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Reflections: Catholic Basics Section (Indulgences)

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Also See: Indulgences (Topic Page)

"Can. 993 An indulgence is partial or plenary insofar as it partially or totally frees from the temporal punishment due to sins." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

"Can. 994 All members of the faithful can gain indulgences, partial or plenary, for themselves, or they can apply them by way of suffrage to the dead." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

"An indulgence is the remission granted by the Church of the temporal punishment due to sins already forgiven." (Baltimore Catechism)

"A plenary Indulgence is that by which the whole temporal punishment due to our sins is remitted." (Catechism of Pope Pius X)

"A partial Indulgence is that by which is remitted only a part of the temporal punishment due to our sins." (Catechism of Pope Pius X)

"We should set the greatest value on Indulgences because by them we satisfy the justice of God and obtain possession of Heaven sooner and more easily." (Catechism of Pope Pius X)

"Can. 997 As regards the granting and use of indulgences, the other prescripts contained in the special laws of the Church must also be observed." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

"Indulgences are granted in virtue of the power conferred on the prelates of the Church." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"Can. 930 No one gaining indulgences can apply them to other people [still] in life; unless otherwise established, all indulgences granted by the Roman Pontiff are applicable to the souls detained in purgatory." (1917 Code of Canon Law)

"To gain an indulgence for ourselves we must be in the state of grace, have at least a general intention of gaining the indulgence, and perform the works required by the Church." (Baltimore Catechism)

"[T]he souls in Purgatory can be relieved by our prayers, alms-deeds, all our other good works, and by indulgences, but above all by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass." (Catechism of Pope Pius X)

"An Indulgence is the remission of the temporal punishment due on account of our sins which have been already pardoned as far as their guilt is concerned - a remission [of punishment, not of guilt] accorded by the Church outside the sacrament of Penance." (Catechism of Pope Pius X)

"By an Indulgence of forty or a hundred days, or of seven years and the like, is meant the remission of so much of the temporal punishment as would have been paid by penances of forty or a hundred days, or seven years, anciently prescribed in the Church." (Catechism of Pope Pius X)

"The Church by means of Indulgences remits this temporal punishment by applying to us the superabundant merits of Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Virgin and of the Saints, which constitute what is known as the Treasury of the Church." (Catechism of Pope Pius X)

"The remission which is granted by means of indulgences does not destroy the proportion between punishment and sin, since someone has spontaneously taken upon himself the punishment due for another's guilt" (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"Although indulgences avail much for the remission of punishment, yet works of satisfaction are more meritorious in respect of the essential reward, which infinitely transcends the remission of temporal punishment." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"The effect of sacramental absolution is the removal of a man's guilt, an effect which is not produced by indulgences. But he who grants indulgences pays the debt of punishment which a man owes, out of the common stock of the Church's goods" (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"Can. 911 Everyone should greatly value indulgences, that is, a remission in the presence of God of the temporal punishment owed because of sins, the fault attached to which is already forgiven, that ecclesiastical authority grants from the treasury of the Church by mode of absolution to the living and through the mode of suffrages for the dead." (1917 Code of Canon Law)

"Can. 995 §1 Apart from the supreme authority in the Church, only those can grant indulgences to whom this power is either acknowledged in the law, or given by the Roman Pontiff. §2 No authority below the Roman Pontiff can give to others the faculty of granting indulgences, unless this authority has been expressly given to the person by the Apostolic See." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

"Can. 992 An indulgence is the remission before God of temporal punishment for sins whose guilt is already forgiven, which a properly disposed member of the Christian faithful gains under certain and defined conditions by the assistance of the Church which as minister of redemption dispenses and applies authoritatively the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

"Can. 996 §1 To be capable of gaining indulgences, a person must be baptized, not excommunicated, and in the state of grace at least at the completion of the prescribed works. §2 To gain indulgences, however, a capable subject must have at least the general intention of acquiring them and must fulfill the enjoined works in the established time and in the manner determined by the terms of the grant." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

"Since the power of granting indulgences was conferred by Christ on the Church, and she has made use of such power divinely given to her, [cf. Matt. 16:19; 18:18] even in the earliest times, the holy Synod teaches and commands that the use of indulgences, most salutary to a Christian people and approved by the authority of the sacred Councils, is to be retained in the Church, and it condemns those with anathema who assert that they are useless or deny that there is in the Church the power of granting them." (Council of Trent, 1563 A.D.)

