Indulgences have been a topic of Catholic Apologetics for decades if not centuries. It is a common misunderstanding among non-Catholics since the days of the Martin Luther.
First of all you must critically define what Indulgences actually are. Most people today, including Protestants at the time of the Revolt have never truly understood what are Indulgences. The problem persists today.
"The word indulgence (Latin indulgentia, from indulgeo, to be kind or tender)
originally meant kindness or favor; in post-classic Latin it came to mean the remission of a tax or debt.
In Roman law and in the Vulgate of the Old Testament (Isaiah 61:1) it was used to express release from captivity or punishment.
In theological language also the word is sometimes employed in its primary sense to signify the kindness and mercy of God.
But in the special sense in which it is here considered, an indulgence is a remission of the temporal punishment due to sin,
the guilt of which has been forgiven. Among the equivalent terms used in antiquity were pax, remissio, donatio, condonatio."
What is an Indulgence in short definition?
A full (i.e plenary) or partial remission of the temporal punishment due to sin, the guilt of which has already been forgiven.
What an Indulgence is NOT!
"To facilitate explanation, it may be well to state what an indulgence is not.
It is NOT a permission to commit sin, nor a pardon of future sin; neither could be granted by any power.
It is NOT the forgiveness of the guilt of sin; it supposes that the sin has already been forgiven.
It is NOT an exemption from any law or duty, and much less from the obligation consequent on certain kinds of sin,
e.g., restitution; on the contrary, it means a more complete payment of the debt which the sinner owes to God.
It does NOT confer immunity from temptation or remove the possibility of subsequent lapses into sin.
Least of all is an indulgence the purchase of a pardon which secures the buyers salvation or releases the soul of another from Purgatory.
The absurdity of such notions must be obvious to any one who forms a correct idea of what the Catholic Church really teaches on this subject."
Extract::"Finally, some indulgences are granted in behalf of the living only, while others may be applied in behalf of the souls departed.
It should be noted, however, that the application has not the same significance in both cases.
The Church in granting an indulgence to the living exercises her jurisdiction; over the dead she has no jurisdiction
and therefore makes the indulgence available for them by way of suffrage (per modum suffragii), i.e. she petitions God to accept these works
of satisfaction and in consideration thereof to mitigate or shorten the sufferings of the souls in Purgatory."
Now were there abuses of Indulgences by some individuals? Yes it is possible this occurred. A useful though limited analogy would be the following:
Our modern legal system actually sort of uses the concept of an Indulgence as the basis for its "bailing" procedure, or when you pay a traffic speeding fine.
When someone is arrested for a crime they can apply for bail to the judge and pay a fine to avoid imprisonment (i.e obtain freedom), or someone can pay the bail (i.e take the temporal suffering) on their behalf.
However giving a known murderer on a cut and dried murder case bail for two dollars would be seen as unjust. So would giving a fine of a million dollars for a simple traffic speeding offence.
In a similar way this principle of a unjust application of the remission of punishment due from sin may have occurred during the time of the Protestant Revolt, though obviously not as
extreme as that cited in the limited analogy above. But it illustrates how a lack of understanding, combined with unjust abuse leads to trouble and discord.
There has never been anything wrong with the doctrine. The Jews in fact practiced the principle of indulgences in their almsgiving at the temple, and the Bible in many places speaks of almsgiving as "covering up" for many sins. Read the full Extract Definition and Apologetic Resource Weblinks on the right. Indulgences Definition
For a more deeper understanding also use the following weblink, which includes articles from the Summa Theologica
Make sure you form an intention to receive all the Indulgences you can. This is an important thing to do.
Lastly, in spite of the marvellous apologetics explained above, it is actually much more simple than that. What in fact did Jesus
Christ do on the Cross? He took the punishment of our sins upon himself, all of which can only be satisfied by an infinite recompence made possible by a Divine Person
possessing both a human and divine nature. In doing so He bought our freedom and opened the gates of Heaven and the beautific vision to us, if we wish to accept it.
THAT IS A DIVINE INDULGENCE if you will. Deny the doctrinal principle of indulgences and you deny Redemption itself. Nothing could be more satanic in origin than the doctrinal attack on Indulgences.