By James M. Rochford

For more resources on this subject, see our earlier article “Catholicism.”

Roman Catholicism teaches that the treasury of the Church can help pay for the sins of sinners. The Catholic Catechism states,

We also call these spiritual goods of the communion of saints the Church’s treasury, which is “not the sum total of the material goods which have accumulated during the course of the centuries. On the contrary the ‘treasury of the Church’ is the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ’s merits have before God. They were offered so that the whole of mankind could be set free from sin and attain communion with the Father. In Christ, the Redeemer himself, the satisfactions and merits of his Redemption exist and find their efficacy. This treasury includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are truly immense, unfathomable, and even pristine in their value before God. In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints, all those who have followed in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by his grace have made their lives holy and carried out the mission the Father entrusted to them. In this way they attained their own salvation and at the same time cooperated in saving their brothers in the unity of the Mystical Body.[1]

Indulgences can be given for multiple acts, including praying the rosary.[2] These can either be used for the individual, or a friend or family member in purgatory.[3]

A Biblical Response

We agree that God will reward us in heaven for our faithfulness to him (1 Cor. 3:10-15; 2 Cor. 5:10). However, as James McCarthy has aptly written, “Though the Bible teaches that God will reward faithful stewards in heaven, it never says that He will reward them with heaven.”[4] Our justification is secure as believers. The Bible gives us two options in gaining eternal life. Either we can earn it through perfect obedience to the Law, or we can accept it through the free grace of God in Christ’s work. We can be accepted by God completely apart from our moral works. Paul writes that God “has forgiven” us (Eph. 4:32) for “all our transgressions” (Col. 2:13). He writes that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Read these Scriptures for yourself:

“To the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Rom. 4:5).

“If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Rom. 11:6).

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” (Gal. 2:21)

Could the Bible be any clearer? God wants to forgive us through the work of Christ—not through our own moral works. Jesus forgave the thief on the Cross, simply because he had faith in him—moments before he died. After the man asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom, Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:43). With his hands nailed to the cross, this man could not have performed any good works. Instead, he was forgiven completely by grace. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (Jn. 5:24). On the Cross, Jesus said, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). He completely paid for all of our sins. Note this parable from Jesus (Lk. 18:9-14):

And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:10  “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.11  The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.12  I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’13  But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’14  I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.

This is the scandal of grace. According to Jesus, the sinner gets into heaven for trusting in God. But the self-righteous person goes to hell, because they trusted in themselves and their own good works.

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church. Section 1476-77.

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church. Section 1471.

[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church. Section 1479.

[4] McCarthy, James G. The Gospel According to Rome. Eugene, Or.: Harvest House, 1995. 101.