QUESTION 26: OF THOSE WHO CAN GRANT INDULGENCES
We must now consider those who can grant indulgences: under which head
there are four points of inquiry:
(1) Whether every parish priest can grant indulgences?
(2) Whether a deacon or another, who is not a priest, can grant
(3) Whether a bishop can grant them?
(4) Whether they can be granted by one who is in mortal sin?
Article 1: Whether every parish priest can grant indulgences?
Objection 1: It would seem that every parish priest can grant indulgences. For
an indulgence derives its efficacy from the superabundance of the
Church's merits. Now there is no congregation without some superabundance
of merits. Therefore every priest, who has charge of a congregation, can
grant indulgences, and, in like manner, so can every prelate.
Objection 2: Further, every prelate stands for a multitude, just as an
individual stands for himself. But any individual can assign his own
goods to another and thus offer satisfaction for a third person.
Therefore a prelate can assign the property of the multitude subject to
him, and so it seems that he can grant indulgences.
On the contrary, To excommunicate is less than to grant indulgences. But
a parish priest cannot do the former. Therefore he cannot do the latter.
I answer that, Indulgences are effective, in as much as the works of
satisfaction done by one person are applied to another, not only by
virtue of charity, but also by the intention of the person who did them
being directed in some way to the person to whom they are applied. Now a
person's intention may be directed to another in three ways,
specifically, generically and individually. Individually, as when one
person offers satisfaction for another particular person; and thus anyone
can apply his works to another. Specifically, as when a person prays for
the congregation to which he belongs, for the members of his household,
or for his benefactors, and directs his works of satisfaction to the same
intention: in this way the superior of a congregation can apply those
works to some other person, by applying the intention of those who belong
to his congregation to some fixed individual. Generically, as when a
person directs his works for the good of the Church in general; and thus
he who presides over the whole Church can communicate those works, by
applying his intention to this or that individual. And since a man is a
member of a congregation, and a congregation is a part of the Church,
hence the intention of private good includes the intention of the good of
the congregation, and of the good of the whole Church. Therefore he who
presides over the Church can communicate what belongs to an individual
congregation or to an individual man: and he who presides over a
congregation can communicate what belongs to an individual man, but not
conversely. Yet neither the first nor the second communication is called
an indulgence, but only the third; and this for two reasons. First,
because, although those communications loose man from the debt of
punishment in the sight of God, yet he is not freed from the obligation
of fulfilling the satisfaction enjoined, to which he is bound by a
commandment of the Church; whereas the third communication frees man even
from this obligation. Secondly, because in one person or even in one
congregation there is not such an unfailing supply of merits as to be
sufficient both for the one person or congregation and for all others;
and consequently the individual is not freed from the entire debt of
punishment unless satisfaction is offered for him individually, to the
very amount that he owes. On the other hand, in the whole Church there is
an unfailing supply of merits, chiefly on account of the merit of Christ.
Consequently he alone who is at the head of the Church can grant
indulgences. Since, however, the Church is the congregation of the
faithful, and since a congregation of men is of two kinds, the domestic,
composed of members of the same family, and the civil, composed of
members of the same nationality, the Church is like to a civil
congregation, for the people themselves are called the Church; while the
various assemblies, or parishes of one diocese are likened to a
congregation in the various families and services. Hence a bishop alone
is properly called a prelate of the Church, wherefore he alone, like a
bridegroom, receives the ring of the Church. Consequently full power in
the dispensation of the sacraments, and jurisdiction in the public
tribunal, belong to him alone as the public person, but to others by
delegation from him. Those priests who have charge of the people are not
prelates strictly speaking, but assistants, hence, in consecrating
priests the bishop says: "The more fragile we are, the more we need these
assistants": and for this reason they do not dispense all the sacraments.
Hence parish priests, or abbots or other like prelates cannot grant
This suffices for the Replies to the Objections.
Article 2: Whether a deacon or another who is not a priest can grant an indulgence?
Objection 1: It would seem that a deacon, or one that is not a priest cannot
grant an indulgence. Because remission of sins is an effect of the keys.
Now none but a priest has the keys. Therefore a priest alone can grant
Objection 2: Further, a fuller remission of punishment is granted by
indulgences than by the tribunal of Penance. But a priest alone has power
in the latter, and, therefore, he alone has power in the former.
On the contrary, The distribution of the Church's treasury is entrusted
to the same person as the government of the Church. Now this is entrusted
sometimes to one who is not a priest. Therefore he can grant indulgences,
since they derive their efficacy from the distribution of the Church's
I answer that, The power of granting indulgences follows jurisdiction,
as stated above (Question , Article ). And since deacons and others, who are not
priests, can have jurisdiction either delegated, as legates, or ordinary,
as bishops-elect, it follows that even those who are not priests can
grant indulgences, although they cannot absolve in the tribunal of
Penance, since this follows the reception of orders. This suffices for
the Replies to the Objections, because the granting of indulgences
belongs to the key of jurisdiction and not to the key of orders.
Article 3: Whether a bishop can grant indulgences?
Objection 1: It would seem that even a bishop cannot grant indulgences.
Because the treasury of the Church is the common property of the whole
Church. Now the common property of the whole Church cannot be distributed
save by him who presides over the whole Church. Therefore the Pope alone
can grant indulgences.
Objection 2: Further, none can remit punishments fixed by law, save the one
who has the power to make the law. Now punishments in satisfaction for
sins are fixed by law. Therefore the Pope alone can remit these
punishments, since he is the maker of the law.
On the contrary, stands the custom of the Church in accordance with
which bishops grant indulgences.
I answer that, The Pope has the plenitude of pontifical power, being
like a king in his kingdom: whereas the bishops are appointed to a share
in his solicitude, like judges over each city. Hence them alone the Pope,
in his letters, addresses as "brethren," whereas he calls all others his
"sons." Therefore the plenitude of the power of granting indulgences
resides in the Pope, because he can grant them, as he lists, provided the
cause be a lawful one: while, in bishops, this power resides subject to
the Pope's ordination, so that they can grant them within fixed limits
and not beyond.
This suffices for the Replies to the Objections.
Article 4: Whether indulgences can be granted by one who is in mortal sin?
Objection 1: It would seem that indulgences cannot be granted by one who is in
mortal sin. For a stream can no longer flow if cut off from its source.
Now the source of grace which is the Holy Ghost is cut off from one who
is in mortal sin. Therefore such a one can convey nothing to others by
Objection 2: Further, it is a greater thing to grant an indulgence than to
receive one. But one who is in mortal sin cannot receive an indulgence,
as we shall show presently (Question , Article ). Neither, therefore, can he
On the contrary, Indulgences are granted in virtue of the power
conferred on the prelates of the Church. Now mortal sin takes away, not
power but goodness. Therefore one who is in mortal sin can grant
I answer that, The granting of indulgences belongs to jurisdiction. But
a man does not, through sin, lose jurisdiction. Consequently indulgences
are equally valid, whether they be granted by one who is in mortal sin,
or by a most holy person; since he remits punishment, not by virtue of
his own merits, but by virtue of the merits laid up in the Church's
Reply to Objection 1: The prelate who, while in a state of mortal sin, grants an
indulgence, does not pour forth anything of his own, and so it is not
necessary that he should receive an inflow from the source, in order that
he may grant a valid indulgence.
Reply to Objection 2: Further, to grant an indulgence is more than to receive
one, if we consider the power, but it is less, if we consider the