In a recent homily, Pope Francis said:
“We evangelize not with grand words, or complicated concepts, but with ‘the joy of the Gospel,’ which ‘fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. For those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness.”
He spoke of the “widespread individualism” that has divided Christians (a veiled reference to Protestantism) and added: “The desire for unity moves the delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, the conviction that we have an immense treasure to share…” (Mass for the Evangelization of Peoples, July, 7, 2015).
The warp and woof of Catholic theology is plagued with the very “grand words” and “complicated concepts” the pope speaks of. These are the smelly bones in Rome’s cupboard that can hardly be termed as the “treasures we share.” This is a key reason why we cannot join Catholicism to evangelize to the world. We do not believe the same Gospel.
The doctrine of Indulgence is one of these complicated “ugly family secrets.” Indulgence is defined as a remission before God of the temporal punishment for sin the guilt of which is already forgiven which a Catholic obtains under certain and definite conditions through the Catholic church.
In other words, when a Catholic sins after baptism (which is at infancy), he is forgiven through penance, but there is a debt of temporal punishment attached to such sins which must be discharged off either here on earth or in purgatory.
Indulgence is the means of discharging that debt on earth. This is believed to be made possible through the treasury of merits that the Catholic church has which consists of the merits of Christ, the virgin Mary and the good works of all the Catholic saints combined (Vatican II Council, 1:67-70). This leads to the first point: Catholicism denies the sufficiency of Christ’s work at the cross.
Since Jesus Christ “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins,” His blood “purifies us from all sin,” there is no way the merits of Mary or the ‘saints’ can add to His completed work at Calvary (1 John 2:2; 1:7). “For as one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19).
One is not made righteous before God by the good works of Christ + Mary + the “saints.” Every true Christian has been cleansed, sanctified and justified “in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1Cor. 6:11).
In contrast, Catholicism says that indulgence is a sort of pardon that removes both the penalty (poena) and the guilt (culpa) of sin. Through it, the good works of others is credited to one’s account by the Church when one does certain works. This is a rejection of the Biblical Gospel.
Can Grace be Earned?
There are two types of indulgence – the plenary (full) and partial. They both have their requirements. In 1300 AD, Pope Boniface gave out indulgence to those who made a pilgrimage to St. Peter’s in Rome. An estimated 2 million people came that year and deposited so much treasure on the so-called tomb of Peter that priests were kept busy all day and night raking them up.
In 1456, recitation of a few prayers before a church crucifix was said to earn a pardon of 20,000 years for everyone who repeats it. Even today, you can get 7 years of indulgence off purgatory for climbing the Sacred Steps in Rome. The Vatican II Council document on the Revision of Indulgences (Vol 1, 77) stated:
“The faithful who use with devotion an object of piety (crucifix, cross, rosary, scapular or medal) after it has been duly blessed by any priest can gain a partial indulgence. But if this object of piety is blessed by the Pope or any bishop, the faithful who use it with devotion can also gain a plenary indulgence on the feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul, provided they also make a profession of faith using any approved formula…”
So a Catholic can reduce his time in purgatory by using a certain object blessed by a certain man on a certain day with a certain formula! What kind of “God” would bend His justice for such silly contrivances, measuring out “grace” or pardon depending on whether a deed was done on a certain feast day and whether a priest or bishop has “blessed” the so-called sacred object?
During the 700 year anniversary of the Holy Door to the Cathedral of Maria Collegmaggio, indulgence was also offered:
“To receive this ‘perdonanza’ indulgence, it’s necessary to be in the Cathedral between 18:00 (6 P. M.) 28 August and 18:00 (6 P. M.) 29 August, to truly repent of one’s sins, and to confess and go to mass and communion within 8 days of the visit” (Inside the Vatican, April 1994, 55).
In July 2013, Pope Francis extended indulgence to Catholics who follow the “rites and pious exercises” of the Catholic World Youth Day in Brazil through TV, radio and the social media. So with the click of the mouse, you can shorten your “burning time” in purgatory. This announcement triggered criticism from Protestants that Claudio Celli, the Vatican spokesman, had to re-paint the order: “You can’t obtain indulgence like getting a coffee from a vending machine.” Typical Vatican irony.
The whole idea of the Catholic church dishing out “graces necessary for salvation” to people when they perform certain works leads to a second point: you can’t merit grace because grace, by its very nature, cannot be earned. Biblically, all one must do to receive God’s grace is to believe His offer in the Gospel and accept His free gift of forgiveness and eternal life.
