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A  Proof  That  The  Catholic  Church  Did  Not  Sell  Indulgences

The so called “selling of 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 sidebar :  
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 he 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 sidebar article :
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 ?




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 Biblical Injunctions to Use Material Wealth to gain grace

Proverbs 16:6
“By kindness and piety guilt is expiated,
and by the fear of the LORD man avoids evil.”

Daniel 4:24 (27)
“Therefore, O king, take my advice; atone for your sins by good deeds, and for your misdeeds by kindness to the poor; then your prosperity will be long.”  NAB

Sirach 3:30
“Water extinguishes a blazing fire:
so almsgiving atones for sin.”

Tobit 4:10-11
“Almsgiving frees one from death, and keeps one from going into the dark abode.
11 Alms are a worthy offering in the sight of the Most High for all who give them.” NAB

Sirach 12:3
“No good will come to the man who persists in evil
or to him who does not give alms.”

Sirach 29:12
“Store up almsgiving in your treasure house,
and it will save you from every evil”

Matthew 6:2
“Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing …”

Luke 11:40
“You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you.”

Tobit 12:8-9
“Prayer is good when accompanied by fasting, almsgiving, and righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than much with wrongdoing. It is better to give alms than to treasure up gold. 9 For almsgiving delivers from death, and it will purge away every sin. Those who perform deeds of charity and of righteousness will have fulness of life”

This passage from Tobit speaks of the expiation of sin through faithful works done in love (almsgiving) - another clear reason why Luther had to throw it out. because he claimed Faith Alone covers our sins.  But let's look at how the NT deals with this.

Acts 10:3-4
“About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” 4 And he stared at him in terror, and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.”

Remember, this Cornelius was a Roman centurian who was God fearing in that he respected the God of the Jews, but did not yet know Christ...yet God still recognized his almsgiving.

Acts 10:31
“Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God.”

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

Luke 16:9-13
“And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations. … 13
You cannot serve God and mammon.”

So, we need to ask, Does the Bible teach we can buy grace ?

NO  !

These verses do not explain this point, yet we know from the greater context of Christian teaching that we cannot buy grace. 

It is the disposition of the heart that God cares about.  See Widow's mite  Mark 12:41-44

The Catholic Church has always required that a person confess with his lips - receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation or called Confession - and receive God's forgiveness of all mortal sins before obtaining an Indulgence.  This sacrament was clearly required at the time of Martin Luther, (as it has always been.)

This sacrament requires contrition on the part of the sinner, and a firm and heartfelt commitment to amend one's life.

So, the defense of how these Bible verses above do not approve of the selling of grace, can also be seen as to apply to the Catholic Church's teaching on indulgences.

Indulgences and grace were never sold by the Catholic Church, and she has never taught or proclaimed otherwise.


Correction of Indulgences’ Abuses and Misunderstandings, 
from   Catholic Encyclopedia


Thus the Council of Clovesho in England (747) condemns those who imagine that they might atone for their crimes by substituting, in place of their own, the austerities of mercenary penitents. …

Boniface IX, writing to the Bishop of Ferrara in 1392, condemns the practice of certain religious who falsely claimed that they were authorized by the pope to forgive all sorts of sins, and exacted money from the simple- minded among the faithful by promising them perpetual happiness in this world and eternal glory in the next. …

In 1450 Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa, Apostolic Legate to Germany, found some preachers asserting that indulgences released from the guilt of sin as well as from the punishment. This error, due to a misunderstanding of the words "a culpa et a poena", the cardinal condemned at the Council of Magdeburg. Finally, Sixtus IV in 1478, lest the idea of gaining indulgences should prove an incentive to sin, reserved for the judgment of the Holy See a large number of cases in which faculties had formerly been granted to confessors (Extrav. Com., tit. de poen. et remiss.).

Traffic in Indulgences

These measures show plainly that the Church long before the Reformation, not only recognized the existence of abuses, but also used her authority to correct them. …

Again, it is easy to see how abuses crept in. Among the good works which might be encouraged by being made the condition of an indulgence, alms giving would naturally hold a conspicuous place, while men would be induced by the same means to contribute to some pious cause such as the building of churches, the endowment of hospitals, or the organization of a crusade. It is well to observe that in these purposes there is nothing essentially evil. To give money to God or to the poor is a praiseworthy act, and, when it is done from right motives, it will surely not go unrewarded. …

While it cannot be denied that these abuses were widespread, it should also be noted that, even when corruption was at its worst, these spiritual grants were being properly used by sincere Christians, who sought them in the right spirit, and by priests and preachers, who took care to insist on the need of true repentance. It is therefore not difficult to understand why the Church, instead of abolishing the practice of indulgences, aimed rather at strengthening it by eliminating the evil elements.

See  Catholic Encyclopedia, copyright © 1913