QUESTION 25: OF INDULGENCES
We must now consider indulgence: (1) in itself; (2) those who grant
indulgence; (3) those who receive it.
Under the first head there are three points of inquiry:
(1) Whether an indulgence remits any part of the punishment due for the
satisfaction of sins?
(2) Whether indulgences are as effective as they claim to be?
(3) Whether an indulgence should be granted for temporal assistance?
Article 1: Whether an indulgence can remit any part of the punishment due for the satisfaction of sins?
Objection 1: It would seem that an indulgence cannot remit any part of the
punishment due for the satisfaction of sins. Because a gloss on 2 Tim.
2:13, "He cannot deny Himself," says: "He would do this if He did not
keep His word." Now He said (Dt. 25:2): "According to the measure of the
sin shall the measure also of the stripes be." Therefore nothing can be
remitted from the satisfactory punishment which is appointed according to
the measure of sin.
Objection 2: Further, an inferior cannot absolve from an obligation imposed by
his superior. But when God absolves us from sin He binds us to temporal
punishment, as Hugh of St. Victor declares (Tract. vi Sum. Sent. [*Of
doubtful authenticity]). Therefore no man can absolve from that
punishment, by remitting any part of it.
Objection 3: Further, the granting of the sacramental effect without the
sacraments belongs to the power of excellence. Now none but Christ has
the power of excellence in the sacraments. Since then satisfaction is a
part of the sacrament of Penance, conducing to the remission of the
punishment due, it seems that no mere man can remit the debt of
punishment without satisfaction.
Objection 4: Further, the power of the ministers of the Church was given them,
not "unto destruction," but "unto edification" (2 Cor. 10:8). But it
would be conducive to destruction, if satisfaction, which was intended
for our good, inasmuch as it serves for a remedy, were done away with.
Therefore the power of the ministers of the Church does not extend to
On the contrary, It is written (2 Cor. 2:10): "For, what I have
pardoned, if I have pardoned anything, for your sakes have I done it in
the person of Christ," and a gloss adds: i.e. "as though Christ Himself
had pardoned." But Christ could remit the punishment of a sin without any
satisfaction, as evidenced in the case of the adulterous woman (Jn. 8).
Therefore Paul could do so likewise. Therefore the Pope can too, since
his power in the Church is not less than Paul's.
Further, the universal Church cannot err; since He Who "was heard for
His reverence" (Heb. 5:7) said to Peter, on whose profession of faith the
Church was founded (Lk. 22:32): "I have prayed for thee that thy faith
fail not." Now the universal Church approves and grants indulgences.
Therefore indulgences have some value.
I answer that, All admit that indulgences have some value, for it would
be blasphemy to say that the Church does anything in vain. But some say
that they do not avail to free a man from the debt of punishment which he
has deserved in Purgatory according to God's judgment, and that they
merely serve to free him from the obligation imposed on him by the priest
as a punishment for his sins, or from the canonical penalties he has
incurred. But this opinion does not seem to be true. First, because it is
expressly opposed to the privilege granted to Peter, to whom it was said
(Mt. 16:19) that whatsoever he should loose on earth should be loosed
also in heaven. Wherefore whatever remission is granted in the court of
the Church holds good in the court of God. Moreover the Church by
granting such indulgences would do more harm than good, since, by
remitting the punishment she had enjoined on a man, she would deliver him
to be punished more severely in Purgatory.
