I just listened to a podcast of an Orthodox priest talking about his conversion into the Eastern Orthodox church. He mentioned something about how he once courted an irish Catholic girl who had a big old coffee table Bible from the early 1900's. In the front of the bible there was a chart for how to obtain specific indulgences for specific amounts of "time" in purgatory.

As a grandson of Vatican II, I've always understood purgatory as a process and not a place.

Benedict XVI does an amazing job of clearing up misconceptions.

At any rate, I am curious as to whether or not these "indulgence charts for time reduction in purgatory" were ever actually inserted into catholic bibles...obviously erroneously?

I would prefer answers from Catholics...or non-Catholics who are very knowledgeable about this, rather than anti-Catholic exaggerationalist.

  • I don't remember when indulgences were done away with, but Gutenberg didn't get his printing press until the 1400s, but Catholics were not particularly big on having their own copies until much later, it seems, as the Bible was thought to be too complex to be understood by common people.
    – Narnian
    Commented Sep 26, 2013 at 21:31
  • 4
    @Narnian Indulgences were never done away with. They are still very much an element of Catholic doctrine. The abuse is what has been done away with. Today the Church does not teach the (a) purgatory is temporal in nature, and (b) indulgences do not remove "time" pumishment.
    – user5286
    Commented Sep 26, 2013 at 21:44
  • 3
    @jlavere Here we go again...and again. I'm sure that you are very deeply convicted about protesting Rome...but understand that I've heard comments like yours literally 1000 times...and I have no interest in reading your (or anyone's) anti-Catholic presuppositions about how terrible the Catholic Church is.
    – user5286
    Commented Sep 27, 2013 at 14:13
  • @CharlesAlsobrook Don't feed the trolls, just flag as not-constructive and move one. No sense making other people read that. Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 2:30

2 Answers 2


I would imagine that the Orthodox priest, his interlocutor, or both, misinterpreted what they were seeing.

As you know, the Church has a concept of "partial indulgence", historically often associated with a specific amount of time. The intention, as I understand it, is that gaining the indulgence corresponds not to that amount of time off Purgatory, but to a remission equivalent to what one would get from performing "old-school" penance for that duration. In effect, the counts in days and years are units of measure of the penance that is being done, not the results. I have also seen indulgence lists where the measure was given not in terms of time, but something like "all the remissions one would gain if one were to make a pilgrimage to the shrine of St Genericus in Exampleton".

Lists of indulgences have been published for a long time. There are books that reproduce every prayer, etc., in full detail. I have also seen leaflets and prayer cards which give very abbreviated reminders, like "Benedictus qui venit - 500 days". The big books will obviously include much more explanation of the doctrine. If summaries of this kind were printed in a Bible, or a devotional book other than a Bible, in early 1900s Ireland, I'd assume that such a book would only be produced with the nihil obstat and imprimatur of the local bishop. That approval would certainly be required from the perspective of the Church, and anyone producing a book for Catholics in Ireland would be pretty motivated to follow the rules. I don't know what process is required for more ephemeral materials, but in that case it's certainly more likely that someone would just print the thing on their own account.

Therefore, I think that any official list of this kind would not be intended to refer to "time off Purgatory". That does not stop it being read that way, especially if it's one of the highly abbreviated reminder lists. I imagine that this sort of confusion lies behind the abolition of temporal measures for partial indulgences (Paul VI, Indulgentiarum Doctrina, 1967; section 12 and norm 5).

In this case, I suspect that the "list" may not have been an actual list, but just a reproduction of the specific indulgences related to the reading of Scripture. I have found a few Catholic Bibles on Google Books which include this text; for example, a 1914 Douay-Rheims Bible from the USA. After the approbations by three American cardinals, and before the preface and table of contents, there is a single page with the following text:

An indulgence of three hundred days is granted to all the Faithful who read the Holy Gospels at least a quarter of an hour. A Plenary Indulgence under the usual conditions is granted once a month for the daily reading. 13 December, 1898. LEO XIII.

This reference must be to the edition of Enchiridion indulgentiarum, the official indulgence manual, published on that date. There is no further explanation of the doctrine of indulgences, the "usual conditions", and so forth. It is followed by a 1778 letter of Pius VI commending the translation of the Bible into the vulgar tongue, and a suggested prayer for the reading of Scripture.

It seems quite likely to me that the Bible in question was one like this, and the reference to "three hundred days" - in the absence of any text explaining the doctrine - was misinterpreted by the readers.

  • The confusion around what the days, years, etc referred to lead to their abolition. It's unfortunate since now there are effectively two buckets whereas before there at least were gradations (e.g. one prayer could be considered more "stronger" than another).
    – eques
    Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 20:11

I received a Bible for my Confirmation in 1970 and there was a list of indulgences in the introduction. There were also specific prayers and how many times you had to say them to remove a soul from purgatory.

  • Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview, please take the Site Tour. Thanks for offering an answer here. Do you still have that Bible? If so, could you provide some publication information about it? What version of the Bible? Who published it? What date it was published? That would make your answer a little more helpful here. Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 22:35

You must log in to answer this question.