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Charles Buck Theological Dictionary


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In the Romish church, are a remission of the punishment due to sin, granted by the church, and supposed to save the sinner from purgatory. According to the doctrine of the Romish church, all the good works of the saints, over and above those which were necessary towards their own justification, are deposited, together with the infinite merits of Jesus Christ, in one inexhaustible treasury. The keys of this were committed to St. Peter, and to his successors, the popes, who may open it at pleasure; and, by transferring a portion of this superabundant merit to any particular person for a sum of money, may convey to him either the pardon of his own sins, or a release for any one in whom he is interested from the pains of purgatory. Such indulgences were first invented in the eleventh century, by Urban II. as a recompence for those who went in person upon the glorious enterprise of conquering the Holy Land. They were afterwards granted to those who hired a soldier for that purpose; and in process of time were bestowed on such as gave money for accomplishing any pious work enjoined by the pope. The power of granting indulgences has been greatly abused in the church of Rome. Pope Leo X., in order to carry on the magnificent structure of St. Peter's, at Rome, published indulgences, and a plenary remission to all such as should contribute money towards it. Finding the project take, he granted to Albert elector of Mentz, and archbishop of Magdeburg, the benefit of the indulgences of Saxony, and the neighbouring parts, and farmed out those of other countries to the highest bidders: who, to make the best of the bargain, procured the ablest preachers to cry up the value of the ware. The form of these indulgences was as follows:

"May our Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon thee, and absolve thee by the merits of his most holy passion. And I, by his authority, that of his blessed apostles, Peter and Paul, and of the most holy pope, granted and committed to me in these parts, do absolve thee, first from all ecclesiastical censures, in whatever manner they have been incurred; then from all thy sins, transgressions, and excesses, how enormous soever they may be: even from such as are reserved for the cognizance of the holy see, and as far as the keys of the holy church extend. I remit to you all punishment which you deserve in purgatory on their account: and I restore you to the holy sacraments of the church, to the unity of the faithful, and to that innocence and purity which you possessed at baptism: so that when you die, the gates of punishment shall be shut, and the gates of the paradise of delight shall be opened; and if you shall not die at present, this grace shall remain in full force when you are at the point of death. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost."

According to a book, called the Tax of the sacred Roman Chancery, in which are contained the exact sums to be levied for the pardon of each particular sin, we find some of the fees to be thus: s. d. For procuring abortion ............................... 7 6 For simony.............................................. 10 6 For sacrilege........................................... 10 6 For taking a false oath in a criminal case.............. 9 0 For robbing............................................. 12 0 For burning a neighbour's house......................... 12 0 For defiling a virgin................................... 9 0 For lying with a mother, sister, &c..................... 7 6 For murdering a layman.................................. 7 6 For keeping a concubine................................. 10 6 For laying violent hands on a clergyman................. 10 6 And so on. The terms in which the retailers of indulgences described their benefits, and the necessity of purchasing them, were so extravagant that they appear almost incredible. If any man, said they, purchase letters of indulgence, his soul may rest secure with respect to its salvation. The souls confined in purgatory, for whose redemption indulgences are purchased, as soon as the money tinkles in the chest, instantly escape from that place of torment, and ascend into heaven. That the efficacy of indulgences was so great, that the most heinous sins, even if one should violate (which was impossible) the Mother of God, would be remitted and expiated by them, and the person be freed both from punishment and guilt.

That this was the unspeakable gift of God, in order to reconcile man to himself. that the cross erected by the preachers of indulgences was equally efficacious with the cross of Christ itself." "Lo, " said they, "the heavens are open: if you enter not now, when will you enter? For twelve pence you may redeem the soul of your father out of purgatory; and are you so ungrateful that you will not rescue the soul of your parent from torment? If you had but one coat, you ought to strip yourself instantly, and sell it, in order to purchase such benefit, " &c. It was this great abuse of indulgences that contributed not a little to the reformation of religion in Germany, where Martin Luther began first to declaim against the preachers of indulgences, and afterwards against indulgences themselves. Since that time the popes have been more sparing in the exercise of this power; although it is said, they still carry on a great trade with them to the Indies, where they are purchased at two rials a piece, and sometimes more. We are told also that a gentleman not long since being at Naples, in order that he might be fully ascertained respecting indulgences, went to the office, and for two sequins purchased a plenary remission of all sins for himself and any two other persons of his friends or relations, whose names he was empowered to insert. Haweis's Church Hist. vol. 3: p. 147; Smith's Errors of the Church of Rome; Watson's Theol. Tracts. vol. 5: p. 274; Mosheim's Eccl. Hist. vol. 1: p. 594, quarto.

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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Indulgences'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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