Indulgences explained


#1

Indulgences are probably one of the most misunderstood doctrines of the church. Many people think it means an “indulgence to sin.” Others claim that it and purgatory are “a money-making scheme.” While purgatory is not the primary topic of this thread, I will discuss it somewhat has indulgences and purgatory or linked. In this thread I will try to answer some of the objections about indulgences and show what a great tool they are for personal holiness. Indulgences are not, as some people would think, an “indulgence to commit sin.” According to John Cardinal Gibbons in his book Faith of Our Fathers, “The word indulgence originally signified favor, remission, or forgiveness.” According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, the root word “indulge” comes from the Latin indulgere, meaning “to be kind to.”

Now let’s look at what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about indulgences:

1471 The doctrine and practice of indulgences in the Church are closely linked to the effects of the sacrament of Penance.

What is an indulgence?

"An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints."81

"An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin."82 The faithful can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead.

1472 To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the “eternal punishment” of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.84

1473 The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains. While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace. He should strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the “old man” and to put on the "new man."85

Continued…


#2

Part 2…1478 An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins. Thus the Church does not want simply to come to the aid of these Christians, but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity.90

[font=Times New Roman]To give an example of this concept, let’s say you had a child who had done something you had expressly forbidden, so you ground the child for a certain amount of time. However, if for example, the child had helped with chores around the house without having to be told, then you as the parent could shorten the time the child was grounded. Examples of this are seen in Scripture:

**Matthew **5:26 “Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”

**2 Corinthians 2:6-8, 10 **“This punishment by the majority is enough for such a person, so that on the contrary you should forgive and encourage him instead, or else the person may be overwhelmed by excessive pain. Therefore, I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. Whomever you forgive anything, so do I. For indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for you in the presence of Christ.

Some Scripture scholars believe that Paul is referring to the incestuous Corinthian that he ordered expelled in his first epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor 5:1-5). If it is, then it would be a good example of the binding and loosing power that Christ gave to his apostles.

continued…

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#3

Part 3…

There are two types of indulgences: plenary and partial. I won’t go into detail as the subject has been covered well on these threads:

[/font]http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=22378&highlight=indulgences

[[/font]forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?p=276175#post276175](“http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?p=276175#post276175”)

However, I would like to take a moment to clear up a possible misconception. Before Vatican II, indulgences sometimes carried an indication of time, like “two hundred days” etc. This was NOT how much time off you got from purgatory. First off, there is no ‘time’ in purgatory. Secondly, in the first centuries of the church, serious sins (such as murder, adultery, apostasy, etc.) usually meant that the sinner would be kept from the sacraments for months or even years. The ‘time off’ listed in the indulgence meant how much time off the sinner’s penance was reduced.

Some Objections Answered

“The concept of indulgences (and purgatory) negates the finished work of Christ on the Cross.”

Not so. Paragraph 1478 of the CCC says “…the ‘treasury of the church’ is the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ’s merits have before God” (Emphasis mine). Jesus’ death on the cross was more than enough to pay for our sins. The problem is that oftentimes we resist God’s grace working in our lives. I remember listening to a Protestant radio preacher some years ago who commented that he heard Christians asking for more grace. His reply was that we had all the grace we need, but that we didn’t respond to it. Scripture confirms this. Mark 6:5-6 tells us that when Jesus was in Nazareth, “he was unable to perform any mighty deeds there” due to the people’s lack of faith. Jesus was able to heal the man born blind, but could do nothing for the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees (John 9). In Catholic theology, Jesus’ death doesn’t merely cover up our sins, but transforms us, but we have to allow God to work in our lives.

Continued…


#4

[left]Part 4…[/left]

“The church sold indulgences as a money-making scheme.”

