Indulgences Explained


Can someone explain to a newb the idea behind Indulgences. Also where the idea originated from. I asked in the AAA but its tough to get an answer. Please be kind to the newb!


The doctrine of indulgences is linked with the doctrine of the communion Saints. The elements of this doctrine are all biblical and were present in the early Church East and West–it is more obvious in the penitential practice of the early Church, but it still applicable today of course.

First, it bears pointing out that there are three parts to repentance–contrition, confession, and bringing forth fruits worthy of repentance (this last part is often called “satisfaction.”) It is the third part that is related to indulgences. Here are some biblical references to this last part (note: the DRV which I am citing uses the phrase “do penance” or the word “penance” in the place many translations use “repent” and “repentance” but the meaning is the same):

Acts 26:20 But to them first that are at Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and unto all the country of Judea, and to the Gentiles did I preach, that they should do penance, and turn to God, doing works worthy of penance.
(see also Matt. 3:8, Luke 3:8 )

Now, there are various ways by which one brings forth fruit worthy of repentance or, in other words, makes satisfaction for sins. This is done through prayer, acts of charity, and self-denial, etc but also suffering through the chastisments that God may send Himself.

Heb. 12:[5] And you have forgotten the consolation, which speaketh to you, as unto children, saying: My son, neglect not the discipline of the Lord; neither be thou wearied whilst thou art rebuked by him. [6] For whom the Lord loveth, he chastiseth; and he scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. [7] Persevere under discipline. God dealeth with you as with his sons; for what son is there, whom the father doth not correct? [8] But if you be without chastisement, whereof all are made partakers, then are you bastards, and not sons. [9] Moreover we have had fathers of our flesh, for instructors, and we reverenced them: shall we not much more obey the Father of spirits, and live? [10] And they indeed for a few days, according to their own pleasure, instructed us: but he, for our profit, that we might receive his sanctification. [11] Now all chastisement for the present indeed seemeth not to bring with it joy, but sorrow: but afterwards it will yield, to them that are exercised by it, the most peaceable fruit of justice.

The Church from the very beginning also prescribed such acts of satisfaction. One common one, early on, was cutting the sinner off from the sacraments for a period of time (this is still common in the East and for certain more serious sins in the West). St. Paul prescribes such satisfaction for the incestuous man in Corinth here:

1 Cor. 5:[3] I indeed, absent in body, but present in spirit, have already judged, as though I were present, him that hath so done, [4] In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, you being gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus; [5] To deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Later, the Church adopted other forms of satisfaction in different times and places many taking months or even years to complete. For example, someone who committed a very grievous sin might have to live a strict disciplined life in a monastery for a period of time (this is why prisons are often called penitentiaries, from the root “penitent.”)

If someone were to die before bringing forth worthy fruits, that process was and is understood to be finished in the afterlife as the Council of Florence explained:

Also, if truly penitent people die in the love of God before they have made satisfaction for acts and omissions by worthy fruits of repentance, their souls are cleansed after death by cleansing pains;

An indulgence is a remittance of this need to make satisfaction either partially or fully (a "plenary indulgence). St. Paul granted such a pardon to the same incestuous man in Corinth:

2 Cor. 2 :[6] To him who is such a one, this rebuke is sufficient, which is given by many: [7] So that on the contrary, you should rather forgive him and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. [8] Wherefore, I beseech you, that you would confirm your charity towards him. [9] For to this end also did I write, that I may know the experiment of you, whether you be obedient in all things. [10] And to whom you have pardoned any thing, I also. For, what I have pardoned, if I have pardoned any thing, for your sakes have I done it in the person of Christ.

It should be noted that during certain periods, partial indulgences were delineated by periods of time like days or years to correspond to prevailing penitential disciplines, but today they are generally called “partial” only and their value is relative to the act on which the granting of the indulgence is conditioned.

Anyway, since the need to make satisfaction extends into the afterlife, it followed logically that the indulgence would also.

Matt. 18:18 Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.

