Indulgences: Missed One!

I was flicking through my copy of the Manual of Indulgences last night, thinking: If there is a plenary indulgence for Maundy Thursday and one for the Easter Vigil, I wonder if there is one for Good Friday?

And lo and behold, there is! This afternoon’s exercise of the adoration of the cross carries a plenary indulgence, as does involvement in the Way of the Cross devotion (Nb. you can only get one plenary indulgence each day – if it’s full, it’s full – there is not such thing as “double-full”!). Check out the exact conditions here, and don’t forget the usual norms here.

I know all this stuff about indulgences must really be getting on some readers’ goat (I noted that the excellent article in Logia to which Pastor Weedon directed us in a com box on another topic listed his “revival” of indulgences as one thing about the Holy Father that might be a subject for dialogue between conservative Catholics and confessional Lutherans at some point in the future!), but really, if an indulgence is what the Church really claims they are (and of course, I believe they are), then we should be making them as well known as possible, and not hiding them away as something to be ashamed about. The long, tall and short of it all is that indulgences are an important for two reasons: Primarily because they are a way in which God dispenses his mercy and grace to sinners, and secondarily because they are an encouragement and aid for growth holiness and detachment from sin. A good thing, methinks!

So I really don’t understand why the Vatican website does not have a translation of the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum 4th Edition in every major language. It only has the Latin. And so buying the American USCCB Manual of Indulgences is the only way you will get it in English. There must be a reason for this, but it escapes me.

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17 responses to “Indulgences: Missed One!

  1. Louise

    if an indulgence is what the Church really claims they are (and of course, I believe they are), then we should be making them as well known as possible, and not hiding them away as something to be ashamed about.

    Quite right, David.

  2. Well, I’ve been restraining myself in regard to commenting on your enthusiasm for indulgences, David, but today seems an opportune time to say something.

    An indulgence is the extra-sacramental remission of the temporal punishment due to sin under God’s justice, yes?

    And yet I find that the Holy Scriptures emphatically teach that God loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10), and that we have salvation as a gift, through the redemption that is to be found in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received through faith (Romans 3:24-25).

    Of course, one could cite more verses, but as you must know David, it is almosty superfluous – this is all part of the warp and woof of the Biblical view of sin – the punishment attached to it, how it is atoned for and how God’s wrath over sin, which flows from his justice, has been satisfied by Christ’s death on the Cross…satisfied in full, David – “if it’s full, it’s full – there’s no such thing as double-full”. You don’t need to acquire indulgences to top up the propitiatory work of our Lord.

    • Dear Pastor Mark,

      As Pastor Weedon notes below, the distinction between temporal and eternal punishments is not unknown within Lutheranism, and is crucial to this matter.

      The merits of Christ’s death on the Cross are entirely sufficient to cover both temporal and eternal punishments, but we see that there are two different ways in which these merits are applied to the faithful by the Church:

      1) Absolution remits eternal punishments entirely – condemnation to hell for sin is entirely remitted for penitents through the sacrament.

      2) Penance – which has nothing to do with “salvation by works” – is the means by which the Church makes available to the faithful these merits of Christ (and of Christ’s merits lived out in the lives of the saints) for the remission of temporal punishments.

      Herein lies the meaning of the practice of indulgences – and of reparation (about which you asked a few posts back). Of course, the works of penance do not “earn” this remittance – one need only compare the “light penances” (eg. one Our Father) that the priest gives to penitents in the Sacrament. On their own, they do not have the moral equivalence of the sin committed – so it is not a case of quid pro quo – but rather they partake of the merits of Christ (and the saints as briefly explained) – and therefore God’s superabundant Grace – as mediated by the Church. The Church therefore has the power and the right to determine penances and to assign them this significance.

      “An indulgence is the extra-sacramental remission of the temporal punishment due to sin under God’s justice, yes?”

      No. Indulgences are an essential part of the sacrament of Penance.

      Luther obscured this element in his catechism when he said that “Confession has twoparts”: auricular confession of sins and absoultion.

      Catholic doctrine has always taught that the Sacrament has three parts (not counting the all important absolution): contrition, confession and satisfaction, that is, the assignment of acts of penance.

      Luther must have known this, and so his explanation of the sacrament was therefore intentially excluding the essential element of doing penance.

      Penances, and hence also indulgences which are just an extension of penance, is therefore entirely sacramental. This is made clear by the fact that indulgences are only effectual if one is in “a state of grace” (ie. has had one’s eternal punishments remitted) as a result of sacramental absolution. For plenary indulgences, sacramental confession and reception of Holy Communion, are essential. Therefore it is incorrect to say that indulgences are “extra-sacramental”.

      It is correct to say, however, that indulgences involve the “remission of the temporal punishment due to sin under God’s justice”. Of course, God’s justice is fully satisfied in an objective sense by the merits of Christ’s sacrifice. Penance (and hence indulgences) are how these merits are applied to us personally.

