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Actions accompanied by prayer that have been specified by the Church as an acceptable "remission before God" of the debt of "temporal punishment for sins" that remains due after forgiveness has been pronounced in the sacrament of penance (see Codex iuris canonici, c. 992). The practice of indulgences came to be fully developed by the eleventh century in the West. It has, however, a more remote historical origin in the system of confession and penance that was in use in the first centuries of the Church and its theological justification can find support in the New Testament.

Principle of Solidarity. On the basis of his experience of Christ St. paul was convinced that the members of his (mystical) Body are so closely related to one another that each contributes to the well-being of all, and especially of their ailing brothers and sisters. He so rejoiced in the sufferings that he bore for the Christians at Colossus that he formulated the paradox "What is lacking of the sufferings of Christ I fill up in my flesh for his body which is the Church" (Colonial 1:24). Nothing of course is missing in the salvific work of the Word Incarnate. Those, however, who by faith have been made part of his Body share in the mystery of salvation.

In keeping with this teaching clement of alexan dria noted a traditional report that the Apostle John when he was in Ephesus not only made "supplications with a wealth of prayers" for the chief of a robber gang, but that he also "vied with him in protracted fasts" (Quis dives salvetur 42, Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte, 190). In the ensuing centuries the social character of public penance gave evidence that penitents were not left to their own resources for expiation of their public sins. The local Church in which they confessed their sin and waited for the bishop to pronounce their reconciliation with the community contributed to this. Tertullian underlined this corporate character of penance: "The body cannot rejoice over the misery of one of its members; rather the whole body must suffer and work together for a cure" (De Paenitentia 10.5, Florilegium Patristicum, 10:25). Special efficacy in this process came to be attached to the intercession of martyrs who had survived their torture during the persecutions. For the weak who had apostasized under threat, a martyr's letter of recommendation could in some Churches win a more speedy reconciliation and, in consequence, a shortening of their assigned time of penance. Thus, even when he denounced abuses of the "martyr's privilege," St. cyprian did not wish to abolish the privilege altogether (Letter 15.4, Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum 3:516). At the close of the fifth century, caesarius of arles (d. 542) acknowledged the validity of vicarious satisfaction when he described repentant sinners asking for the prayers of the community in the ritual of public penance: "I believe that, before the number of his sins, he (the sinner) sees that he cannot by himself suffice for such grave evils; and so he wishes to seek the assistance of the whole people" (Sermon 261, Patrologia Latina, 39:2227). While the term indulgentia existed in Roman civil law, the Church used the words redemptio and remissio to designate the shortening of the time of penance between the absolution of a grave sin and the readmission of a penitent to communion.

Commutations of Penance. Taking the monastic practice of taxing faults against the Rule with specific penances as its model, the Celtic Church in the British Isles adopted a principle of strict correspondence between a specific sin and the appropriate penance. Each sin was assigned a penitential tariff that was specified in handbooks used by confessors. When the Anglo-Saxon Church in Britain inherited this system, however, it tended, following the practice of the archbishop of Canterbury Theodore (d. 690), to assign such long penances for grave public sins that many a penitent died before the penance could be fulfilled. It was to meet this problem that subsequent generations modified the system. The heavy penances prescribed in penitential books could then be replaced, in part or in whole, by prayers and other pious works, such as fasting or almsgiving. To the extent that these commutations relaxed penances that would otherwise have been imposed by the confessor, they functioned as indulgences in the broad sense of the term. They were substitute penances rather than conditions for gaining an indulgence in the later meaning of the term.

Absolution Grants. Beginning in the ninth century popes and bishops frequently concluded their letters with a petition (suffragium) asking God through the intercession of Christ and the saints to absolve the sinner of all remaining penalties due to sin. At times this prayer was made in favor of the deceased as well as the living. Confessors began to add a similar prayer to the formula of sacramental reconciliation. Although this has been called an absolution grant, it was not a remission of debt in the strict sense since it was offered per modum suffragii, and therefore with no guarantee that the temporal punishment due to sin was actually canceled by God. Though they frequently invoked the power of the keys and were often introduced by the affirmative formula "I absolve," these prayers remained too indefinite or general to be regarded as indulgence grants in the strict sense. They did not promise a relaxation or easing of the penance imposed by the confessor or a remission of the temporal debt due to sin that was to be paid in this life or in purgatory.

