INDULGENCE

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INDULGENCE, in the Roman Catholic system; the remission of sin, which the church has power to grant. (We shall first give the Protestant, and then the Catholic views on this subject.) The visible head of the church, the pope, distributes indulgences in various ways. They are divided into temporary and plenary. The principle of indulgences rests oil that of good works; for the Catholic theologians prove the authority of the church to issue indulgences in this way :many saints and pious men have\done more good works, and suffered mofe than was required for the remission of their sins, and the sum of this surplus constitutes a treasure for the church, of which the pope has the keys, and is authorized to distribute as much or little as he pleases, in exchange for pious gifts; The historical origin of indulgences is traced to the public penances and the canonical punishments, which the old Christian church imposed on the community, especially on those who did not remain firm unto martyrdom. When ecclesiastic discipline became milder, and the clergy more covetous, it was allowed to commute these punishments into.fines, for the benefit ^ the church. At first, the only source of indulgences was in Rome, and they could be obtained only by going there. At Rome, this treasure of the church was divided among many churches, cf which seven principal ones were gifted the most largely by the popes. These churches were termed stationes indulgentiarum. One of the richest was the church in the Lateran, on which were bestowed, at its renewed consecration, as many days of indulgence as the drops which fall in a rain continuing three days and three nights. The whole treasure of indulgences of the churches in Rome was accordingly inexhaustible. When the popes were in want of money, and the number of pilgrims who resorted to Rome to obtain the remission of their sins began to decrease, indulgences were put into the hands of the foreign archbishops and bishops; and, finally, agents were sent about, who made them an object of the meanest traffic, During the period of jubilee (see Jubilee), the people were taught to believe that the efficacy of indulgences was doubled, and the richest harvests were always reaped at this time. Leo X, famous for his love of splendor, commenced his reign m 1513; and, as the building of St. Peter's church had exhausted his finances, he began the sale of indulgences in Germany, without waiting for the jubilee of 1525, in conjunction with the elector of Mentz, who was to receive half the profit; and the latter found an excellent agent for the sale in Tetzel. This flagrant abuse inflamed the zeal of Luther, and the Protestant theologians have always found indulgences one of the most vulnerable points of the Roman Catholic system; and even the Catholic states of Germany represented to the emperor, in 1530, that he ought to prevail upon the pope, to omit sending any more letters of indulgence to Germany, lest the whole Catholic religion should become an object of scorn and mockery. Nevertheless, the right to remit sins was received, in the council of Trent, among the articles of faith. (We shall now proceed to give the Catholic views, as taken from the article Indulgence, written by a Catholic, in the German ConversationsLexicon.) The penances of the ancient church (see Penance) were never so strictly binding as to preclude the presbyters from relaxing them in some degree, in particular instances, where their object seemed more easily attained in some other way. But this never was done, except in single cases, and after the circumstances of the petitioners had been closely examined ; nor was the whole punishment ever remitted, but merely a part of it, according as the case of the individual required, and his repentance justified it. The council of Nice, in their 12th canon, require, for such a dispensation, proof of true repentance. In the 11th century, another kind of indulgences was introduced, absolution. This was granted to those who undertook some difficult enterprise for the benefit of the church. This was usually bearing arms in her cause, of which the crusades are the most famous example. In the council of Clermont (1095-1096), it was decreed (canon 12), that eveiy one, who, actuated solely by devout zeal, and not by love of glory or by avarice, went on the expedition to Jerusalem for the deliverance of the holy sepulchre, should receive a full remission of his sins. In later times, this indulgence was extended to those who were not able to go themselves, and sent a champion in their stead. By degrees, the exemption was extended still farther, and soon plenary and partial indulgences were granted to those who gave alms for effecting some good work (e. g., the restoration of a ehurchj &c), or performed some prescribed labor of piety (the visiting of a church, for instance) at the time of the jubilee, which was established by Boniface VIII, in 1300. This gave the deathblow to the public penance of the church. Considerable abuses, however, stole into the system of indulgences, and the scandal became very great. Under pretext of alms for the benefit of good works, indulgences