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A  Proof  That  The  Catholic  Church  Did  Not  Sell  Indulgences

Fr. Mike Schmitz explains indulgences





This You Tube video answers the following questions :

  • What indulgences are?
  • Why we should want them
  • Explains the two consequences of sin
  • How giving indulgences could be misunderstood as “selling”
  • Explains how we can get grace through acts of charity



The Proof is as follows :

The claim that 

“The Catholic Church Sold Indulgences”

is a loaded accusation.  Catholics believe that indulgences confer grace.  And, God is the source of ALL grace.  So, to actually sell grace would mean that God would allow Himself to be manipulated by an evil man who had money to spend.  So, the question behind the accusation is :

Did the Catholic Church ever teach that a person could buy grace?

To which I offer the following proof that the answer is NO !


To simply sell something means that the exchange of money is the sole cause of the thing in question to be transferred from one person to the other.  It is solely the exchange of money regardless of the person's faith and irrespective of their moral disposition toward God that causes the transfer.  If there are other factors such as moral disposition or faith, then it is not selling.


Read more details on :
What Does It Mean to Sell Grace ?

There are two types of punishment that comes with sin. There is the guilt we incur which would result in the eternal separation from God and going to hell. Jesus enables us to avoid that outcome by partaking in the redemptive grace won for us by the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.


But, there is a second type of punishment. It is not that God is looking for an opportunity to punish us, but rather because of the very nature of sin it wounds the spiritual goodness that God wishes us to have. By His grace we can not only be forgiven, but also healed of this wound, and spiritual sickness.

Even when King David is told by the prophet Nathan that God has forgiven him for his adultery with Bathsheba and the killing of Uriah, he is told that his son must die. Sin is not just the breaking of “arbitrary rules” of God, it causes a break in the spiritual world.
See 2 Samuel 12:13-14   or    DRB

For example, when might be forgiven for breaking a window, but we are still obligated to replace the window, to repair the wound we caused. By the generous grace of Jesus Christ, He enables us to accomplish that.


Read more on :
Why Would a Person Need Grace, or an Indulgence,
For A Sin Already Forgiven ?

The Bible explains how donations of money for charitable and godly purposes when done with a good heart helps to heal us from this second type of punishment that results from sin.

1 Peter 4:8
“ … love covers a multitude of sins.”

Tobit 12:9
“For almsgiving delivers from death, and it will purge away every sin.”

See  :  
Biblical Injunctions to Use Material Wealth to gain grace

So, we need to ask,
Did Jesus or the Bible teach we can buy grace ?
Can a person, regardless good will and faith in Jesus, obtain grace for a simple exchange and purchase with money ?

The answer is NO !

Even though these particular verses of the Bible above do state that a person’s heart and their faith must humbly be placed under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the overall context of the whole Bible implies this must done.

Similarly, the context  of the Catholic Church's teaching must be taken into account on how she meant for the indulgences to be administered.  Even the proclamation by Pope Leo X in Martin Luther's day clearly implied a person's heart had to be repentant and reconciled with God. 


Even those attacking the Catholic Church admit that the granting of indulgences during the time of Martin Luther necessarily included the Sacrament of Confession. In order for the Sacrament of Confession to be valid it must include a sincere and penitential reform of a person’s heart. The sinner must repent and make a firm purpose of amendment to turn away from sin.

For example, even D'Aubigne, who wished to attack the Catholic Church admitted that the Catholic Church required this conversion of heart. So, the simple exchange of money did not buy the indulgence, it did not buy the grace.


D'Aubigne admits this was the case at the time of Martin Luther :

I will not deny that Indulgences have been abused; but are not the most sacred things liable to be perverted?


This is a proper place to refer briefly to the Bull of Pope Leo X proclaiming the Indulgence which afforded Luther a pretext for his apostasy. Leo determined to bring to completion the magnificent Church of St. Peter, commenced by his predecessor, Julius II.


With that view he issued a Bull promulgating an Indulgence to such as would contribute some voluntary offering toward the erection of the grand cathedral. Those, however, who contributed nothing shared equally in the treasury of the Church, provided they complied with the essential conditions for gaining the Indulgence.


The only indispensable conditions enjoined by the Papal Bull were sincere repentance and confession of sins. D'Aubigne admits this truth, though in a faltering manner, when he observes that "in the Pope's Bull something was said of the repentance of the heart and the confession of the lips."

[ History of the Great Reformation in Germany and Switzerland by D'Aubigné, Vol. I. p. 214.]


