Indulgences (Lat. indulgentiae), the name of a peculiar institution in the Roman Church. The doctrine of indulgence, in its most plausible form, is stated by a Romanist writer as follows: "It is a releasing, by the power of the keys committed to the Church, the debt of temporal punishment which may remain due upon account of our sins, after the sins themselves, as to the guilt and eternal punishment, have been already remitted by repentance and confession" (Grounds of Catholic Doctrine, chap. 10, quest. 1). The doctrine and practice of indulgence constitutes the very center of the hierarchical theory of Romanism, and was, probably for that very reason, the first object of attack on the part of Luther in the beginning of the Reformation.
I. Origin of the System. — The early Church knew nothing of indulgences. The system seems to have originated in that of penance (q.v.), which, in the hands of the episcopacy, began to assume a corrupt form in the 3rd century. The immediate object of penance was to restore an offender, not to communion with God, but to the communion of the Church. When an excommunicated person sought readmission, the bishop assigned him a penitential discipline (q.v.) of abstinence, mortification, and good works, after which he was taken back into fellowship by certain regular modes of procedure. The bishop had the power to abridge the period of probation, or to mitigate the severity of the penance, and in this power lies the germ of the doctrine of Malgence (see Canons of Council of Ancyra, c. v). In course of time penitential discipline came to be applied, not merely to excommunicated persons, but to all delinquents within the pale of the Church; and penance came at last, in the hands of the schoolmen, to be a sacrament, with its systematic theory nicely fitting into the hierarchical system, of which, in fact, it became the very keystone. Nothing could so surely augment the power of the priesthood as the right of fixing penalties for sin, and making terms of forgiveness. "Just as, in early times, the penances of the excommunicated were frequently mitigated, so, in the course of the Middle Ages, an analogous mitigation was introduced with reference to the works of penance to which delinquents were subjected. Permission was given to exchange a more severe for a gentler kind of penance. Sometimes, in place of doing penance himself, the party was allowed to employ a substitute. And sometimes, in fine, instead of the actual penance prescribed, some service conducive to the interest of the Church and the glory of God was accepted. This last was the real basis of indulgence. Even here, however, the process was gradual. At first only personal acts performed for the Church were admitted. Then pecuniary gifts became more and more common, until at last the matter assumed the shape of a mere money speculation. Initiatively the abuse grew up in practice. Then came Scholasticism, and furnished it with a theoretical substratum; and not until the institution had thus received an ecclesiastical and scientific basis was a method of practice introduced which overstepped all limits. The first powerful impulse to the introduction of indulgences, properly so called, was given by the Crusades at the great Synod of Clermont in 1096. Urban II there promised to all who took part in the Crusade, which he proposed as a highly meritorious ecclesiastical work, plenary indulgence (indulgentia splenarias); and from that date for a period of two hundred years, this grace of the Church continued one of the most powerful means for renewing and enlivening these expeditions, although it was evident to unprejudiced contemporaries that the adventurers, when they crossed the ocean, did not undergo a change of character with the change' of climate. The same favor was ere long extended to the military expeditions set on foot against the heretics in Europe, and at last, by Boniface VIII, in 1300, to the year of the Roman Jubilee. Subsequently to that date, several monastic orders and holy places likewise received from successive popes special privileges in the matter of indulgence" (Ullmann, Reformers before the Reformation, 1, 236).
