Feeling like Indulgences defeat the purpose of Purgatory

Purgatory is a place where we go after we die, to be purged by the refining fire of God and made perfect, right? It will hurt, but we will have joy in the suffering because we know that it is bringing us closer to God, Heaven etc. (I guess the pain would decrease over time as well)
Purgatory is necessary because sin cannot be in the presence of God or it will simply burn up. So if sin is clinging to my soul, in a sense I am defined by it and so I will burn up as well.

I don’t understand how indulgences get around this reality.

An extreme example: Lets say I’m a serial rapist/Am addicted to the act of rape. I am extremely mentally disturbed, but at least I recognize my sin for what it is and am sincerely trying to repent. I slip up, again and again. I go to confession, again and again. The priest absolves me and I return to the state of grace again and again.

Surely in this example no matter whether I receive an indulgence or not, I am still attached to the sin of rape, and need to go to purgatory to have this attachment to sin purified from my soul, before I can step into heaven?

Right now it sounds to me as if I can skip purgatory and step right into heaven with all my sins still attached, just because I was granted an indulgence. This doesn’t make any sense to me at all. This is one of the main reasons I left the protestant church. I know that all my sins are forgiven during absolution/confession, but surely I still have to submit my soul to the refining fire of God no matter what, whether here now on earth or after death in purgatory?

What then is the purpose of an indulgence? What is the gap in my understanding?


Try to remember that there are depths of moral responsibility and awareness. No matter how much we think we can understand those ‘depths’, we many times have no clue. In other words, the example you gave of habitual rape, at first glance seems horrifying to you and I, but God may see a defect in the mind that affects behavior to that level where perhaps there is almost no moral responsibility.

So indulgences, although the Church has authority to offer such a thing, the spiritual application of it, and exactly how that comes about is up to the Lord, because He alone can search the depths of the heart and see all.

But it is fair to say we should strive for them because through the process you are effectively taking some responsibility for your behavior. Along the way, there are requirements like going to confession, having a firm sense of amendment and sometimes prayers, which are supposed to bring us closer to living an authentically Christian lives, which in turn brings us closer to God.

Purgatory is the purgation of the temporary punishment due to sin that has already been forgiven.
Please see the Catechism.

In addition to CCC, I have begun a series on the last things, the first of the series being on, you guessed it, “Purgatory”.
have a look.

The OP’s description is perfectly online with the teaching of the church.

I think the OP raises a very valid point and am interested in responses.

I personally would guess one of 2 things.

First, for the person with a valid indulgence, there is still some transformation that occurs, there must be, even for the most saintly person to wipe the stain of original sin from them.

Second, that perhaps someone like you describe is either mentally defect or was never truly in a state of grace which is generally needed for a plenary indulgence.

Regardless, one should sincerely do indulgences because those actions help mold our souls into a more saintly state and people should also trust in Gods endless mercy for those who choose him.

Remember, an indulgence is the temporal remission of the stain of sin, thus eliminating some of the time in purgatory. An indulgence is not meant just to be a get out of jail free card. In fact, if it is taken like this, it looses most of its power to remiss the stain of sin. Indulgences are meant to be an act of purgatory while you are still on earth. You are not defeating the purpose of purgatory, but rather emphasizing it. You are proactively cleansing yourself so that, should you not be in a state of mortal sin when you die, then you are able to meet your Creator as quickly as possible.

An indulgence is a gift from the Church that an individual who is duly disposed can receive under certain conditions. The gift is given from The Treasury of Merit, which is accessed by members of the mystical body and filled by the meritorious suffering and abundant grace of Jesus and the saints.

The need for temporal suffering due to sin is removed. Instead of purging one’s soul through the fires of purgatory, the soul is purified by God’s grace.

We should avail ourselves to all gifts of the Church.

Hmm, so… for an indulgence to have any real effect, you have to be properly disclosed, and only God knows whether you are or not.
Also there is a work or prayer attached. You have to approach the work, or prayer with the right mindset or the indulgence wont be effective. If you are prescribed a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and you do it while grumbling and hating on God the whole time, I guess the indulgence wont have any real effect. Or is that penance…?

So confused :confused:

That’s right.

The indulgences are ways the church guides us. Saying “if you do these things with a heart for God, you will grow in holiness”

There are lots of ways to do this besides official indulgences, but the indulgences prescribed by the church are a way the church binds and looses as stated in scripture.