"The Pope has the plenitude of pontifical power, being like a king in his kingdom: whereas the bishops are appointed to a share in his solicitude, like judges over each city. Hence them alone the Pope, in his letters, addresses as brethren, whereas he calls all others his sons. Therefore the plenitude of the power of granting indulgences resides in the Pope, because he can grant them, as he lists, provided the cause be a lawful one: while, in bishops, this power resides subject to the Pope's ordination, so that they can grant them within fixed limits and not beyond." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"Temporal things are subordinate to spiritual matters, since we must make use of temporal things on account of spiritual things. Consequently an indulgence must not be granted for the sake of temporal matters as such, but in so far as they are subordinate to spiritual things: such as the quelling of the Church's enemies, who disturb her peace; or such as the building of a church, of a bridge, and other forms of almsgiving. It is therefore evident that there is no simony in these transactions, since a spiritual thing is exchanged, not for a temporal but for a spiritual commodity." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"In virtue of the power of the Keys, which she has received from Jesus Christ, the Church may free the faithful from every obstacle to their entrance into glory. She exercises this power in the Sacrament of Penance, where she absolves them from their sins; she exercises it also outside of the Sacrament, in remitting the debt of temporal punishment which remains after the absolution; in this second instance it is the indulgence. The remission of temporal punishment by indulgences is granted to the faithful in this life only; but the Church may authorize her children whilst still living to transfer to their departed friends the remission accorded to themselves; this is the indulgence applicable to the souls in Purgatory." (Fr. Schouppe)

"Grace affords a better remedy for the avoidance of sin than does habituation to (good) works. And since he who gains an indulgence is disposed to grace through the love which he conceives for the cause for which the indulgence is granted, it follows that indulgences provide a remedy against sin. Consequently it is not harmful to grant indulgences unless this be done without discretion. Nevertheless those who gain indulgences should be advised, not, on this account, to omit the penitential works imposed on them, so that they may derive a remedy from these also, even though they may be quit of the debt of punishment; and all the more, seeing that they are often more in debt than they think." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"Indulgences are, in the Church, a true spiritual treasure laid open to all the faithful; all are permitted to draw therefrom, to pay their own debts and those of others...[H]ow culpable we are if in such abundance we remain poor and destitute ourselves and neglect to assist others. Alas! The souls in Purgatory are in such extreme necessity, they supplicate us with tears in the midst of their torments; we have the means of paying their debts by indulgences, and we make not endeavor to do so. Does access to this treasury demand painful efforts on our parts, such as fastings, journeys, and privations insupportable to nature? 'Even though such were the case,' says with reason the eloquent Father Segneri, 'we should submit to them.' Do we not see how men for love of gold, in order to preserve a work of art, to save a part of their fortune or a precious fabric, expose themselves to the flames of a fire? Ought we not then to do at least as much to save from expiatory flames those souls ransomed by the Blood of Jesus Christ? But Divine goodness asks nothing so painful: it requires only such works as are ordinary and easy - a Rosary, a Communion, a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, an alms or the teaching of the elements of the Catechism to abandoned children. And we neglect to acquire the most precious treasures by such easy means, and have no desire to apply them to our poor relatives languishing the flames of Purgatory." (Fr. Schouppe)