II. Scholastic Doctrine of Indulgence. — The practice of indulgence had been going on for some time when the Scholastic theologians took it up, and formed a speculative theory to justify it. Three great men contributed to this task: Alexander de Hales (q.v.), Albertus Magnus (q.v.), and Thomas Aquinas (q.v.). Alexander de Hales (t A.D. 1245) laid a firm foundation for the theory in the doctrine, first fairly propounded by him, of the Treasure of the Church (thesaurus ecclesiae). It runs as follows: "The sufferings and death of Christ not only made a sufficient satisfaction for the sins of men, but also acquired a superabundance of merit. This superfluous merit of Christ is conjoined with that of the martyrs and saints, which is similar in kind, though smaller in degree, for they likewise performed more than the divine law required of them. The sum of these supererogatory merits and good works forms a vast treasure, which is disjoined from the persons who won or performed them exists objectively, and, having been accumulated by the Head and members of the Church, and intended by them for its use, belongs to the Church, and is necessarily placed under the administration of its representatives, especially the pope, who is supreme. It is therefore competent for the pope, according to the measure of his insight at the time, to draw from this treasure, and bestow upon those who have no merit of their own such supplies of it as they require. Indulgences and remissions are made from the supererogatory merits of Christ's members, but most of all from the superabundance of Christ's own, the two constituting the Church's spiritual treasure. The administration of this treasure does not pertain to all, but to those only who occupy Christ's place, viz. the bishops" (Alex. Hales, Summa, 4, qu. 23, art. 2). As regards the extent of indulgence, Alexander is of opinion that it reaches even to the souls in Purgatory, under the condition, however, that there shall be the power of the keys in the party who dispenses it; faith, love, and devotion in the party to whom it is dispensed; and a competent reason and a proper relation between the two (1.c. par. 5). He does not, however, suppose that in such cases indulgence is granted in the way of judicial absolution or barter, but in that of intercession ("per modum suffragii sive interpretationis").
Albert the Great († 1280), adopting the, opinions of his predecessor, designates indulgence the remission of some imposed punishment or penance, proceeding from the power of the keys, and the treasure of the superfluous merits of the perfect. With respect to the efficacy of indulgence, Albert proposes to steer a middle course between two extremes. Some, he says, imagine that indulgence has no efficacy at all, and is merely a pious fraud, by which men are enticed to the performance of good works, such as pilgrimage and almsgiving. These, however, reduce the action of the Church to child's play, and fall into heresy. Others, carrying the contrary opinion further than is necessary, assert that an indulgence at once and unconditionally accomplishes all that is expressed in it, and thus make the divine mercy diminish the fear of judgment. The true medium is that indulgence has that precise amount of efficacy which the Church assigns to it (Alb. Magnus, Sentent. lib. 4, d. 20, art. 16).
Thomas Aquinas deduces the efficacy of indulgence directly from Christ. The history of the adulteress shows, he says, that it is in Christ's power to remit the penalty of sin without satisfaction, and so could Paul, and so also can the pope, whose power in the Church is not inferior to Paul's. Besides, the Church general is infallible, and, as it sanctions and practices indulgence, indulgence must be valid. This, Thomas is persuaded, all admit, because there would be impiety in representing any act of the Church as nugatory. The reason of its efficacy, however, lies in the oneness of the mystical body, within the limits of which there are many who, as respects works of penitence, have done more than they were under obligation to do; for instance, many who have patiently endured undeserved sufferings sufficient to expiate a great amount of penalties. In fact, so vast is the sum of these merits that it greatly exceeds the measure of the guilt of all the living, especially when augmented by the merit of Christ, which, although operative in the sacraments, is not in its operation confined to these, but, being infinite, extends far beyond them. The measure of the efficacy of indulgence — this St. Thomas reckons to be the truth — is determined by the measure of its cause. The procuring cause of the remission of punishment in indulgence is, however, solely the plenitude of the Church's merits, not the piety, labors, or gifts of the party by whom it is obtained; and therefore the quantity of the indulgence does not need to correspond with any of these, but only with the merits of the Church. In respect to the party who ought to dispense indulgence, St. Thomas asserts that no mere priest or pastor, but only the bishop, is competent for the duty. On the other hand, deacons and other parties not in orders, as, for example, nuncios, may grant indulgence if, either in an ordinary or extraordinary way, they have been entrusted with jurisdiction for the purpose. For indulgence does not, like sacramental acts, pertain to the power of the keys inherent in the priesthood, but to that power of the keys which belongs to jurisdiction (Aquinas, Supplem. 3 partes Summae Theologici, qu. 25-27).
III. Opposition to Indulgences within the Church of Rome. — Such a doctrine could not fail to offend truly pious souls even within the Church. Long before the Reformation the whole system was attacked by eminent doctors. One of its most powerful opponents was John of Wesel (q.v.), in the middle of the 15th century. A festival of jubilee, with vast indulgences, was proclaimed by pope Clement VI in 1450, and cardinal Cusanus visited Erfurt as a preacher of indulgence. This brought the subject practically before Wesel's mind, and he wrote a treatise against indulgences (Adversus
indulgentias: see Walch, Monum. Med. avi, 2, fasc. 1, 111-156). For a full account of it, see Ullmann, Reformers before the Reformation, 1, 258 sq. The flagrant abuses connected with the sale of indulgences began to cause a reaction against the system even in the popular mind. In the 15th century, in particular, the disposal of them had become almost a common traffic; and a public sale of them was generally preceded by some specious pretext; for instance, the reduction of the Greeks under the yoke of the Romish Church, a war with heretics, or a crusade against the Neapolitans, etc. Too often the pretences for selling indulgences were in reality bloody, idolatrous, or superstitious. It was one of the charges brought against John XXIII at the Council of Constance, in 1415, that he empowered his legates to absolve penitents from all sorts of crimes upon payment of sums proportioned to their guilt. When such- indulgences were to be published, the disposal of them was commonly farmed out; for the papal court could not always wait to have the money collected and conveyed from every country of Europe. And there were rich merchants at Genoa, Milan, Venice, and Augsburg who purchased the indulgences for a particular province, and paid to the papal chancery handsome sums for them. Thus both parties were benefited. The chancery came at once into possession of large sums of money, and the farmers did not fail of a good bargain. They were careful to employ skilful hawkers of the indulgences, persons whose boldness and impudence bore due proportion to the eloquence with which they imposed upon the simple people. Yet, that this species of traffic might have a religious aspect, the pope appointed the archbishops of the several provinces to be his commissaries, who in his name announced that indulgences were to be sold, and generally selected the persons to hawk them, and for this service shared the profits with the merchants who farmed them. These papal hawkers enjoyed great privileges, and, however odious to the civil authorities, they were not to be molested. Complaints, indeed, were made against these contributions, levied by the popes upon all Christian Europe. Kings and princes, clergy and laity, bishops, monasteries, and confessors, all felt themselves aggrieved by them; the kings, that their countries were impoverished, under the pretext of crusades that were never undertaken, and of wars against heretics and Turks; and the bishops, that their letters of indulgence were rendered inefficient, and the people released from ecclesiastical discipline. But at Rome all were deaf to these complaints; and it was not till the revolution produced by Luther that unhappy Europe obtained the desired relief (Mosheim, Eccles. Hist. cent. 3:sec. 1, chap. 10 Leo X, in order to carry on the expensive structure of St.
Peter's Church at Rome, published indulgences, with a plenary remission to all such as should contribute towards erecting that magnificent fabric. The right of promulgating these indulgences in Germany, together with a share in the profits arising from the sale of them, was granted to Albert, elector of Mentz and archbishop of Magdeburg, who selected as his chief agent for retailing them in Saxony John Tetzel, a Dominican friar, of licentious morals, but of an active and enterprising spirit, and remarkable for his noisy and popular eloquence. Assisted by the monks of his order, he executed the commission with great zeal and success, but with no less indecency, boasting that he had saved more souls from hell by his indulgences than St. Peter had converted by his preaching. He assured the purchasers of them that their crimes, however enormous, would be forgiven; that the efficacy of indulgences was so great that the most heinous sins, even if one should violate (which was impossible) the mother of God, would be remitted and expiated by them, and the person freed both from punishment and guilt; and that this was the unspeakable gift of God, in order to reconcile men to himself. In the usual form of absolution, written by his own hand, he said: "May our Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon thee, and absolve thee by the merits of his most holy passion. And I, by his authority, that of his apostles Peter and Paul, and of the most holy pope, granted and committed to me in these parts, do absolve thee, first, from all ecclesiastical censures, in whatever manner they have been incurred; then from all thy sins, transgressions, and excesses, how enormous so ever they may be: even from such as are reserved for the cognizance of the holy see, and as far as the keys of the holy Church extend. I remit to thee all punishment which thou deservest in Purgatory on their account; and I restore thee to the holy sacraments of the Church, to the unity of the faithful, and to that innocence and purity which thou possessedst at baptism: so that when thou diest the gates of punishment shall be shut, and the gates of the Paradise of delights shall be opened; and if thou shalt not die at present, this grace shall remain in full force when thou art at the point of death. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." The terms in which the retailers of indulgences described their benefits, and the necessity of purchasing them, were so extravagant that they appear almost incredible. If any man, said they, purchase letters of indulgence, his soul may rest secure with respect to its salvation. The souls confined in Purgatory, for whose redemption indulgences are purchased, as soon as the money tinkles in the chest, instantly escape from that place of torment, and ascend into heaven. That the cross, erected by the preachers of indulgences was equally efficacious with the cross of Christ itself. "Lo," said they, "the heavens are open: if you enter not now, when will you enter? For twelve pence you may redeem the soul of your father out of Purgatory; and are you so ungrateful that you will not rescue the soul of your parent from torment? If you had but one coat, you ought to strip yourself instantly and sell it, in order to purchase such benefit." It was these abuses, as much as any other one cause, which led to the Lutheran Reformation, and it was against these that Luther first directed his attacks. SEE LUTHER; SEE REFORMATION.
III. Present Doctrine and Practice of Indulgence. The following extracts show what has been, since the Council of Trent, and is now, the Romish doctrine of indulgence. The Council declared that "as the power of granting indulgences was given by Christ to the Church, and she has exercised it in the most ancient times, this holy synod teaches and commands that the use of them, as being greatly salutary to the Christian people, and approved by the authority of councils, shall be retained; and she anathematizes those who say they are useless, or deny to the Church the power of granting them; but in this grant the synod wishes that moderation, agreeably to the ancient and approved practice of the Church, be exercised, lest by too great facility ecclesiastical discipline be weakened" (Conc. Trid. Sess. 25 De Indulg.). Pope Leo X, in his bull De Indulgentiis, whose object he states to be "that no one in future may allege ignorance of the doctrine of the Roman Church respecting indulgences and their efficacy," declares "that the Roman pontiff, vicar of Christ on earth, can, for reasonable causes, by the powers of the keys, grant to the faithful, whether in this life or in Purgatory, indulgences, out of the superabundance of the merits of Christ, and of the saints (expressly called a treasure); and that those who have truly obtained these indulgences are released from so much of the temporal punishment due for their actual sins to the divine justice as is equivalent to the indulgence granted and obtained" (Bulla Leon. X, adv. Luther). Clement VI, in the bull Unigenitus, explains this matter more fully: "As a single drop of Christ's blood would have sufficed for the redemption of the whole human race," so the rest was not lost, but "was a treasure which he acquired in the militant Church, to be used for the benefit of his sons; which treasure he would not suffer to be hid in a napkin, or buried in the ground, but committed it to be dispensed by St. Peter and his successors, his own vicars upon earth, for proper and reasonable causes, for the total or partial remission of the temporal punishment due to sin; and for an augmentation of his treasure, the merits of the blessed mother of God, and of all the elect, who are known to come in aid." The reasonable causes, on account of which indulgences are given, are, where "the cause be pious, that is, not a work which is merely temporal, or vain, or in no respect appertaining to the divine glory, but for any work whatsoever which tends to the honor of God or the service of the Church, an indulgence will be valid." We see, occasionally, the very greatest indulgences given for the very lightest causes; as when a plenary indulgence is granted to all who stand before the gates of St. Peter, whilst the pope gives the solemn blessing to the people on Easter day; for "indulgences do not depend, for their efficacy, on consideration of the work enjoined, but on the infinite treasure of the merits of Christ and the saints, which is a consideration surpassing and transcending everything that is granted by an indulgence." In some cases "the work enjoined must not only be pious and useful, but bear a certain proportion with the indulgence; that is, the work enjoined must tend to an end more pleasing in the sight of God than the satisfaction remitted," "although it is not necessary that it be in itself very meritorious, or satisfactory, or difficult, and laborious (though these things ought to be regarded too, but that it be a means, apt and useful, towards obtaining the end for which the indulgence is granted." So "the large resort of people," before the gates of St. Peter, when the pope gives his solemn blessing, "is a means, apt and useful, to set forth faith respecting the head of the Church, and to the honor of the apostolic see, which is the end of the indulgence" (Bellarmine, De Indulgentiis, lib, 1, can. 12). The first General Lateran Council granted "remission of sin to whoever shall go to Jerusalem, and effectually help to oppose the infidels" (can. 11). The third and fourth Lateran Councils granted the same indulgence to those who set themselves to destroy heretics, or who shall take up arms against them (see Labbe, 10, 1523). Boniface VIII granted not only a full and larger, but the most full pardon of all sins to all that visit Rome the first year in every century. Clement V decreed that they who should, at the Jubilee, visit such and such churches, should obtain "a most full remission of all their sins;" and he not only granted a "plenary absolution of all sins to all who died on the road to Rome," but" also commanded the angels of Paradise to carry the soul direct to heaven." "Sincere repentance," we are told, "is always enjoined or implied in the grant of an indulgence, and is indispensably necessary for every grace" (Milner, End of Controversy, p. 304). But as the dead are removed from the possibility, so are they from the necessity of repentance; "as the pope," says Bellarmine, "applies the satisfactions of Christ and the saints to the dead, by means of works enjoined on the living, they are applied, not in the way of judicial absolution, but in the way of payment (per modum solutionis). For as when a person gives alms, or fasts, or makes a pilgrimage on account of the dead, the effect is, not that he obtains absolution for them from their liability to punishment, but