Indulgence Grants. Indulgence grants in the strict sense first appeared in southern France in the early eleventh century. They were closely related to penances imposed by confessors in the sacrament of reconciliation. Thus according to the indulgence granted to those who would contribute to the support of the monastic church of San Pedro de Portella in Spain (1035), a penance of three days of fasting during Lent could be reduced to two. In this case the support of a monastic church was a condition for gaining a relaxation of penance. In the course of time other occasions were introduced for gaining similar indulgences, such as contributions to the building or upkeep of churches, schools, hospitals and bridges. Pilgrims praying at the great shrines of Christendom, particularly st. peter in Rome, santiago de compostella and je rusalem, could gain indulgences attached to each specific pilgrimage. In 1300, the first proclamation of a Jubilee year by Boniface VIII included the promulgation of indulgences for the pilgrims who went to Rome and also of substitute indulgences for those who for a good reason were unable to travel that far. Since that time all Jubilee years, including the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, have included the proclamation of specific indulgences that pilgrims could obtain by meeting the conditions specified in the relevant decree. Before Paul VI's reform the indulgence grants symbolized their effectiveness in terms of timedays, months, yearsa practice that originated in a perceived analogy with the reduction of the long penances that used to be given for serious crimes in the sacrament of reconciliation.

Crusade Indulgences. In 1095 at the Council of clermont, held under the auspices of urban ii, the following canon was enacted: "Whoever from devotion alone, and not for the purpose of gaining honors and wealth, shall set out for the liberation of the Church of God at Jerusalem, that journey will be reckoned in place of all penance" (Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, 20:816). This indulgence was granted to those who had already confessed their sins, a condition that recurred in every indulgence grant of the medieval period. The crusades, which entailed the possibility of giving up one's life in combat for the faith and the Church, provided the context for the idea of a plenary indulgence, an indulgence that abolishes the entire penalty due to sin. It presupposes perfect charity in the recipient. In the course of time the crusade indulgence was extended to others than the crusaders, notably to all who contributed to the support of the crusades against the Moors in Spain, the Albigensians in Southern France and the Turks when their political and military pressure on Europe was believed to threaten the very existence of the Church.

The indulgence of the Portiuncula, granted by hono rius iii at the request of francis of assisi to those who, properly disposed, prayed at the chapel that he and his first followers had restored, was the first plenary indulgence that could be gained outside of the crusades.

Theology of Indulgences. That the bishops and the pope are able to grant indulgences to the faithful needed to be supported theologically. The theology of indulgences, however, came to be elaborated more than a century after the practice was well established. There was in fact considerable resistance. Abelard denied that such a power existed. Neither peter lombard in the Sentences, nor Gratian in the Decretum, mentioned the topic. It was hugh of saint-cher who first based indulgences on the Church's "treasury" of the merits that have been stored up by Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints. This insight reflected the principle of Christian solidarity in the mystical body of christ; and it implied a notion of vicarious satisfaction, which the great scholastics developed in the thirteenth century.

Both bonaventure and thomas aquinas understood an indulgence to be the payment (solutio) or commutation (commutatio) of a debt rather than a remission of it. Bonaventure based his conclusions on the necessity of justice, for God is no less just than merciful. The penance for sin that is assigned in the sacrament should be both satisfactory to God in justice and medicinal for the repenting sinner. The penitent must shoulder medicinal punishment personally. Expiatory punishment, however, can also be assumed by another person on the basis of his "union of charity" with the penitent. In order to be acceptable in justice, however, vicarious satisfaction should be greater than the penance that is incumbent on the guilty person (CS IV, d. 20, p. 2, q. 1).