Hence we must say on the contrary that indulgences hold good both in the
Church's court and in the judgment of God, for the remission of the
punishment which remains after contrition, absolution, and confession,
whether this punishment be enjoined or not. The reason why they so avail
is the oneness of the mystical body in which many have performed works of
satisfaction exceeding the requirements of their debts; in which, too,
many have patiently borne unjust tribulations whereby a multitude of
punishments would have been paid, had they been incurred. So great is the
quantity of such merits that it exceeds the entire debt of punishment due
to those who are living at this moment: and this is especially due to the
merits of Christ: for though He acts through the sacraments, yet His
efficacy is nowise restricted to them, but infinitely surpasses their
Now one man can satisfy for another, as we have explained above (Question , Article ). And the saints in whom this super-abundance of satisfactions is
found, did not perform their good works for this or that particular
person, who needs the remission of his punishment (else he would have
received this remission without any indulgence at all), but they
performed them for the whole Church in general, even as the Apostle
declares that he fills up "those things that are wanting of the
sufferings of Christ . . . for His body, which is the Church" to whom he
wrote (Col. 1:24). These merits, then, are the common property of the
whole Church. Now those things which are the common property of a number
are distributed to the various individuals according to the judgment of
him who rules them all. Hence, just as one man would obtain the remission
of his punishment if another were to satisfy for him, so would he too if
another's satisfactions be applied to him by one who has the power to do
Reply to Objection 1: The remission which is granted by means of indulgences does
not destroy the proportion between punishment and sin, since someone has
spontaneously taken upon himself the punishment due for another's guilt,
as explained above.
Reply to Objection 2: He who gains an indulgence is not, strictly speaking,
absolved from the debt of punishment, but is given the means whereby he
may pay it.
Reply to Objection 3: The effect of sacramental absolution is the removal of a
man's guilt, an effect which is not produced by indulgences. But he who
grants indulgences pays the debt of punishment which a man owes, out of
the common stock of the Church's goods, as explained above.
Reply to Objection 4: Grace affords a better remedy for the avoidance of sin than
does habituation to (good) works. And since he who gains an indulgence is
disposed to grace through the love which he conceives for the cause for
which the indulgence is granted, it follows that indulgences provide a
remedy against sin. Consequently it is not harmful to grant indulgences
unless this be done without discretion. Nevertheless those who gain
indulgences should be advised, not, on this account, to omit the
penitential works imposed on them, so that they may derive a remedy from
these also, even though they may be quit of the debt of punishment; and
all the more, seeing that they are often more in debt than they think.
Article 2: Whether indulgences are as effective as they claim to be?
Objection 1: It would seem that indulgences are not as effective as they claim
to be. For indulgences have no effect save from the power of the keys.
Now by the power of the keys, he who has that power can only remit some
fixed part of the punishment due for sin, after taking into account the
measure of the sin and of the penitent's sorrow. Since then indulgences
depend on the mere will of the grantor, it seems that they are not as
effective as they claim to be.
Objection 2: Further, the debt of punishment keeps man back from the
attainment of glory, which he ought to desire above all things. Now, if
indulgences are as effective as they claim to be, a man by setting
himself to gain indulgences might become immune from all debt of temporal
punishment. Therefore it would seem that a man ought to put aside all
other kinds of works, and devote himself to gain indulgences.
Objection 3: Further, sometimes an indulgence whereby a man is remitted a third part of the punishment due for his sins is granted if he contribute towards the erection of a certain building. If, therefore, indulgences produce the effect which is claimed for them, he who gives a penny, and then another, and then again another, would obtain a plenary absolution from all punishment due for his sins, which seems absurd.
Objection 4: Further, sometimes an indulgence is granted, so that for visiting
a church a man obtains a seven years' remission. If, then, an indulgence
avails as much as is claimed for it a man who lives near that church, or
the clergy attached thereto who go there every day, obtain as much
indulgence as one who comes from a distance (which would appear unjust);
moreover, seemingly, they would gain the indulgence several times a day,
since they go there repeatedly.
Objection 5: Further, to remit a man's punishment beyond a just estimate seems
to amount to the same as to remit it without reason; because in so far as
he exceeds that estimate, he limits the compensation. Now he who grants
an indulgence cannot without cause remit a man's punishment either wholly
or partly, even though the Pope were to say to anyone: "I remit to all
the punishment you owe for your sins." Therefore it seems that he cannot
remit anything beyond the just estimate. Now indulgences are often
published which exceed that just estimate. Therefore they do not avail as
much as is claimed for them.
On the contrary, It is written (Job 13:7): "Hath God any need of your
lie, that you should speak deceitfully for Him?" Therefore the Church, in
publishing indulgences, does not lie; and so they avail as much as is
claimed for them.
