A Short History of Indulgences

In the early church, especially from the third century on, ecclesiastic authorities allowed a confessor, that is a Christian awaiting martyrdom because they confessed their faith in Christ during one of the Roman persecutions, to intercede for another Christian in order to shorten the other’s canonical penance. The thinking was not “let this be a favor to the one who is about to be martyred” but rather a recognition of the holiness of the would-be martyr and the thought that at their death there would be this unused “merit”, when combined with the “merit” of other saints and most especially with the life and death of Christ, could form a “Treasury of Merit.” It is from this “storehouse” that the Church draw upon to shorten the canonical penance. Continue reading

Luther, Indulgences, and their legacy

One of the tipping points for Martin Luther was the “sale of indulgence” by the papal-appointed Dominican Friar, Johann Tetzel, In his 95 Theses Luther strongly disputed the claim that Indulgences could provide freedom from God’s punishment for sin much less be purchased. The last seven days of posts have not addressed the theological issues presented in the German Reformation – not that they are not important – but more such information is easily obtained on the internet from any variety of sources. The previous posts were intended to focus on the milieu of factors already present in Germany, a variety of interests and passions outside Luther’s control or influence, and why Luther succeeded where other Reformers had not. But I thought I should at least give some perspective on indulgences. They were abused then as well as misunderstood then and still misunderstood today. Far too many Catholics need to know their faith better lest they become Pelagians or Semi-Pelagians as regards Indulgences. (Be curious …. go ahead click the links!) Continue reading