(see also Matt. 16:18)

Otherwise, if one were loosed on earth, but it did not take effect in the afterlife, the indulgence would be a cruelty deceiving the penitent into thinking he had brought forth sufficient fruits when he had not.


How do indulgences work?

continued from above...

Nowadays in the West, since prescribed penances are generally meant to simply turn the penitent back to God through prayer rather than equal the total fruits worthy of repentance, the focus of indulgences is more on their effects in the afterlife.

So how is this related to the communion of Saints? It is from the communion Saints that indulgences have their efficacy. Since we are all one Body, the satisfaction made by some members can be applied to other members for whom it is wanting. St. Paul rejoices in this fact:

Col. 1:24 Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church: Col. 1:24 Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church:
(see also 1 Cor. 12:26).

Those Saints (canonized and unknown) along with Christ Himself who have brought forth fruits far exceeding their own needs for repentance are applied to the person receiving the indulgence--it is why an indulgence can be granted without derogating from God's justice.

Anyway, I hope that helps!


This explanation was posted to one parish website on Easter of this year:

Read this :coffeeread: and let me know if this helps to make indulgences clear.
Christ is Risen,


The indulgences were a scam to keep the greedy in finery. It has nothing to do with your salvation. That comes from within. Forget that at your peril...


[quote="GannyDrant, post:1, topic:320626"]
Can someone explain to a newb the idea behind Indulgences. Also where the idea originated from. I asked in the AAA but its tough to get an answer. Please be kind to the newb!


I have a good example that actually happened in my house this morning. My four-year-old daughter tripped and dumped her whole bowl of Cheerios on the living room floor. Both my wife and I told her she had to clean-up her mess and throw the Cheerios in the garbage. My four-year-old was incorrigible, upset, and said, "But I didn't mean to do it!" My wife said, "I know you didn't mean to do it, but you still need to clean up the mess."

We may be forgiven of sins, but there is still a temporal punishment for them. The Church provides a means for us, through spiritual growth, to remit this temporal punishment. In the example above, my daughter, if she refused to clean up her Cheerios, would have had her Leap Pad taken away from her as her "temporal punishment." Instead, she cleaned up her Cheerios and had her temporal punishment remitted. The Church provides a means for us to do here on earth.

Many people are freaked out by this teaching because of the abuses that occurred before the Reformation. However, it is actually a beautiful teaching and is considered a treasure of the Church.


Well, um, no. Salvation does not come from “within.” Salvation comes through Jesus Christ, our risen Lord.


And you meet Him from within. You haven’t figured that out yet?


We ask the saints to pray for us. We pray for the souls in purgatory. Only those who die in a state of grace are in purgatory.

When you commit a sin after baptism, there is a temporal punishment you must pay.

An example: A lapsed Catholic murders a man. His temporal punishment is life in prison. He confesses the sin (with true repentance) and is absolved. He still must pay the temporal punishment either in prison for life or in purgatory.

We can offer our penance, sufferings, prayers, and indulgences on behalf of our sins to shorten purgatory.

An indulgence pays for our temporal punishments that we earn from sin that we commit. When we die, if we have not paid for all of our temporal punishments, we will pay for them in purgatory.

A partial indulgence remits part of our temporal punishment. A plenary indulgence remits all of our temporal punishment we have earned up to that point.

Note: Baptism remits all sins and temporal punishment. Confession remits only sins.

We can gain indulgences for the poor souls in purgatory and pray for them.


[quote="Thomas_the_Twin, post:8, topic:320626"]
And you meet Him from within. You haven't figured that out yet?


Of course he can reside in all of us, but salvation doesn't come from within, but rather an outward pouring of God's grace. If it came from within, we wouldn't need the Church or its sacraments.


Look, He said don’t look here, don’t look there, don’t be deceived by the charlatans selling salvation for the Kingdom of Heaven is within you. It’s easy as pie if you open your eyes…



Indulgences only help those who die in a state of grace (ie those who are saved). Those in hell (the unsaved) do not benefit from indulgences.


Nope... but be well...


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit