An indulgence, in Roman Catholic theology, means that temporal punishment (punishment here on Earth) for sins which have already been forgiven is taken from the sinner.
A Roman Catholic indulgence, dated Dec. 19, 1521. The use of the printing press
made possible the mass production of form documents offering indulgences.
The indulgence is given by the church after the sinner has confessed and received absolution. Indulgences replaced the severe penances of the early church.
Martin Luther protested against them because they were sold. This was the starting point for the Protestant Reformation (1517).
Images for kids
A Catholic bishop granting plenary indulgences for the public during times of calamity. Note the almsgiving in the background. Wall Fresco by Italian Artist Lorenzo Lotto, Suardi, Italy, circa 1524.
Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas bestows the Easter Mass Plenary Indulgence in 2012 (St. John the Evangelist Metropolitan Cathedral, Dagupan City, Pangasinan).
A Question to a Mintmaker, woodcut by Jörg Breu the Elder of Augsburg, circa 1530, presenting the Pope and indulgences as one of three causes of inflation, the others being minting of debased coinage and cheating by merchants.
Engraving of the Mass of Saint Gregory by Israhel van Meckenem, 1490s, with an unauthorized indulgence at the bottom
Satan distributing indulgences, an illumination from a Czech manuscript, 1490s; Jan Hus (the main leader of the Bohemian Reformation) condemned the selling of indulgences already in 1412
The Pope as the Antichrist, signing and selling indulgences, from Luther's 1521 Passional Christi und Antichristi, by Lucas Cranach the Elder
An 18th-century absolution certificate granted by the Patriarch of Jerusalem and sold by Greek monks in Wallachia (History Museum, Bucharest)