Roman Catholic Church: Indulgence

By Barbara G Walker

From The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, entry on "Indulgence"


Catholic doctrine most often equated with the sin of simony. By selling indulgence, the church reaped enormous profit with no material investment -- only a promise that the purchaser would be absolved of his sins and admitted to heaven after death. No customer ever returned to complain of being cheated.

It became the rule for popes to promise plenary indulgence (absolute remission of all sins) to military leaders who fought the church's crusades. Bills of indulgence became the spiritual carrot corresponding to the stick of excommunication, which was thought |to sentence the sinner irrevocably to hellfire.

Bills of indulgence were peddled by Renaissance popes to earn money for their expensive lifestyle. Pope Alexander VI made a commercial empire out of selling pardons. Pope Leo X sent a Dominican, Johann Tetzel, into Germany to sell indulgences for varying numbers of days' worth of release from purgatory, depending on price. Tetzel's announcements read:

(QUOTE) I have here the passports... to lead the human soul into Paradise. Inasmuch as for a single one of the mortal sins, several of which are committed every day after confession, seven years of expiation either on earth or in Purgatory are imposed -- who, for the sake of a quarter of a florin, would hesitate to secure one of these letters which will admit your divine, immortal soul to the celestial joys of Paradise?'(UNQUOTE)

One observer wrote in the 15th century: "Sinners say nowadays, I care not what or how many evils I do before God, for I can get at once, without the least difficulty, plenary remission of any guilt or sin whatever through an indulgence granted me by the Pope, whose written grant I have bought for fourpence ..., for these grantors of Indulgence run about from place to place and sometimes give a letter for twopence, sometimes for a good drink of wine and beer, sometimes to pay their losses at a game of ball, sometimes for the hire of a prostitute, sometimes for fleshly love."2

Reginald Scot thought the peddling of indulgences showed the trivial nature of Catholic doctrine, especially when coupled with the church's idolatry. He wrote of "the folly of some papists, who seeing and confessing the pope's absurd religion, in the erection and maintenance of idolatry and superstition, specially in images, pardons, and relics of saints, will persevere to think, that the rest of his doctrine and trumpery is holy and good."3

But not all Catholics approved of the sale of indulgence. In Prague, papal bulls of indulgence were publicly burned at the pillory, having been carried there strung around the neck of a whore, who enlivened the proceedings with lascivious capering.4 Minstrels and other popular entertainers throughout Europe made fun of the doctrine of indulgence with a satiric couplet:

(QUOTE) As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, The soul from out of the fire springs. (UNQUOTE)

LChamlwrlin, B.P.. 241. 2. Murstem. 113. 3. Scot. 12. 4. Lea unabridged. 489. S.Chamlwriiii, B.P..241.


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