Indulgences: Are they still around today?

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    It was said that one of the reasons the Reformtion happened was that Martin Luther and other reformers were against the sales of indulgences. The question now: does the Catholic Church still have indulgences?


    Yes, they’re still around, just not for sale these days. <img loading=” title=”Smile” />


    Today we would cry foul if someone was presumed guilty before given a trial. The issue was not so much the sale of Indulgences as charged, as much as what an individual Dominican Friar was doing which was contrary to what the Catholic Church taught and teaches about Indulgences.

    Johann Tetzel (1465 ‚Äì 11 August 1519) was a German Dominican preacher remembered for selling indulgences and for a couplet attributed to him, “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings / the soul from purgatory springs.” His error for which among other things he was found by the Catholic Church to be in error about was he promoted contributions for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s by promising something the Church does not. He promoted the error that if one gained an indulgence, (either through charitable giving, prayers, acts of mortifications etc.) those indulgences could be “saved up” and used against future sins one had yet to commit. In other words he was selling licenses to sin. Luther also charged that Tetzel taught that one did not need to have contrition or sorrow for ones sins, nor do they have to confess their sins, or seek God’s forgiveness.

    The Catholic Church has never held nor promoted what Tetzel was attempting to do. It was not sanctioned, and there is evidence that the charges against Tetzel by Luther and other Protestant writers where trumped up, and not what he really taught. It is possible that Tetzel who died a rejected man, is one of the most misrepresented and slandered person in history, aside from our Lord himself. But then only God knows the disposition of his soul.

    Indulgences can be gained through acts of charity, (Corporal works of Mercy) Prayers, participating in a pilgrimage, or other acts. However the conditions are that you must be in a state of grace, ie. if you are in a state of mortal sin, you must confess your sins prior to the acts you preform in order to gain the indulgence, and some indulgences require that you receive communion and offer prayers for the Pope.

    Indulgences used to be classified by periods of time, ie, days, quarentines (40 days) Years, or Perpetual. They are based on the penances that where imposed by the Apostles and the priests and bishops in the early Church. In Apostolic and early Church times there was no privacy in confession, one came forward to the Apostles or the bishops who the Apostles appointed, and knelt confessing their sins in front of the entire community. (See Saphorah and Ananias in the Acts of the Apostles) after the confession the penance was imposed and the absolution given. Compaired to today the penances where very harsh. One could be barred from receiving communion until ones deathbed, or one could be instructed to not eat meat for a day, quarentine, year etc. This punishment, or penance imposed by the Apostle or bishop is the basis for the indulgence. Indulgences where means of substituing some act, (as above) that sould suffice for the penalties described above. Protestants tend to still teach that indulgences are licenses to sin, and that Catholics can go to confession and not be sorry for their sins, and still be forgiven. Both ideas are contrary to what the Catholic Church teaches.


    During the time of the Reformation, was there any selling of relics?


    There have been human beings in and outside of the Church who have been easily corrupted. To say that there was never a person who has been disobedient to the ban by the Church of selling relics, or (as we see in the New Testament when Simon the magician tried to purchase from the Apostles the ability to do what the Apostles could do, giving us the term Simony) bought or sold any sacred office would be covering up the truth. Ask me about Chained Bibles next.

    During the middle ages there where many corrupt people who manufactured false or forged relics and sold them to Churches and people. Even today you can find on e-bay people who sell relics, included among them are modern-day forged relics. There are several that are known as Ferrante Relics on ebay. Fr. Ferrante was the postulator of the case of St. John Neumann, the bishop of Philidelphia. As Postulator he was able to certify relics of (then) Bl. John, and later St. John Neumann. Someone got ahold of the document that accompanies relics and copied the seal for making the wax seal on the back of the relics, and forged thousands of relics from everything from the True Cross to the Apostles and just about any saint you could think of. The forgeries are very impressive. However whenever anyone sees a seal or document that seems to be signed by Fr. Ferrante for anyone who is not St. John Neumann, or outside of the dates (which I don’t recall now) that he was Postulator, they have a forged or fake relic. The fact that there where and remain in this world crooks who try to pull something over on people does not mean that honest relics are wrong.