True, the church sold indulgences in the Middle Ages, but it was not some scam for making money (If the Catholic Church was really in it for the money, priests would have their own TV shows wearing tacky suits). The church needed to raise money from time to time for building churches, etc. Receiving spiritual gain by giving alms, etc. is completely Scriptural. Chapter 10 in the book of Acts tells us of Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile who gave generous alms to the Jewish people. One day and angel of the Lord appeared to him and told him, “Your prayers and almsgiving have ascended as a memorial offering before God” (verse 4). The Apostle Paul thanked the Philippians for their gift of money to him, telling them “It is not that I am eager for the gift; rather, I am eager for the profit that accrues to your account” **(4:17) and in the next verse calls their gift “a fragrant aroma,” an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. In his second epistle to the Corinthians, he asks for money to the Macedonians, telling them “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” and that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).

The Indulgence promoted by Pope Leo X (which triggered Luther’s revolt) was to raise money to build St Peter’s basilica. John Cardinal Gibbons in Faith of Our Fathers quotes the Protestant historian D’Aubigne, who said, “In the Pope’s Bull something was said of the repentance of the heart and confession of the lips.” In other words, no amount of money given to the church will avail a person spiritually if his heart is not right with God.

Sadly, the selling of indulgences was abused, which is why the Church stopped the practice at the Council of Trent. However, Protestants should not judge the Catholic Church too harshly. How many times have we heard a preacher from his pulpit, or a radio minister, or a televangelist tell his listeners they will be blessed if they contribute to his church or ministry? They are doing the same thing the Catholic Church did, yet the Catholic Church holds its members to a higher standard, demanding repentance and turning to God before promising any spiritual blessings for almsgiving. James Cardinal Gibbons mentions in Faith of Our Fathers that when millionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt gave a donation to a Methodist college, a Methodist minister said to him, “Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thy alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.” Gibbons dryly comments

[size=3]The minister is more indulgent than even the Pope, to whom were given the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven; for the minister declares Cornelius absolved without the preliminary of confession or contrition while even, according to D’Aubigne, the inflexible Pope insisted on the necessity of “repentance of the heart confession of the lips” before the donor’s offering could avail him of salvation. [/size]

Continued…


#5

Concluded…

“The act of gaining indulgences is nothing more than external religiosity.”

Can getting indulgences be nothing more than a legalistic ritual? Yes, it can be abused in that way. But, so can many other things, including things we share with our Protestant brethren, such as churchgoing, Bible reading, and prayer. These things are good and necessary in our Spiritual life, but like indulgences, merit us nothing unless we use them to draw close to God and allow him to transform our lives. How many people (Catholic and Protestant) go to church often, carry a Bible around (and perhaps even read it) or say their prayers daily, yet remain unchanged? Just because they can be abused, does not negate their purpose.

Conclusion

Why do we need indulgences? Because our Heavenly Father knows we are creatures of habit. As someone once told me, “Bad habits are easy to make and hard to break, while good habits are hard to make and easy to break.” Therefore, Christ (through his Church) gave us indulgences as a way to foster good spiritual habits (prayer, reading of Scripture, almsgiving, reception of the Eucharist, etc) in order to transform our lives and be united with Christ.


#6

Thank you for posting some very factual, useful and informative information that will no doubt be a benefit to many.


#7

[quote=Sir Knight]Thank you for posting some very factual, useful and informative information that will no doubt be a benefit to many.
[/quote]

Thank you for your reply, and I hope it does help. However, I thought there would be more responses, even from non-Catholics attacking the idea of indulgences (you know, Martin Luther and all that).


#8

I have always been fascinated by your faith in general, and have known little to nothing of how it all works. If you could point me in the direction of other learning tools, I would really appreciate it. It is very informative. Thank you!


#9

[quote=Donnibrooke]I have always been fascinated by your faith in general, and have known little to nothing of how it all works. If you could point me in the direction of other learning tools, I would really appreciate it. It is very informative. Thank you!
[/quote]

Hi Donnibrooke!