he presents to God that particular satisfaction for them, in order that God, on receiving it, may liberate the dead from the debt of punishment which they had to pay. In like manner, the pope does not absolve the deceased, but offers to God, out of the measure of satisfaction, as much as is necessary to free them" (lb.). Their object is "to afford succor to such as have departed real penitents in the love of God, yet before they had duly satisfied, by fruits worthy of penance, for sills of commission and omission, and are now purifying in the fire of Purgatory, that an entrance may be opened for them into that country where nothing defiled is admitted" (Bull Leo XII). "We have resolved," says pope Leo XII, in his bull of indiction for the universal jubilee in 1824, "in virtue of the authority given us by heaven, fully to unlock that sacred treasure, composed of the merits, sufferings, and virtues of Christ our Lord, and of his Virgin Mother, and of all the saints which the author of human salvation has entrusted to our dispensation. During this year of the jubilee, we mercifully give and grant, in the Lord, a plenary indulgence, remission, and pardon of all their sins to all the faithful of Christ, truly penitent, and confessing their sins, and receiving the holy communion, who shall visit the churches of blessed Peter and Paul," etc. "We offer you," says Ganganelli, in his bull De Indulgentiis, "a share of all the riches of divine mercy which have been entrusted to us, and chiefly those which have their origin in the blood of Christ. We will then open to you all the gates of the rich reservoir of atonement, derived from the merits of the Mother of God, the holy apostles, the blood of the martyrs, and the good works of all the saints. We invite you, then, to drink of this overflowing stream of indulgence, to enrich yourselves in the inexhaustible treasures of the Church, according to the custom of our ancestors. Do not, then, let slip the present occasion, this favorable time, these salutary days, employing them to appease the justice of God, and obtain your pardon." "The temporal punishment due to sin, by the decree of God, when its guilt and eternal punishment are remitted, may consist either of evil in this life, or of temporal suffering is the next, which temporal suffering in the next life is called purgatory; that the Church has received power from God to remit both of these inflictions, and this remission is called an indulgence" (Butler's Book of the Rome. Cath. Ch. p. 110). "It is the received doctrine of the Church that an indulgence, when truly gained, is not barely a relaxation of the canonical penance enjoined by the Church, but also an actual remission by God himself of the whole or part of the temporal punishment due to it in his sight" (Milner, End of Controversy, p. 305 sq.).
As to the present practice of indulgences, it subsists, with all its immoral tendencies, in full force to this day. It is true, however, that the abuses connected with the sale of indulgences are not so flagrant as in former times, especially in those countries where the Roman Church is destitute of political power. Where it has, the system is almost as bad as ever. It is said that, as lately as the year 1800, a Spanish vessel was captured near the coast of South America, freighted (among other things) with numerous bales of indulgences for various sins, the price of which, varying from half a dollar to seven dollars, was marked upon each. They had been bought in Spain, and were intended for sale in South America. Seymour tells us as follows: "This inscription is placed in that part of the Church which is of all the most public. It is placed over the holy water, to which all persons must resort, on entering the Church, before partaking of any of its services. It is as follows: 'Indulgence. — The image of the most holy Mary, which stands on the high altar, spoke to the holy pope Gregory, saying to him, Why do you no longer salute me, in passing, with the accustomed salutation? The saint asked pardon, and granted to those who celebrate mass at that altar the deliverance of a soul from Purgatory, that is, the special soul for which they celebrate the mass.' There is nothing more frequently remarked by Protestants, on entering the churches of Rome, than the constant recurrence of the words 'indulgentia plenaria,' a plenary indulgence attached to' the masses offered there; and this is tantamount to the emancipation of any soul from Purgatory, through a mass offered at that altar. Instead of these words, however, the same thing is more plainly expressed in some churches. In the church Santa Maria della Pace, so celebrated for the magnificent fresco of the Sibyls by Raphael, there is over one of the altars the following inscription: 'Ogni messa celebrata in quest' altare libera un animod al 'purgatorio'--Every mass celebrated at this altar frees a soul from Purgatory. In: some churches this privilege extends throughout the year, but in others it is limited to those masses which are offered on particular days. In the church of Sta. Croce di Gerusalemme this privilege is connected in an especial manner with the fourth Sunday in Lent. And this is notified by a public notice posted in the church close to the altar, setting forth that a mass celebrated there on that day releases a soul from Purgatory" (Seymour, Evenings at Rome).
