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Sunday, February 15, 2021

“Because there is sin in the world”, goes one Bishop-level justification for the Catholic Church re-introducing the granting of indulgences after a centuries-long hiatus.

The indulgence is among the less noticed and less disputed traditions to be restored. But with a thousand-year history and volumes of church law devoted to its intricacies, it is one of the most complicated to explain.

According to church teaching, even after sinners are absolved in the confessional and say their Our Fathers or Hail Marys as penance, they still face punishment after death, in Purgatory, before they can enter heaven. In exchange for certain prayers, devotions or pilgrimages in special years, a Catholic can receive an indulgence, which reduces or erases that punishment instantly, with no formal ceremony or sacrament.

There are partial indulgences, which reduce purgatorial time by a certain number of days or years, and plenary indulgences, which eliminate all of it, until another sin is committed. You can get one for yourself, or for someone who is dead. You cannot buy one — the church outlawed the sale of indulgences in 1567 — but charitable contributions, combined with other acts, can help you earn one. There is a limit of one plenary indulgence per sinner per day.

The chief complaint over dealing in such Church-sanctioned bartering is that, like it or not, it assigns quantification to eternal concepts. Even if it’s described as the indefinite “some time” instead of “five years” or any other specific term, the idea of shaving off temporal chunks from the afterlife is, well, silly. It only serves to soothe consciences and modify behavior among the living, and so amounts to a get-out-of-Hell/Purgatory-free card.

Thus the debate. And going even further, I’d say that, no matter how the rules are modified or what the intention, the root idea of indulgences is historically tainted. Personally, my education instilled the idea of the practice of indulgence as the catalyst for Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and the Reformation. And even if today, we’re not talking about the reckless buying-and-selling of absolution as practiced in medieval times, the very term “indulgences” conjures up a corrupt system. So to revive it now seems delusional.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 02/15/2009 12:31:57 PM
Category: History, Society
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