were made the means of indirectly taxing the whole of Christendom. It was proposed several times in the diets of the German empire (e. g., at Nuremberg, in 1466), to make use of them for supplying the expenses of the war against the Turks The popes, bishops and civil rulers usually divided the proceeds, though the latter sometimes appropriated them entirely; as, for instance, in 1500, when the government of the empire took possession of the money collected for the pope on the occasion of the jubilee, and allowed only a third part to the legate of the pope, for his subsistence. Under such circumstances, when holy institutions were abused for vile gain, it was natural that wrong notions respecting indulgences and their power, should spring up among the people, and be spread by the preachers employed to distribute them. (See Tetzel,) It is a well known fact, that the indulgences proclaimed by Leo X, gave the first spring to the reformation. It was the object of the fathers assembled at Trent, to make a public disavowal of the erroneous doctrines which had been preached by individuals respecting indulgences, that they might not appear to be sanctioned by the church. The council first required (in sess. 24, cap. 8, Be Reformatione), the restoration of public penance, in the following words : "The holy apostle (Paul to Timothy) ordains, that those who sin publicly, should be publicly rebuked. If, therefore, a crime has been committed publicly, and in the sight of many, so as not to leave any doubt of its giving a bad example to others, a public penance is to be imposed on the guilty person, suited to the crime, that the sight of his repentance may recall those to the right way, whom his example has led astray.. The bishop may, however, substitute a private for the public penance, if he thinks it more suita ble." Respecting absolution itself, the church has established no dogma, because such dogmas are expressed only in the canones, of which there exist none on this subject. She has given only a decree, and this in her last session, which literally says : Since the power of conferring indulgences has been given to the churchby Christ, and she has exercised it from the earliest times, the holy council teaches and ordains, that this usage, so beneficial to Christians, and confirmed by the authority of many holy councils, is to be retained in the church; and she inflicts the anathema upon such as either declare indulgences unnecessary, ' or dispute the power of the church to grant them. It is her wish, however, that in the grant of indulgences, according to the custom long existing in the church, proper limits should be observed, lest the discipline of the church become injuriously relaxed. But as the church desires that the abuses which have crept in, and have given occasion to heretical preachers to heap reproach upon this venerable usage, should be corrected, she ordains by the present decree, that the shameful bartering of indulgences for money, which has been so fruitful a source of abuse, shall be entirely abolished. As the corruptions which have sprung from superstition, ignorance, irreverence, or from any other causes, cannot here be enumerated and individually censured, on account of the variety of the kinds prevailing in different places and provinces, the synod commands every bishop to search out with diligence the abuses of his own church, and to lay them before the first provincial synod, that they may be branded as errors by the judgment of the other bishops, and be submitted to the authority of the supreme bishop at Rome, whose wisdom will provide for the universal good of the church, that the eacred indulgences may in future be distributed with purity and holiness. The selling of indulgences has accordingly ceased. In regard to the absolution still practised in the church (continues the Catholic writer), the spirit of the church is the same as in ancient times. The old discipline of penance never has been formally abolished. On the contrary, the principle has rather been confirmed by the council of Trent, as has just been shown. The church still commissions her servants to impose penances upon sinners, in proportion to their guilt,even heavier penances than the ordinary ones. Why, then (he asks), should she not be authorized to remit part of the sentence, if the penitent is found worthy of favor ? Whether such remission be deserved by the penitent, is to be judged by those ministers of the church who are in immediate intercourse with them. To make absolution effectual, Bellarmin requires that the end attained should be more agreeable to God than the performance of the 1* penance remitted. The labor itself should be in proportion to its aim. We have seen that there exists no dogma on absolution ; it is therefore by no means a doctrine of the church, but it is left to the private views of the individuals, whether and how far the absolution and the idea of purgatory (see Purgatory), are connected with each other. It is falsely believed by many Protestants, that absolution is esteemed by the Catholic church equivalent to conversion, and as effectual to remit the punishment of sins. Every popular catechism proves the contrary..