Temporal punishment!?


I had always thought that “temporal punishment” refers to the satisfactions (or penances) we ought to do because of our sins. Indulgence removes this partially or completely because the Church has the authority to do so, wherein she draws from the infinite merits and satisfactions of Christ, and also from the satisfactions of the Virgin Mary and the saints. We go to purgatory if we die in the state of grace but hasn’t fully satisfied for our sins.

I started to become confused when I encountered the Catechism’s definition of “temporal punishment”. It says that temporal punishment is an unhealthy attachment to creatures (CCC 1472)…

So if “temporal punishment”–which is the unhealthy attachment to creatures–is removed by granting indulgences, then does that mean some sort of “miraculous behavior change”? If, for example, I’m an alcoholic, I will suddenly lost interest in drinking because I received a plenary indulgence? I’m confused.:confused:

Also, considering the Catechism’s definition of “temporal punishment”, I wonder what’s the temporal punishment in 2 Samuel 12:14. Is it David’s “attachment” to Uriah’s wife? To the baby? But most apologists say its the baby’s death which is the temporal punishment. So suppose David was granted a plenary indulgence, would that prevent the baby’s death? Is that what an indulgence do? So for example, I’m suppossed to be strucked by lightning because of my sin, God will waiver, if I receive an indulgence???:ehh:


I understand your confusion. I struggled with it for a very long time. I think I now understand it a bit.

There are two ways of looking at temporal punishment.

There is the concept of temporal punishment as just that - punishment that is forgiven much like a sentence in a jail is shortened by a governor’s pardon.

There is also the idea that the Catechism expressed: temporal punishment as an unhealthy attachment to creatures.

Let me try to explain that further. You see, we all are attached to creatures rather than to God in some way. That’s why we sin at all. Rather than desiring God, our fallen nature leaves us desiring other things more: food, sex, etc. When we sin, we are acting on this attachment. In other words, a man fornicates because his inordinate desire tempts him to. However, when we sin, we are also building up this attachment in the same way that a drug addict makes his addiction worse by taking a drug. That’s called developing a habit with drug users, but as you know we all havee habits in other things, too. If you yell at your mother every day, you’re going to develop a habit of that, too.

So in other words, our inordinate attachment to creatures is what tempts and causes us to sin, but when we sin we just make that attachment stronger. For example, when you have spent the entire Christmas season eating too much, you always find yourself more attached to eating when the season ends and you want to go back to normal. You can’t just flip a switch, because you’ve developed more of an attachment to food.

Now the penances that we do - either on our own or when we are assigned them during absolution - help us to break those attachments. By fasting, for instance, we say no to physical comforts and so begin to detach from them just like a drug addict begins to detach from his drugs when he refrains from them. By saying prayers that we’re assigned, we say no to self by giving time to God over ourselves, and so we begin to both detach from self and attach to God.

Indulgences do the same thing. Your confusion is the one I had: how can the indulgence that Frank earned for me cause me to change my desires? Is it some magical change?

I think the key is two-fold here. First, remember that indulgences require detachment from sin. When we obtain an indulgencec, we have to make a personal choice that we do not want to sin anymore. Thus, in the very act of gaining oneself an indulgence, we are making the very choice that we need to. Remember that all of our spiritual progress is accomplished by God’s Grace. When we make a choice to detach from sn to gain an indulgence, we are opening up the door for God so that He might come in and act on us.

Second, indulgences can be understood not as some sort of juridical pardon, but as the application of the prayers of the saints to us. Now it would make perfect sense to you, I am sure, to conceive of improving in our detachment by way of the prayers of the saints and of others. How this works we don’t really know, do we? How is it that when I pray for you to overcome a sin, you make progress in that? We just don’t know. It’s a mystery that God alone knows. This never causes us that much of a problem when we think about it this way, and it’s really the same thing when thinking about indulgences. However my prayer helps my cousin Steve to grow in holiness, so too does the merit applied to him by virtue of an indulgence.

I hope that helps. The article that really helped me sort it out is this one here: pontifications.wordpress.com/purgatory/. I highly recommend it; it really is a tremendous treatment of the subject.

Peace and God bless


Kaizen-- CCC 1472 is worded poorly. The punishment for grave sin is eternal punishment. The punishment for venial sin is temporal punishment. That’s what’s being contrasted in the paragraph.