Your heart must always be in it or else it is probably a sinful superstitious act as opposed to a way to grow in holiness.

(I had this as an edit in my last post, but I’ll put it down here instead cause you responded so fast! [thanks! :thumbsup:])

When the priest does Absolution, is he drawing on the Treasury of Merit?
When I do penance, am I creating my own merit? (Paying my own temporal debt/submitting to purification)?
When the priest prescribes an indulgence, he is drawing on the Treasury of Merit? (Which means I don’t have to do penance, or submit to purification)

You mentioned how through indulgences we are purified by Gods grace without having to go through purgatory. I’d some elaboration, or biblical underpinning :slight_smile: (Because this is sounding remarkably like the protestant position on salvation… I really want to understand indulgences so that I can explain them with some authority and confidence to my protestant friends, but this is a massive stumbling block cause I’m only seeing contradictions. So close yet so far!!! XD )

I guess at this point I’m basically asking what the difference is between indulgence and penance. Penance kinda sounds like the church trying to assist and speed up the sanctification of my soul by prescribing a pious act, Indulgence kinda sounds like the church giving me a get out of jail free card. The pious act will only have an effect if your heart is properly disposed, similarly the get out of jail free card will only work if your heart is properly disposed. Is that right? (Even if it is it is sounding remarkably protestant and I’m not comfortable with a get-out-of-jail-free card no matter where my heart is at :stuck_out_tongue: If I still have sins attached to me, I’m not yet fit for heaven. hmmm…)

Penance is anything we do that turns is from sin and toward God. A prayer, an act of mercy, reading the Bible, indulgences, etc…

Indulgence- a prescribed method of the church to aid people in growing in holiness and limit or even eliminate the temporal punishment due to sins.

So indulgences are really a powerful form of penance (At least this is my understanding)

No God is forgiving us directly through his gift of grace and death on the cross.

When I do penance, am I creating my own merit? (Paying my own temporal debt/submitting to purification)?

In a way I supposse, but it’s more your cooperating with the grace God gives you. The catechism talks of all merit being attributed to God.

When the priest prescribes an indulgence, he is drawing on the Treasury of Merit? (Which means I don’t have to do penance, or submit to purification)

Priests don’t really prescribe an indulgence. They might recommend it, but it is something you do to show faith, trust, and receive grace. The treasury of merit is involved because the church desires that you receive much grace through it. As such the grace of God and the prayers of the entire communion of Saints aids the process.

You mentioned how through indulgences we are purified by Gods grace without having to go through purgatory. I’d some elaboration, or biblical underpinning :slight_smile: (Because this is sounding remarkably like the protestant position on salvation…

We always go through some sort of transformation at death but as far as Purgatory, the Catholic Church talks of a Plenary Indulgence taking care of the temporal consequences of our sins up to that point so I guess you’d bypass purgatory for the most part if you died in that state. This is because you righted the balance from the effects of your sins by doing the indulgence. It also seems related to the idea of binding and loosing in Matt 16 and John 20.

If you are talking to a Protestant they will likely believe when we die we are transformed into holy sinless perfect creatures to be in heaven with God. No sin no tears no strife. Tell them Purgatory is that transformation process.

Indulgences are a way of us growing in sanctification and jump starting the transformation before we die.

Then share this quote with them.

"The transforming ‘moment’ of this encounter cannot be quantified by the measurements of earthly time. It is, indeed, not eternal but a transition, and yet trying to qualify it as of ‘short’ or ‘long’ duration on the basis of temporal measurements derived from physics would be naive and unproductive. The ‘temporal measure’ of this encounter lies in the unsoundable depths of existence, in a passing-over where we are burned ere we are transformed. To measure such Existenzzeit, such an ‘existential time,’ in terms of the time of this world would be to ignore the specificity of the human spirit in its simultaneous relationship with, and differentation from, the world.
. . .
"[Purgatory] is the inwardly necessary process of transformation in which a person becomes capable of Christ, capable of God and thus capable of unity with the whole communion of saints.
. . .
“Encounter with the Lord is this transformation.”…

–Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life, p. 230-231

Thanks so much for your response. They’ve been very helpful. :smiley:

For now I will just see indulgences as amplified penance, which are obtained according to acts which the church prescribes, in accordance with the power of the keys. (For example, join the crusades = total plenary indulgence). As long as I have faith in Christ and the Authority he has given to the church, performing the prescribed act should have the desired effect of obtaining the indulgence, and amplifying the sanctifying value of the act! (of course, in the end only our father in Heaven knows the reality of the situation. But we can have faith :slight_smile: ) Willing to be corrected on all this in the future.

speculation follows:

“Encounter with the Lord is this transformation.”…

So if you die in a state of grace, this is why purgatory hurts, but still sends you on a trajectory towards heaven and the infinite majesty of God’s presence. You are staring at God face to face but aren’t yet ready to see him and I can imagine that would be incredibly painful, as the sin gets burned off you by his glory, and replaced with the virtue of Christ.

