord and savior. But this good work opportunity before me today, well, it’s kind of inconvenient, and I really would much rather do this other thing. Don’t worry, I know that believing you are my Lord and savior is enough. I am thankful! Really! But I’m going to choose me today.” That probably happens pretty frequently for most of us. You can imagine someone doing this their entire life. Every opportunity God puts before them, every chance to cooperate with God’s grace, regardless of their belief in him, could be turned down. We need to remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 about the sheep and the goats and from Matthew 7 about doing the will of the Father.

Certainly all of our works should be done out of thanksgiving and a desire to imitate God and Christ. But to phrase it as being nothing more thank thanksgiving as if they are entirely optional is just too far. Nothing we do, whether faith nor works, makes us perfect before God or deserving of Heaven. We can never merit this relationship with God of our own accord, whatever we believe and do. But in the sense that we say faith is salvific, so are the works that we do. Believing in Christ means following him, and that is active, not passive.

p 139 and 140 of my Blessed Trinity Missal for Children reads as follows:

“An indulgence is a pardon. It takes away the punishment due to sin in this life and in Purgatory. You can keep the indulgences you earn, for yourself; or you can offer them for the souls in Purgatory… To gain the partial indulgences attached to short prayers, it is enough to think the prayer without speaking out loud or moving your lips. There are many of these indulgenced prayers. Here are some: my God I love you. (300 days) My God and my all. (300 days) Your will be done. (500 days) Jesus Mary and Joseph. (7 years) Heart of Jesus I trust in you. (300 days) My Jesus mercy (300 days) Blessed be the name of the Lord. (500 days if said when someone swears).”
P. 145 says: “The Rosary of Our Lady is a wonderful devotion which carries many indulgences. The following require no special blessing on the beads.
Rosary said privately - five years.
Rosary said with a family group - ten years…
Beads with the Brigittine, Crosier, Dominican blessings carry special indulgences.”

As Wesrock stated already,

Obviously, there is not way to know “time” in terms of Purgatory. Also obviously, since souls in Purgatory are only there to be cleansed (purged of all stain of sin) prior to entering Heaven, it stands to reason that the temporal punishment of sins already forgiven (which an indulgence counts toward) must be completed in this puragation. So, since we don’t know what time is like in the afterlife, the Church, at one time, gave symbolic time frames of “days” (or years) of particular penances used in the early Church.

So…“The “days” [and years] method of counting indulgences was not time out of purgatory. The indulgence was equivalent to that many days spent in penance according to the methods of penance used in the early Church.

The days method being equivalent to days in penance is fact. Your children’s missal is unfortunately misleading at worst or simplified for children at best to give the indulgences a sense of scale.

I agree.

I’m sure the missal authors and editors meant well. The indulgenced prayers recommended were entirely for the better purpose mentioned in my first post. There was no intent to manipulate for the church’s monetary or other tangible gain.

I know as many or more grace-filled, wonderful Catholic Christians today as I do Lutheran Christians. Both are thanks to us overcoming, ignoring, or rejecting the worst of our respective traditions.

Luther was wrong about many things. So was Eck. Both were right about many things too. Had the politics and economics of 16th century Europe been different, maybe the schism would not have happened.

Anyway, I do think Luther recognized a problem with medieval theology, a problem that indulgences exemplified. I don’t think the main problem with indulgences arises merely when they are commercialized. The problem is deeper than that, in my opinion.

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