Indulgences are now granted in the Romish Church on a very ample scale, especially to all contributors to the erection of churches, and to the funds of the Propaganda and other missionary societies, etc. In fact, almost ally act of piety (so-called) entitles one to an indulgence: as, for instance, the worship of relics; the visiting of churches or special altars; participation in divine worship on great festivals, such as inauguration of churches, and, especially, taking part in pilgrimages. Indulgences which apply either to the whole Church are called general (indulg. generalis), while those that are confined to particular localities, as a bishopric, etc., are called particular (indulg. particularis). The most general indulgence is that of the Roman Catholic year of Jubilee (q.v.). The general indulgence is always made out by the pope himself, while the particular indulgences, either plenarice or minus plesne, are often among the privileges of divers localities, either for special occasions and various lengths of time, or occasionally forever. The papal indulgence is to be proclaimed by the bishop and two canons of the diocese receiving it. "Indulgences are divided into plenary and non- plenary, or partial, temporary, indefinite, local, perpetual, real, and personal.
1. A plenary indulgence is that by which is obtained a remission of all the temporal punishment due to sin, either in this life or in the next.
2. A non-plenary or partial indulgence is that which remits only a part of the temporal punishment due to sin: such are indulgences for a given number of days, weeks, or years. This sort of indulgence remits so many days, weeks, or years of penance, which ought to be observed agreeably to the ancient canons of the Church, for the sins which we have committed.
3. Temporary indulgences are those which are granted for a certain specified time, as for seven or more years.
4. Indefinite indulgences are those which are granted without any limitation of time.
5. Perpetual indulgences are those granted forever, and which do not require to be renewed after a given number of years.
6. A general indulgence is one granted by the pope to all the faithful throughout the world.
7. A local indulgence is attached to certain churches, chapels, or other places; it is gained by actually visiting such church or other building or place, and by observing scrupulously all the conditions required by the bull granting such indulgence.
8. A real indulgence is attached to certain movable things, as rosaries, medals, etc., and is granted to those who actually wear these articles with devotion; should the fashion of them cease, so that they cease to be deemed the same articles, the indulgence ceases. So long, however, as such articles continue, and are reputed to be the same, the indulgence continues in force, notwithstanding any accidental alteration which may be made in them, as the affixing of a new string or ribbon to a rosary.
9. A personal indulgence is one which is granted to certain particular persons, or to several persons in common, as to a confraternity or brotherhood. These privileged persons may gain such indulgences wherever they may happen to be, whether they are in health, in sickness, or at the point of death.
10. Other indulgences are termed enjoined penances, penitence injustice. By them is conferred the remission of so much of the punishment which is due to sins at the judgment of God as the sinner would have to pay by canonical penances, or by penances enjoined in all their rigor by the priest. An indulgence produces its effect at the very moment when all the works prescribed in order to obtain it are performed. (Richard et Giraud, Bibliotheque Sacree, 13, 366 sq.) The scales of payment are peculiar, being made to meet a variety of cases, and they are so lenient that the payment of them can form no bar against the subsequent commission of the crime for which an indulgence has already been received."
IV. The "Congregation of Indulgences" (Congregatio Cardinalium de indulgentiis et Sacris reliquiis) assists the pope in managing the department of indulgences. It is one of the functions of this congregation to investigate the grounds of all applications on the part of bishops, dioceses, churches, etc., for indulgences, and to report thereon to the pope. SEE CONGREGATION, vol. 2, p. 475.
