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1. Roots of the RC doctrine of indulgences reach back to the ancient practice of penitential* discipline. As the penitential system changed its character and the RC sacrament of penance* evolved, penance was no longer regarded as a mere expression of sorrow for sin or even as the discharge of ch. penalties, but as pleasing to God, meritorious, and compensatory for sin. It was held to remove, acc. to the degree of its merit, a portion of that temporal punishment of sin (chiefly purgatory*) which could not be removed by absolution.* Commutations* of penance, or indulgences, became commutations of divine punishment and were gained by giving money to chs. and monasteries, by pilgrimages,* sometimes by direct payment to the priest. Contrition,* or at least attrition,* was in theory necessary to gain indulgence.

2. The Crusades* marked an epoch in the hist. of indulgences, for each crusader received plenary indulgence (see par. 5). In the later Middle Ages plenary indulgences were offered in gen. for opposition against various “heretics” and their followers.

3. Boniface VIII (see Popes, 12) instituted special plenary indulgences connected with jubilees* beginning 1300.

4. Sixtus IV (see Popes, 16) introd. indulgences for souls in purgatory* 1476.

5. M. Luther's* exposure of the indulgence traffic convinced many of the corruption of the RC Ch. and prepared them to welcome the restored Gospel. The Council of Trent* made quaestors of alms (indulgence preachers) scapegoats, “absolutely [Lat. penitus] abolished” their name and service [Lat. usus], but decreed “that the use of indulgences, most salutary for Christian people and approved by authority of holy councils, is to be retained in the Church,” that “moderation be observed,” and “that all evil traffic in them … be absolutely [Lat. omnino] abolished” (Sess. XXI, Decree Concerning Reform, chap. ix; XXV, Decree Concerning Reform, chap. xxi, Decree Concerning Indulgences). Indulgences are called plenary (remitting all temporal punishment due to sin) or partial (e.g., for 40 days, which means the equivalent of that period of canonical penance). Some indulgences can be gained only at particular places or at certain times; others are attached to objects, e.g., crosses, medals. To gain some indulgences, prayers must be said.

See also Opera supererogationis; Treasury of Merits.

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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Concordia Publishing House
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Content Reproduced with Permission

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