Thomas based vicarious satisfaction and indulgences more directly on the power of the keys entrusted to Peter in Matthew 16:19. He also found them justified by "the unity of the Mystical Body" (STh III suppl., q. 25, a. 1). Thanks to this unity the merit that has been accumulated by Christ and his saints can be applied to the members of the Body who are properly disposed. This merit far exceeds what would be needed for the expiation of all pains due to sin, Christ's merit alone being "infinitely higher than the efficacy of the sacraments." With Pope clement vi the Jubilee bull of 1343, Unigenitus Dei Filius, explicitly included the justification of an indulgence as a vicarious satisfaction that is made possible by "the Church's treasury" (DS 1025 1027).

Indulgences For The Dead. Devotion to the Holy Souls was developed largely under the influence of the monastery of cluny. The rapid spread of this devotion provided the occasion for the promulgation of indulgences applicable to the souls in purgatory. sixtus iv did this for the first time in the form of a plenary indulgence, in 1476. In the bull Salvator noster (Enchiridion symbolorum, 1398), Sixtus specified that this indulgence is applicable by way of petition (per modum suffragii). By excluding the way of absolution, Sixtus IV implied that there is no guarantee that the power of the keys has any effect beyond the present life. This view remained standard in regard to indulgences offered for the dead. It was confirmed in the nineteenth century when the Congregation on Indulgences and Holy Relics stated, on July 28, 1840, that the efficacy of a plenary indulgence attached to a privileged altar "corresponds to the good pleasure and acceptance of the divine mercy" (DS 2750). In other words, the indulgence offered for the dead is not a sentence of absolution pronounced by the Church; it is a prayer for a repenting sinner.

Abuses. The popularity of indulgences contributed no small part to the welfare of medieval society. Thanks to indulgences in the form of material and monetary gifts, great cathedrals and monastic establishments were built and kept in repair, schools and universities were founded and endowed, hospitals were maintained and bridges were built. And there were spiritual effects that cannot be measured. Not only were the people reminded of their solidarity with the whole family of God which is the Church, triumphant as well as militant, but the preaching of an indulgence was often the occasion of spiritual revivals when preachers exhorted the faithful to true repentance and confession.

In spite of this, abuses in the granting and preaching of indulgences were not slow to appear. Bishops multiplied indulgences, and preachers exaggerated their efficacy. When indulgences were granted for monetary gifts, as for the upkeep of churches or the building of new ones, the collectors (quaestores) often received more money than was due, thus paying themselves for their work. In addition, not all the money was used for the purpose for which the indulgence was preached. Already in 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council condemned "abuses in the granting of indulgences" (Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, 22:105056; DS 819). Moreover, there occasionally spread among the people rumors of indulgences that were entirely spurious. Such abuses and the "trafficking" in indulgences multiplied in the late Middle ages and above all during the Renaissance. In 1515 Emperor charles v obtained from Pope leo x a plenary indulgence for those who would contribute to the repair of the dikes in the Netherlands. In 1517 King Francis I of France was granted a similar indulgence for financing a crusade that he had no intention of launching.

The Reformation. In 1517 it was precisely the scandal associated in Germany with the preaching of an indulgence offered for the rebuilding of St. Peter's at the Vatican that led the Augustinian friar Martin luther to criticize the actual preaching of indulgences and eventually to reject the underlying doctrine. He took issue with the preaching in the Ninety-Five Theses that he made public at Wittenberg in 1517. In these theses, however, Luther formulated what seem to be contradictory propositions. On the one hand he declared: "The treasury of indulgences is most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first" (thesis 64), and also: "Let him be anathema and accursed who denies the apostolic character of indulgences" (thesis 71). On the other hand he asserted: "The pope has neither the will nor the power to remit any penalties beyond those imposed either at his own discretion or by canon law" (thesis 5), and also: "The true treasure of the Church is the holy gospel of the glory and grace of God" (thesis 62). The commentary that Luther sent to the archbishop of Mainz on Oct. 31, 1517 (Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum ) was in fact moderate. It admitted the basic principles of a temporal penalty due to sin, of purgatory, and of the treasury of the Church. It also drew attention to the greater importance of interior conversion than of the remission of exterior penalties; and it inferred from the traditional teaching that an indulgence applied to the dead by way of petition is logically no more than a prayer. Only later, as he reflected on the implications of justification by faith alone without the works of the Law and as he gave up any hope of seeing the papacy reform itself did Luther reach the conclusion that indulgences are incompatible with the total trust in divine forgiveness propter Christum, "for the sake of Christ," that is essential to the Christian faith.