      • “Herein lies the meaning of the practice of indulgences – and of reparation (about which you asked a few posts back). Of course, the works of penance do not “earn” this remittance – one need only compare the “light penances” (eg. one Our Father) that the priest gives to penitents in the Sacrament. On their own, they do not have the moral equivalence of the sin committed – so it is not a case of quid pro quo – but rather they partake of the merits of Christ (and the saints as briefly explained) – and therefore God’s superabundant Grace – as mediated by the Church. The Church therefore has the power and the right to determine penances and to assign them this significance.”

        There seems to be confusion in that paragraph:

        1. Going to Confession makes one eligible for some indulgences, but one doesn’t necessarily have to obtain an indulgence, and if one does not obtain an indulgence, then by performing the penance imposed while in the state of (newly-recovered) grace one satisifies, at least in part, through Jesus Christ, for the temporal punishment which one incurred by the sin which one confessed.

        2. You say that

        “[penances imposed in Confession] partake of the merits of Christ … as mediated by the Church. The Church therefore has the power and the right to determine penances and to assign them this significance.”

        Now it is true that, when performed, the penances imposed in Confession will have more satisfactory value than self-imposed ones, because “being part of the sacrament[, a confessor-imposed penance] receives greater virtue from the merits of the passion of Jesus Christ” (Catechism of St. Pius X, http://www.catecheticsonline.com/Catechetical_stpiusx.php). But in your overall explanation you’re confusing two things, namely the reparation/satsifaction attained, through Jesus Christ, by doing the imposed penance, and the vicarious reparation/satisfaction obtained when the Church grants an indulgence.

        To sum up: There are two ways in which to atone for temporal punishment incurred after Baptism: By performing penances for oneself and thereby making satisfaction (through Jesus Christ, of course) for the sin, or by receiving an indulgence so that the satisfaction already wrought by Christ and the Saints pays for the sin. The quoted paragraph of yours deals with a number of concepts which are not kept adequately distinct.

        “Indulgences are an essential part of the sacrament of Penance.”

        How can that be, when one can obtain indulgences without receiving the Sacrament of Penance, and one can receive the Sacrament of Penance without obtaining an indulgence? Indeed, The Catechism of St. Pius X defines indulgences thus:

        “124 Q. What is an Indulgence?
        A. An Indulgence is the remission of the temporal punishment due on account of our sins which have been already pardoned as far as their guilt is concerned — a remission accorded by the Church outside the sacrament of Penance.”
        [ibid.]

        See also my reply to Mr. Henderson.

        • Thanks for those clarifications. But as for indulgences being “outside the sacrament of Penance”, it depends what you mean by “the sacrament”. They are “outside” the actual rite of penance, and there is no obligation to attain indulgences once one has undergone the rite, but indulgences are nevertheless directly connected to the sacrament of penance both historically and doctrinally.

          • “Thanks for those clarifications.”

            You’re welcome, Mr. Schütz.

            “indulgences are nevertheless directly connected to the sacrament of penance both historically and doctrinally”

            But what do you understand that direct doctrinal connection to be, though? The connection is not that between cause and effect, but is, rather, that between condition and effect, and not an absolutely necessary condition, either. Hence I see nothing wrong in Mr. Henderson’s definition:

            “An indulgence is the extra-sacramental remission of the temporal punishment due to sin under God’s justice”

    • “An indulgence is the extra-sacramental remission of the temporal punishment due to sin under God’s justice, yes?”

      That definition seems to me unobjectionable in itself (since the issuing of an indulgence is an act of jurisdiction, not necessarily connected with the reception of a Sacrament; hence, for instance, there used to be an indulgence granted at the moment of death for those who prayed certain prayers regularly), though for completeness I would add that the manner of remission is that of the debt of justice being paid by the satisfactions wrought by Christ and the Saints. Mr. Schütz’s objection seems mistaken, since the requirements for reception of Sacraments are conditions, not causes–the cause is the act by which the indulgence is issued. For Magisterial confirmation:

      “124 Q. What is an Indulgence?
      “A. An Indulgence is the remission of the temporal punishment due on account of our sins which have been already pardoned as far as their guilt is concerned — a remission accorded by the Church outside the sacrament of Penance.”
      [Catechism of St. Pius X,
      http://www.catecheticsonline.com/Catechetical_stpiusx.php%5D

      “And yet [you] find that the Holy Scriptures emphatically teach that God loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins”

      True.

      “and that we have salvation as a gift, through the redemption that is to be found in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received through faith”

      True (but not through Faith alone, of course).

      “the punishment attached to it, how it is atoned for and how God’s wrath over sin, which flows from his justice, has been satisfied by Christ’s death on the Cross…[sic]satisfied in full, David”

      Of course, but one’s moral state exists and is payable, so to speak, at a given point in time, so that Baptism pays in full the debt of justice which one owes at the time of one’s Baptism, but after which one can go on to incur further debts. Unless, of course, justification were merely an external, forensic declaration, but that would be heresy.

      “You don’t need to acquire indulgences to top up the propitiatory work of our Lord”

      … if you don’t fall back into sin after Baptism, that is.

      For more information, see the relevant portions of Exsurge Domine and the Decrees and Canons of Trent .

  3. Peter

    It is the Church’s way of telling its flock “doing this is good for your soul!” Like reading the Bible every day!

