The Pope has recently spoken about indulgences. How do you understand this? (Part 6)


In the previous parts of this series, we began to discuss the concept taught by the Roman Catholic church that the “immortal souls” of departed ones may be in Hell or Purgatory, and that “indulgences” or prayers for the dead can allegedly remove, partially (“plenary”) or completely (“in full”), punishment for sin, so that their souls can be freed from Purgatory or even Hell to go to Heaven. In order to answer the question regarding indulgences, we reviewed, among other questions, related issues such as the fact that we do not have an immortal soul; that we neither go to Heaven (where we, as immortal saints in Heaven, could allegedly receive prayers from the living and intervene on their behalf), nor do we go to Hell (as defined by orthodox Christianity) or Purgatory when we die.

We also discussed the spirit in man and showed that it is not just another concept for an immortal soul; but that the spirit in man has no consciousness when a person dies. We then began to review the Roman Catholic church’s teaching on Purgatory and showed why this concept is wrong.

With this background, we will now discuss in much detail the Roman Catholic church’s teaching on indulgences.

Indulgences are required, according to Catholic tradition and theology, to ensure that help and assistance is given in Purgatory, a place that doesn’t exist and has no validity from Scripture, so that humans can go to Heaven which Scripture clearly shows is not the place for the dead, nor is Hell, as commonly understood in orthodox Christianity! However, understanding the mind of man at work in setting up an elaborate and unnecessary system in an apostate church, which it has been throughout its existence and which it will continue to be at the end of this age, the enemy of true Christians, helps us to realise where many of our future problems will emanate.

To better understand the concept of indulgences, we should point out that it applies in at least three different ways: It addresses those who are in “Purgatory” (or “Hell”) and for whom prayers and “indulgences” (see below) are given by the living or the “saints in Heaven”, so that they can be freed from Purgatory (or Hell); and it can apply to people in this life who give indulgences (for themselves) so that they do not have to suffer in Purgatory (or Hell) for as long as they otherwise would have to.

On the website we read the following:

“The History of Indulgences

 “Indulgences have a controversial place in the history of the Catholic Church. The buying and selling of indulgences is what helped to launch the Reformation.

 “Indulgences began in about the ninth century A.D. as a means to substitute a set of tasks for a difficult to fulfill penance. Since the time of the early Church, penance for sins was usually long, difficult, and severe. Someone might do penance for years. So sometimes praying a particular prayer or performing an act of piety could substitute for a penance altogether or take some time off the assigned penance. This type of practice created a sort of Church currency by which people could exchange a difficult penance for a calculated number of prayers or alms. Indulgences showed the mercy of God, exercised through the authority of the Church.”

It is interesting to read that “people could exchange a difficult penance for a calculated number of prayers or alms.” We read in Matthew 7:13-14: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Those who are looking for an easier way out are not those who expect to live a difficult way of life because of the opposition to the true Way of God.  It is a reduced “opt-out” clause which cannot be sanctioned by the correct reading of Scripture!

Christ asks the timeless question, in Matthew 16:26: “… what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” The answer is, he cannot buy himself or others out of their destiny. David adds: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My ears You have opened. Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require… I delight in Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:6, 8). In Psalm 51:16-17, we read: “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, you will not despise.” Again, the thought is conveyed that one cannot buy himself or others out of punishment by giving God (or the church) money or “sacrifices.”

“During the Crusades under Pope Urban II (1088-1099) Christians who could not participate in the Crusades personally could do so vicariously by almsgiving. Those who personally took part received a plenary indulgence upon death.

“In 1343 Pope Clement VI officially sanctioned the view that Christ had left the Church a treasury of satisfactions that Church officials could dispense (an indulgence) for the remission of the temporal punishment due to sin. By this point indulgences usually were associated with time in Purgatory rather than public penance on earth. One obtained an indulgence, usually granted by the Pope, by performing some good work, sometimes a donation of money. Official doctrine always required internal repentance by the recipient, even if the practice of donating money was often abused.”

Our good works do not save us from death, nor do they abolish punishment. Eternal life is a gift from God—we do not receive it because of our works—and punishment for sin (eternal death or physical consequences because of sin) can be mitigated or avoided upon deep and sincere repentance of the wrong which we might have done.