The applicants for the Indulgence knew well that, no matter how munificent were their offerings, these would avail them nothing without true contrition of heart.


No traffic or sale of Indulgences was, consequently, authorized or countenanced by the Head of the Church, since the contributions were understood to be voluntary.


In order to check any sordid love of gain in those charged with preaching the Indulgence, "the hand that delivered the Indulgence," as D'Aubigne testifies, "could not receive the money: that was forbidden under the severest penalties."[Ibid.] ...

according to D'Aubigne, the inflexible Pope insisted on the necessity of  "repentance of the heart and confession of the lips"  before the donor's offering could avail him to salvation.


John Tetzel, a Dominican monk, who had been appointed the chief preacher to announce the Indulgence in Germany, was accused by Luther of exceeding his powers by making them subservient to his own private ends. Tetzel's conduct was disavowed and condemned by the representative of the Holy See.

See full article, Indulgences by Cardinal Gibbons

Here we must clarify and distinguish between the false accusation that the Catholic Church taught grace could be sold, or the claim she taught that the Church could “sell indulgences” with what really happened.  What really happened is that John Tetzel and other wayward preachers pretended or at least allowed themselves to be understood to be selling indulgences contrary to Church teaching. 

Please consider the following example.
Suppose a thief breaks into your house, takes your car keys and your car and then proceeds to “sell” your car to another person.   Did he actually sell your car ?   Did the ownership of the car really transfer to the third person ? The answer is NO. You are still the true owner of your car. He did not truly sell – transfer ownership – of your car.  He only pretended to do so.

Pope Leo X clearly did not approve of John Tetzel’s misrepresentation of indulgences. And Luther knew this. In #50 of his 95 Thesis Luther states :


50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the pardon-preachers, he would rather that St. Peter's church should go to ashes, than that it should be built up with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep.
See Martin Luther's 95 Thesis

Even the Papal envoy from Rome condemned John Tetzel's actions:

“The acts of Tetzel were officially disavowed by the court of Rome.   In 1519, Charles Miltitz, the papal envoy, openly rebuked him for his conduct in the affair of the indulgences; and even charged him with having been the occasion of most of the troubles which during the previous two years had afflicted Germany.

[See] D'Aubigné's "History of the Great Reformation in Germany and Switzerland”, Vol. 2, page 16”
Martin John Spalding’s Review of above said book, page 82


Even before Martin Luther the Catholic Church was clear that the overall context of indulgences did not permit them to be sold.

The context of how Indulgences were to be understood and obtained can be seen in the corrective measure of abuses that happened before Martin Luther :

Council of Mainz in AD 1261

The medieval pardoner, depicted by Chaucer in the Pardoner's Tale, was often an unscrupulous rascal, whose dishonesty and fraud were condemned by the Bishops of the time. We find orders for their arrest in Germany at the Council of Mainz in 1261, and in England by order of the Bishop of Durham in 1340.


To indict the Church for these abuses, as Lea does in his History of Confession and Indulgences (iii., 284-295), is manifestly dishonest.

Even before Martin Luther the Catholic Church has continually throughout history corrected Indulgence abuses.  See actions taken in
AD 747, 1392, 1450, and 1478


See :
Correction of Indulgences Abuses and Misunderstandings


John Tetzel did a dismal job of presenting the full context of how indulgences are to be understood.  Since the official Catholic teaching never authorized him to sell indulgences, he at most only pretended to sell indulgences.  See car thief analogy above


In the 16th century, when the abuse of indulgences was at its height, Cardinal Cajetan (Tommaso de Vio, 1469-1534) wrote about the problem: "Preachers act in the name of the Church so long as they teach the doctrines of Christ and the Church; but if they teach, guided by their own minds and arbitrariness of will, things of which they are ignorant, they cannot pass as representatives of the Church; it need not be wondered at that they go astray."
See full article

Does the Catholic Church still sell Indulgences ?l indulgences?
Also see
Myths about Indulgences, Myth  # 7

The Catholic Church never taught that Indulgences could be sold, or that grace could be bought.  The full context of the indulgences promoted by the Popes and Councils precluded that from being a valid understanding of Catholic Church teaching.





Also see

Indulgences : Important Distinctions


What Does It Mean to Sell Grace ?


Why Would a Person Need Grace, or an Indulgence,
For A Sin Already Forgiven ?


Biblical Injunctions to Use Material Wealth to gain grace

Correction of Indulgences’ Abuses and Misunderstandings 










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