    Another issue with the selling of relics (today) on e-bay, and I have seen in antique stores in the USA and Europe, is that some dealers know that there are those who will pay high prices to “rescue” relics. I saw a Pope St. Pius X (Ferrante) relic on sale on the internet for $500.00 once (before I knew they where fakes) I asked the guy in an email why I should send him $500.00 when in Rome one could obtain first class relics for a donation of $10.00. His reply was, that he was not a Catholic and did not really care what happened to the relic as long as he got at least $500.00 for it. He also made a silly statement, that if he did not get what he wanted, he would give the relic to someone who could extract the DNA and clone the relic, “What did I think of that?”. My reply was, if the clone was half as holy as St. Pius X I would not mind. Funny he never responded to me.

    By Canon Law (Church Law) a relic can never be sold, it is an excommunicatable offence to buy or sell relics or religious offices. A donation is permitted and that is not for the relic itself, but rather the cost of the metal case (called a theca) and to support a convent of nuns who decorate the thecas, and prepair the relics to be certified by a bishop, print the certificates etc. The good nuns who also do other artistic work, (lace making, vestment making etc) support themselves keeping food on the table, paying the day to day expenses from the dollar or two above the expenses of buying the thecas and everything that goes into preparation of the relics. One also needs a letter from his or her local bishop in order to qualify to obtain the relics, so not just anyone can go and get an authentic relic or a dozen or hundred etc, and sell them for a profit.

    BTW any comments or questions on the Tetzel posting?

    "LARobert":1lefg6a8 wrote:
    BTW any comments or questions on the Tetzel posting?[/quote:1lefg6a8]
    Yes. Ummm…So really the Catholic Church never approved the selling of indulgences but Tetzel was the more famous (or infamous) of these people that disobeyed this rule?

    You’ve got it. Acts of charity can merit an indulgence, but the claims that one could purchase one’s way out of Purgatory or Hell, or be forgiven of a sin without being sorry for ones failing was contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church, and remains to.

    While I’m on a roll, I’ll drop the dime on the Chained Bibles.

    Many Anti-Catholic arguments in the past took the same tact as with the false allegations that the Church sold indulgences, by claiming that the Catholic Church had a concious effort to keep the Bible away from Catholics. One proof was that in many Catholic Churches the Bible was attached to the pulpit by a heavy chain. Well here is the real story.

    Bibles up until the time of Luther where published one of two ways. Monks would copy the Bible, or any book for that matter by hand, letter by letter. The second way was to cut a board with the entire page you wanted to print by hand. That means you would have to decide what you wanted on a page, and then with hand tools cut all the words onto the board backwards. If you made an error, you would have to start over again. So any book, most of all a Bible or large Missal took much time to copy. Paper was not used, but the hides of sheep or cattle, (that is why a diploma is called a sheep-skin, all important documents where written on animal skins, called vellum) Just like Tetzel and others who faked relics have always been around, there have been people who have stolen things of value from churches, to sell. Bibles where chained to Pulpits not to keep them from people, but to keep them from being stolen.

    Another false accusation about the Catholic Church is that the Church kept the Bible in Latin so the people could not read it. The fact is long before Luther, the Bible had been translated not only into the languages of the people, (in Germany there where some 34 or so German translations of the Bible approved by the Catholic Church) but there where also bibles that where picture Bibles for those who could not read. If you visit Europe and go into the grand cathedrals the stories from the Bible are carved into the stone and depicted in the stained glass windows. Most of these cathedrals pre-date Luther and the founders of other Protestant Churches.

    Without the Catholic Church, and Monks who copied the Bible by hand, we would probably not have the Bible today. The ancient texts we have in museums today are fragments. If the Catholic Church was the all powerful evil entity that many anti-Catholics claim it to be, Tetzel would have been covered up, and the Bible would have been hidden rather than hand copied and used in the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours, and other Catholic Rites in every Catholic Church every day.


    So how does one recieve an indulgence and what exactly are they and what do they do? I feel like i’m repeating myself. Sorry <img loading=” title=”Sad” />


    There are a number of ways one can gain an indulgence. There is a book published with most of the more common indulgences. I’ll give you an example of a couple of the most common ways.

    Indulgences today are no longer classified in days, quarentines or years. There are only, “partial” and “plenary” Plenary Indulgences are pardon of all punishment due for sins, and partial are as the name sounds, some. The Most Common way to gain an indulgence is to offer prayers, lets say the rosary, you would do the following….

    A Plenary Indulgence…
    When the Rosary is prayed in
    1. In a Church where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, by a family group or
    in a religious community.