The unhealthy attachment to creatures is what is being punished, not the punishment.

Eternal punishment is wiped away with forgiveness-- the temporal punishment due to this very same sin (the double consequence the CCC is talking about) is still due–even after the eternal punishment is forgiven, which is why the priest gives you penance *after *absolution.

Penance remits the temporal punishments still due even after absolution (the forgiveness of the sin).

Of course this applies only to post-baptismal sin. Both eternal and temporal punishments (the double consequence of sins) is forgiven with baptism.


Dear brother (sister?) kaizen,

An indulgence is not granted “freely.” An indulgence is granted by virtue of the penance/good works one has done. To illustrate, in the early Church, a certain punishment was attached to a certain sin. The greatest punishment for a Christian was deprivation of communion (i.e., participation in the Eucharist). In the early Church, the temporal punishment of deprivation of communion was determined by the severity of the sin - anywhere from 3 years to 20 years up to even a lifetime (e.g., the sin of heresy resulted in deprivation of communion until the moment of death!!!).

By virtue of the power of the keys, bishops had the authority to lessen this temporal punishment. This occurred because of evidence of true contrition, which was determined by your good works or penance. That was known, as it is now, as an indulgence.

So indulgence does not remove temporal punishment (or penance). Indulgence is granted BECAUSE there is already evidence that temporal satisfaction has taken place.

This was the way of it in the early Church, and that is the way of it in the Catholic Church today.



Kaizen - Also reference CCC 1863 where the relationship between the “disordered affection for created goods” meriting “temporal punishment” is clearer.


Catechism of the Catholic Church 1263-1264 may shed some light:[INDENT]By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin. In those who have been reborn nothing remains that would impede their entry into the Kingdom of God, neither Adam’s sin, nor personal sin, nor the consequences of sin, the gravest of which is separation from God.

Yet certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence, or metaphorically, “the tinder for sin” (fomes peccati); since concupiscence “is left for us to wrestle with, it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ.” Indeed, “an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.”

(Emphasis mine)
[/INDENT]A man is freed from “**all **punishment from sin” – temporal punishment included – the moment he’s baptized. If he were to die without sinning after baptism, he would behold the Beatific Vision immediately, since he would have no temporal punishment.

Yet he still suffers from the “temporal consequences of sin”. The *Catechism *describes these “temporal consequences” as suffering, illness, death, weaknesses of character and the inclination to sin.

The physical/mental/psychological wounds that a newly baptized man continues to suffer because of his pre-baptismal sins thus cannot, strictly speaking, be “temporal punishment due to sin”.

This is pure speculation on my part: I am beginning to think that if “temporal punishment” is the “unhealthy attachment to creatures”, then the latter is ontological-relational rather than behavioral/physical/mental/psychological, etc. Jimmy Akin’s article on “Righteousness and merit” cleared up for me the distinction between ontology and behavior.

A man is regenerated in baptism to be God’s son by adoption. The adopted son relates to God his Father at the level of *be *-ing; he now participates by what he has now become in the Trinitarian life of total self-giving and receptivity that *is *the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

When the adopted son of God sins he wounds his relation to God his Father. Because this relation is ontological, the wounding is ontological. The unhealthy attachment to creatures that is entailed by sin must likewise be at the level of* be* -ing.

Again, it’s my speculation.


The issue is certainly not altogether without confusion.

You’re right: if someone who is completely attached to creatures dies the instant after they are baptized, that person will go straight to Heaven because there will be no temporal punishment due to them.

However, it is also true what the catechism says: temporal punishment, on an ontological level, consists of an unhealthy attachment due to creatures. A person doesn’t go to Purgatory simply because God punishes them in some juridical, penal sense - like a criminal doing time in prison. Rather, they go to Purgatory because they are too attached to creatures and need to have that attachment purged - hence the name Purgatory.

As I explained, committing a sin certainly does attach us to creatures. When I am a glutton, I make myself more attached to food. When I fornicate, I attach myself more to sex. It’s just like smoking a cigarette. Every time I do it, I get more attached to them. Thus, when I sin, whether venially or mortally, I certainly become more and more attached to sin, and thus more and more purging will need to be done to free me from those attachments - which we call punishments. So I need to do penance, and make sacrifices.