The Counter-Reformation. In the decree Cum postquam (Nov. 9, 1519), Pope Leo X condemned Luther's doctrine on indulgences. In the bull Exsurge Domine (June 15, 1520) he condemned Luther himself. While he regretted that abuses had occurred in the preaching of indulgences, Leo reaffirmed that the temporal penalty due to sin can be partially or fully remitted, in this world or the next, by application of the merits accumulated in the treasury of the Church by Christ and the saints. clem ent vii, however, took account of criticisms and attached no specific monetary contribution to the Jubilee indulgence of 1525. Few pilgrims, in fact, made the journey, partly because the streets of Rome were troubled by a violent conflict between the colonna and orsini families and partly because of the brewing struggle between the pope and the emperor, which brought about the sack of Rome in 1527. In 1550 julius iii restored the solemnity of the Jubilee celebration, but few pilgrims came. In 1563 a short decree of the last session of the Council of trent endorsed the right of the Church to grant indulgences (COD 772773). In the same decree the council deplored the abuses that had taken place and ordered the bishops to correct them and to fight the superstitious use of indulgences. In 1567, however, pius v found that the tridentine regulations had so far been ineffective, and he abrogated "every indulgence which contains in any way whatsoever permission to make collections" (Bullarium Romanum, 7:536). Furthermore, The Catechism of the Council of Trent, edited under Pius V, did not mention indulgences in its long chapter on the sacrament of penance, even though it explained that the Lord does not always remove "the remains of sin and the pain, measured in terms of time, that is due to sins" (The Catechism of the Council of Trent, p. 2, c. 5, n. 65), and it also affirmed such solidarity of all in the communion of saints that "the tasks (officia ) of satisfaction are common among us" (n. 76). The theologians of the counter-reformation, however, generally defended the doctrine and practice of indulgences as being both traditional and pastorally useful. peter canisius related the indulgences to the action of the Holy Spirit. In his commentary of the Tertia pars of the Summa theologica (Disp. 49 57) suarez saw them as rooted in the infinite redemptive merits of Christ.

In order to keep a tighter control on the use of indulgences, clement ix in 1669 entrusted their supervision to a new dicastery, the Congregation for Indulgences and Relics. In 1908 Pius X abolished this Congregation and assigned the regulation of indulgences to the Holy Office. From time to time a Raccolta, or Enchiridion indulgentiarum: Normae et concessiones, is published in the Vatican by the Apostolic Penitentiary; it contains the authentic list of currently available indulgences with the relevant conditions.

Paul VI. On July 24, 1963 Pope paul vi instructed Cardinal Fernando Cento to form a commission of periti that would recommend a new approach to indulgences. The ensuing study Positio de sacrarum indulgentiarum recognitione was presented to the council fathers of Vatican II on Nov. 9, 1965, shortly before the end of the last session. The bishops were invited to send their remarks to the commission. Having received a number of comments, and taking account of the beginning of ecumenical dialogues with the Churches of the Reformation, the pope issued the apostolic constitution Indulgentiarum doctrina (Jan. 1, 1967). In this document four short chapters explain the doctrine, and a fifth enunciates twenty practical norms. Paul VI recalls that true teaching is done through "pastoral practice" as well as "doctrinal documents," that both as "disobedience to divine law" and as "contempt for the friendship of God" sin deserves punishment, that the full remission of sins therefore includes the restoration of friendship with God through forgiveness and the repair, through expiation, of the damage done by sin to "the universal order" of creation. Forgiveness is received sacramentally. Expiation takes place in purgatory unless it has already been done in this life (Ch. 1, nn. 13). The expiation of the temporal penalty due to sin is precisely the domain of indulgences.