There is no biblical evidence “that Christ had left the Church a treasury of satisfactions that Church officials could dispense (an indulgence) for the remission of the temporal punishment due to sin.”  This is simply the Catholic church taking to itself power that it has not received in the first place and Scripture has to be manipulated to make this an official doctrine.

“The Controversy Surrounding Indulgences

“Martin Luther objected to indulgences because the common practice of his day did not fit well with his view that good works could not take away the punishment due to sin. Indulgences also set up the Church as a mediator of God’s grace, a role that Martin Luther thought the Church could not and should not play. Furthermore, although Catholics would disagree with Martin Luther’s theology, it is undeniable that abuses were occurring at the time.

“With the abuses of indulgences in his day, often the only thing that was officially preached by Church leaders was offering indulgences in exchange for making a donation to the church. Often there was little emphasis on Christ’s sacrifice and the forgiveness of sin which only comes from God. Luther did not initially seek to strike down indulgences altogether (although by the end of his theological career he was entirely against indulgences), but he challenged the common practice at the time.

“The practice of trading indulgences for money wrongly de-emphasizes the need for interior conversion and repentance. Although donating money is a pious action, it is easy to see how this practice devolved into people believing they could buy their way out of Purgatory.”

It is true that ONLY the supreme Sacrifice of Jesus Christ can free us from eternal death, upon our repentance and belief in His Sacrifice. In addition, donating money is not necessarily a pious action; it can be given for personal enhancement.  People could not buy their way out of a place that didn’t exist in the first place (Purgatory), but it helped the finances of the church, a very rich church, to increase their wealth through an unproved and unscriptural way.

“The Council of Trent, which was held to respond to the challenges of the Reformation, addressed indulgences. The Council affirmed that the Church has the right and the power to grant indulgences. However, the Council agreed with the Protestant reformers that there were many abuses surrounding indulgences that needed to be corrected.”

The concept that “The Council affirmed that the Church has the right and the power to grant indulgences” shows that this was a self-serving council who either had no real biblical knowledge or were complicit in deceiving their membership. No wonder they didn’t want the Bible to be available to the masses, in English or in any other “common” language spoken and understood by the people, as their fraud could have been discovered by those with sufficient learning at that time. It is abhorrent, but true, to realize that the Catholic church FORBADE their members to possess or read the Bible and that even today, Catholic priests do not have to study the Bible to become priests.

“Later History of Indulgences

“Pope Paul VI changed the norms around indulgences by seeking to eliminate the commercial aspect they had acquired over the centuries. He described it as a treasury of merits. Indulgences are now designed to spur Christians to spiritual tasks such as devotion, penance, and charity.”

The concept of “penance” is another false idea. The Bible does not speak of penance, but of repentance. It does not require certain actions–such as going on a pilgrimage—but a change of heart and mind—a deep recognition as to how wrong one has been and has acted, and to acquire a new heart, to leave the false way behind and to go the Way of God.

We then read about the types of indulgences from this same website.

“A partial indulgence removes part of the temporal punishment due to sin.

“Some ways to gain a partial indulgence are by

     “Praying the Magnificat or Hail, Holy Queen;

     “Praying the Acts of Faith, Hope, and Love, and the Creed;

     “Making the sign of the cross;

     “Visiting the Blessed Sacrament; or

     “Visiting a cemetery.

“A plenary indulgence removes all temporal punishment due to sin.

“The conditions for a plenary indulgence are

     “Receive the sacrament of Reconciliation;

     “Receive Holy Communion; and

     “Say a prayer for the Pope. 

“Some ways to gain a plenary indulgence are through 

     “Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for at least one-half hour;

     “Reading Scripture for at least one-half hour;

     “Reciting the Way of the Cross; or

     “Praying the rosary in a church or with a family group or religious community.

“There may be other ways not listed here that the pope or a local bishop could authorize as a means to gain a partial or plenary indulgence. Often plenary indulgences are attached to actions Catholics can do appropriate to particular feast days.

“Note that the ways to obtain an indulgence all involve prayer or an act of piety. This is because our sins hurt the world, and our prayers can help the world heal from the hurt our sins cause.”

When you read some of the requirements as above, it would be humorous if it were not so serious! Making the sign of the cross, visiting a cemetery, saying a prayer for the pope, reading Scripture for at least one-half hour, praying the rosary, plus much more! All made up from the mind of man – and no Scriptural references whatsoever. In addition, many of the concepts associated with the way as to how to obtain indulgences are blatantly blasphemous—such as praying to Mary, “the holy Queen” (whereas the true Mary, the mother of Jesus, is dead and in her grave).

