chapter  1
34 Pages

Indulgences Debated: e Reformation of Pardons, 1517–1720

Sin, repentance and forgiveness lay at the heart of Medieval Christianity. Since the Fall, human weakness and disobedience to God’s will have disturbed His perfection and have merited the punishment of eternal damnation. But Christ’s sacri ce of Himself on the cross redeemed humanity from this fate; those who believed in Him would spend their eternity with Him, in Heaven. e role of the Church was to provide mechanisms by which individual men and women might be brought to this position of grace. To this end, the sacrament of penance emerged. e sacrament required three distinct ‘actions’ by participants: contrition or sorrow for sins, confession and the performance of temporal acts of penitence to achieve satisfaction – good and spiritual works, prayer, pilgrimage, church-visiting, fasting and alms-giving.1 By the later eenth century, penance had evolved into a ritual in which a penitent confessed his or her sins individually at least once a year to a priest, who helped in the articulation of o enses, gave absolution and applied appropriate reparation for the listed transgressions.2 Indulgences evolved as an alternative means by which this temporal penance could be remitted. e theory and practice of pardons was thus linked to the nal requirement of the sacrament – that is, satisfaction , the means by which right relations with God are restored, so a sinner might ultimately reach Heaven.