Beginning to Understand Indulgences

Oftentimes I wonder if people really understand a thing before they rail against it. Maybe it’s our natural tendency to conform information in the world around us to our present world view. It makes us automatically reject any foreign concept existing off our radar, even if the real understanding of that concept isn’t opposed to our current beliefs.

I don’t claim to fully understand indulgences or why the church has chosen to make use of them, but I’m not going to reject it based on the already tenuous Protestant concept of “saved once and for all”. Our salvation is a continuing thing. We become more Christ-like with every right step in the race. Personally, I would hope God isn’t done with me yet, because I’m certainly not a finished work. In that spirit, here’s a few thoughts that make indulgences less foreign and less repulsive to the Protestant mind:

I just found out recently that the Catholic Church has made a distinction between two consequences of sin. The first is separation from God and eternal damnation. The second is the attachment to worldly things that is left in us as a result of sin. This second consequence is termed “temporal punishment” by the Church. It can easily be understood by any person aware of their own condition, saved or unsaved. You gossip with the neighbor lady down the street, and there’s a part of you that yearns for the next juicy tidbit she might have to offer.

According to the Church, we must rid ourselves of this temporal punishment, which is really the imperfect condition we are in, either in this life or in Purgatory. Simply put, this is our refiner’s fire, purifying us to make us suitable to see the face of God. (Mal 3:1-3, 1 Cor 3:10-15) An old song comes to mind:

Purify my heart
Let me be as gold and precious silver
Purify my heart
Let me be as gold, pure gold

Refiner’s fire, my heart’s one desire
Is to be holy
Set apart for You, Lord
I choose to be holy
Set apart for You, my Master
Ready to do Your will

Purify my heart
Cleanse me from within and make me holy
Purify my heart
Cleanse me from my sin, deep within

Is there really a difference? Or has the Catholic Church simply acknowledged a mechanism for such a thing? There’s a mechanism in Purgatory and another in indulgences. They cannot save you from eternal damnation and separation from God, only faith in Christ can do such a thing. (Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Chapter VIII) They do provide for your increase in justification, your increase in purification, so to speak, becoming more like Christ. Indulgences aren’t a get-out-of-Hell-free card. They’re a step in the direction in which you’re already headed.

Here’s the online Catholic Catechism including the sections on indulgences.

10 Responses to Beginning to Understand Indulgences

  1. L P Cruz says:


    I replied to you at Beggars All.

    While you are making your way to Rome, I was wondering if you would be willing to talk also to someone who were trained /catechized by Mother Church? I am an ex-RC and ex-nondenom.


  2. Stacey says:


    I would never want to deceive myself. Of course I want to hear all sides, but I really don’t want any aggressive arguments. You’re welcome here.

  3. Tod Torrent says:


    So here’s the rub on this tickely subject šŸ™‚

    Evangelical’s love C.S. Lewis. If not before, definitely now since all the hoobla with Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis is considered the gold standard as it were. “Mere Christianity” and all that.

    And yet, this man was as close to being Catholic as one could get without so doing.

    Here are his words on purgatory from, ‘Letters To Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, chapter 20’:

    “Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, ‘It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy’? Should we not reply, ‘With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.’ ‘It may hurt, you know’ – ‘Even so, sir.’

    I assume that the process of purification will normally involve suffering. Partly from tradition; partly because most real good that has been done me in this life has involved it. But I don’t think the suffering is the purpose of the purgation. I can well believe that people neither much worse nor much better than I will suffer less than I or more. . . . The treatment given will be the one required, whether it hurts little or much.

    My favourite image on this matter comes from the dentist’s chair. I hope that when the tooth of life is drawn and I am ‘coming round’,’ a voice will say, ‘Rinse your mouth out with this.’ This will be Purgatory. The rinsing may take longer than I can now imagine. The taste of this may be more fiery and astringent than my present sensibility could endure. But . . . it will [not] be disgusting and unhallowed.”

    There it is, from the man himself.

    Many converts have been especially moved by Lewis’ fine thinking and understand of scripture in their journey to the Church.

    Lewis is like finding a pearl of great price šŸ™‚

    Another evangelical gem is the evangelical singer Rich Mullins. He, in fact, according to his pastor, did enter the Church before his death.

    Both men burning with love for God, yet the closer they got to Him, the closer they got to history.

    Keep up the search!

    Tod Torrent
    Corporate Entertainer

  4. L P Cruz says:

    And yet, this man was as close to being Catholic as one could get without so doing.

    Lewis was Anglican.


  5. Stacey says:


    That’s a great quote, thanks for it. I have found Lewis to be a great repository of understanding when it comes to bridging the gap between Protestant and Catholic. I wonder sometimes if he didn’t convert because he wanted to maintain his go-between position. It certainly has helped a lot of people. I’ve also heard he suffered from “Ulsterier motives”.

    Have you read “The Great Divorce”? That’s another Purgatory-type conception that agrees with both sides. It also impressed on me how important it is to give up our selves to move closer to God.


    Yep. Most Northern Irish are.

  6. Mary says:

    Hey, Stacey. I found you through Iranaeus. Sounds like you are also a Kansan (whether by birth or choice). I grew up in the Salina diocese and now live in the Wichita diocese–yeah, I’m a Catholic.

    I’m enjoying your blog, and I hate to comment the first time to sort of correct you….but the Northern Irish are over 50% Catholic, and I think the largest other religion would be Presbyterian, not Church of Ireland (Anglican).

    I really look forward to reading more of your journey, wherever it leads you.

    A blessed Advent and a Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  7. Stacey says:


    I was trying to look up the statistics just now and got rather muddled in distinctions between political Protestant and Catholic communities versus religious affiliation. This link points to more Protestants:

    It’s hard to tell. Like that joke where a foreigner gets caught by a gang and they ask him “Look here, boy, are you a Protestant or a Catholic?” He answers “I’m not religious!” And they said “I didn’t ask if you were religious, are you a Protestant or a Catholic?”

    I confess I was going on an impression rather than actually statistics. My Anglican N.I. mother-in-law has said things like “Those Catholics! They’re just going to beat us because they outnumber us!” in reference to how many kids Catholics have. So at least there’s a general impression of more Catholics, or an impending increase. *shrug* Do you have a link to share? I hate going around spreading fallacies.

  8. Mary says:

    Oh, I hate to be wrong, but I think I am. Catholics are the largest single religious “denomination” in NI, but overall, you are correct–there are more Protestants in total (do NI Anglicans consider themselves to be Protestant? My understanding is that English Anglicans do not?) The only thing I was right about is that there are more Presbyterians than Anglicans in NI. Demographics are getting closer, with Catholics slightly increasing and Protestants slightly decreasing. Naturally, as with much of Europe, the “no religion” group is growing. A number of Irish Catholics still insist that Catholics are undercounted in NI for political purposes.

    Oh, well, I’m a chemist, not a statistician!! Poor excuse, I know. Looking forward to your next post.

  9. Irenaeus says:

    Will Stacey ever post again??? We’re on the edge of our seats!

  10. Stacey says:

    Hehe… I’m sitting on four or five posts right now. I’m not a very good writer, so I have to edit them to death to make them even coherent! Coming soon šŸ™‚

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