- The Catholic practice of "selling" indulgences to sinners helped provoke the Protestant Reformafasting, performing acts of charity, or other actions. The average person would have to finish penance after death, in the form of suffering and pain; that penance might be lessened or avoided by an indulgence.Indulgences could be granted for going on a pilgrimage, engaging in a specified devotional practice, or contributing to a worthy cause such as endowing a church. The latter practice meant, in effect, that indulgences could be bought, and the "selling" of indulgences became a means of raising money for the church or its agents.A massive campaign to sell indulgences to finance the construction of St. Peter's in Rome provoked biting reactions from church critics. They denounced the sellers for making extravagant claims for the indulgences, even promising to release loved ones already in purgatory. Martin Luther, in the Ninety-five Theses, questioned the legitimacy of the idea itself, suggesting that indulgences could not relieve guilt. if they could, the pope should use them to empty purgatory for the sake of love, rather than money.At the Council of Trent, which opened in 1545, Catholic leadership tried to make reforms in the practice. However, the modified use of indulgences continues to the present day in the Roman Catholic Church.Further reading:■ Alexius M. Lepicier, Indulgences: Their Origin, Nature, and Development (London: Kegan Paul, 1906)■ Bernhard Lohse, Martin Luther, An Introduction to His Life and Work (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986)■ Nicolaus Paulus, Indulgences as a Social Factor in the Middle Ages, trans. by J. Elliott Ross (New York: Devin-Adair, 1922).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.