Roman Catholicism and Indulgences

Any changes since Luther’s days?

Each day I receive via email the daily news bulletin from the Roman Catholic Zenit news agency. This gives comprehensive details of the major statements, pronouncements and activities as they affect the Roman Catholic ‘world’.

The following is an item that was included in the bulletin received today and true believers should weep as they read of how the Roman Catholic Church still proclaims its ability to dispense ‘forgiveness’ of sin upon its terms. This matter concerns ‘indulgences’ and this is what the item stated:

  • Plenary Indulgence Offered for Pentecost Meeting
  • VATICAN CITY, MAY 24, 2006 (

A plenary indulgence can be gained by participants in the meeting of ecclesial movements and new communities with the Pope in St. Peter’s Square on the eve of Pentecost. The decision was made by the Apostolic Penitentiary, a tribunal of the Holy See, in response to a request of Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

Thus the plenary indulgence already established for the solemnity of Pentecost by the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum is extended. According to the Enchiridion, a plenary indulgence is granted “to the faithful who, in a church or oratory, participates devoutly in the solemn signing or praying of the hymn ‘Veni, Creator’ … on the solemnity of Pentecost.”

Archbishop Rylko requested that all the faithful who participate in the world meeting of ecclesial movements and new communities with Benedict XVI on June 3, the eve of Pentecost, be able to obtain on that occasion the gift of a plenary indulgence.

Those faithful will be able to gain the indulgence “even if they cannot get into the patriarchal Vatican basilica,” stated the Apostolic Penitentiary, in a statement signed by Cardinal Francis Stafford, major penitentiary.

The document reminds participants that to gain a plenary indulgence, in addition to the stipulated solemn praying or singing of the “Veni, Creator,” they must have a “spirit removed from all sin and fulfill the usual conditions” — sacramental confession, Eucharistic Communion and prayers for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff.


Canon 992 of the Code of Canon Law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1471, state: “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ AND the saints.”

“An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin. Indulgences may be applied to the living or the dead,” it continues.

The first world meeting of ecclesial movements and new communities drew 100,000 to St. Peter’s Square for an encounter with Pope John Paul II at Pentecost 1998. The Pontifical Council for the Laity confirmed that leaders of some 100 movements and communities have offered to help the dicastery in organizing the event.

In this statement the Roman Catholic Church is still claiming to possess, ‘as the minister of redemption’ [no mention here of the ‘one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus’ 1 Timothy 2:5 or of ‘the [Holy] Spirit himself who bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God’ Romans 8:16] the ‘authority’ to ‘dispense and apply’ ‘remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven’ based upon the merits of ‘Christ AND the saints’ and this ‘remission’ is described as a ‘gift’.

Let me just make some very simple points on this matter.

Forgiveness of sin from the divine perspective can only be ‘dispensed and applied’ by God Himself. Having heard the Lord ‘dispense’ forgiveness of sins to the man, sick of the palsy, the on-looking scribes, [no doubt familiar with the words of Isaiah 43:14& 25 “Thus saith the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel…I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions”] asked in anger “Who can forgive sins but God only?” [Mark 2:7] The Lord did not challenge their statement but used it to affirm that He was the Incarnate Son of God by saying in response “that ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins” [Mark 2:10].

‘The Church’ does not possess any authority to ‘dispense and apply’ remission of sin but can preach and affirm that such remission of sin comes directly from God and it comes alone through repentance toward God and faith alone in Christ crucified alone. In Acts 5:30-31 Peter said “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. HIM hath God exalted with his right hand, TO BE a Prince and a Saviour, TO GIVE repentance to Israel and [to give] FORGIVENESS of sins”.

