Pope Francis, Twitter, and Indulgences


July 17, 2013 by mattfradd


A recent news headline read “Vatican offers ‘time off purgatory’ to followers of Pope Francis tweets.” The media has a tremendous gift of making anything spiritual sound stupid, don’t they? And so the subheading to this article reads, “Papal court handling pardons for sins says contrite Catholics may win ‘indulgences’ by following World Youth Day on Twitter.”

I thought this would be the perfect time to clarify the Church’s teaching on indulgences. So, with the help of a fantastic article from Catholic Answers (which begins after this paragraph), let’s look at exactly what an indulgence is (and isn’t), followed by a look at six biblical principles in support of this teaching. 

Those who claim that indulgences are no longer part of Church teaching have the admirable desire to distance themselves from abuses that occurred around the time of the Protestant Reformation.

They also want to remove stumbling blocks that prevent non-Catholics from taking a positive view of the Church.

As admirable as these motives are, the claim that indulgences are not part of Church teaching today is false.

This is proved by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states,

An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishment due for their sins.” The Church does this not just to aid Christians, “but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity (CCC 1478).

Indulgences are part of the Church’s infallible teaching.

This means that no Catholic is at liberty to disbelieve in them. The Council of Trent stated that it “condemns with anathema those who say that indulgences are useless or that the Church does not have the power to grant them”(Trent, session 25, Decree on Indulgences).

Trent’s anathema places indulgences in the realm of infallibly defined teaching. The pious use of indulgences dates back into the early days of the Church, and the principles underlying indulgences extend back into the Bible itself.

Catholics who are uncomfortable with indulgences do not realize how biblical they are. The principles behind indulgences are as clear in Scripture as those behind more familiar doctrines, such as the Trinity.

Before looking at those principles more closely, we should define indulgences. In his apostolic constitution on indulgences, Pope Paul VI said:

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 defined conditions through the Church’s help when, as a minister of redemption, she dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions won by Christ and the saints (Indulgentiarum Doctrina 1).

This technical definition can be phrased more simply as, “An indulgence is what we receive when the Church lessens the temporal (lasting only for a short time) penalties to which we may be subject even though our sins have been forgiven.”

To understand this definition, we need to look at the biblical principles behind indulgences.

Click here to read the six biblical principles behind indulgences; and click here to get the most amazing audio set on indulgences you’ll ever hear, my friend!

24 thoughts on “Pope Francis, Twitter, and Indulgences

  1. Catholic and Protestant definitions of forgiveness are obviously different: one need not be punished for things one has been forgiven, especially when it comes to things God has forgiven. God’s judgment and justice is fulfilled by charging our debt to the account of Jesus. HE pays our debt. His payment is good enough. No further payment is needed.

    • Emily says:

      The Catholic Church teaches that Purgatory is a place of purification, not somewhere we are sent to do ‘payment’. As the Catholic Answers team puts it, so much more aptly than I would be able;

      “Why Go To Purgatory?:
      Why would anyone go to purgatory? To be cleansed, for “nothing unclean shall enter [heaven]” (Rev. 21:27). Anyone who has not been completely freed of sin and its effects is, to some extent, “unclean.” Through repentance he may have gained the grace needed to be worthy of heaven, which is to say, he has been forgiven and his soul is spiritually alive. But that’s not sufficient for gaining entrance into heaven. He needs to be cleansed completely.

      It is entirely correct to say that Christ accomplished all of our salvation for us on the cross. But that does not settle the question of how this redemption is applied to us. Scripture reveals that it is applied to us over the course of time through, among other things, the process of sanctification through which the Christian is made holy. Sanctification involves suffering (Rom. 5:3–5), and purgatory is the final stage of sanctification that some of us need to undergo before we enter heaven. Purgatory is the final phase of Christ’s applying to us the purifying redemption that he accomplished for us by his death on the cross.

      No Contradiction:
      [Some] presume there is a contradiction between Christ’s redeeming us on the cross and the process by which we are sanctified. There isn’t. And [one] cannot say that suffering in the final stage of sanctification conflicts with the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement without saying that suffering in the early stages of sanctification also presents a similar conflict… Our suffering in sanctification does not take away from the cross. Rather, the cross produces our sanctification, which results in our suffering, because “[f]or the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11).

