Posted by: littletoe | May 26, 2009

Indulgences: A Sure Sign of Error in the Catholic Church

Whose Sins You Forgive 2A friend of mine suggested I write some thoughts about indulgences.  Since the rain is preventing any serious garden work, blogging seemed to be a good rainy day activity.

Before my internal conversion (I’m still waiting for the external, official one) the mere existence of indulgences was proof positive of why a person could not be Catholic and a faithful Christian at the same time.  When I read Martin Luther’s biography I saw him as a hero of the true faith.  As with much of my conversion I discovered there is a “rest of the story.”

Luther’s problem at the time he tacked his theses on the church door was the sale of indulgences.  Most Christian people would agree that he was right about that—even Catholics! When I was Protestant I had an extremely vague and incomplete understanding of what an indulgence was.  Let’s take a look at what an indulgence is.

An indulgence is:  “The remission of the temporal punishment due to sins already forgiven.”  —My Catholic Faith, p. 318.  The Catholic Church teaches that Jesus empowered the Apostles to forgive sins.  It stands to reason that they could also pardon the temporal punishment which is a lesser power when you stop to consider it.  As a Protestant, I didn’t understand the concept of the temporal punishment for sin.  I understood that we sinned and that we could be forgiven—completely—by Christ and because of His sacrifice.  I had never considered the concept of a temporal punishment, although I had certainly experienced it and had even commented to friends about the “consequences of my sins.”  It was described to me this way.  Let’s say you hit a baseball through a neighbor’s window.  You go to your neighbor and apologize and he forgives you.  There’s still a problem, though.  No matter how sorry you are, your neighbor still has a broken window.  You need to do something to repair the damage you did.  That something is the temporal punishment.  God’s justice demands that we make reparation for our sins.

It is important to know that in order to receive an indulgence, a person must be in a state of grace.  The temporal punishment cannot be pardoned if the sin hasn’t been forgiven and absolved.  A person cannot have an indulgence granted for future sins.

In order to be in a state of grace one needs to have confessed his sins and to have had a “broken and contrite heart” about his sins in order for the Confession to have conferred sanctifying grace.  (Catholics:  don’t think too hard about that one or if you do, resolve to be ever more contrite!)  If you make a poor confession, the indulgence thing is all a joke anyway.

The Catholic Church teaches about a spiritual treasury that is made up of the infinite merits obtained by Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, the Blessed Virgin’s superabundant merits obtained by her unjust suffering and the merits of all the saints.  Think of these “merits” as currency that is used on your behalf to repair the broken window.  (see Catechism of the Catholic Church 1477, 1478).

As I write this I can see that many cans of worms can be opened with this topic, among them purgatory, the communion of saints, plenary vs. partial indulgences, who can grant indulgences of which type, etc.  I suppose it goes without saying that the concept of indulgences is no longer offensive to me.  It’s simply a concrete way of acknowledging God’s justice and separating the concept of the forgiveness of sins from the reparation owed because of the damage sin causes.



  1. woohoo! Thank you. I’m off to link it on my blog, not like my blog is wildly read by anyone other than my family, but then come to think about it, they SHOULD read this little essay. You’re a good writer, hmmm, ever consider writing a little book about your journey? I’d proof it for you 🙂

  2. No, I haven’t considered a book, but I have thought that I need to add a page to this blog that summarizes the conversion. I started the blog because someone persuaded me that it would help others as they considered their own “Tiber swims.” I was really scared because it was such a private thing and I felt so vulnerable. Obviously, I decided to do it anyway as I had found reading others’ stories so helpful and comforting, especially in the beginning.

  3. Hi City Girl. It is really neat to peruse through your blog and see your journey before I met you… like reading a bit of history. Very well done!! 🙂

  4. “God’s justice demands that we make reparation for our sins.”
    Where, oh where in the Word of God (The Bible) can I find a verse or statement that would support your above statement ???

    • Thanks for stopping by. I think one could argue that the book of Leviticus is an argument that God demands that we make reparation for our sins. But if what you’re really looking for is more biblical support for what appear to be bizarre Catholic beliefs, check out

      • Thanks for your suggestion Deary, but I have long ago totally abandoned catholicism for a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. He paid for my sin totally, no indulgences required.. I will not return to the quagmire of catholicism by reading it’s heresy.

      • Catholicism does not exclude a personal relationship with Christ, nor do we believe that our sins can be forgiven apart from Christ’s sacrifice. You call my faith heresy but you refuse to acknowledge or even discuss simple historical facts, such as the lack of a bible prior to 325 A.D. It was Protestants like you who could not answer these simple questions when I was searching for the truth that led me to the place that had the answers.

  5. Hmmmm… Why not try THIS scripture verse on for size, ‘Deary Steveair’… ‘I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid every last penny’ Luke 12:59. Get out of ‘where’? What or where is Christ referring to? Certainly not heaven, but not hell either…

    Oh, and I find it amusing that you are visiting a blog that is in the ‘quagmire’. 😉

  6. Ishalimamma : I only came here to find more info on “Littletoe” because she posted on my blog.
    And yes, “get out of where?” Surely not hell. Does “eternal damnation” ring a bell? You have taken Luke 12;58,59 out of context.

  7. Lol. Didn’t I write this in January? Yikes. Blessings to you, Steve…

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