Further, the Apostle says (1 Cor. 15:14): "If . . . our preaching is
vain, your faith is also vain." Therefore whoever utters a falsehood in
preaching, so far as he is concerned, makes faith void. and so sins
mortally. If therefore indulgences are not as effective as they claim to
be, all who publish indulgences would commit a mortal sin: which is
I answer that, on this point there are many opinions. For some maintain
that indulgences have not the efficacy claimed for them, but that they
simply avail each individual in proportion to his faith and devotion. And
consequently those who maintain this, say that the Church publishes her
indulgences in such a way as, by a kind of pious fraud, to induce men to
do well, just as a mother entices her child to walk by holding out an
apple. But this seems a very dangerous assertion to make. For as
Augustine states (Ep. ad Hieron. lxxviii), "if any error were discovered
in Holy Writ, the authority of Holy Writ would perish." In like manner,
if any error were to be found in the Church's preaching, her doctrine
would have no authority in settling questions of faith.
Hence others have maintained that indulgences avail as much as is
claimed for them, according to a just estimate, not of him who grants
it---who perhaps puts too high a value on it---nor of the recipient---for
he may prize too highly the gift he receives, but a just estimate
according to the estimate of good men who consider the condition of the
person affected, and the utility and needs of the Church, for the
Church's needs are greater at one time than at another. Yet, neither,
seemingly, can this opinion stand. First, because in that case
indulgences would no longer be a remission, but rather a mere
commutation. Moreover the preaching of the Church would not be excused
from untruth, since, at times, indulgences are granted far in excess of
the requirements of this just estimate, taking into consideration all the
aforesaid conditions, as, for example, when the Pope granted to anyone
who visited a certain church, an indulgence of seven years, which
indulgence was granted by Blessed Gregory for the Roman Stations.
Hence others say that the quantity of remission accorded in an
indulgence is not to be measured by the devotion of the recipient, as the
first opinion suggested, nor according to the quantity of what is given,
as the second opinion held; but according to the cause for which the
indulgence is granted, and according to which a person is held deserving
of obtaining such an indulgence. Thus according as a man approached near
to that cause, so would he obtain remission in whole or in part. But
neither will this explain the custom of the Church, who assigns, now a
greater, now a lesser indulgence, for the same cause: thus, under the
same circumstances, now a year's indulgence, now one of only forty days,
according to the graciousness of the Pope, who grants the indulgence, is
granted to those who visit a church. Wherefore the amount of the
remission granted by the indulgence is not to be measured by the cause
for which a person is worthy of an indulgence.
We must therefore say otherwise that the quantity of an effect is
proportionate to the quantity of the cause. Now the cause of the
remission of punishment effected by indulgences is no other than the
abundance of the Church's merits, and this abundance suffices for the
remission of all punishment. The effective cause of the remission is not
the devotion, or toil, or gift of the recipient; nor, again, is it the
cause for which the indulgence was granted. We cannot, then, estimate the
quantity of the remission by any of the foregoing, but solely by the
merits of the Church---and these are always superabundant. Consequently,
according as these merits are applied to a person so does he obtain
remission. That they should be so applied demands, firstly, authority to
dispense this treasure. secondly, union between the recipient and Him Who
merited it---and this is brought about by charity; thirdly, there is
required a reason for so dispensing this treasury, so that the intention,
namely, of those who wrought these meritorious works is safeguarded,
since they did them for the honor of God and for the good of the Church
in general. Hence whenever the cause assigned tends to the good of the
Church and the honor of God, there is sufficient reason for granting an
Hence, according to others, indulgences have precisely the efficacy
claimed for them, provided that he who grants them have the authority,
that the recipient have charity, and that, as regards the cause, there be
piety which includes the honor of God and the profit of our neighbor. Nor
in this view have we "too great a market of the Divine mercy" [*St.
Bonaventure, Sent. iv, D, 20], as some maintain, nor again does it
derogate from Divine justice, for no punishment is remitted, but the
punishment of one is imputed to another.