      Nothing Unclean:
      Purgatory makes sense because there is a requirement that a soul not just be declared to be clean, but actually be clean, before a man may enter into eternal life. After all, if a guilty soul is merely “covered,” if its sinful state still exists but is officially ignored, then it is still a guilty soul. It is still unclean.
      Catholic theology takes seriously the notion that “nothing unclean shall enter heaven.” From this it is inferred that a less than cleansed soul, even if “covered,” remains a dirty soul and isn’t fit for heaven. It needs to be cleansed or “purged” of its remaining imperfections. The cleansing occurs in purgatory. Indeed, the necessity of the purging is taught in other passages of Scripture, such as 2 Thessalonians 2:13, which declares that God chose us “to be saved through sanctification by the Spirit.” Sanctification is thus not an option, something that may or may not happen before one gets into heaven. It is an absolute requirement, as Hebrews 12:14 states that we must strive “for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”

      • If it is indeed a place of purification, how then could one pay (indulgences) to lessen the period of purification?

      • Emily,

        Interesting, I think you just answered some of my Musings I posted which cross paths with your post.

      • “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

        Scripture tells us that it is Jesus’ blood that purifies us of all sin. Therefore, purgatory is not necessary to do so. I’ve heard it said, in response, that purgatory is the place where the blood of Christ is applied. If so, I don’t see why we’d need to consume it during communion. And certainly, if purgatory was indeed a place of final purification, it would seem insulting to me that a person could possibly think paying money or following a twitter feed would reduce the necessary time of purification. I don’t see any reason why this would be difficult to comprehend, and I don’t see why the concept of indulgences isn’t thoroughly ridiculed.

      • Hey Donny,

        Do you think in heaven, everyone will be treated equally. Everyone have exactly the same position / status / opportunities?

        For example would you say, a truly holy person that lived a near sinless life, led a selfless life giving all to others, will be treated the same in heaven, as say some that led a disgraceful life, led many into sin, some they led never recovered from sin, destined for hell. But at the final hour that due someone else’s goodwill in helping them onto the right path accepted Christ?

        I’ve question this myself. Would seem “Unjust”, especially to all the ones that are in Hell as a result of the person helping lead them on the path to hell.

        Some things we do have “eternal consequences” not just for us but others. While I’m personally all for forgiveness, I’m also for people being held responsible for their actions.

        Indulgences may help that sort of person, lessen there time in purgatory. Not sure about simply following a twitter feed, but doing Good works would make sense. It’s a bit like doing “Community Service”. Well to me anyway.

        Just a thought, further musings. I don’t not, I’m speculating on an interesting concept.

      • The father’s grace didn’t make sense to the brother of the prodigal either, Steve.

      • Chris Byrum says:

        Steve, one other thought here. Although God does give us a capacity to know him through reason and writes His law (the natural law) on every human heart, and even though as Christ followers we have the Holy Spirit to guide us, that doesn’t mean that we always comprehend the justice of the Lord. Just remember the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20) when saying things like “I’m also for people being held responsible for their actions”. We are all the recipients of God’s great mercy, and if Our Lord dealt with us according to what we deserved none of us would be spared. I am confident both from reading Matthew 20 and Isaiah 55 (and many other scriptures) that God’s justice is not only great and wonderful, but that we will be surprised, awed, and blessed when we see it in its full glory.

        I try to always keep in front of me the memory of who I was before Christ, not to beat myself with a stick, but to praise God in His awesome goodness, and I pray to view others the way God views them. May I live long enough to labor hard for my master, and I pray that along with my Lord I will sing with joy at the entry of the man who never labored much in the garden of this world, but who gets to join in the glorious wedding feast.

        I would suggest also that if there is a purgatory, whatever it is, it is a mercy from God and not a way to even the score between men. Hopefully, this doesn’t seem harsh to say. I don’t mean it to be. I just wanted to raise that thought.

        With love,

      • Thanks Chris.

        Some thought provoking wisdom there.

      • Donny,

        “The father’s grace didn’t make sense to the brother of the prodigal either, Steve.”

        True, some struggle to make sense out of why a doctor would knowingly save the life of a mass murderer, terrorist, etc, but they do.

        Doesn’t mean the one saving, the doctor, doesn’t want the person to be held responsible for their actions. While one may save someone it doesn’t outweigh the possibility of still holding the person responsible for their actions.

        Same with forgiveness. To forgive doesn’t necessitate not wanting the person to account for their actions. I.E. many will forgive a murderer that has caused a family direct harm, it doesn’t mean they want the person to have no punishment (be held accountable) for what they did.

        Anyway just some musings, and internal thinking. I’m not making a claim of belief on what I believe God will or will not do.

        To me, being “Saved”, “Redemption”, “Atonement” and “Forgiveness” doesn’t necessarily mean, there will be no accountability.

        I don’t fully understand purgatory, but maybe that is where some of that accountability, if there is, comes into play.

