This begins the Protestant Mythology series.
Myth #1- “During the Middle Aged the Catholic Church purported to sell forgiveness for sins (indulgences).”
2017 is the 500 year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. This post begins my 2017 series debunking the Protestant mythology. By mythology I mean a certain set of generally accepted ‘facts’ which are believed without hesitation, at least in the English speaking world. The truth behind the ‘facts’ is usually not so simple and straightforward of course. At this point many of these myths have become secularized and one can find them in textbooks of our secular public schools, they are part of a cultural imprint.
This first myth is one I consider a gimmie.
“During the Middle Ages The Catholic Church sold forgiveness for sins.”
This claim refers to the granting of indulgences and is expanded in a number of ways, some more accurate than others. Some of the more outrageous versions of this claim state that one could purchase indulgences for things like adultery ahead of time, in other words the elements of repentance and contrition weren’t necessary one could simply buy their way out of hell. According to this myth an indulgence was permission to indulge in sin. I consider busting this myth a gimmie because I need only explain what an indulgence is.
It is true that indulgences were granted for making donations to the church and that there were abuses of this practice to the point that one could say churchmen were selling indulgences. One may debate whether granting indulgences for donations is a good thing. One may debate and object to the theology of indulgences. In either case, for the sake of honesty one must actually, as a prerequisite, know what they are objecting to.
So, what is an indulgence? An indulgence is the remission of temporal punishment due to sin. It is not a remission of sin but of punishment. It is not a remission of eternal punishment. It is not a remission of guilt. It is most certainly not a permission to sin. CCC 1471
The underlying theology is that of satisfaction for sins, and very much a development from the public penances of the early church. Additionally, the communion of the saints and the concept of bearing one another’s burdens is involved. Of course most of those who think an indulgence is remission of or permission to sin have no idea what temporal punishment is. Eternal punishment is Hell. Temporal punishment are the other negative fruits of sin due to the sinner. The classic biblical example is that of King David and his sin of Adultery in the old Testament. He repents and is forgiven but is told he still must suffer the punishment of his child dying as a result of his sin.
More could be said as this is a complex subject but the myth has been addressed, if you’re trying to get rid of sins and avoid hell, indulgences don’t even claim to help.
(For further reading see St. Thomas Aquinas part 3, questions 86-90: and questions 25-27 of the supplement to part 3 of the Summa. I doubt anyone will actually click the links though, but I included it for those who might claim the church changed the definition of ‘indulgence’ after the reformation.)