What are Indulgences?

Can someone please explain to me what indulgences are. What are they for?

There is an entire thread on the subject here:


I’m not sure that I can understand the concept that in depth at this time. What are the basics. I’m sure that you have heard someone say that you can buy your or someone elses way into heaven. Is this applicable or anywhere close to the true teachings? I really would like to begin this study with something more simple to understand about this topic.

Try the Ask An Apologist forum for the short course… :thumbsup:

Would you please tell me what an apologist is. I tried to post questions on that board, including the above, and I am not getting any responses.

Hi Hilary!

[quote=HilaryJ]I’m not sure that I can understand the concept that in depth at this time. What are the basics. I’m sure that you have heard someone say that you can buy your or someone elses way into heaven. Is this applicable or anywhere close to the true teachings? I really would like to begin this study with something more simple to understand about this topic.

Indulgences has nothing to do with buying something. To enter Heaven is about the GRACE of God, not about buying onself a place among Gods people.

James Akin writes about all the unthrue myths protestants have learned about Indulgences (by catholic-haters?):


The next article by James Akin goes more in the depth:


David MacDonald, who seems to know many protestant-evangelicals, explanes indulgences in his personally way, espesially meant to reach protestants:


I hope that protestants sooner or later will understand that those who thaught them that “Catholic Indulgences” are about buying, were poorly educated (and didn’t know that they “lied” to their children or pupils). Some protestants, however, must have spread all these false informations as propaganda, with only one pupose: To weaken the Catholic Church. (Must God forgive them)! :blessyou:


Short answer - there are two aspects to reconciling with God when you sin - forgiveness and punishment. Just like when you were a kid, you did something, your parents forgave you but you were still punished, right?

God forgives when you confess or partake of the Eucharist if it’s not mortal sin (otherwise just confession). Temporal punsihment stil lhas to be done - there are exmaples of this all over the Bible (check out David). So, indulgences are ways to work off the punishment. Just like you work off thep unishment by washing the car for a month. Some things partislly work off the punishment associated with your sins, (partial indulgence), some things work it off totally (plenary indulgences with all the requirements that go along with it).

This really matches the real world IMHO - u can;t just go saaround sinning, confess and get forgiven, and go on like things are perfect. It didn;t work with your parents, it doesn’t work with your one true parent, God :slight_smile:

Exactly. I truly believe that any true child of God will be punnished when he or she does wrong. What I don’t understand is the paying of indulgences to get out of the punishment. Why is this taught? I have never read anything in the Bible that would lead me to believe that I can pay my way out of the punishement. My parents certainly wouldn’t let me give them money in exchange for punishement when I do something wrong, but maybe I have the wrong idea about indulgences. Is this not a monitary issue?

Indulgences are not a monetary issue. We don’t, and never did, “pay money” for our sins.

Just this morning this issue was addressed on the EWTN forum on liturgy, so I’m copying it here for you, Hilary. Hope it helps. . .

The official definition of indulgence is:

An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment for sin the guilt of which is already forgiven, which a properly disposed member of the Christian faithful obtains under certain and definite conditions with the help of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies authoritatively the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.(canon 992)

In every mortal sin there are two elements, the eternal punishment (hell), which is due to serious sins offensiveness to God, and the temporal punishment, or “in-time” consequences, which like a ripple from a stone thrown on a pond, eminate from our act of sin, in our personal moral equilibrium, in our relationships with others and in the balance of justice in the world. For venial sin there is only temporal punishment, as venial sin is not contrary to the love of God and neighbor, but is some defect in that love.

No human being can satisfy the justice of mortal sin, which is why Christ came to die for us. By His death on the Cross He paid the price for our offenses against God. When we go repentant to Confession His merits are applied to our sinfulness, so that the Church, as His minister of redemption, absolves our guilt. The eternal guilt is absolved completely, as only Christ can do it, and wills to do it in the sacrament. The temporal guilt, however, like the ripples on a pond is harder to undo. How do we repair justice when the person we swore at in the other lane is unknown to us, when a relative we were unkind to is now deceased, or when the person who saw us sin follows our bad example? How do we correct the disorder in ourselves which due to our sinfulness continues to incline us to sin? Just as we must return stolen goods, in justice we must “repair” (make reparation) for the harm we do to others, ourselves and the order of justice in the world. Unlike satisfying the eternal guilt due to mortal sin, satisfying temporal punishment seems within our possibilities.

Practically, we can do some things and not others, as the examples I gave earlier show. We can, for instance, return stolen goods, apologize for unkind words, and we can do alternative things, such as pray and do penance for that which we cannot accomplish. We could pray for the unknown person we swore at on the highway, or have Mass offered for the deceased relative who died not on good terms with us. These actions equivalently “expiate” the temporal punishment due to our sins, even getting at the unseen and unknow ripples we cause by sinning (cf. Acts 26:20).

Yet, it is unlikely we can exactly determine what we ought to do, and at that point we throw ourselves on God’s mercy, who does know. Thus, if in confession we are so thoroughly sorry that we are no longer attached to our sins, the Church teaches us that we are fully absolved, not only of the eternal guilt, but the temporal, as well. This would not excuse us from doing what was possible in the external order, such has returning stolen goods, apologize etc…

This is where Indulgences fit in. If we have not fully expiated the temporal punishment due to our sins in confession we can do so on our own or with the Church’s help. When we do some devout act, or penance or a charity for others, it has an intrinsic value before God. It helps us reform and draw closer to Him by its very nature. It “rights our ship,” which may be listing a little. However, if we do the very same act and it is indulgenced by the Church we are not doing it alone. By the Church’s authority, and therefore Christ’s, the intrinsic value of our good acts are magnified by the merits of Christ Himself and the entire Communion of Saints. We have done what we can, and the Lord through His Church helps us to complete it. We still need that detachment from sin I spoke of earlier to obtain a plenary or complete remission of the temporal punishment due to sin, but by focusing our attention and devotion, it is more likely that we will achieve it. It is not magical, it is getting our will attuned to God’s, so that His grace may “right our ship”.

A common example may help. A child breaks a neighbor’s window. He is sorry, and his parent’s forgive him, but rightly require him to apologize to the neighbor and contribute some of his allowance to replacing the glass. His small contribution shows his good will, yet remains limited by what’s possible for him. The parents show him “indulgence” and make up the difference. God’s justice requires the same of us, while His mercy excuses what is beyond our reach.

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