Ch. 2, nn. 45, describes the "solidarity" that unites all the faithful in Christ, the communion of saints and "the supernatural unity of the Mystical Body of Christ." As a result of this unity one may say that, "as it were, a single mystical person is formed." In the process "an abundant exchange" takes place among all the faithful, whether these be in heaven, in purgatory, or on earth. Ch. 3, n. 6, evokes the "very ancient usage" of praying for sinners, the traditional practice of penance and the belief that satisfaction for sin is done by "the entire Church united to Christ" rather than by individual believers. It was in this spirit that bishops eventually "permitted canonical penances to be replaced by easier works." In ch. 4 Paul VI esteems that the usage of indulgences, when it came, was under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and constituted a "progression" in doctrine and discipline rather than a "change" (n. 7). As the Council of Trent maintained that indulgences are "salutary for the Christian people" (n. 8), likewise the faithful today are invited to "ponder and meditate" on the benefits that can accrue from them to "all Christian society" (n. 9). Indulgences contribute to the Church's holiness (n. 10). They confirm "the preeminence of charity in Christian life" inasmuch as they require "a sincere conversion of mentality (metanoia)" (n. 11).

The norms present three notable aspects. First, partial indulgences are no longer to be assessed in function of time (days, months, years). Instead, the value of an indulgence depends on "the action itself of the faithful who perform a work to which an indulgence is attached" (n.12). Two elements specify the value of such an action, "the charity of the one performing the act" and "the degree to which the act itself is performed in a more perfect way." Second, in keeping with this principle, Paul VI further defines a partial indulgence as "a remission of punishment through the intervention of the Church," that equals the value of the action as performed by the person (norm n. 5). In other words, as it grants an indulgence the Church promises to match the "merit" that accrues to the person who seeks the indulgence and performs the required work. Third, it follows that indulgences are not tied to places or objects but to actions that are performed "at least with a contrite heart" (n. 5). Regarding plenary indulgences, their number is reduced considerably, and the customary conditions are maintained: sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff (n. 7). Furthermore, they presuppose that "all attachment to sin, even to venial sin, be absent," that is, perfect charity. Following upon this reform of the theory and practice of indulgences, the Apostolic Penitentiary issued an Enchiridion indulgentiarum on June 28, 1969. Much shorter than the previous Raccolta (1957), it emphasized the prayers and dispositions of the faithful who seek an indulgence (opus operantis ) rather than the works of piety (visits to churches with recitation of assigned prayers) for which the indulgence is granted (opus operatum ).

The implementation of Paul VI's constitution was confirmed in the Code of canon law of 1983, cc. 992 997, which replaced the provisions of the code of 1917, cc. 911 936. The canonical definition is the following:

Indulgentia est remissio coram Deo poenae temporalis pro peccatis, ad culpam quod attinet jam deletis, quam christifidelis, apte dispositus et certis ac definitis condicionibus, consequitur ope Ecclesiae quae, ut ministra redemptionis, thesaurum satisfactionum Christi et sanctorum auctoritative dispensat et applicat (Can. 992). (An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal pain due to sins that have already been forgiven as to guilt, which a Christian faithful, properly disposed and under clear and definite conditions, performs by virtue of the Church, which, as minister of Redemption, authoritatively dispenses and applies the treasure of the sactisfactions of Christ and the saints.)