    2. Five (5) decades of the Rosary must be prayed continuously.

    3. The prayers of the Rosary must be prayed vocally and one must meditate upon the Mysteries of the Rosary.

    4. If the recitation of the Rosary is public, the Mysteries of the Rosary must be announced.

    A Partial Indulgence…
    One may gain a partial indulgence for the Rosary’s recitation in whole or in part in other circumstances.

    A Plenary Indulgence… can be gained only once a day, except by those who are in danger of death. (In danger of death, there are no limits to the number of Pleanary Indulgences you may gain)

    * to gain a plenary indulgence one must perform the indulgenced act with the intention of gaining the indulgence. You can make a resolution to gain all the indulgences that are availible to you and renew that inention, once a year or so, and that will suffice for any indulgenced act you participate in. Three other conditions must usually be fulfilled, In the case of the rosary the Lord’s Prayer, three Hail Mary’s and Gloria Patri, usually recited at the beginning or the end of the rosary (Depending on the custom you where taught) are for the intentions of the Pope. Normally you will see for an indulgenced prayer or charitable act, like feeding the poor, or reading the Bible for at least fifteen minutes a day. the words and the usual conditions, which means the actions below.

    A sacramental confession
    Eucharistic Communion
    Prayers for the Pope’s intentions

    So in order to gain an indulgence you must be free of mortal sin. If you are not in mortal sin, normally you would not need to go to confession. However it is advised you go to confession even if only you are only guilty of venial sins a you are more open to God’s graces.

    So you can see, Indulgences are not that hard to gain, and don’t have to cost anything except your time, and loving devotion for God.

    Here is a link, go forth and gain indulgences……



    To add to what LARobert said, indulgences, in short, reduce the amount of time you would spend (or purging) in purgatory.


    Thanks Jon, I got so caught up in answering one part of the question that I missed the other.

    Just like the Church at large, where we all join as a community to seek out holiness, here too on the About Catholics board, we need each other.

    "James":396evzl4 wrote:
    So really the Catholic Church never approved the selling of indulgences but Tetzel was the more famous (or infamous) of these people that disobeyed this rule?[/quote:396evzl4]

    "LARobert":396evzl4 wrote:
    You’ve got it. Acts of charity can merit an indulgence, but the claims that one could purchase one’s way out of Purgatory or Hell, or be forgiven of a sin without being sorry for ones failing was contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church, and remains to.[/quote:396evzl4]
    If the Catholic Church can try to stop Luther from trying to break away from the church, do you think the Church at that time had the power to stop Tetzel from selling the indulgences?

    The Church did stop Tetzel, he faded away into a Dominican Monastary, very few people would have anything to do with him (in the Catholic world) due to the problems he caused by his disobedience to what the Church really taught vs his behavior.


    Still, if the church had enough power to stop Tetzel from selling indulgences, why wasn’t it able to stop the reformers from breaking away?

    "James":3kei1a82 wrote:
    Still, if the church had enough power to stop Tetzel from selling indulgences, why wasn’t it able to stop the reformers from breaking away?[/quote:3kei1a82]
    You are talking about 2 different things. In Tetzel’s case his allegiance was to the Church. In the case of the Reformers their allegiance was much less to the Church. You can’t stop people from breaking off into their own sect if they want to.

    Maybe the simple reality is that Tetzel realized he was wrong whereas the Reformers wanted to continue to push their own agenda.


    Oh I see. Thank you Jon <img loading=” title=”Smile” />

    "James":1t2yo2el wrote:
    So really the Catholic Church never approved the selling of indulgences but Tetzel was the more famous (or infamous) of these people that disobeyed this rule?[/quote:1t2yo2el]

    "LARobert":1t2yo2el wrote:
    You’ve got it. Acts of charity can merit an indulgence, but the claims that one could purchase one’s way out of Purgatory or Hell, or be forgiven of a sin without being sorry for ones failing was contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church, and remains to.[/quote:1t2yo2el]
    [quote:1t2yo2el]In the same year in which Erasmus published [i:1t2yo2el]Julius Exclusus[/i:1t2yo2el], in whch the Lateran council ended, and in which Pope Leo packed the college of cardinals with thirty-one new creations, an unknown theology professor in Wittenberg, an obscure new German university, proposed an academic debate on the subject of indulgences. His name was Martin Luther, and he was reacting against the indulgences which Pope Julius and after him Pope Leo had issued to help the fund the rebuilding of St. Peter’s.
    [u:1t2yo2el]Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes[/u:1t2yo2el] By Eamon Duffy.[/quote:1t2yo2el]
    I understand that the Church is still in dept and has been for the longest time.