        From what I’ve read, I can’t see a reason to exclude the possibility of “Purgatory.” For the proof of purgatory I guess that is where, if your Catholic, you put your trust in the Church’s teachings on the subject. And indulgences can make sense in context. Start an amends on earth so to speak. I don’t see why “God” would not recognise Good Works as an attempt to atone for their past. Many have become missionaries, speakers, and such like who do tremendous Good Works due to their past.

      • Jon says:

        Things the church can do without…..clericalism, legalism, and triumphalism.

        The new pope seems to be correcting these major flaws in the Church. Good for him. St. Francis also recognized these mayor faults of the church….but the hierarchy of the church paid him little heed….perhaps they will listen this time!

    • I’m not an expert on purgatory, and not a Catholic. One situation where purgatory makes sense to me is that a person accepts “Christ” they are forgiven. But, in the real world we live in, it is unlikely the person will stop “Sinning 100%” and be all things God wants them to be. To me, they begin a journey to Sin Less, and a promise to God to try harder.

      Here are some of my musings…

      I was thinking about a situation the other day. Parts of the world children are dying from lack of clean drinking water. Yet I’ll go and pay $5.00 for a cup of coffee. Deep down, I know that $5.00 could help save that child’s life, yet I still buy the coffee.

      Now, if I was a parent, had two children, one was thirsty, near death, the other not, but had money. But knowingly used that money to indulge in a soft drink while his sibling died. I’m not sure I would be all to impressed as a parent.

      Were all children of God, all brothers and sisters.

      I’m not claiming my example is biblical and we commit sin by not helping the starving. I do sponsor children, but I certainly don’t give all I could. I question my own doubts on the subjects that is all.

      Then there is the occasion where I might play a violent video game that involves killing, and theft, and so on. That raises another question is doing something “Virtually” equivalent to doing the act in person. Jesus said, just “Thinking about another woman” is the same as adultery. So acting out something, we know are sinful, virtually, in a game, what is that?

      The same goes with watching movies, or TV shows where the content could be questionable. In doing so we are promoting an industry to create more questionable material that may indirectly influence the youth of tomorrow.

      When I truly look around with an open heart. I believe I continue to sin in many tiny ways. Sure I make excuses, maybe the TV show doesn’t matter, playing the game is ok, maybe not doing as much as I could to help the child dying doesn’t really matter. Maybe it doesn’t. Deep down I do question myself.

      To be totally clean after death, maybe purgatory is a way to rectify those deep down things we do, that we shove to the back of our mind, where we know we could do better but don’t for a variety of reasons.

      Put all the Christians in a room who have accepted Christ today in a room, you have large divisions in behaviour, what is and isn’t acceptable to people on many different topics and behaviours. I can’t see “Heaven” working if they all went there without some sort of “Middle Point” where they are “Enlightened” so to speak to be on the same wavelength as everyone else. There are also Christians, who have accepted Christ, that don’t believe other “Christians” are valid due to their beliefs after “Accepting Christ.”

      One example of divisional beliefs inside Catholicism itself was shown in a survey the other day by the Barna group that says 37% of American Catholics find same sex relationships morally acceptable. From what I thought of Catholic teachings, that goes away from what they teach.–Un The question isn’t whether they are or aren’t to me, it’s the division in the teaching. By that you have 63% that don’t, and 37% that do. So which is it? and for the Catholics that are wrong, whichever side that may be, are they sinning by saying yes it’s ok, or no it’s not, by saying they know what is or isn’t morally acceptable to God.

      How could that be fixed? Purgatory maybe?

      What’s the alternative? Hell for all those sections of “Christianity” that don’t have it right? or a divided Heaven.

      Anyway, again these are just my musings on the subjects.

      Maybe purgatory is more of a place of “Cleansing” than “Punishment”.

      How Indulgences work with that? Not sure. Maybe they help a person remove those “Underlying” nagging behaviours?

      Anyway, to sum it up, I’m guessing nobody stops “Sinning” after they accept Christ. Were imperfect. So what happens to the sins we accumulate after our “Forgiveness”. Or is “Forgiveness” a blank card for sins we had done and sins we are going to do?

      Catholics, I believe through confessional, continue to ask for forgiveness of their sins on an ongoing basis. But again, it’s unlikely they would ask for forgiveness of “ALL” there sins. Some they may do unwittingly.

      Purgatory certainly is an interesting topic though.

      I love Matt’s articles they get me thinking and questioning.

    • Frank Benites says:

      Donny, purgatory can be a difficult teaching. Have you ever considered, however, where those old testament Saints went after they died? I’m sure you would agree that heaven was closed to all before the advent of Christ. If that is true then where did Noah, Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses etc. go when they died? Did they go to hell? We know that hell is for the ‘eternally’ dammed, right? Well, if heaven was closed to these heroes before Christ and they didn’t deserve hell, then there must have been another place, or state of being if you will. St. Peter hints at this ‘other place’ in (1Pt 3:18-21) This ‘prison’ that Jesus went to preach could not have been hell. Why bother preaching to the eternally lost? Those there had already chosen to reject God. There must have been another place. You don’t have to call it Purgatory. Just reflect on the possibility of another place besides heaven and hell. May God bless you.