    @Mark: Will you give pastoral advice to anyone in your flock? If so, why bother? Since Christ has already achieved anything necessary for them, why bother them with anything else that might be seen to take away God’s grace? In fact, why even suggest that the ten commandments apply in any way, lest you give them the impression that anything they do could affect their salvation in any way?

    Unless of course it IS possible for them to do something right or wrong that might affect their spiritual health, or the practical effects of sin in their life, in which case your advice will be rather important.

    I guess then its just a case of deciding whether to follow the wisdom of an individual pastor, or the accumulated wisdom of 2000+ years.

  4. The Lutheran Symbols present the problem with indulgences in the light of the fact that God has nowhere given a promise that His Church has authority to remit temporal punishments; that God reserves this to Himself, though we may certainly ask Him to remit them by prayer and by fasting and such and He freely does so in many instances (one thinks of Nineveh).

    Today we remember that our Lord forgave the sins of the penitent thief, but that the fellow still died in agony upon a cross as a thief. Similarly, King David had his sin forgiven, yet his child died and horrible sufferings plagued his family.

    Can one honestly conceive that an apostle would presume to have granted an indulgence for temporal punishments of sin? Where do we find them coming close to doing so in the Sacred Scriptures?

    • Thanks, Pastor Weedon, for at least clarifying one point: the Lutheran confessional documents do not forget to distinguish (as many modern Christians do) between the eternal and temporal punishments due to sin. Your biblical examples – of the penitent theif and of King David – are good examples to show the difference. The Theif had both his eternal and temporal punishments (but not, note well, his civil punishment!) loosed by Christ in his last moments. David had his eternal punishment remitted, but not his temporal punishment. God did not choose to remit the latter. This does not mean that God was not merciful, and King David, though he mourned deeply for the loss of the child, recognised that this was not a contradiction of God’s grace.

      This is very important. We can’t really have a dialogue on this matter if we do not make the distinction between eternal and temporal punishments. Christ’s death and merits is, of course, more than sufficient to cover both eternal and temporal punishments, but I would assume that even Lutherans would (according to your reading of the Confessions) not claim that absolution removes all temporal punishments. Neither do we claim this. Nevertheless we do claim that the Church has the authority to remit not only eternal punishments by absolution, but also temporal punishments, by means of assigning penances (indulgences are a part of the sacramental practice of penance and cannot be separated from it).

      All that being said, Pastor Weedon asks

      “Can one honestly conceive that an apostle would presume to have granted an indulgence for temporal punishments of sin? Where do we find them coming close to doing so in the Sacred Scriptures?”

      The answers to these questions are pretty simple. Yes, to the first. And this because we are also able to give a positive answer to the second question. We find the authority to loose from temporal punishment in exactly the same place in Scripture that we find the authority to loose from eternal punishment: Matt 16:19:

      “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

      These keys were given to Peter (and, we say, to his successors – you can quibble about that – but at least we are answering your first question here – specific to an apostle) to loose “whatever”. There is nothing here that limits the loosing to the eternal punishments. You might want to point to “in heaven” to equal “eternal punishments” – but that would be misreading the text. It does not mean “when we die and go to heaven” but “by God himself” (for in the same text, Matthew speaks of the “Kingdom of heaven” to mean “the Kingdom of God”).

      Thus, the Catholic faith sees this as the apostolic authority from Christ in Scripture to remit BOTH eternal and temporal punishments.

  5. Indulgences, though, are not about remitting temporal punishment – as I understand it – but about shortening the time in Purgatory. And so the idea of indulgences makes sense to me. Because if I carry out the preconditions for an indulgence – a perfect act of contrition for my sins, and the various prayers and other devotional acts required – I step that small bit closer to being ready to ‘look upon the face of God and live’.

    I speculated on my blog a while back about what it might be like to be in Heaven with sins in my past that I was still ashamed of. I concluded that this was a good description of Purgatory. It’s here, if you’re interested: http://joyfulpapist.wordpress.com/2010/03/11/heaven-purgatory-and-hell/

    • The Purification of Purgatory IS an extension of incomplete penances in this life, JP. They are thus “temporal punishments”.

      This is the very first point made in the Norms for Indulgences in the Manual of Indulgences (https://scecclesia.wordpress.com/other-stuff/norms-on-indulgences):

      “N1. An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment for sins, whose guilt is forgiven, which a properly disposed member of the Christian faithful obtains under certain and clearly defined conditions through the intervention of the Church, which, as the minister of Redemption, dispenses and applies authoritatively the treasury of the expiatory works of Christ and the saints.

  6. Sorry, should have said: ‘not about lightening the consequences in this world, but about shortening the time in Purgatory’.

  7. Matthias

    Don’t know about indulgences, Schutz ,but I do know that
    “if we confess our sins ,He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us form all unrighteousness”
    Have a Blesses Easter ‘HE IS RISEN”

    • Blessed Easter to you too, Matthias, and to all readers of this ‘ere blog.

      You are not far from the kingdom, as they say! The text you quote is exactly one of the promises upon which the Church’s penitential system (including indulgences) is based.

  8. Louise

    Happy Easter!!!

  9. Christine

    Blessed Easter to one and all!

    Christine