    [quote:1t2yo2el]Archbishop Albert of Mainz was a prince aged twenty-seven, brother of the Elector of Brandenburg. he was also Archbishop of Magdeburg (in which diocese lay Wittenberg) and administrator of the see of Halberstadt. To combine these high offices he needed dispensations from Rome. The fees for dispensation of this gargantuan scale being vast, Albert borrowed money from the great banking house of Germany, the Fugger of Augsburg. As security for the dept, he undertook to arrange the proclamation through Germany of the Indulgence which the Pope had recently declared for the purpose of buliding St. Peter’s at Rome.
    [u:1t2yo2el]The Reformation[/u:1t2yo2el] By Owen Chadwick[/quote:1t2yo2el]
    In my opinion, the Church used Tetzel to help out with these sales of indulgences for the rendition of the Basilica.


    Owen Chadwick: very anti-catholic, English writer.

    Eamon Duffy: Catholic layman, and Scholar at Cambridge. I’ll have to read his quote in context, as he is well respected by Catholics and Protestants alike.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that every Catholic, including clergy where without blame, or lived balmeless lives. But I do think that as Jesus promised to remain with the Church he founded, there is no reason to reject the authentic teachings handed down through the Church and invent new doctrines, and establish new Churches.

    I’ll have to go to the library when I get home as I only have one of Duffy’s books, (The Stripping of the Altars) an account of how the Churches in England where destroyed, Books, Bibles and Missals where burned, and the posessions of the Church that had any value where taken by the Crown.


    I would like to add another quote to my list posted earlier

    [quote:gt4zrsqa]Early in the sixteenth century Pope Leo X was granting indulgences to those who made contributions for the building of the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome.
    [u:gt4zrsqa]Medieval and Early Modern Times: The Age of Justinian to the Eighteenth Century[/u:gt4zrsqa]By Carlton J.H. Hayes.[/quote:gt4zrsqa]


    Indulgences for contributing to any good work, are different from the charges made by the Protestants against the Church.

    For an indulgence to be applicable, there are certain things that must be met. These are quite different from what Luther and modern day Protestants charge.

    Protestants charge that an indulgence is a “get out of jail free” card, that one purchased an indulgence and did not have to have any sorrow for one’s sins. They claimed that Catholics believed that if you purchased an indulgence you where free to sin, as the indulgence “balanced out” the guilt for your sins.

    The real story is quite different. One can fulfill all the requirements to gain an indulgence, which could include, feeding the poor, saying the rosary or other prayers daily, etc. but if you are in a state of unrepentant sin, you do not gain an indulgence. If however you are sorry for your sins, go to confession and receive absolution, preform the actions required (as above, good works, prayers or whichever indulgence you are intending to obtain) and usually receive communion and say prayers for the intentions of the Pope, you can receive an indulgence. Unlike what the Protestants claim, the indulgence has no effect on sins not yet committed, but rather effect the temporal punishment of sins we committed in the past, or the punishment due to those in Purgatory. We can transfer the effects of an indulgence to someone who is in Purgatory, and that itself is a meritorious action, but we cannot transfer the effects of an indulgence to someone else who is living. (The reason given is that the living can do meritorious acts and those in Purgatory cannot, but depend on two things, either the purgation of their sins (cleansing done by God in purgatory) or our own meritorious actions which we apply to them. Once again we cannot gain these merits if we are in a state of mortal sin, and remain unrepentant.

    So the charge that the Church could or did sell indulgences so people could buy their way out of Hell is a false accusation that some historians and people who have no interest in investigating what the real teachings about indulgences have perverted in an attack against the Church, or have been taught as Catholic doctrine when in fact it contradicts both what the Catholic Church teaches, and what the Church can do.

    Any number of historians can claim that Leonardo Da Vinci was Chinese, and his skin was striped yellow, green and red. Such claims don’t make it historical fact. Any number of historians can claim that the Church sold indulgences, to buy ones self or ones relatives out of hell, and as Protestants (following the lead of Luther) claim that one did not have to be sorry for ones sins, or now had a license to sin in the future, but that does not make their claim valid.

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