"An indulgence may profit a person in two ways: in one way, principally; in another, secondarily. It profits principally the person who avails himself of an indulgence, who, namely, does that for which the indulgence is granted, for instance one who visits the shrine of some saint. Hence since the dead can do none of those things for which indulgences are granted, indulgences cannot avail them directly. However, they profit secondarily and indirectly the person for whom one does that which is the cause of the indulgence. This is sometimes feasible and sometimes not, according to the different forms of indulgence. For if the form of indulgence be such as this: 'Whosoever does this or that shall gain so much indulgence,' he who does this cannot transfer the fruit of the indulgence to another, because it is not in his power to apply to a particular person the intention of the Church who dispenses the common suffrages whence indulgences derive their value... If, however, the indulgence be granted in this form: 'Whosoever does this or that, he, his father, or any other person connected with him and detained in purgatory, will gain so much indulgence,' an indulgence of this kind will avail not only a living but also a deceased person. For there is no reason why the Church is able to transfer the common merits, whereon indulgences are based, to the living and not to the dead. Nor does it follow that a prelate of the Church can release souls from purgatory just as he lists, since for indulgences to avail there must be a fitting cause for granting them" (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"I answer that, All admit that indulgences have some value, for it would be blasphemy to say that the Church does anything in vain. But some say that they do not avail to free a man from the debt of punishment which he has deserved in Purgatory according to God's judgment, and that they merely serve to free him from the obligation imposed on him by the priest as a punishment for his sins, or from the canonical penalties he has incurred. But this opinion does not seem to be true. First, because it is expressly opposed to the privilege granted to Peter, to whom it was said (Matthew 16:19) that whatsoever he should loose on earth should be loosed also in heaven. Wherefore whatever remission is granted in the court of the Church holds good in the court of God. Moreover the Church by granting such indulgences would do more harm than good, since, by remitting the punishment she had enjoined on a man, she would deliver him to be punished more severely in Purgatory. Hence we must say on the contrary that indulgences hold good both in the Church's court and in the judgment of God, for the remission of the punishment which remains after contrition, absolution, and confession, whether this punishment be enjoined or not. The reason why they so avail is the oneness of the mystical body in which many have performed works of satisfaction exceeding the requirements of their debts; in which, too, many have patiently borne unjust tribulations whereby a multitude of punishments would have been paid, had they been incurred. So great is the quantity of such merits that it exceeds the entire debt of punishment due to those who are living at this moment: and this is especially due to the merits of Christ: for though He acts through the sacraments, yet His efficacy is nowise restricted to them, but infinitely surpasses their efficacy. Now one man can satisfy for another, as we have explained [earlier]. And the saints in whom this super-abundance of satisfactions is found, did not perform their good works for this or that particular person, who needs the remission of his punishment (else he would have received this remission without any indulgence at all), but they performed them for the whole Church in general, even as the Apostle declares that he fills up 'those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ ... for His body, which is the Church' to whom he wrote (Colossians 1:24). These merits, then, are the common property of the whole Church. Now those things which are the common property of a number are distributed to the various individuals according to the judgment of him who rules them all. Hence, just as one man would obtain the remission of his punishment if another were to satisfy for him, so would he too if another's satisfactions be applied to him by one who has the power to do so." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"Indulgences are effective, in as much as the works of satisfaction done by one person are applied to another, not only by virtue of charity, but also by the intention of the person who did them being directed in some way to the person to whom they are applied. Now a person's intention may be directed to another in three ways, specifically, generically and individually. Individually, as when one person offers satisfaction for another particular person; and thus anyone can apply his works to another. Specifically, as when a person prays for the congregation to which he belongs, for the members of his household, or for his benefactors, and directs his works of satisfaction to the same intention: in this way the superior of a congregation can apply those works to some other person, by applying the intention of those who belong to his congregation to some fixed individual. Generically, as when a person directs his works for the good of the Church in general; and thus he who presides over the whole Church can communicate those works, by applying his intention to this or that individual. And since a man is a member of a congregation, and a congregation is a part of the Church, hence the intention of private good includes the intention of the good of the congregation, and of the good of the whole Church. Therefore he who presides over the Church can communicate what belongs to an individual congregation or to an individual man: and he who presides over a congregation can communicate what belongs to an individual man, but not conversely. Yet neither the first nor the second communication is called an indulgence, but only the third; and this for two reasons. First, because, although those communications loose man from the debt of punishment in the sight of God, yet he is not freed from the obligation of fulfilling the satisfaction enjoined, to which he is bound by a commandment of the Church; whereas the third communication frees man even from this obligation. Secondly, because in one person