Reply to Objection 1: As stated above (Question , Article ) there are two keys, the key
of orders and the key of jurisdiction. The key of orders is a
sacramental: and as the effects of the sacraments are fixed, not by men
but by God, the priest cannot decide in the tribunal of confession how
much shall be remitted by means of the key of orders from the punishment
due; it is God Who appoints the amount to be remitted. On the other hand
the key of jurisdiction is not something sacramental, and its effect
depends on a man's decision. The remission granted through indulgences is
the effect of this key, since it does not belong to the dispensation of
the sacraments, but to the distribution of the common property of the
Church: hence it is that legates, even though they be not priests, can
grant indulgences. Consequently the decision of how much punishment is to
be remitted by an indulgence depends on the will of the one who grants
that indulgence. If, however, he remits punishment without sufficient
reason, so that men are enticed to substitute mere nothings, as it were,
for works of penance, he sins by granting such indulgences, although the
indulgence is gained fully.
Reply to Objection 2: Although indulgences avail much for the remission of
punishment, yet works of satisfaction are more meritorious in respect of
the essential reward, which infinitely transcends the remission of
Reply to Objection 3: When an indulgence is granted in a general way to anyone
that helps towards the building of a church, we must understand this to
mean a help proportionate to the giver: and in so far as he approaches to
this, he will gain the indulgence more or less fully. Consequently a poor
man by giving one penny would gain the full indulgence, not so a rich
man, whom it would not become to give so little to so holy and profitable
a work; Just as a king would not be said to help a man if he gave him an
Reply to Objection 4: A person who lives near the church, and the priest and
clergy of the church, gain the indulgence as much as those who come
perhaps a distance of a thousand days' journey: because the remission, as
stated above, is proportionate, not to the toil, but to the merits which
are applied. Yet he who toils most gains most merit. This, however, is to
be understood of those cases in which an indulgence is given in an
undeterminate manner. For sometimes a distinction is expressed: thus the
Pope at the time of general absolution grants an indulgence of five years
to those who come from across the seas, and one of three years to those
who come from across the mountains, to others an indulgence of one year.
Nor does a person gain the indulgence each time he visits the church
during the term of indulgence, because sometimes it is granted for a
fixed time; thus when it is said, "Whoever visits such and such a church
until such and such a day, shall gain so much indulgence," we must
understand that it can be gained only once. on the other hand if there be
a continual indulgence in a certain church, as the indulgence of forty
days to be gained in the church of the Blessed Peter, then a person
gains the indulgence as often as he visits the church.
Reply to Objection 5: An indulgence requires a cause, not as a measure of the
remission of punishment, but in order that the intention of those whose
merits are applied, may reach to this particular individual. Now one
person's good is applied to another in two ways: first, by charity; and
in this way, even without indulgences, a person shares in all the good
deeds done, provided he have charity: secondly, by the intention of the
person who does the good action; and in this way, provided there be a
lawful cause, the intention of a person who has done something for the
profit of the Church, may reach to some individual through indulgences.
Article 3: Whether an indulgence ought to be granted for temporal help?
Objection 1: It would seem that an indulgence ought not to be granted for
temporal help. Because the remission of sins is something spiritual. Now
to exchange a spiritual for a temporal thing is simony. Therefore this
ought not to be done.
Objection 2: Further, spiritual assistance is more necessary than temporal.
But indulgences do not appear to be granted for spiritual assistance.
Much less therefore ought they to be granted for temporal help.
On the contrary, stands the common custom of the Church in granting
indulgences for pilgrimages and almsgiving.
I answer that, Temporal things are subordinate to spiritual matters,
since we must make use of temporal things on account of spiritual things.
Consequently an indulgence must not be granted for the sake of temporal
matters as such, but in so far as they are subordinate to spiritual
things: such as the quelling of the Church's enemies, who disturb her
peace; or such as the building of a church, of a bridge, and other forms
of almsgiving. It is therefore evident that there is no simony in these
transactions, since a spiritual thing is exchanged, not for a temporal
but for a spiritual commodity.
Hence the Reply to the First Objection is clear.
Reply to Objection 2: Indulgences can be, and sometimes are, granted even for
purely spiritual matters. Thus Pope Innocent IV granted an indulgence of
ten days to all who prayed for the king of France; and in like manner
sometimes the same indulgence is granted to those who preach a crusade as
to those who take part in it.