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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

They were lavished on the religious Orders


gradually assumed that the

power to grant an Indulgence belonged to the Bishop of Rome exclusively, or to those to whom he might delegate it; and this assumption seemed both reasonable and salutary. The power was at first sparingly used. It is true that Pope Urban II., in 1095, promised to the Crusaders an Indulgence such as had never before been heard of--a complete remission of all imposed canonical penances; but it was not until the thirteenth and fourteen centuries that Indulgences, now doubly dangerous to the moral life from the new theories which had arisen, were lavished even more unsparingly than in the days when any bishop had power to grant them. From the beginning of the fourteenth century they were given to raise recruits for papal wars. They were lavished on the religious Orders, either for the benefit of the members or for the purpose of attracting strangers and their gifts to their churches. They were bestowed on cathedrals and other churches, or on individual altars in churches, and had the effect of endowments. They were joined to special collections of relics, to be earned by the faithful who visited the shrines. They were given to hospitals, and for the upkeep of bridges and of roads. Wherever they are met with in the later Middle Ages, and it would be difficult to say where they are not to be found, they are seen to be associated with sordid money-getting, and, as Luther remarked in an early sermon on the subject, they were a very grievous instrument placed in the hand of avarice.

style="text-align: justify;">The practice of granting Indulgences was universally prevalent and was universally accepted; but it was not easy to give an explanation of the system, in the sense of showing that it was an essential element in Christian discipline. No mediaeval theologian attempted to do any such thing. Bonaventura and Thomas Aquinas, the two great Schoolmen who did more than any others to provide a theological basis for the system, tell us quite frankly that it is their business to accept the fact that Indulgences do exist as part of the penitentiary discipline of the Church, and, accepting it, they thought themselves bound to construct a reasonable theory.(160) The practice altered, and new theories were needed to explain the variations. It is needless to say that these explanations did not always agree; and that there were very great differences of opinion about what an Indulgence really effected for the man who bought it.

Of all these disputed questions the most important was: Did an Indulgence give remission for the guilt of sin, or only for certain penalties which followed the sinful deed? This is a question about which modern Romanists are extremely sensitive.

The universal answer given by all defenders of Indulgences who have written on the subject since the Council of Trent, is that guilt (_culpa_) and eternal punishment (_poenae eternae_) are dealt with in the


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