The first thing you might want to do is get a copy of the Catechism. You can find them at your local bookstore for under $10. You can also go to the sites below.

Downloadable version (takes up less than 2 mb of disk space)
hismercy.ca/

Online version
scborromeo.org/ccc.htm

www.catholic.com also has info on the Catholic faith They have a free booklet called “Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth” which explains the Catholic faith. Also, these foruma usually have a clickable link at the top labeled “How to become Catholic.”

You might also want to check out books written by Scott Hahn. He is a former Presbyterian minister who became Catholic, and he does an excellent job explaining the Catholic faith. He has a website titled www.chnet,org

Just a few things to help you get started. If you have any more questions, please feel free to ask!


#10

[quote=RNRobert]… I thought there would be more responses …
[/quote]

You did such an excellent job of covering everything that there was nothing further to ask or comment on :thumbsup:


#11

Thank you for this thread. I am somewhat familiar with indulgences but have not read nearly all the information you posted here. Thanks! I’m sure you’ll get lots of views.


#12

Good description RNRobert.

Can you tell me what it means in paragraph 1478 when it says that it is from the merits of the saint.

Since an indulgence can be applied to those who are in Purgatory, would prayers for the dead be considered indulgences?


#13

[quote=jimmy]Good description RNRobert.
[/quote]

Can you tell me what it means in paragraph 1478 when it says that it is from the merits of the saint.

Since an indulgence can be applied to those who are in Purgatory, would prayers for the dead be considered indulgences?

Good questions!

I’ll answer the second question first, as my reply will be shorter… While writing this reply, I came across this website ourladyswarriors.org/indulge/ that has an online Enchiridion. According to it:

  1. Visit to a Cemetery (Coemeterii visitatio)

An indulgence, applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory, is granted to the faithful, who devoutly visit a cemetery and pray, even if only mentally, for the departed.

The indulgence is plenary each day from the 1st to the 8th of November; on other days of the year it is partial

You can look this up at:

ourladyswarriors.org/indulge/g13.htm

They have a whole list of various indulgences, so I’m sure there are others that can be applied to the souls in Purgatory.

As for the first question, it is one I gave alot of thought to, especially as a Protestant entering the Church. I was always leery of the word ‘merit’ as it seemed to imply we ‘earned’ our way to heaven. Indeed, one of the works I read on the ‘merits of the saints’ (I actually think it was a Protestant work comparing the differences between them and Catholic belief; though I believe they were quoting a Catholic document) gave me the impression that “You need X number of heavenly brownie points to enter Heaven, and that the saints have so many brownie points left over that they will let you have some of theirs if you need them.”

However, as I grew in my Catholic faith, I realized that the “merits of the saints” actually conveys a beautiful truth, albeit clumsily, First off, as the CCC says in 2007: “With regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man. Between God and us there is an immeasurable inequality, for we have received everything from him, our Creator.” (Emphasis mine) In other words, we can do nothing on our own. The CCC continues to say "The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace (CCC 2008). In short, we can earn merit not through any goodness in our part, but because God adopted us and chose to work through us (see CCC 2009-2011).

continued…


#14

concluded…

The Bible tells us we are all members of the body of Christ (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 10:17). In the Catholic teaching of the Communion of Saints, this membership applies not only to Christians on earth but to those who have gone before us.

Now, it is important to realize that what we do as a member of this body affects everyone. As St Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:15-16, if we sleep with a prostitute, we are joining the whole Body of Christ to that prostitute. Our sins not only impact us, but the entire Body of Christ! This is something to ponder when we consider a particular sin a “victimless crime.” The good news is, our attempts to grow in holiness positively impact the Body of Christ, just as we are positively influenced by those around us who are growing in holiness. As St. Paul writes in Colossians 1:24, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church.”

In other words, as we grow in holiness, we also help those around us to grow in holiness. Many people have probably known some holy priest or layperson at some point in their lives, someone who evidenced so much of the love of God that it inspired people around them. Anglican C. S. Lewis probably said it best in his essay The Weight of Glory:

It may be too much for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud shall be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting you can talk to may one day be a creature, which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of those destinations.