In Acts 13:32-33 & 38-39 we read these words of Paul “And we declare unto you glad tidings, how the promise that was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children in that he hath raised up Jesus again…through this man [Jesus] is PREACHED [not ‘dispensed and applied’] the forgiveness of sins. And BY HIM [Jesus] all that believe are justified [permanently pardoned from all penalty due because of their sin – this allows no room for the Roman Catholic teaching of ‘temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven’] from all things which ye could not be justified by [keeping] the law of Moses”.

In short, Rome, in blatant contradiction to the teaching of God’s Word, usurps God’s unique prerogative to forgive sins from the divine standpoint.

God’s Word declares in Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death but the GIFT of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”. One of the rich blessings that a converted believer enters into at the moment of their conversion is the GIFT of eternal life and ‘wrapped up’ in this GIFT are many “spiritual blessings” [Ephesians 1:3]. One of those “spiritual blessings’ is ‘justification’ that we considered just a few lines earlier – other immediate “spiritual blessings” could be identified as ‘redemption’, ‘sanctification’ (positional), ‘adoption’ and then of course there is the assured future “spiritual blessing” of ‘glorification’. All of these blessings are GIFTED alone on the basis of the work of Christ crucified.

In contrast, Rome arrogantly usurps the right to ‘dispense and apply’ a GIFT that only God can give and then compounds its error by burdening those, seeking forgiveness of their sins, with work that they must do – “to the faithful who, in a church or oratory, participates devoutly in the solemn signing or praying of the hymn ‘Veni, Creator’ … on the solemnity of Pentecost.”

But Rome’s error doesn’t stop there – they compound it even further by stating that the forgiveness ‘dispensed and applied’ by them is “with authority, the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ AND the saints.” They again, in contradiction of the Word of God, declare that forgiveness can be ‘dispensed and applied’ thanks, not to the work of Christ ALONE, but due to the work of ‘Christ AND the saints’. They teach that the ‘good deeds’ of certain ‘saints’ [Rome basically and erroneously redefines what God’s Word teaches about ‘saints’] along with the work of Christ are housed in a ‘treasury’ that they [Rome] can ‘dole out’ at times and on conditions that they deem suitable.

Bill Jackson of ‘Christians Evangelising Catholics’ explains this concept of a ‘Treasury of Merit’ or ‘Treasury of the Church’ as follows –

‘The superabundant merits of Christ and the saints from which the Church draws to confer spiritual blessings, as Indulgences. The thought is that some saints had a surplus of merit (more than they needed for Heaven). Rather than lose these, God stored them so others who have need can draw from their superabundance’. [‘Christian’s Guide to Roman Catholicism’ p120].

Can the assets, material or spiritual, of mere humans, who according to Rome’s false understanding in many cases, are classified by them as supposed ‘saints’, be the basis for any spiritual blessing ‘dispensed and applied’ to others? God’s Word clearly says ‘no’ as we read in Psalm 49:7 “None of them can by any means redeem his brother” and in Isaiah 64:6 we discover God’s ‘valuation’ of the best of human endeavours – “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags”.

But let me make one further point about this GIFT. In my dictionary a GIFT is defined as ‘something given, a present’ but because of Rome’s conditional requirement for ‘the faithful who, in a church or oratory, participates devoutly in the solemn signing or praying of the hymn ‘Veni, Creator’ … on the solemnity of Pentecost”

the ensuing ‘Indulgence’ that they ‘dispense and apply’ is disqualified from being regarded as a GIFT. ‘The faithful’ one has had to do something to earn this ‘Indulgence’, this ‘remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven’. This ‘Indulgence’ therefore is not a GIFT but a REWARD that is defined in my dictionary as ‘something given in return for a deed or service rendered’.

Former Roman Catholic, Jim McCarthy, in his book ‘The Gospel According to Rome’ writes on page 101 – ‘though the Bible teaches that God will reward faithful stewards in heaven, it never says that He will reward them with heaven’ – yet that is precisely what Rome teaches. Jim clearly identified this false teaching by Rome with this quotation from Rome’s Council of Trent on page 98 of his book – ‘To those who work well to the end and keep their trust in God, eternal life should be held out, both as a grace promised in his mercy through Jesus Christ and as A REWARD to be faithfully bestowed, on the promise of God himself FOR THEIR GOOD WORKS AND MERITS’ [Council of Trent: Session 6: ‘Decree on Justification’ chapter 16].

