In extension of the church concept of allowing sinners to pay penance (i.e. be absolved from his or her sin commited by donating money or doing some form of work), this term also has sociological meaning, in that the modern world tends to allow its citizens to pay their way out of guilt towards the worlds problems.

A heavily debated topic, it states that many modern causes, including environmentalism and human rights issues can be hampered by allowing people to rid themselves of any sense of responsibility toward the cause by simply donating a sum of money to one or more organizations. Aside from the debate of whether that organization spends its money properly, one argument states that the sudden absolution felt by donators kills the ongoing struggle for the cause. In other words, if people make their donations, they think the problem has been sufficiently dealt with. Any further call to arms against atrocities against environment or human rights (or any other cause) risks being met with the argument that "we donated, so shut up already!". The frightening prospect is, that the easy path to moral absolution for modern man means, that problems are allowed to continue.

The most common argument against acting upon this is, that if no one is allowed to pay their way out of further feelings of guilt, the organizations dealing with the problem will suffer a significant lack of funding.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church 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 or redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints."(CCC 1471)

Most people believe that the use of indulgences ended after the Protestant Reformation and the Counter Reformation. However this is quite untrue. While the buying and selling of indulgences (which is immoral and against Catholic teaching) ended, indulgences in their pure form are still a part of the faith.

There are two different types of indulgences, plenary and partial. Plenary indulgences remove all temporal punishment due to our sins. Temporal punishment is the time people serve in purgatory. In order to recieve a plenary indulgence, you must be in a state of grace, having no sin on your soul. To have that you must either go to confession or say a perfect contrition. Partial indulgences are what they sound like. They remove some of the temporal punishment. To recieve these, you do not need to be in a state of grace, however, it is recommended that you are.

There are many different types of indulgences(all free). Some are prayers you can say. The Divine Mercy Chaplet is an example of this, it is a partial indulgence. Others are actions, such as going to a priest's 30th or 50th anniversary mass. That is a plenary indulgence. Indulgences are supposed to show that you are truely sorry for your sins, and you are doing good in the world to counteract the harm you did it when you sinned. You can do an indulgence for anyone, living or dead. It does not necessarily have to be yourself.

The reason why people do not know about indulgences today is quite obvious. Its history has not been the cleanest. The Catholic Church downplays this aspect of its teachings. There are many Catholics who have no clue they still exist. It is still quite a controversial subject.

Works Cited

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994

Our Sunday Visitor's Catholic Encyclopedia 1991

In*dul"gence (?), n. [L. indulgentia: cf. F. indulgence.]


The act of indulging or humoring; the quality of being indulgent; forbearance of restrain or control.

If I were a judge, that word indulgence should never issue from my lips. Tooke.

They err, that through indulgence to others, or fondness to any sin in themselves, substitute for repentance anything less. Hammond.


An indulgent act; favor granted; gratification.

If all these gracious indulgences are without any effect on us, we must perish in our own folly. Rogers.

3. R. C. Ch.

Remission of the temporal punishment due to sins, after the guilt of sin has been remitted by sincere repentance; absolution from the censures and public penances of the church. It is a payment of the debt of justice to God by the application of the merits of Christ and his saints to the contrite soul through the church. It is therefore believed to diminish or destroy for sins the punishment of purgatory.


© Webster 1913.

In*dul"gence (?), v. t.

To grant an indulgence to.


© Webster 1913.

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