There was a comment from someone who had read all of these “rules and regulations” as above, who wrote:

“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23). Only God can forgive sin, and only by his grace through Jesus Christ – nothing that we can do. Making up all these rules to ‘pray this’ and ‘read scripture for at least a half hour’ makes a mockery of the free gift that Jesus gives.”

We will address the concept of the removal of “temporal” punishment below.

On the website: we can read about a number of myths that the Catholic church address. We will quote just a few of these.

“Myth 1: A person can buy his way out of hell with indulgences.

“Since indulgences remit only temporal penalties, they cannot remit the eternal penalty of hell. Once a person is in hell, no amount of indulgences will ever change that fact. The only way to avoid hell is by appealing to God’s eternal mercy while still alive. After death, one’s eternal fate is set (Heb. 9:27).”

Again, we see that the Catholics believe that people go to hell which we have proved by our many writings over many years is not a biblical concept.

In addition, it is not true that when a person dies, his or her fate is sealed. This is only correct for those who died in Christ (as true Christians)—they will be resurrected to eternal life in the Kingdom and Family of God—and for those who have committed the unpardonable sin. They will be cast in the Third Resurrection into the lake of fire, to be burned up. The parable of Lazarus and the rich man shows that at that time, nothing can be done to change that fate; no amount of prayers or indulgences will save the unrepentant sinner from total annihilation.  But for those who were not called in this life and who did not commit the unpardonable sin, they will be resurrected to a physical existence in the Second Resurrection, and then they can determine their fate—whether they are willing to live God’s Way of Life, or whether they are willing to die the eternal death. But again, indulgences won’t help them in regard to their fate.

“Myth 3: A Person can ‘buy forgiveness’ with Indulgences

“The definition of indulgences presupposes that forgiveness has already taken place: ‘An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven’ (Indulgentarium Doctrina 1, emphasis added). Indulgences in no way forgive sins. They deal only with punishments left after sins have been forgiven.”

The belief is that indulgences can be for people still alive and who are “in purgatory,” neither of which have any Scriptural support.

When the Catholic church speaks of “temporal” punishment, they mean the time of torture in Purgatory. This concept is blatantly false and blasphemous. But it is true, of course, that sins can have physical consequences. We discuss this in great length in our free booklet, “Punishment for Our Sins.” A person who drinks and drives might have an accident and lose a leg. His sin will be forgiven upon true repentance, but the physical consequence—the lost leg—is something he will have to live with, and indulgences won’t restore the person to his former state in this life. (Of course, certain physical and spiritual consequences can be mitigated or even eradicated in this life, due to prayer and faith in Christ’s Sacrifice and in God’s almighty power, subject to the Will of God, such as the consequence of depression due to sin or the contraction of a disease due to sinful conduct.) On the other hand, once a person dies and then is resurrected, he is NOT resurrected with only one leg if he lost the other leg prior to his death, due to his sin. This kind of “temporal” penalty does not exist, either.

“Myth 5: An indulgence will shorten the time in purgatory by a fixed number of days.

“The number of days which used to be attached to indulgences were references to the period of penance one might undergo during life on earth. The Catholic Church does not claim to know anything about how long or short purgatory is in general, much less in a specific person’s case.”

As there is no Purgatory where the soul will suffer, the whole concept of trying to figure out as to how long the person (the “soul”) would suffer in Purgatory without indulgences, and how to shorten that time through indulgences, is just ludicrous. It would also certainly compound a grave error if the Catholic church were to claim the length of any case of [a non-existent] Purgatory. By propounding such a doctrine makes it an opponent of true Christianity.

“Myth 6: A Person Can Buy Indulgences”

“The Council of Trent instituted severe reforms in the practice of granting indulgences, and, because of prior abuses, ‘in 1567 Pope Pius V canceled all grants of indulgences involving any fees or other financial transactions’ (Catholic Encyclopedia).”

At least the Catholic church acknowledges abuses although it would be difficult to do otherwise as history shows that Martin Luther made a great play of their unscriptural basis.

(To be continued)

Lead Writers: Brian Gale (United Kingdom) and Norbert Link

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