Just came across a seemingly widely held misunderstanding that may be quite relevant to certain games being played in Mythic Europe. Per the wikipedia article on indulgences:

An indulgence does not forgive the guilt of sin, nor does it provide release from the eternal punishment associated with unforgiven mortal sins. The Catholic Church teaches that indulgences relieve only the temporal punishment resulting from the effect of sin (the effect of rejecting God the source of good), and that a person is still required to have their grave sins absolved, ordinarily through the sacrament of Confession, to receive salvation. Similarly, an indulgence is not a permit to commit sin, a pardon of future sin, nor a guarantee of salvation for oneself or for another.[13] Ordinarily, forgiveness of mortal sins is obtained through Confession (also known as the sacrament of penance or reconciliation).

So it is unlikely that one can just buy one's way into heaven after murder or infernalism.

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That certainly doesn't seem to be how most people at the time understood them to work. Indeed the wikipedia article that I found Indulgence - Wikipedia goes through quite a history where buying ones way out of penalties in the afterlife (at minimum reducing your time in purgatory) became if not the canon belief at minimum a marketing tool for those who were selling indulgences to raise money for the church.


Here's the position of the Supplement to Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica to indulgences.
That would be pretty much the Catholic Church's canon at the last quarter of the 13th century, as the result of the academic discussions of the 50 years before.

A part of it, that might even be useful in an Ars game, is this:

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.

And I very much doubt that these were the last words on the subject either, which goes to the point that things in the middle ges were rarely one way or another, especially in terms of theology, but more of a range of beliefs and positions, and that the people who hold various positions within those ranges will act accordingly. The worst case stereotype would be someone selling indulgences they did not believe had any real value (in short would not reduce time in purgatory or gain the purchaser any benefit) selling to lay people who believed (based upon a mistaken understanding of theology) that they were buying their way out of hell.

There were many stories of such transactions - especially among those not died-in-the-wool as catholics, of course.

On an academic level, we have Luther's 95 Theses from 1517, which mainly treat the trade with indulgences - and lay the ground of the rejection of the Catholic Church by him and his followers, and the idea of a very different Christianity.
But this has little to do with Christendom in 1220 - and hence very little reason to be treated on an Ars Magica Forum.

Ecept that it did not spring whole cloth into existence in 1517, and the sale of indulgences did help fund the crusades as early as the 4th crusade. The official position of the church was clearly debatable as illustrated by the fact that it was being debated, and even Thomas Aquinas' words support the use of raising funds through the sale of indulgences. What beliefs individuals might have had on the topic or which beliefs might have been held or encouraged by those selling indulgences is of course largely conjecture, aside from the fact that it did not become the widespread problem it would be in 1517 overnight. From the Canterbury tales by Chaucer we can infer it was at least a very common and widespread issue by the late 14th century, and projecting back from these two data points (3 counting Aquinas as a more formal argument and less of a layman's understanding) it is easy to conclude that it was a common, if not necessarily widespread approach at the time. It would of course be informative to have more accounts of the works of those Aquinas was arguing against.


I have also found references ndicating that the fourth latern council of 1215 was already expressing concerns about abuses in the selling of indulgences, so clearly it was an issue in 1220 if it began before 1215.


The 4th council of the Lateran 1215 indeed determines in constitution 60:

From the complaints which have reached us from bishops in various parts of the world, we have come to know of serious and great excesses of certain abbots who, not content with the boundaries of their own authority, stretch out their hands to things belonging to the episcopal dignity : hearing matrimonial cases, enjoining public penances, even granting letters of indulgences and like presumptions. It sometimes happens from this that episcopal authority is cheapened in the eyes of many. Wishing therefore to provide for both the dignity of bishops and the well-being of abbots in these matters, we strictly forbid by this present decree any abbot to reach out for such things, if he wishes to avoid danger for himself, unless by chance any of them can defend himself by a special concession or some other legitimate reason in respect of such things.

In constitution 62 it states:

Let those who are sent to seek alms be modest and discreet, and let them not stay in taverns or other unsuitable places or incur useless or excessive expenses, being careful above all not to wear the garb of false religion. Moreover, because the keys of the church are brought into contempt and satisfaction through penance loses its force through indiscriminate and excessive indulgences, which certain prelates of churches do not fear to grant, we therefore decree that when a basilica is dedicated, the indulgence shall not be for more than one year, whether it is dedicated by one bishop or by more than one, and for the anniversary of the dedication the remission of penances imposed is not to exceed forty days. We order that the letters of indulgence, which are granted for various reasons at different times, are to fix this number of days, since the Roman pontiff himself, who possesses the plenitude of power, is accustomed to observe this moderation in such things.

About indulgences in early 13th century this does not indicate,

Quite to the contrary, it indicates then common abuses by abbots and bishops, which the council publicly identifies, denounces and sets to rectify. We know, that it did not succeed in the long run to counter the erosion of the Church's repute - especially once the Pope needed further resources himself.

An abbot 'selling' indulgences and dodging problems after 1215 might still be an interesting NPC (or PC?) in an Ars Magica saga.

Not quite. The Supplement does draw a clear line before simony.

We have those in the objections the Supplement lists before tackling them.

At one point I had read that the purchase of indulgence would shorten the amount of penance that would be required for forgiveness. I am not sure the time frame that this was the main thing, but even apostates could reduce their penance when returning by several years with a wad of cash.

I think later, when Purgatory became more prominent in the theology, that the indulgence changed to also reduce the time in purgatory one would face.