In the previous parts of this series, we began to discuss many concepts taught by the Roman Catholic church, related to their doctrine of indulgences. We saw that 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!) We also pointed out that the idea of indulgences applies in different ways: It addresses those who are in “Purgatory” (or “Hell”) and for whom prayers and “indulgences” 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.
We also began to discuss the concept of partial indulgences (removing part of the “temporal” punishment due to sin), and of plenary indulgences (removing all temporal punishment due to sin). We also saw that the Catholic church teaches that indulgences “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.”
With this background, we will continue to discuss the FALSE concept of indulgences and explain and prove further from the Bible WHY it is false.
On the website https://www.catholic.com/tract/myths-about-indulgences, we read the following:
“How many of one’s temporal penalties can be remitted?
“Potentially, all of them. The Church recognizes that Christ and the saints are interested in helping penitents deal with the aftermath of their sins, as indicated by the fact they always pray for us (Heb. 7:25, Rev. 5:8). Fulfilling its role in the administration of temporal penalties, the Church draws upon the rich supply of rewards God chose to bestow on the saints, who pleased him, and on his Son, who pleased him most of all.”
Both Scriptures mentioned above have nothing to do with indulgences [or the “saints in heaven” praying for the living or for those who are “suffering in purgatory or hell”]. Hebrews 7:25 is an affirmation of the fact that Jesus Christ is our High Priest and shows that we don’t need to use a Catholic priest to have access to God the Father. In 1 Timothy 2:5 we read: “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus…”
We read in Wikipedia: “Absolution is an integral part of the Sacrament of Penance in Roman Catholicism. The penitent makes a sacramental confession of all mortal sins to a priest and prays an act of contrition (a genre of prayers). The priest then assigns a penance and imparts absolution in the name of the Trinity, on behalf of Christ Himself, using a fixed sacramental formula.”
The Catholic church believes that a Catholic priest can give absolution to a dying person but this is not biblical. Only God can forgive sins upon true repentance (see Luke 5:21 and Mark 2:7). We read that absolution, in the ecclesiastical sense, implies a remission of sin or its penalties. In the Roman Catholic church the power to absolve is vested in the priest as we read above, and he assigns a penance! However, we are NOT to confess our sins to a priest, but to God.
Also, this absolution is made in the name of the Trinity which is yet another non-biblical error. There is nothing biblical about this approach at all.
As we have seen, the Bible does not teach the Trinity. God is a Family, consisting of God the Father (the Highest in the Godhead), and of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Holy Spirit is NOT a Person or part of the Trinity, but the POWER emanating from the Father AND the Son, and it is through the power of the Holy Spirit that both the Father and the Son can live and dwell in a converted Christian. God wants to enlarge His Family, and those who have received the Holy Spirit upon proper baptism are BEGOTTEN children of God. They will become BORN AGAIN children of God at the time of their resurrection or change to eternal life. THEN they will enter God’s Family as immortal God beings. The Trinity, which is an unalterable and closed concept without the possibility of access into the Kingdom and Family of God, DENIES this important doctrine and is therefore blasphemous.
The above-cited website continues:
“The rewards on which the Church draws are infinite because Christ is God, so the rewards he accrued are infinite and never can be exhausted. The rewards of the saints are added to Christ’s—not because anything is lacking in his, but because it is fitting that they be united with his rewards as the saints are united with him. Although immense, their rewards are finite, but his are infinite.”
We don’t even try to “explain” this unintelligible babbling. Continuing:
“If the Church has the resources to wipe out everyone’s temporal penalties, why doesn’t it do so?
“Because God does not wish this to be done. God himself instituted the pattern of temporal penalties being left behind. They fulfill valid functions, one of them disciplinary. If a child were never disciplined, he would never learn obedience. God disciplines us as his children — ‘the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives’ (Heb. 12:6) — so some temporal penalties must remain.
“The Church cannot wipe out everyone’s temporal punishments because their remission depends on the dispositions of the persons who suffer those temporal punishments. Just as repentance and faith are needed for the remission of eternal penalties, so they are needed for the remission of temporal penalties. Pope Paul VI stated, ‘Indulgences cannot be gained without a sincere conversion of outlook and unity with God’ (Indulgentarium Doctrina 11).”