Now that actually makes perfect sense. The part where it gets confusing is when a newly baptized person dies. That person has about as much attachment to sin as he did before he was baptized. So what’s the solution? I can’t say I’m entirely sure. I can tell you that this article will certainly be extremely helpful to anyone seeking to understand.


Temporal punishments basically deal with sanctification. When you sin you hinder your sanctification, thus to “make up for” that sin you must do extra acts of charity motivated by love/fear for God. Check out these verses of Scripture:** Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for**; through the fear of the LORD a man avoids evil.
-Prov 16

8Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
-1 Pt 4

19My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, 20remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

  • James 5

39Then the Lord said to him, "Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.
42"Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.
-Luke 11
Popular Purgatory passages are 2 Macc 12:46, Matt 5:25f, 1 Cor 3:15.

In remitting temporal punishment two main things are fixed in regards to your soul:
1)Attachment/Urge to a given sin is lessened if not fully eliminated.
2)Repairing of a damage done.

So lets take your getting drunk example above. Your sanctification is hindered in that you have an unnatural attachment/urge to drink alcohol and have wasted your time in this life instead of growing in love you have wasted it growing in sin. Both of those need to be reversed.

The term “punishment” in “temporal punishment” is fitting in that you have to undergo suffering to get back on track.


I like Catholic Dude’s explanation.

Just to add, the efficacy of an indulgence is rooted in what’s called the “treasury of merit.” As St. Paul says in Col. 1:24, he makes up in his suffering what is lacking in that of the Church. Since we are all members of one Body, we all partake of the sufferings and merits of the whole, including of course those of the head, Jesus Christ. Therefore, the extra sufferings and merits of all Christians who have come before (Mary, the Saints, and the rest) are given for us–because of the charity that unites us–love transcends time. The application of which is in the authority of binding and loosing.


I think if we look at the development of the doctrine of indulgences they become easier to understand.

Originally, indulgences were a lessening of penance–the penance prescribed was usually a general estimate of the temporal punishment that needed to be remitted (or, as it was often put, of the fruits of repentance that needed to be brought forth). However, it was understood that if one died before bringing forth the proper fruits, it would be rectified in the after life–this phenomenon is generally referred to as Purgatory in Latin theology.

The bishop or Pope could pardon the temporal punishment if they judged the penitent to be properly disposed–this is why indulgences were often described in terms of days or years–it was days or years of penance you didn’t have to do.

However, since the temporal punishment carried over into the afterlife, it logically followed that the indulgence granted must also. For example, take two penitents who both had to stay in a cell in a monastery for two years.

If one died after a day the temporal punishment would be made up before entering Heaven. The other living penitent, would of course finish his own punishment on earth.

Now, imagine they are both granted a plenary indulgence after a day (and the one dies thereafter). For the living, he would experience the indulgence by no longer having to fulfill his time in the cell. For the other died right after receiving the indulgence, he would experience it by not having to fulfill the temporal punishment after death.

I hope that didn’t confuse you more!


After spending some time thinking about this “temporal punishment” thing, I realized the reason why I’m confused:

I don’t know what temporal punishment really is!

Is it “divinely inflicted” suffering, like, being strucked by lightning, or poverty, or cancer, or whatever?

Is it inflicted by the Church?

Is it “self-inflicted”?

Also, if temporal punishment is meant to “purify” us from our unhealthy attachments, then WHY SHOULD THE CHURCH REMOVE IT BY GRANTING INDULGENCES? What would be the means of my purification?:confused:


Temporal punishment is just what the catechism says: an unhealthy attachment to creatures. It’s called punishment because 1) it is/leads to suffering and 2) when we sin, we experience it.

Let me give a simple example. Eating too much is the sin of gluttony. Now when a person eats too much, he suffers. His stomach feels sick. He feels bloated. He gains weight, which brings with it many sufferings like feeling hot all the time, lower physical abilities, a shorter life, etc.

All that suffering that comes with eating too much is temporal punishment. It’s something that naturally flows from sin. Every sin is like this. Adultery brings its own sufferings, as does lying, stealing, and even the most innocuous of sins one might be able to conceive of.

