What is the "Temporal Punishment"? (Indulgences)


I’ve been reading about Indulgences on and off for the past weeks both here on Catholic Answers and elsewhere, and this term keeps coming up: “Temporal Punishment”.

I can’t quite work out what this is. Could someone give some examples/A small case study?

For example, lets say I murder someone. This is the sin, what is the temporal punishment? and then, what would be the indulgence?

(gah, perhaps despite all my reading I still just don’t understand it at all… :S )

If you get caught killing someone, you do time
That seems temporal punishment to me (consequences)
as Jesus died for sin on the cross

So if I confess to murder, and God forgives the sin and the priest absolves it, BUT the priest doesn’t grant an indulgence, does this mean I should turn myself in as part of the temporal punishment? (This makes sense but would like a second opinion)

also, what would be an example of an indulgence? 100 Hail Marys? 100 dollars? 100 hours of volunteer work?

finally just in case anyone is wondering, I haven’t killed anyone :stuck_out_tongue: just hypothesizing


Sin has a double consequence: eternal punishment (mortal sins) and attachment to creatures (mortal and venial sins). Creatures means created things. So this attachment needs to be broken for us to be perfected. This occurs when living and also after death in Purgatory. Any indulgence obtained applies to ourselves or it may be applied to the faithfully departed (in Purgatory).Catechism

**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?[INDENT] "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 Indulgences may be applied to the living or the dead.
The punishments of sin
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.83

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."84

In the past you would have to pay to lessen time in purgatory
but Luther exposed that and this merchandise was withdrawn from sale

Since the year 2000 you have to attend certain ceremonies,
fulfil certain obligations to get out of purgatory free
Bishops have the power to grant indulgences

I haven’t been in a box for confession for years,
but three hail Marys would cover a multitude of sins

Can a murderer have an attachment to the person he wanted to get rid off and kill?

Jesus died on the cross for even murders,
but how do you explain temporal punishment in Purgatory,
when the guy got caught and is doing time?

TIK. Before I can answer any questions about specific situations I want to differentiate
between eternal and temporal punishment.

Eternal punishment is what all sinners would have apart from the work of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ cancelled out this debt.

Temporal or temporary punishment is what we may face apart from eternal punishment. This can only be efficacious with the grace of Christ as well. But there may remain temporary punishment due to sin. The most obvious is the wages of sin being death (Romans 6:23).

Jesus died for our sins and saves us from eternal punishment. But the wages of sin being death still remains. If you read elsewhere in Scripture you find Jesus renders strict account for our actions. This strict account is for the justified AND the people who reject justification.

Eternal punishment = “eternal”
Temporal punishment = temporary (apart from eternal)

Does this help you with these concepts?

God bless.


PS. You will probably want to get into more info. on the afterlife (i.e. Purgatorial suffering) and that’s fine but I want to make sure you have the differentiation between “eternal” and “temporal” down first.

Thank you to all for responses. They have been helpful but I’m still confused:

If death and suffering are examples of temporal punishment, then by the provided definitions it seems to me like indulgences would be able to cancel them out, but that’s obviously not the case. (These days on the evening news, you don’t hear about the pope resurrecting people and healing cancer patients willynilly)

Also, I’m even more hazy on the temporal versus eternal distinction than before: I thought that death WAS the eternal punishment. Death as in, complete and utter separation from God. Or is that Hell? Hell and death are different?

I understand that purgatory is where we go if we are not perfect/100% sanctified when we die, so that the refining fire of God can make us perfect. I understand that the saints get to go straight to heaven. (They did their time in purgatory while on earth! :P)
Side question: Is it possible to commit sins while in purgatory? To fall from grace?


Welcome to the forum. :slight_smile:

Here is another link with more information on indulgences. Hopefully this will be more helpful to you too:


I think that you have death and Hell confused. Hell is complete and utter separation from God–you are correct there.