These “explanations” are likewise convoluted and confusing. As we pointed out in the last instalment, the Catholic church’s teaching on having to endure temporal punishment (the time a person is being tortured in Purgatory) is blatantly wrong. But what can be gleaned from them is this:
The Roman Catholic church takes too much upon itself, erroneously thinking that it has power to do such things which it does not. In our Q&A, “Was the Apostle Peter the first Bishop of Rome and the first Pope?,” we write as follows (where we also point out that Peter was NOT the first Pope but even if he had been, he would not have been given that kind of authority which popes are claiming for themselves):
“The word ‘Peter,’ i.e., ‘petros’ in Greek, means ‘a little stone.’ The ‘rock,’ on which Christ would build His church, is ‘petra’ in Greek, meaning a solid rock. Christ was not saying here that Christ would build the church on ‘Peter,’ but on THE ROCK — Christ Himself. It is CHRIST who is identified as ‘THE ROCK’ in passages such as 1 Corinthians 10:4. Peter, as well as the other apostles, in addition to the prophets, are part of the foundation, but Christ is the CHIEF cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). The Church is built on Christ, who is the LIVING Head of the Church (Ephesians 4:15).”
“How does one determine by what amount penalties have been lessened?
“Before Vatican II each indulgence was said to remove a certain number of “days” from one’s discipline—for instance, an act might gain “300 days’ indulgence”—but the use of the term “days” confused people, giving them the mistaken impression that in purgatory time as we know it still exists and that we can calculate our “good time” in a mechanical way. The number of days associated with indulgences actually never meant that that much “time” would be taken off one’s stay in purgatory. Instead, it meant that an indefinite but partial (not complete) amount of remission would be granted, proportionate to what ancient Christians would have received for performing that many days’ penance.
“To overcome the confusion Paul VI issued a revision of the handbook (Enchiridion is the formal name) of indulgences. Today, numbers of days are not associated with indulgences. They are either plenary or partial.”
To be clear, the above “explanation” only attempts to confuse the Catholic church’s teaching even more. As we pointed out in our series, it is CLEARLY the Roman Catholic church’s teaching that indulgences are given for the purpose of shortening the TIME a sinner suffers in Purgatory. The above-cited “explanation” is hopelessly convoluted, and if it is supposed to convey that indulgences are not meant to shorten the time of suffering in Purgatory, it is incorrect, but it shows that even Catholics do not understand their own teaching.
The Catholic church and the Pope can continue to make explanations of an absurd doctrine which has no biblical basis and “blind” their faithful, but Purgatory and indulgences make a mockery of the truth which the Bible reveals to those with eyes to see.
Continuing with the above-cited Website:
“What’s the difference between a partial and a plenary indulgence?
“An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin (Indulgentarium Doctrina 2, 3). Only God knows exactly how efficacious any particular partial indulgence is or whether a plenary indulgence was received at all.”
Again, the same false and blasphemous concept is conveyed here that God tortures a person who died and dwells in Purgatory.
“Don’t indulgences duplicate or even negate the work of Christ?
“Despite the biblical underpinnings of indulgences, some are sharply critical of them and insist the doctrine supplants the work of Christ and turns us into our own saviors. This objection results from confusion about the nature of indulgences and about how Christ’s work is applied to us.
“Indulgences apply only to temporal penalties, not to eternal ones. The Bible indicates that these penalties may remain after a sin has been forgiven and that God lessens these penalties as rewards to those who have pleased him. Since the Bible indicates this, Christ’s work cannot be said to have been supplanted by indulgences.
“The merits of Christ, since they are infinite, comprise most of those in the treasury of merits. By applying these to believers, the Church acts as Christ’s servant in the application of what he has done for us, and we know from Scripture that Christ’s work is applied to us over time and not in one big lump (Phil. 2:12, 1 Pet. 1:9).”
What the above-cited statement misunderstands is the concept of giving an account to God, which DOES occur after a person has been resurrected back to life. But this has nothing to do with remaining penalties after sins have been forgiven. For a thorough explanation, please read our free booklet, “Punishment for Our Sins.”
A key concept in the quoted statement above is that “Indulgences apply only to temporal penalties, not to eternal ones”. The Bible reveals, when properly understood, that “temporal penalties”, the sowing and reaping principle, is something that a true Christian has to be cognisant of in this life now. No intervention by a large church can countermand this. When we have fallen short and sin, as we often do, we repent personally, not through some human church representative, but to God to ask for forgiveness. It is a personal matter as repentance can only come from the individual concerned.
“Isn’t it better to put all of the emphasis on Christ alone?