V. Criticism of the Romish Doctrine of Indulgence. — We cannot attempt to give in this place a full refutation of the Romish doctrine of indulgences, nor is it necessary. In her 22nd Article, the Church of England formally condemns the Romish doctrine of indulgence as well as Purgatory (q.v.).
The article was framed (1558) before the Council of Trent, which endeavored to remedy the worst abuses arising from the practice of such a doctrine, but which nevertheless virtually sanctioned the principles naturally involved in the system. In the Parker MS. of 1562 (the 25th session of the Council of Trent, which was held Dec. 3 and 4, 1563) appears the change of terms from Scholasticorum doctrina to Doctrina Romanensiun (comp. Pusey's Eirenicon, part 1, p. 207; Blunt, Hist. of the Reformation, A.D. 1514-1547, p. 444, 465). The English theologians held "(1) that temporal pain, the fruit of sin, is in its nature remedial and disciplinary, both to the sinner, and to others that they may see and fear; and (2) that as such it is not remissible by any sacrament or ordinance entrusted to the Church." The former proposition they support by Jer 2; Jer 19; Isa 3:9; by the examples of Moses and David; Nu 20:12; De 1:37; 2Sa 12:14. The following quotations cover, however, more nearly all the points: "Viewed even in its purest form, as stated by the most eminent doctors, and sanctioned by papal bulls, the doctrine of indulgence not only introduces a contradiction into the Catholic system, in respect that works of satisfaction, which were originally an integral part of the sacrament of penitence, are entirely disconnected with it, and viewed as a mere matter of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, but it has this further radical defect pervading all its constituent parts, that moral and religious things, which can only be taken as spiritual magnitudes, are considered as material ones, quality being treated wholly as quantity, and, consequently, a standard of external computation and a sort of religious arithmetic applied, which involves contradiction. Even in order to establish the superabundance of the merit of Christ, it was affirmed that though a single drop of his blood would have sufficed for a universal atonement, yet the Savior had shed so much, as if it were not the divine sacrifice of love on the part of the Son of God and man, and his atoning death in general, but his several outward sufferings and their quantity in which its value and importance consisted. In like manner, on the part of the saints, it was not their peculiar and more exalted moral and religious character, but their several works, and especially the volume rather than the worth of these, which was taken into account; and the whole was handled as something totally disconnected with their persons, as an objective fund, a sum of ready money in the Church's hands. According to the same category, the imputation of the merits of Christ and the saints was described as a purely external transference of a portion of that sum to one who needed it. For, although a penitent frame of mind was required of the sinner, still it was not for the sake, nor according to the measure of that, that the merit of Christ and the saints was transferred to him, but solely for the sake of some service performed by him for the Church, and this performance, again, is quite an external and isolated work. At the same time, as respects the merits of the saints, the theory of indulgence rests on the supposition that a man, who is still human, although a saint, may not only possess a sufficiency of merit to answer his own need before God, but may likewise do more than the divine law demands of him, and thus acquire a surplus of merit for the use of others. Even this is a monstrous supposition, but still more monstrous perhaps is another, which invades the religious domain and the glory of God. In point of fact, the doctrine and practice of indulgences gives the Church a position as an absolutely unerring and omniscient judicial power. It identifies the tribunal of the Church with that of God, and the tribunal of the pope with that of the Church, thereby indirectly identifying the pope's with God's, so that the pope is raised to a position, in virtue of which, as the visible head of the mystical body of Christ, and as the dispenser of all penalties and graces, he decides the highest questions involving the salvation of the living and the dead, according to his mere pleasure. Granting, however, that the whole doctrine were well founded, the position assigned to the pope would be one elevated far above the reach of fancy, and could be designated only as that of a terrestrial god. What an infinite amount of obligation would it impose upon the papacy, and with what conscientiousness sharpened to the utmost ought the popes, if they were bold enough to believe that such plenitude of power had actually been lodged in the hands of any child of the dust, to have dispensed the lofty blessings committed to their trust! How carefully ought they to have guarded them from perversion and debasement! And yet what do we