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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Indulge Me. Pope Grants Indulgences to Pilgrims

Here is a piece from the Houston Chronicle about Pope Benedict offering indulgences to participants of the World Day of Youth festivities. I think the article does a good job of explaining indulgences in a simple manner.

You are, no doubt, familiar with the 16th century controversy over indulgences that helped to spark the Reformation. Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the Wittenberg Church door on October 31, 1517 because he wanted to debate the practice of selling indulgences which was taking place in Germany at the time to help raise funds to build St. Peter's basilica in Rome.

The Roman Church teaches that the soul of a Christian must undergo a period of purification after death in order to be made fit to enter heaven. Unbelievers go to hell (assuming people still believe in hell). Believers go to heaven, according to Roman Catholicism, only after a period of purgation. Purgatory is the place or state where a believer's soul is purged of all its impurities.

The idea is that for every sin, there are two kinds of punishment: Temporal and Eternal. Confession and absolution remits the eternal punishments, but penance is required - either in this life or the next - to take care of the temporal punishments. However, the pope believes he can grant indulgences to shorten the span of time a person must spend suffering in purgatory.

At the time of Luther, the Dominican John Teztel (played masterfully by Alfred Molina in the recent film Luther) went about Germany selling indulgences with the slogan, "Whenever a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs." After Luther's complaints, even the Roman officials agreed that Tetzel had gone too far.

But if you thought indulgences were a medieval thing long gone, think again. The current pope is going to offer indulgences to people who participate in certain World Day of Youth events in Germany. But note, only those who are "attentive" will get the boon.

I love my Christian brothers and sisters in the RC church. At times, I feel like I have more in common with some of them than many of the God-lite pastors and practices infecting Lutheranism. However, my understanding of the teachings of Scripture have no room for the idea of purgatory, indulgences or penance. When I grant absolution, it is freely given. I believe that the Gospel itself (the pronouncement of forgiveness on account of Christ's sacrifice) has the power to transform hearts and purify lives. I agree that God uses the sufferings of this life to cleanse, strengthen and discipline His children. But I don't see any clear Scriptural basis for the idea that such suffering and discipline takes place for the Christian after death.

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C.R.B. said...

As Dr. Korby used to say, "God doesn't *indulge* sin, He forgives it!"

Powerball said...

I thank you for your post. This is one of the most misunderstood aspects of the RC church.

Scripture tells us of a "cleansing by fire". While I do believe there is a biblical basis for purgatory, I consider it more of a state then a place. It is the time in which our Lord determines if a soul goes to heaven or hell. If a soul is to enter heaven, it must be cleansed for nothing impure can enter heaven. If you simply consider this process as "purgatory" the concept becomeS much clearer.

Indulgences do not provide forgiveness to the sinner. That comes from God. Indulgences are part of true repentance. Consider this, when you commit a legal offense, you may face both a fine and imprisonment. Indulgences are the "fine". It does not erase your offense but is part of the sentence you are given.

I do not consider it "suffering" after death, for we know it leads us to our Lord. I pray I have explained things from the RC view a bit more.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...


Thanks for your elucidating note. I appreciate it. I have been giving this some thought and will probably post on the notion of Purgatory again soon. Thanks again.

Cheap Grace said...


I just found your blog this morning and I am enjoying the read. I will try to get back to it often.

I posted on the indulgence story briefly on my blog.

Okay------ It's not so brief a post but I know indulgences are like a toothpick in the gums to most Christians and to explain them in brief is akin to theological media soundbites.

Thought you may want to take a looksee: Benedict Grants WYD Indulgences

Be in the Peace of Christ

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