Now, at the same time as sinning causes this suffering, it also makes us more attached to the sin. When I eat too much, it just gets that much harder to eat the right amount next time. The more I fornicate, the more I just need that in my life.

That’s unhealthy attachment to creatures. I am unhealthily attached to food, or to sex, or to pride, or to something else. It’s ok to desire food in the proper amounts, or sex in the right context, but to desire them in those illicit ways is an attachment to creatures. If I weren’t attached, I could more easily say no.

So that’s temporal punishment. It is unhealthy attachment to creatures. When we sin, it comes on us as punishment in two ways: 1) we increase our attachment - i.e., we increase our punishment, if punishment=attachment - and 2) we experience the sufferings - like a sick stomach - that those sins bring about.

So in that sense, it is not anything that anyone inflicts on us, but simply the natural results of sin. That doesn’t rule out God inflicting it on us. Recall His punishment of King David. The loss of his son didn’t naturally flow from David’s sin. On the other hand, he had many other sufferings which did flow from the sin.

I’m not saying God actively punishes people. I’m pointing out that it’s not out of the question. I don’t know to what degree that happens today, although I tend to believe it is not so much. Rather, the suffering and attachment that flows from our sins is primarily what we’re concerned with here.

Also, if temporal punishment is meant to “purify” us from our unhealthy attachments, then WHY SHOULD THE CHURCH REMOVE IT BY GRANTING INDULGENCES? What would be the means of my purification?:confused:

Temporal punishment *is *what we have to be purified from. I understand the confusion. The problem is in the terminology: punishment is something we think of as a consequence, but here it’s being used in a somewhat different way. It’s being used as a consequence, but also as a state of our being attached. Think about that for a minute. That dual usage is confusing you.

Hopefully this will clear up the confusion. Temporal punishment is the unhealthy attachment that we have to creatures that we develop when we sin. Detatching from things is painful. Thus, being purified from this attachment is painful.

The Church grants indulgences because, of course, we need to be purified from our attachments. That’s a good thing.

So say I sin. My punishment is that my attachment to creatures grows, and this will be painful to eliminate.

Do you see the usage in that last sentence, how it’s both a consequence and a “state?”


But isn’t suffering a subjective feeling?

How can temporal punishments make us suffer, if some people doesn’t seem to care about their “unhealthy attachments”, and some even seemed to enjoy their condition!? It makes me ask the age-old question: “Lord, why do the wicked prosper?”


The unhealthy attachments we have don’t make us suffer because we feel bad about it. They make us suffer in two ways.

First, many of them simply cause suffering. Eating too much makes a person suffer, no matter how little he cares about being a glutton. Committing adultery makes most people suffer. In fact, modern psychology has basically come to the conclusion that things like adultery make everyone suffer in one way or another.

But of course, there will be times when a person might really not experience suffering from his sins. Yet the punishment is still there, because by committing these sisn they are becoming more and more attached to creatures, which leads to either:

A) Suffering in Hell. Dante’s imagery of Hell here is very useful. For example, he depicts those who were damned for sins of lust as all being together naked, without ever being able to touch another person. Now we don’t always recognize it in this life, but a mortal sin is literally taking some creature and putting it as the final, end goal of your life. When the saved die, they experience God for all eternity, for that is what they most desired. God becomes their one focus. Imagine dying with lust being the entire sum and goal of your life, the thing you most desire, and spending eternity in the situation Dante described. Thus, that attachment to creatures that the sinner has built up really, really hurts now. Of course, Dante’s imagery is just that - imagery - but it certainly helps to get the point across of what’s going on. Essentially, a damned person will spend eternity with all sorts of unfulfillable attachments.

B) Suffering in Purgatory. A saved person, once she has died, is able to see God for all He is, and to desire Him. Such a person will truly want to focus on God alone, but will have all the attachment to creatures that she built up in her life. Unlike Hell, she won’t be focused on those creatures. However, they are still attachments that she has, and as we all know it hurts to break attachments. When we end a romance, that attachment hurts to lete go of. When we decide to go on a diet, our attachment to food hurts to let go of, and so on. In Purgatory, all that attachment - even that which didn’t cause noticable suffering in life - is going to need to be broken, and that just naturally hurts.


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