Man is “justified freely by his grace” through the redemption in Christ (Rom. 3:24). Grace is a gift of God that is received “through faith; and that not of yourselves” (Eph 2:8). If you are earning a “grace” then its not grace. A man “is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal 2:16).
Nowhere does the Bible use the term “grace” in plural because it can’t be funnelled like a magic potion. Grace doesn’t come in pills. It’s received by faith. Biblical grace comes from God on the basis of what Christ has done, while in Catholicism, “graces” come from God (through Mary) in response to what a devout Catholic does. Big difference.
The origin of indulgence is pagan. Pagan religions believed that the recitation of formulas, infliction of pain, sacrifices to the gods or pilgrimages to shrines are merits than can influence the gods in one’s favour. In Catholicism also, the saying many Hail Marys, kissing a crucifix, repeating a formula is said to reduce purgatorial sufferings which Christ’s sacrifice on the cross could not reduce, and this indulgence can also be applied to the dead.
Selling Salvation to the Sheep
A Catholic blogger once mocked some televangelists who ask people to send in money to them in exchange for healing oils, aprons, pendants etc. I would join him to denounce such modern-day Balaams who love “the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Pet. 2:15), but Roman Catholic leaders have done far worse – accumulating great wealth by claiming to sell salvation to people all through the centuries.
Pope Innocent VIII (1484-92) granted a 20 year indulgence. For a sum, people would purchase the privilege of eating favourite dishes during Lent or other times of fasting. So fasting can be also credited into your account while you indulge yourself in the best of foods. The proceeds from this religious enterprise built the bridge over Elbe.
Under pope Leo X (1513-21) specific prices for sins like murder or adultery were published, to be paid to the Catholic church for absolution from each crime. Once the pardon has been purchased in this way from the Church, the culprits could no longer be prosecuted by civil authorities (Dave Hunt, A Woman Rides the Beast, Harvest House, 1994, 185).
In 1450, the Oxford chancellor, Thomas Gascoigne pointed out how indulgences had made more people sinners: “Sinners say, I care not how many or how great sins I commit before nowadays God, for I shall easily and quickly get plenary remission of any guilt and penalty whatsoever by absolution.”
Ironically, the men offering the indulgence were themselves great sinners. People would obtain remission by offering them a game of tennis, money, beer, a prostitute and sex (Lib. Ver. p. 123).
In Spain, the papal Bull (document) had to be purchased for the indulgence and absolution from sins to be granted. No one could be buried without the current Bull in the coffin. As Will Durant wrote: “Large sums were devoted to this purpose by pious people either to relieve a departed relative or friend, or to shorten or annul their own purgatorial suffering after death” (The Story of Civilization, Simon and Schuster, 1952, 6:24)
In this system, only the rich would inherit the kingdom of heaven. Yet when Simon tried to offer money to Peter to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, he rebuked him: “Thy money perish with thee because thou thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money” (Acts 8:20).
Apostle Peter warned about false teachers who “through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you” (2Pet. 2:3). This offering of money in exchange for Mass and indulgence still goes on till date in Catholicism, though in more disguised forms.
When Cardinal Cajetan complained about the sale of indulgences and dispensations in the 16th century, Catholic leaders roared, accusing him to trying “to turn Rome into an uninhabited desert, to reduce the Papacy to impotence, to deprive the pope…of the pecuniary resources indispensable for the discharge of his office” (J. H. Ignaz von Dollinger, The Pope and the Council, London, p. 307-8).
You see, the whole stuff wasn’t about the souls of the people, but about their loyalty to Rome and the money. It was this grabbing scheme that prompted Martin Luther to nail his 95 theses at the door of the castle church of Wittenburg. Inside the door of this church were relics which were said to offer 2 million years indulgences to those who venerated them according to prescribed rules. The church which ought to be a place of prayer became a den of thieves; a market for money changers and dove sellers.
Has the Catholic church ever apologized for having led millions of souls astray in this manner? Has she returned the money she grabbed from desperate people who thought they were buying salvation? How can they even apologize to the souls now in hell for selling them a bogus ticket out of a mythical purgatory?
When a person is saved, he has “passed from death to life” (Jn. 5:24), he doesn’t need to go back to “working off” his time in purgatory which doesn’t exist. The pope publicly talks of the Gospel bringing freedom from sin, sorrow and emptiness, but the very gospel his religion teaches is a false gospel that has not freed the people from sin or its penalty.