I have no problems with the doctrine of purgatory, but perhaps I don’t understand it correctly because indulgences just don’t make any sense to me.

I understand that even though our sins may be forgiven, the damage that they do to our soul remains. We still are in love with our sinful ways. Our souls need cleansed/healed. Our desire to sin must be burned away before we can come face to face with God. This all makes good sense to me. I also like the imagery that heaven hell and purgatory are the same place and your disposition is the difference. If you are able to face God and fully accept him you are in heaven, if not you are turned away from him you are forever running into your own shadow and are in hell. Pugratory is the process of turning to perfectly face God.

As I said, all of this makes perfect sense to me, but how do indulgences fit into this picture? How do the relatively simple procedures involved with indulgences heal/clean your soul, remove your desire to sin, or turn you more towards God? I can kind of see how prayers of others would help you to work things out, but it seems to me that the only you could do to help yourself avoid purgatory would be longterm, life-changing, and ultimately internal. Is there something I’m missing or have wrong? I admit my knowledge of indulgences is extremely limited.


Good works help to undo the damage caused by sin.
If you want to do good works in a formal way, and with the explicit intention of atoning for sin, then indulgences are a way of doing this.

If you help an old lady across the road you ahve done a good deed, but you’d have to be a corrupt person indeed for this to be life-changing. Similarly an indulgence won’t normally be life-changing. Only rarely is there a very marked difference in behaviour before and after. However that doesn’t make it futile.


I can see good works helping in an incremental way, especially if done with proper intentions. What of a plenary indulgence, though? I always got the impression that even partial indulgences were a big thing, significantly reducing purgatory.


If a partial indulgence is a “big thing” then an plenary (full) indulgence is a “really big thing”. The requirements for a plenary indulgence are not particularly easy to fulfill.


I would expand on that, in that the requirements are not terribly rigorous as much as the state of mind and spirit are not easy to possess. I dare say that many are not capable of these states much like a perfect contrition.

Does anyone take issue with this?


Perhaps I was mistaken then. I was under teh impression for some reason that going to confession during a cartain feast, or saying a rosary during a certain time period could grant on a plenary indulgence. If it requires something like perfect contrition that makes much more sense. Thank you all. I think I understand much better now.


Indeed it requires almost more - the exact expression is ‘complete detachment from all sin, even venial sin’.

This doesn’t mean ACTUALLY being free from sin, but rather not having any (often they’re the habitual ones) sins for which one isn’t wholeheartedly sorry or which one doesn’t sincerely resolve and struggle to avoid.


Thank you. That makes much sense. Previous things I had read about them focused more on the Church’s authority to grant indulgences, which made them seem more arbitrary and really only compatible with a strictly punishment view of purgatory.


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