The first part of the definition (to "jam deletis") is taken from the code of 1917, Can. 911. The second part differs in emphasis. The code of 1917 cited "the treasure of the Church" as the source of indulgences, the "ecclesiastical authority" as the agent, "the living" and "the dead" as the addressees, "absolution" and "prayer" (suffragium ) as the respective "modes" or forms of the grant. By contrast, the code of 1983 emphasizes the connection of indulgence with the role of the Church in applying the fruits of Redemption to the faithful. The description implies four doctrinal propositions: (1) the Church is minister of Redemption; (2) sin has two consequences, moral guilt and a debt of temporal punishment proportional to the gravity of the sin; (3) forgiveness effaces moral guilt but not temporal punishment; (4) the temporal punishment can be partially or fully remitted through the Church's recourse to the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1992 under john paul ii includes a moderate treatment of the question of indulgences in the context of the Communion of Saints (nn. 1471 1479), along the lines of Paul VI's Indulgentiarum doctrina. In keeping with the traditional recurrence of Holy Years the preparation for the third millennium after Christ occasioned the promulgation of a Jubilee for the year 2000. The bull of indiction of the Great Jubilee, Incarnationis mysterium, issued Nov. 29, 1999, included a summary of the doctrine on indulgences of Paul VI (nn. 9 10). An appendix contained a decree of the Apostolic Penitentiary on the indulgences of the year 2000. In keeping with these decrees the Apostolic Penitentiary issued an updated and much abridged version of Enchiridion indulgentiarum: Normae et concessiones (Vatican City 1999). In the meantime, however, the extremely sensitive nature of the question of indulgences in the contemporary ecumenical context was underlined by the decision of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches to withdraw its fraternal delegate from the Central Committee for the Great Jubilee 2000 (letter to Cardinal Cassidy, March 8, 1999), precisely because of the discussion of "the controversial concept of indulgences" in Incarnationis mysterium.

Remaining Questions. After vatican council ii a number of theologians reflected on the tradition regarding indulgences, notably Karl rahner [Theological Investigations 10 (1973)] and Charles journet [Nova et vetera (AprilJune 1966)]. They generally wished to emphasize the inner dispositions of the recipient of the indulgence more than had been done in the past. Two orientations may be discerned in their writings. First, there is a greater insistence than in the past on modus suffragii, that is, on the Church's prayer as constituting the essence of the indulgence. Second, there is also a desire to maintain the authority and jurisdiction of the Church and the successor of Peter in the process of sanctification. The very fact that indulgences have remained unknown in the penitential practice of the Oriental Churches as was stressed by the response of Patriarch Maximos to the Positio, raises questions as to their necessity and their origin. They are clearly not a necessary part of authentic Christian life.

Given the fact that the beginning of the third millennium coincides with a general interest in problems that relate to the inculturation of the gospel in many lands, peoples, languages and cultures, one may expect a further reappraisal of the advisability of the practice of indulgences in the future. The ecumenical context of the twenty-first century, and notably the growing relations between Catholics and Orthodox and the dialogues that have been engaged since 1965 between Catholics and the major Churches issued from the Reformation, call for such a reappraisal. However, not one of the bilateral dialogues has so far taken indulgences (or purgatory) as a topic of discussion. Until this happens it is hardly possible to assess the ecumenical impact, if any, of the reform initiated by Paul VI, whose lasting merit it is to have perceived the necessity of a reform in the Catholic practice of indulgences.

Bibliography: n. paulus, Geschichte des Ablasses im Mittelalter, 3 vol. (Paderborn 1922/23); Indulgences as a Social Factor in the Middle Ages (New York 1922). j. e. campbell, Indulgences. The Ordinary Power of Prelates Inferior to the Pope to Grant Indulgences: An Historical Synopsis and a Canonical Commentary (Ottawa 1953). w. herbst, Indulgences (Milwaukee 1955). b. poschmann, Penance and the Anointing of the Sick (New York 1964). j. wicks, "Martin Luther's Treaty on Indulgences," Theological Studies, 8 (1967): 481510. e. m. jung-inglessis, The Holy Year in Rome: Past and Present (Vatican City 1997). b. de margerie, Le mystere des indulgences (Paris 1998). pontifical council for promoting christian unity, "The Ecumenical Problem of Indulgences" [Information Bulletin, n.102 (1999/IV), p. 241245]. Codex iuris canonici (Rome 1918; repr. Graz 1955). Florilegium Patristicum, ed. j. zellinger et al., (Bonn 1904). Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte (Leipzig 1897). Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum (Vienna 1866). Patrologia Latina, ed. j. p. migne, 217 v., indexes 4 v. (Paris 187890). j. d. mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, 31 v. (Florence-Venice 175798). h. denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. a. schÖnmetzer (32d ed. Freiburg 1963). Bullarium Romanum (Magnum) ed. h. mainardi and c. cocquelines, 18 folio v. (Rome 173362). The Catechism of the Council of Trent (The Roman Catechism), tr. j. a. mchugh and c. a. callan (New York 1923).