“If we ignore the fact of indulgences, we neglect what Christ does through us, and we fail to recognize the value of what he has done in us. Paul used this very sort of language: ‘Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church’ (Col. 1:24).
“Even though Christ’s sufferings were superabundant (far more than needed to pay for anything), Paul spoke of completing what was ‘lacking’ in Christ’s sufferings. If this mode of speech was permissible for Paul, it is permissible for us.
“Catholics should not be defensive about indulgences. They are based on principles straight from the Bible. Pope Paul VI declared, ‘[T]he Church invites all its children to think over and weigh up in their minds as well as they can how the use of indulgences benefits their lives and all Christian society. . . . Supported by these truths, holy Mother Church again recommends the practice of indulgences to the faithful’ (Indulgentarium Doctrina, 9, 11).”
We have already explained WHY much of what is written above is blatantly wrong. But one aspect needs our comment. The statement above claims that indulgences benefit all involved, as they somehow relate to completing what is lacking in Christ’s suffering. Apart from the fact that this concept would be totally contradictory from a Roman Catholic teaching’s standpoint (as indulgences would prevent such completion), Paul is drawing an analogy, stating that as Christ suffered, so he must too, and that he has to complete the suffering allotted to him, also for the sake of the members—he would stay a bit longer with them rather than dying soon–—but he refers to THIS life, not to some sort of an “afterlife.”
“How to Gain an Indulgence
“To gain any indulgence you must be a Catholic in order to be under the Church’s jurisdiction, and you must be in a state of grace because apart from God’s grace none of your actions are fundamentally pleasing to God (meritorious). You also must have at least the habitual intention of gaining an indulgence by the act performed.
“To gain a partial indulgence, you must perform with a contrite heart the act to which the indulgence is attached. To gain a plenary indulgence you must perform the act with a contrite heart, plus you must go to confession (one confession may suffice for several plenary indulgences), receive Holy Communion, and pray for the pope’s intentions. The final condition is that you must be free from all attachment to sin, including venial sin. If you attempt to receive a plenary indulgence, but are unable to meet the last condition, a partial indulgence is received instead.
“Below are indulgences listed in the Handbook of Indulgences (New York: Catholic Book Publishing, 1991):
“An act of spiritual communion, expressed in any devout formula whatsoever, is endowed with a partial indulgence.
“A partial indulgence is granted the Christian faithful who devoutly spend time in mental prayer.
“A plenary indulgence is granted when the rosary is recited in a church or oratory or when it is recited in a family, a religious community, or a pious association. A partial indulgence is granted for its recitation in all other circumstances.
“A partial indulgence is granted the Christian faithful who read sacred Scripture with the veneration due God’s word and as a form of spiritual reading. The indulgence will be a plenary one when such reading is done for at least one-half hour [provided the other conditions are met].
“A partial indulgence is granted to the Christian faithful who devoutly sign themselves with the cross while saying the customary formula: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
“In summary, the practice of indulgences neither takes away nor adds to the work of Christ. It is his work, through his body the Church, raising up children in his own likeness.”
However, the concept of indulgences CLEARLY DESTROYS the Work of Christ, both adding to or taking away from the Truth. We can see how much ridiculous human thinking and reasoning has gone into coming up with a non-biblical doctrine. First, one must be a Catholic to gain any indulgence (It does not matter to us as indulgences are a human invention anyhow and in contraction to God’s Word.) Apart from the ridiculous distinction between plenary and partial indulgences, just looking at the listed indulgences above is an apt testimony to (ungodly) requirements that have just been arbitrarily thought up by some human being without any underlying biblical instruction or godly understanding or authority. For example, the place and circumstances of praying the rosary (an ungodly and pagan practice) is to decide whether one receives a plenary or partial indulgence. Also, the last one quoted above talks about signing with the cross [a pagan symbol and a pagan practice] while saying a prescribed formula. There is nothing in God’s Word that approves such an approach but is simply concocted out of the mind of man. In fact, Christ condemns such kind of “worship.”
In Matthew 6:7, Christ warns us against meaningless repetitions (like praying the rosary which is also vain and meaningless as Mary is dead and in the grave): “But when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many [repetitious] words.”
Christ also told us this, in Matthew 15:9: “And in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” In Mark 7:9, He added: “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.”
How can one honestly deny the fact that the concept of indulgences is a human tradition which is contradicted by God’s Word and which rejects God’s commandment to worship Him in spirit and in TRUTH (John 4:24)?
(To be continued)
Lead Writers: Brian Gale (United Kingdom) and Norbert Link