or even in one congregation there is not such an unfailing supply of merits as to be sufficient both for the one person or congregation and for all others; and consequently the individual is not freed from the entire debt of punishment unless satisfaction is offered for him individually, to the very amount that he owes. On the other hand, in the whole Church there is an unfailing supply of merits, chiefly on account of the merit of Christ. Consequently he alone who is at the head of the Church can grant indulgences. Since, however, the Church is the congregation of the faithful, and since a congregation of men is of two kinds, the domestic, composed of members of the same family, and the civil, composed of members of the same nationality, the Church is like to a civil congregation, for the people themselves are called the Church; while the various assemblies, or parishes of one diocese are likened to a congregation in the various families and services. Hence a bishop alone is properly called a prelate of the Church, wherefore he alone, like a bridegroom, receives the ring of the Church. Consequently full power in the dispensation of the sacraments, and jurisdiction in the public tribunal, belong to him alone as the public person, but to others by delegation from him. Those priests who have charge of the people are not prelates strictly speaking, but assistants, hence, in consecrating priests the bishop says: 'The more fragile we are, the more we need these assistants': and for this reason they do not dispense all the sacraments. Hence parish priests, or abbots or other like prelates cannot grant indulgences." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"For some maintain that indulgences have not the efficacy claimed for them, but that they simply avail each individual in proportion to his faith and devotion. And consequently those who maintain this, say that the Church publishes her indulgences in such a way as, by a kind of pious fraud, to induce men to do well, just as a mother entices her child to walk by holding out an apple. But this seems a very dangerous assertion to make. For as Augustine states (Ep. 78 ad Hieron.), 'if any error were discovered in Holy Writ, the authority of Holy Writ would perish.' In like manner, if any error were to be found in the Church's preaching, her doctrine would have no authority in settling questions of faith. Hence others have maintained that indulgences avail as much as is claimed for them, according to a just estimate, not of him who grants it - who perhaps puts too high a value on it - nor of the recipient - for he may prize too highly the gift he receives, but a just estimate according to the estimate of good men who consider the condition of the person affected, and the utility and needs of the Church, for the Church's needs are greater at one time than at another. Yet, neither, seemingly, can this opinion stand. First, because in that case indulgences would no longer be a remission, but rather a mere commutation. Moreover the preaching of the Church would not be excused from untruth, since, at times, indulgences are granted far in excess of the requirements of this just estimate, taking into consideration all the aforesaid conditions, as, for example, when the Pope granted to anyone who visited a certain church, an indulgence of seven years, which indulgence was granted by Blessed Gregory for the Roman Stations. Hence others say that the quantity of remission accorded in an indulgence is not to be measured by the devotion of the recipient, as the first opinion suggested, nor according to the quantity of what is given, as the second opinion held; but according to the cause for which the indulgence is granted, and according to which a person is held deserving of obtaining such an indulgence. Thus according as a man approached near to that cause, so would he obtain remission in whole or in part. But neither will this explain the custom of the Church, who assigns, now a greater, now a lesser indulgence, for the same cause: thus, under the same circumstances, now a year's indulgence, now one of only forty days, according to the graciousness of the Pope, who grants the indulgence, is granted to those who visit a church. Wherefore the amount of the remission granted by the indulgence is not to be measured by the cause for which a person is worthy of an indulgence. We must therefore say otherwise that the quantity of an effect is proportionate to the quantity of the cause. Now the cause of the remission of punishment effected by indulgences is no other than the abundance of the Church's merits, and this abundance suffices for the remission of all punishment. The effective cause of the remission is not the devotion, or toil, or gift of the recipient; nor, again, is it the cause for which the indulgence was granted. We cannot, then, estimate the quantity of the remission by any of the foregoing, but solely by the merits of the Church - and these are always superabundant. Consequently, according as these merits are applied to a person so does he obtain remission. That they should be so applied demands, firstly, authority to dispense this treasure; secondly, union between the recipient and Him Who merited it - and this is brought about by charity; thirdly, there is required a reason for so dispensing this treasury, so that the intention, namely, of those who wrought these meritorious works is safeguarded, since they did them for the honor of God and for the good of the Church in general. Hence whenever the cause assigned tends to the good of the Church and the honor of God, there is sufficient reason for granting an indulgence. Hence, according to others, indulgences have precisely the efficacy claimed for them, provided that he who grants them have the authority, that the recipient have charity, and that, as regards the cause, there be piety which includes the honor of God and the profit of our neighbor. Nor in this view have we 'too great a market of the Divine mercy' (Saint Bonaventure, Sententiarum iv,20), as some maintain, nor again does it derogate from Divine justice, for no punishment is remitted, but the punishment of one is imputed to another." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

Also See: Indulgences (Prayers & Devotions Section) | Expiation | Purgatory | Communion of Saints | Treasury of the Church | Sin | Penance | Purgatory Release Project (Catholic Activities Section)

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