    • //God’s judgment and justice is fulfilled by charging our debt to the account of Jesus. HE pays our debt. His payment is good enough. No further payment is needed.//

      Isn’t this exactly what Rome is saying?

  2. Christopher G. says:

    The media constantly manages to make me shake my head. Thank you for this explanation, Matt! God Bless you and your family.

    • It’s not the media. The Catholic church actually teaches this still today. If Catholics pick and choose what they want to believe and what is not consistent with what the Catholic faith teaches, they are not a Catholic in the stricktest sense. If you see a problem with your faith being inconsistent with the holy scriptures, there’s a problem. Really, if someone being dissatisfied with what they believe not holding true to the scriptures, or in harmony with the words of Jesus Christ, they should seek for the real truth as did Martin Luther in 1517 when he wrote and nailed to the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg, the “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” otherwise known as Luthers’ 95 thesis.

      Read it today:

  3. Indulgence – a word not found in scripture.

    Used by the Catholic church for “the taking away of the temporal punishment due to sin.” Austin Flannery, Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents (New York: Costello Publishing, 1988): 70.

    “The faithful who use with devotion an object of piety (crucifix, cross, rosary, scapular, or medal) after it has been duly blessed by any priest, can gain a partial indulgence. But, if this object of piety is blessed by the Pope or any bishop, the faithful who use it with devotion can also gain a plenary indulgence on the feast of the Apostle Peter and Paul, provided they make a confession of faith using any approved formula.” Austin Flannery, Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents (New York: Costello Publishing, 1988): 77-78.

    “Since the power of granting indulgences was conferred by Christ on the Church…it condemns with anathema those who assert that they are useless or deny that there is in the Church the power of granting them.” Rev. H. J. Schroeder (trans.), “Decree Concerning Indulgences,” The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (Illinois: TAN Books, 1978): 253.

    Ephesians 2:8-10 declares we are saved by grace in faith in Jesus Christ alone: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

    1 John 3:5 – “And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.”

    Isaiah 53:5 speaking obviously about our Lord Jesus Christ – “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”

  4. […] A recent news headline read “Vatican offers ‘time off purgatory’ to followers of Pope Francis tweets.” The media has a tremendous gift of making anything spiritual sound stupid, don’t they? And so the subheading to this article reads, “Papal court handling pardons for sins says contrite Catholics may win …read more […]

  5. The Popes older brother is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and has been for 52 years.

    • Chris Byrum says:


      I hesitate to reply to a posting like this, but I will for two reasons:
      1. Just in case *anyone* reading this might possibly be deceived by this posting (I really hope no one would swallow such a thing without questioning it though).
      2. Just on the outside chance that you will turn away from this kind of stuff. You are constantly pleading with the Catholics on this site to question their beliefs, so I will turn that back on you and hope that you will at some point choose to spend some time thinking about what you are not only accepting for yourself, but promulgating online.

      So in short, the Pope is the *eldest* child of five and has only one surviving sibling, a younger sister.

      At least if you are going to consume conspiracy material yourself keep it out of the comment section of a community of believers that has been willing to graciously and lovingly discuss with you.

      May God Bless you Curtis.

      • Believe what you like. I believe this to be true that the pope has an older brother who is Seventh-day Adventist and the present pope knows Adventism from A – Z. The pope cannot refute Adventism from the scriptures either.

        Many blessings and much love 🙂

        By the way, it’s better to worship God in His truth. The peace of mind I have, I want for you and everyone who reads this.


      • Chris Byrum says:

        I’m with you Curtis, it is better to worship God in truth, and an incalculable blessing to have the peace that flows from a relationship with Christ.


    • Not sure it would even matter what Pope Francis’s brother believes or doesn’t believe. Freewill in action. Take for example the Hitchens brothers. Christopher Hitchens is a well known atheist, who took his belief to the grave. However, his brother Peter turned from atheism to Christianity, oddly enough after a viewing of Van der Weyden’s “The Last Judgement” artwork.

      Of course that works both ways.

      I wouldn’t be justifying a belief in something because person x believes. Quick way to shatter your faith if person x changes their beliefs or represents the faith in some way which becomes objectionable.

      • I simply wanted to share this. It is not any justification about anything lol. Unless you have my worldview & understanding of Daniel 7 and the national Sunday law which is coming very soon.

        God bless

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