[p. f. palmer/

g. a. tavard]


views updated May 11 2018

in·dul·gence / inˈdəljəns/ • n. 1. the action or fact of indulging: indulgence in self-pity. ∎  the state or attitude of being indulgent or tolerant: she regarded his affairs with a casual, slightly amused indulgence. ∎  a thing that is indulged in; a luxury: Claire collects shoes—it is her indulgence.2. chiefly hist. (in the Roman Catholic Church) a grant by the pope of remission of the temporal punishment in purgatory still due for sins after absolution. The unrestricted sale of indulgences by pardoners was a widespread abuse during the later Middle Ages.3. an extension of the time in which a bill or debt has to be paid.


views updated May 23 2018

in·dulge / inˈdəlj/ • v. [intr.] (indulge in) allow oneself to enjoy the pleasure of: we indulged in some hot fudge sundaes. ∎  become involved in (an activity, typically one that is undesirable or disapproved of): I don't indulge in idle gossip. ∎ inf. allow oneself to enjoy a particular pleasure, esp. that of alcohol: I only indulge on special occasions. ∎  [tr.] satisfy or yield freely to (a desire or interest): she was able to indulge a growing passion for literature. ∎  [tr.] allow (someone) to enjoy a desired pleasure: I spent time indulging myself with secret feasts.DERIVATIVES: in·dulg·er n.


views updated Jun 11 2018

indulgences. Arising in crusading times—first in 1063—from Roman law concepts, they became an integral part of every late medieval crusader's—and pilgrim's—commitment. After sacramental confession, absolution, and penance, the church, on God's behalf also, from the treasury of merit built up by Christ and the saints, granted the sinner remission of ‘temporal penalties’ still inevitable after sin. Later, widespread abuse, often financial, made religious commitment mechanistic, and indulgences vulnerable to attack from 16th-cent. reformers. The Thirty-Nine Articles condemned ‘the Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons’ as unscriptural. The Council of Trent (1545–63) and second Vatican Council (1961–5), while condemning their abuse, commended their continued use as ‘beneficial to Christians’.

Revd Dr William M. Marshall


views updated May 23 2018

indulgence In Roman Catholic theology, remission of temporal punishment for sin. An indulgence, once granted, obviates the need for the sinner to do penance, although it does not necessarily remove guilt, and may be only a partial rather than a full (plenary) indulgence. Previously available from bishops, today they are granted only by the pope. The sale of indulgences was among the principal causes of the Reformation.


views updated May 18 2018

indulgence in the Roman Catholic Church, a grant by the Pope of remission of the temporal punishment in purgatory still due for sins after absolution. The unrestricted sale of indulgences by pardoners was a widespread abuse during the later Middle Ages.


views updated May 09 2018

Indulgence. In Roman Catholic practice, a remission by the Church of the temporal penalty due to sin, even when forgiven, in virtue of the merits of Christ and the saints. The granting of indulgences is now generally confined to the pope. The unrestricted sale, in the later Middle Ages, of indulgences by professional pardoners, was an abuse against which the Reformation protested.


views updated May 18 2018

indulge treat with underserved favour, gratify by compliance XVII; give free course to XVII; take one's pleasure freely in XVIII. — L. indulgēre, of uncert. orig.
So indulgence XIV. — (O)F. — L. indulgent XVI. — F. or L. indult special licence or privilege. XVI (first in Sc.). — F. — late L. indultum, sb. use of n. pp. of indulgēre.