Whereas if you die in a state of mortal/original sin. You are defined by sin rather than Christ. You chose sin rather than salvation. That’s what you are going to get! You’re just being burned. Forever. Trajectory for the bottomless depths of Hell. :eek:

Both penance and an indulgence are means by which a sinner can pay the debt due to sin in this life instead of in the next.

Neither is a get our of jail free card. The both require acts and faith. God alone knows the effectiveness of either.


Purgatory heaven hell are outside of time. There is no clock in the afterlife. Depending on a person’s spiritual condition at death, if they escape hell, but won’t be going immediately to heaven, it doesn’t mean they won’t be in purgatory till the end of the world. iow, As scripture makes the analogy about the afterlife, 1 day is like 1000 years and 1000 years is like a day. Indulgences remove only some of the time one spends in purgatory. No one gets out untill they are perfectly reordered.

I know that in the case of a plenary indulgence (an indulgence that removes ALL temporal punishment for sin, and therefore removes an individual’s need for purgatory), one of the conditions is that the individual must be free from any and all attachment to sin. So, in the example the OP gave of the serial rapist, the rapist obviously isn’t completely and totally detached from his sin, and so he would not be able to receive a plenary indulgence, and would require the cleansing of purgatory.

An individual must be properly disposed when it comes to receiving plenary indulgences. Even if one performs the actions prescribed for a plenary indulgence, if his heart is not properly disposed, the indulgence will only be partial. I would assume (and I welcome correction on this) that the same would hold true of partial indulgences, namely, that it’s only efficacious insofar as you are sufficiently disposed (although for a partial indulgence, proper disposition wouldn’t require total detachment from sin).

You must first know that there are two kinds of indulgences:

Plenary, which removes all temporal punishment due to sin.
And partial, which removes some temporal punishment due to sin.

If you do die right after receiving a plenary indulgence, you do get to skip Purgatory. But one of the conditions for receiving a plenary indulgence is that you must be free from attachment to any sin, including venial sin. Otherwise, the indulgence only becomes partial.

From your description (and your opening post), you would clearly not have the right disposition to receive a plenary indulgence, as you would be attached to the sin of rape. You may still gain a partial indulgence, but its degree would be unknown.

Hello Everyone,

To understand purgatory and indulgences the key is to understand baptism.

Baptism removes all stain of ORIGINAL SIN, all ETERNAL PUNISHMENT for actual sins and removes all TEMPORAL PUNISHMENT for those actual sins committed.

Therefore, if a baptized person dies immediately after his baptism he instantly goes straight to heaven in Heavenly Glory even if he has lived all of his life before his baptism, in fully attached horrible sins with all stains of sins.

When all punishments are expiated at baptism, for God to “reorder” even the above kind of person, is an INSTANT EVENT. – This REASON is the key to understand, purgatory and indulgences.

In purgatory or by indulgences we are the ones who expiate our temporal punishment and God is the one who “reorder” us.
We cannot “reorder” ourselves, neither purgatory nor indulgences, only God can “reorder” us. (Ez.36:25-27; etc.).

Even as purgatory and indulgences work in different ways, the purpose of them and the outcome are exactly the same.
Which is; expiate our temporal punishment. It makes no difference that we expiated our temporal punishment by suffering in purgatory or by plenary indulgence.

At the point when we expiated our temporal punishment in purgatory or by indulgences, that is the point when we are perfectly “reordered” by God.

If we are at this point in purgatory we are going straight to heaven in Heavenly Glory.
If we are on earth and we die at this point we are also instantly going to heaven in Heavenly Glory.
Same as if someone dies the next second after his baptism.

The function of purgatory or indulgences is not to “reorder” us but to expiate our temporal punishment and nothing else. – This is the reason, to understand purgatory and indulgences the key is to understand baptism.

We expiate our sins in purgatory or by indulgences, it makes no difference which way and God is the one who “reorder” us. This is cooperation between God and us.

God bless.


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