You cannot sin when you are in Purgatory. When you are there, you are being “purged” of your remaining sins if you will, and are being made ready for Heaven. You are assured of going to Heaven when you are in Purgatory.

Here is a link to information from Catholic Answers about Purgatory:


Adam and Eve were created with the Preternatural Gifts of Integrity, Immortality and Infused Knowledge, and also they had the Supernatural Grace. After they sinned, these were lost for them and for all mankind. Although we may receive the gift of Sanctifying Grace through the Holy Sacraments, the Preternatural Gifts are not given to mankind, so we have to live with the death and other consequences that resulted.

Baltimore CatechismQ. 1372. What is the judgment called which we have to undergo immediately after death?
A. The judgment we have to undergo immediately after death is called the Particular Judgment.

Q. 1373. Where will the particular judgment be held?
A. The particular judgment will be held in the place where each person dies, and the soul will go immediately to its reward or punishment.Q. 1374. What is the judgment called which all men have to undergo on the last day?
A. The judgment which all men have to undergo on the last day is called the General Judgment.

Q. 1375. Will the sentence given at the particular judgment be changed at the general judgment?
A. The sentence given at the particular judgment will not be changed at the general judgment, but it will be repeated and made public to all.

The Manual of Indulgences is the current authoritative list of what prayers/acts can merit indulgences. Things like praying the rosary, reading the Bible for a half hour, praying for the dead in a cemetery the week starting with All Soul’s Day, etc. Basically, they involve praying. :wink:

The introduction is also handy because it lays out what indulgences are and how to obtain them. In addition to the prayers, there are a few other requirements (prayers for the pope, freedom from attachment to sin, reception of Confession, and reception of the Eucharist).

“Temporal” is just a fancy word for “in time.” In other words, “non-eternal”. Sin has eternal consequences because it offends the infinite, eternal God. Baptism and later Confession takes care of these eternal consequences. That’s the heavy lifting and God does that because we obviously cannot do it ourselves.

Temporal consequences are consequences that last for a time. And those remain even after we are forgiven. The classic example is that of a boy who hits a baseball through a neighbor’s window. He goes next door and apologizes and the neighbor forgives him. That restores their relationship. But the window is still broken. And the neighbor might still ask the boy to pay for the damages.

It’s the same thing with Original Sin. Baptism wipes away Original Sin and restores us to a life of grace that was lost by Adam and Eve. But the temporal consequences of Original Sin still remain as evidenced by the fact that we are still inclined to sin even after we are baptized. (That’s called “concupiscence”.)

Does that help clarify or does it make it more confusing? :o I feel like I can make issue more confusing for people sometimes.

It helps a lot and thanks so much for the answer :slight_smile: I feel like I’ll forget everything again in the future though and have to come back XD

Really the easiest way to remember this stuff is to immerse myself in it. I’m actually happy calling myself a Catholic around 65% of the time now. I’m so keen to take the plunge back into the church I should have known from the beginning! Just gotta get to confession and remember every bad thing I’ve done for the past 11 years :stuck_out_tongue:

The Faith Explained: Leo Tresse, is a good classic book on basic Catholic teachings and it is easy to understand. *ISBN: *978-07270-2-7

The murder (unlawful premeditated killing) may be through passion or malice. So generally that is because of anger (passion) from insult, etc, or vengeance, which is like jealousy or envy with harm. So desire for something or a person or an experience, is the motivator and a temptation to sin. The desire may be alright or not, but the lack of charity comes out in the premeditation and the actual killing. The attachment to the desire that is the motivation to sin can remain even after repentance, and must be eliminated while living or after death. Then there is also enduring the consequences of that act in the community, and making amends or repayment in the community.

The absolution may remove much of the temporal punishment, and then the penance (such as prayer, charitable works, fasting or abstinence, and publicly giving witness of our faith) also. The indulgence is an addition by the Church to the value of what we do, from the merits of Christ and the faithful.

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