Every true child of God should know that if a GIFT from God is “by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace; otherwise work is no more work” [Romans 11:6]. In God’s Word we learn from Romans 6:23 quoted earlier that “eternal life” is a GIFT from God and so it cannot be a REWARD for any human works or merits and yet Rome falsely and oxymoronically teaches that ‘eternal life’ is both ‘by grace ‘ and by works’! What spiritual blindness and deception!

Jim McCarthy continues on page 101 of his book – ‘Eternal life is NOT a REWARD, BUT the unmerited GIFT of God. Jesus speaking of His sheep, said, “I give eternal life to them” [John 10:28]. He promised, “I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost” [Revelation 21:6; see also John 4:14; 6:40; 6:47; 17:2; Romans 5:17; 6:23]. Nevertheless, the Roman Catholic Church insists that eternal life is a merited reward earned by doing good [1994 Catholic Catechism: 1036; 1051; 2010; 2027]…The Church denounces anyone who teaches otherwise’ and Jim then goes on to quote one of the many ‘anathemas’ pronounced in the Council of Trent, in this case, the one referenced as [Council of Trent: Session 6: ‘Decree on Justification’ canon 32].

In the heading to this article I wrote – ‘Any changes since Luther’s days?’ I want to answer that by quoting from the ‘Introduction to a helpful little booklet ‘Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses’ published in 2002. ‘Stephen J Nichols, an associate professor at Lancaster Bible College and Graduate School’, edited it and in his ‘Introduction’ he wrote –

‘Tradition has it that one evening Martin Luther, while walking the streets of Wittenberg, happened on a parishioner lying drunk in the gutter. As Luther rebuked him for public drunkenness, his parishioner fumbled around in his coat. Finally his hand emerged holding a piece of paper. He waved it before his priest claiming that Brother Tetzel had issued him an indulgence that offered “complete forgiveness of all sins – past, present and future”. Such a scene, as depicted in the 1955 classic, black and white film, Martin Luther, may be difficult to verify. It illustrates however, the dilemma facing the young parish priest and theologian. In response, Luther retreated to his study, wrote a list of arguments to address this problem, and the next day, October 31, 1517, nailed his list to the church door at Wittenberg. Little did Luther realise the outcome of his action…All who call themselves Protestants trace their roots to this protest in the Ninety-Five Theses’.

The answer to the question I posed – ‘Any changes since Luther’s days?’ – is a resounding ‘No!’

Sincere, faithful Roman Catholics are still being ‘spiritually hood-winked’ by the present Pope Benedict XVI and his Magisterium, every bit as much as in the days of Luther and for that we, as God’s people, should not only weep for them but also witness to them concerning the breadth of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ as proclaimed by Paul in Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now NO CONDEMNATION to them who are in Christ Jesus”.

Pastor John MacArthur in his ‘Study Bible’ comments as follows on the expression ‘No condemnation’ – ‘Occurring only 3 times in the New Testament, all in Romans [5:16&18] “condemnation” is used exclusively in judicial settings as the opposite of “justification”. It refers to a verdict of guilty and the penalty that verdict demands. No sin a believer can commit – past, present or future – can be held against him, since the penalty was paid by Christ and righteousness was imputed to the believer. And no sin will ever reverse this divine legal decision against someone whom God has declared righteous [see note on verse 33].

That is the glorious biblical truth about God’s gracious [unearned, unmerited] forgiveness – what a contrast this to Rome’s soul-damning proclamation today of their ‘plenary indulgence’.

 Cecil Andrews – ‘Take Heed’ Ministries – 25 May 2006