Please understand – i am certainly NOT about to indulge in an anti-Catholic rant. That is not helpful, productive or fair (not least because I have a number of valued friends and relatives who are Catholic). But I have to say that I’m a little surprised about this: Indulgences are back. Or to be more accurate, they never really went away.

This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (the compendium of official church doctrine) has to say about the matter:

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

So I suppose the news (on the BBC here) that the current Pope has approved special indulgences for the 150th anniversary of the Virgin Mary’s appearance at Lourdes is not surprising, and in fact entirely consistent with official teaching.

LutherportraitBut it is surprising that the issue which sparked the Reformation is still an issue. It was the selling of indulgences which spurred the young monk, Martin Luther, to post his 95 Theses almost exactly 500 years ago (31st October 1517). The corruption which lay behind it in his day was rampant – and of course the issues today are not entirely the same. But Libby Purves, writing on The Times’ Faith Central, has a pretty fair take on this, I’d say.

The medieval concept had fallen into some disuse (not before time, say many modern Catholics) but the last two Popes have been keen on them. Catholic teaching tries to make them seem more sophisticated than the old idea of get-out-of-Hell-free cards, but a sense remains that Martin Luther – whose outrage at abuses over ‘indulgences’ triggered the Protestant reformation – had got a point. And why should an ability to afford the fare to Lourdes make anyone more worthy than someone who stays home doing good works


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This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. beyond bluestockings

    Is it just me, or does this kind of thing make the whole ” Evangelicals and Catholics Together” document too icky to think about? The idea of becoming one body with such heresy holds the same appeal for me as savouring the stench of rotting flesh. It’s just not pretty.

  2. quickbeamoffangorn

    Luther was right/correct in condemning abuses:

    “I do not bring accusation against the outcries of the preachers, which I have not heard, so much as I grieve over the wholly false impressions that the people have conceived from them; to wit, the unhappy souls believe that if they have purchased letters of indulgence they are sure of their salvation; again, that so soon as they cast their contributions into the money-box, souls fly out of purgatory; furthermore, that these graces are so great that there is no sin too great to be absolved, even, as they say—though the thing is impossible—if one had violated the Mother of God; again, that a man is free, through these indulgences, from all penalty and guilt.” To the archbishop of Mainz (dated October 31, 1517)

    Amen. Indulgences do not assure one’s salvation. Performing the external work of an indulgence (contributing money, in this case) does not automatically free souls from purgatory, nor do indulgences free one from the guilt or the penalties of sin.

    But the right use of Indulgences is not a heresy, naturally this is coming from a Catholic, so you wouldn’t expect otherwise.

    God’s mercy balanced with His justice has always been difficult IMO. The serial killer who comes to faith in Christ prior to his death, surely will not eat at the same table as his Christian victims without some punishment. Temporal punishment gets confused with eternal punishment and it should not be overlooked that Indulgences do not free one from guilt, only Christ can do that.

  3. Bill Scudder

    No Surprise–What can you expect from a false christian church that worships a false Christ.
    Where is Luther when we need him?


  4. Michael

    Indulgences are a functionof the very scriptural “binding and loosing” commission of the church. John 20:21-23 also commissions this, and from the context of that passage that could not have been meant to end with the death of the last apostle.

    Tetzel was of course dead wrong to sell them and Trent corrected that and it has not happened since. It wasn’t even something that was all that widespread, though some would have you believe that is was and that it persists today.

    Get the facts and decide for yourself.

    WWLS…the same egotistical errors that he said before probably. Look at this quote of his.
    Notice a change he admitted to regarding Romans 3:28:

    You tell me what a great fuss the Papists are making because the word alone in not in the text of Paul…say right out to him: ‘Dr. Martin Luther will have it so,’…I will have it so, and I order it to be so, and my will is reason enough. I know very well that the word ‘alone’ is not in the Latin or the Greek text (Stoddard J. Rebuilding a Lost Faith. 1922, pp. 101-102; see also Luther M. Amic. Discussion, 1, 127).

    This passage strongly suggests that Martin Luther viewed his opinions, and not the actual Bible as the primary authority.

    1. Corey

      The Reformation may have been avoided if the Pope had condemned Jon Tetzel and Albert of Mainz in 1520 instead of Luther. In fact, much of what Luther proposed in the 1520s was addressed in Vatican II in the 1960s–If the Roman church had only done it in the first place…….

      The quoted passage strongly suggests that the “Papists” missed the point. You say Luther was egotistical, what about Leo? or Clement? (or Julius? or Alexander?)

  5. Shanice Hobsin

    I think that Martin Luther was an intelegent man and I respect what he did for us. I think that it has really payed off. Thank you very much Martin and enjoy your wisdom.

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