What then, does the “merits of the saints” mean? A saint is someone who led a life extraordinarily surrendered to God, and allowed Him to work through him in a mighty way. And if we want to, since we are One Body, I can allow the holiness of that saint to influence my life.

My apologies for the long reply, but I hope I have answered your questions sufficiently.


#15

Just FYI: I googled “Enchiridion of indulgences” and found a .pdf version you can download! Go to www.hismercy.ca on the right hand side there’s a link for e-books. Click that and the Enchiridion of Indulgences is the second to the last from the bottom. The file is only 144 kb (You need Acrobat Reader to look at it).


#16

Thank you so much for your exhaustive work to make what has been for me a difficult concept. Your explanation is not only understandable but interrelates so well with other aspects of our relationship with the Church…very enlightening!

Keep it coming, you definitely have a talent for this. Bless you.


#17

[quote=Donnibrooke]I have always been fascinated by your faith in general, and have known little to nothing of how it all works. If you could point me in the direction of other learning tools, I would really appreciate it. It is very informative. Thank you!
[/quote]

Don’t quite know where you’re coming from but there are tract-length articles on the home page of Catholic Answers. Very helpful and clear. If you have further questions, come back and start a thread on the topic.


#18

[quote=janman55]Thank you so much for your exhaustive work to make what has been for me a difficult concept. Your explanation is not only understandable but interrelates so well with other aspects of our relationship with the Church…very enlightening!

Keep it coming, you definitely have a talent for this. Bless you.
[/quote]

Thank you! :tiphat:


#19

Let me throw this out here. On Friday, I completed all the steps necessary for obtaining a Plenary Indulgence. After I finished my adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, I could not believe the feeling of … clean that I felt.

However, over the next few days, I was hit with a incredible level of nearly overwhelming temptation. I felt like I had a huge target painted on my chest for all the evil in the world.

Has anyone else felt this? I’m wondering if it’s just in my head or if there’s really some truth to it, that is, when one removes all temporal punishment that has been “built up” over the years of sinful living, are the Evil One’s efforts redoubled?

I’d appreciate any insight you could offer.

Peace and God bless! :slight_smile:

Eric


#20

[quote=enanneman]Let me throw this out here. On Friday, I completed all the steps necessary for obtaining a Plenary Indulgence. After I finished my adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, I could not believe the feeling of … clean that I felt.

However, over the next few days, I was hit with a incredible level of nearly overwhelming temptation. I felt like I had a huge target painted on my chest for all the evil in the world.

Has anyone else felt this? I’m wondering if it’s just in my head or if there’s really some truth to it, that is, when one removes all temporal punishment that has been “built up” over the years of sinful living, are the Evil One’s efforts redoubled?

I’d appreciate any insight you could offer.

Peace and God bless! :slight_smile:

Eric
[/quote]

While I’ve never gained a plenary indulgence (as far as I know) I have had times where I felt ‘holier’ and closer to God. One time was when I was still in RCIA and had to go to the cathedral in St Augustine for a ceremony. Another was when I first entered the church and took holy communion. The last time was a few months ago. From 2001 to 2003 I was in nursing school, and I worked the weekends. As a result, my faith life suffered. After I graduated I started going to church more, but it was still sporadic and even when I went I was going through the motions (my spiritual life was basically on autopilot). Then one Saturday I had off from work. I spent the day basically playing around on the computer when all of a sudden I had this urge to go to confession. I hadn’t gone in a couple years, and it just so happened that my church had confession on Saturday afternoons. At first I tried to blow it off, but it was like God was pushing me, so I went. After I was done, I felt restored. I still struggle with sin, and I still have a hard time praying, but I’m attending church regularly and I’m paying more heed to my spiritual life.


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