see? Abuse upon abuse, and profanation upon profanation, in an ascending scale, for more than two centuries, until at last moral indignation bursts like a tempest upon their impiety" (Ullmann, Reformers before the Reformation, 1, 246). "Either the pope has the power of bringing souls out of Purgatory, or he has not. If he has not, the question is decided. If he has, what cruelty, then, for him to leave there whole millions of souls whom he might by a word bring out of it! Without going so far, why this strange inequality in the distribution of a treasure which is deemed inexhaustible? Why will a pater and an ave in my parish church avail only for five or six days' indulgence, when they avail for forty days in another church, before another Madonna or another cross? Why is the performance of the works paid, in such or such a congregation, with a plenary indulgence, and in this or that other with a mere indulgence for a time? Why-but we should never end with the contradictions with which this matter is beset. Yet let us give one-just one more. If plenary indulgence be not merely a lure, how comes it that masses continue to be said for the souls of those who received it when dying? Why that solemn deprofundis repeated at Rome during the whole reign of a pope on the anniversary of the death of his predecessor? This is what Luther said in his theses, and the objection is not the less embarrassing for being old. The only means of getting out of the difficulty would be to accept the consequences of the system. You have only to regard as well and duly entered into heaven all who left this world with that infallible passport, and to refuse, therefore, to say a mass for them. And why is this not done? We, have no need to explain. Between a mere act of Inconsistency added to so many others and the drying up of the very best source of her revenues, could Rome ever hesitate? But if there be ground to ask, on the one hand, why the popes and the bishops have not, at least, the charity to grant everywhere, and to all, as many indulgences as they have a right to dispense, no less reason have we to be astonished at the low price they put upon them, and the incredible facilities offered to such as wish to acquire them. See, for instance, the statutes of the brotherhood (confrerie) well known under the name of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of Mary. By a brief of 1838, plenary indulgence is accorded to those who shall worthily confess on the day of their reception into the brotherhood; which is as much as saying to people, 'Come in among us, and all your previous sins will be wiped out.' Plenary indulgence, moreover, to such as shall confess themselves, and communicate at certain epochs of the year, and these are ten in number. Further, indulgence of five hundred days to whosoever shall devoutly be present at the mass of Saturday, and shall pray for the conversion of sinners. Though we should believe in indulgences, it strikes us that we could not but feel some scruples at seeing them lavished away in this manner. For a mass that shall have cost you half an hour, to be exempted from Purgatory for near a year and a half! For one confession, to be exempted from it altogether, although you may have deserved a thousand years of it! If not stopped by shame, these bold traffickers in salvation ought at least, one would think, to dread lest their wares should suffer depreciation in consequence of being given away for so little. True, they do not cost them anything, and there is no limit to purchases. Nobody, well knowing to how many years of Purgatory he may be condemned, can reasonably stop in adding to the amount of indulgences with which he is to appear at the bar of judgment. By placing himself on the most favorable conditions, and taking care to let no occasion be lost, a man of sixty might without difficulty have amassed them for above a million of years, over and above the plenary ones, each one of which ought to suffice, and with which one does not well see what the rest can signify" (Bungener, Hist. of the Council of Trent, p. 520, 521).
VI. For further literature and discussion of the subject, see Bp. Philpot's Letters to Mr. Butler, p. 151-153; Hales, Analysis of Chronology, vol. 2, pt. 2, p. 1019-22. Mendham, Spiritual Venality of Rome (London, 1836, 12mo); Mendham, Venal Indulgences and Pardons of the Church of Rome exemplified (Lond. 1839, 12mo); Ferraris, Bibliotheca Promta, s.v.; Elliott, Delineation of Romanism, book 2, ch. 13; Herzog, Real-Encyklop. 1, 67; Neander, History of Doctrines, 2, 594; Neander, Church History, 3:52, 138; 5, 180, 280; Mosheim, Ch. History, bk. 4, cent. 16:§ 1, ch. 1 and 2; D'Aubignd, History of the Reformation, bk. 3; Amort, De Origine, etc., in. dulgentiarun, (Aug.Vind. 1735, fol.); Hirscher, Lehre v. Ablass (Tübing. 1844); Gieseler, Church Hist. 2, § 35, 81; Hook, Church. Dictionary, s.v.; Eadie, Ecclesiastical Dictionary, s.v.; Cramp, Text-book of Popery, ch. 19; Bungener, Hist. of the Council of Trent, p. 518-530; Ullmann, Reformers before the Reformation, 1, 235 sq.; Bergier, Dict. de Theologie, 3:398.