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The Pope has recently spoken about indulgences. How do you understand this? (Part 2)

In the first part of this series, we began to discuss the concept taught by the Roman Catholic Church that “indulgences” can allegedly remove, partially (“plenary”) or completely (“in full”), punishment for sin. We referred to an article that we published in our Update #936, dated August 7, 2020. A recent article by “Crux”, dated October 23, 2020, is worth mentioning in this regard. It has the headline, “Vatican extends time to obtain full indulgences for souls in purgatory,” and continues to read, in part:

“Plenary or full indulgences traditionally obtained during the first week of November for the souls of the faithful in purgatory can now be gained throughout the entire month of November, the Vatican said. Also, those who are ill or homebound and would not be able to physically visit a church or cemetery in the prescribed timeframe still will be able to receive a plenary indulgence when meeting certain conditions…

“The new provisions were made after a number of bishops asked for guidance as to how the faithful could perform the works required for receiving a plenary indulgence given the ongoing pandemic and restrictions in many parts of the world limiting the number of people who can gather in one place… Traditionally, the faithful could receive a full indulgence each day from Nov. 1 to Nov. 8 when they visited a cemetery to pray for the departed and fulfilled other conditions, and, in particular, when they went to a church or an oratory to pray Nov. 2, All Souls’ Day…

“The Vatican decided to extend the time one can receive a full indulgence to include the whole month of November… Typically, only a partial indulgence is granted after the first week of November. The full indulgence traditionally offered Nov. 2 for those who visit a church or an oratory and recite the Our Father and the Creed can also be gained any day in November… Those who cannot leave their homes or residence for ‘serious reasons,’ which includes government restrictions during a pandemic… also can receive a plenary indulgence after reciting specific prayers for the deceased or reflecting on a Gospel reading designated for Masses of the dead before an image of Jesus or the Blessed Virgin Mary, or by performing a work of mercy…

“The church teaches that prayer, particularly the Mass, and sacrifices may be offered on behalf of the souls in purgatory. The feast of All Souls differs from the Nov. 1 feast of All Saints precisely because it offers prayers for the eternal peace and heavenly rest of all those who died in a state of grace, but not totally purified. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, ‘All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.’”

In the last installment, we reviewed, among other questions, the fact that we do not have an immortal soul and that no one goes to heaven when they die. Let us continue with the next error—the belief that people can go to hell when they die. [The related concept of purgatory—the “temporary” stay in “hell”—will also be discussed herein and more fully in subsequent installments.]

The Roman Catholic’s Catechism reads:

1057 Hell’s principal punishment consists of eternal separation from God in whom alone man can have the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.”

As this is a “brief” summation, let us review a slightly enhanced explanation by the Roman Catholic Church, as follows:

1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’ The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.”

On the Catholic Answers website: https://www.catholic.com/tract/the-hell-there-is, we read the following:

“The doctrine of hell is so frightening that numerous heretical sects end up denying the reality of an eternal hell. The Unitarian-Universalists, the Seventh-day Adventists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Christadelphians, the Christian Scientists, the Religious Scientists, the New Agers, and the Mormons—all have rejected or modified the doctrine of hell so radically that it is no longer a serious threat. In recent decades, this decay has even invaded mainstream Evangelicalism, and a number of major Evangelical figures have advocated the view that there is no eternal hell—the wicked will simply be annihilated.

“But the eternal nature of hell is stressed in the New Testament. For example, in Mark 9:47–48 Jesus warns us, ‘[I]t is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ And in Revelation 14:11, we read: ‘And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.’

“Hell is not just a theoretical possibility. Jesus warns us that real people go there. He says, ‘Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few’ (Matt. 7:13–14).”

Quite frankly, to quote Matthew 7:13-14 in this context is ridiculous. In fact, the narrow way of keeping God’s Commandments and His Law is in contradiction to Catholic teaching. The 4th Commandment has been “done away with” by replacing the true Sabbath with Sunday. God’s Way is a Way of Life; indeed, it is the narrow way, but the way of the world of which the Catholic Church is a key part, keeps Christmas, Easter and saints’ days which are, in no way, enjoined or even permitted in the Word of God. When one understands the identity of the Catholic Church which is clearly seen in the book of Revelation, it is plain that their ways are that of the wide gate and easy way.

In addition, let us review some of the information in our Q&A, entitled, “Do the Wicked go to Hell?”:

“The concept that the wicked go to an ever-burning hell after their death is nowhere taught in Scripture. In fact, the Bible does not even teach the existence of an ever-burning hell, torturing wicked souls of departed ones for their evil deeds. The concept of an ever-burning hellfire is derived from paganism. Richard Craze explains in his book, ‘Hell, An Illustrated History of the Netherworld,’ copyrighted 1996:

“‘… the old horned gods of the Stone Age people became the new rulers of hell. There was a sort of logic in locating the place of the dead below ground — the underworld — because that was exactly where the dead were buried… The early [nominal] Christians borrowed Hel’s name [the goddess Hel ruled over the place of the ‘lost souls’ in Viking mythology] for their own place of punishment… The early [nominal] Christians borrowed heavily from earlier mythologies, and the generally accepted appearance of Satan is an amalgamation of such things as the horns and shaggy hindquarters of the Greek god Pan, the wings of the Mesopotamian devil Pazuzu, and the scales and dragon skin of the Persian Azhidaahaka… The Greeks borrowed freely from the Babylonians… Pluto, Zeus’ brother, governed [hell] with a merciless severity and subjected his poor guests to the most ingenious tortures… [Others] were consigned to the deep bottomless pit… ruled by Kronos. Here they would suffer eternal torment… sinners were tortured for eternity… The Romans knew exactly where hell was located — underneath Italy. Everything else they borrowed from the Greeks.’

“The author also points out:

“‘… it was the Synod of Bishops in Constantinople in 543 that… set the seal on hell, when they decreed that “if anyone shall say or even think that there is an end to the torment of… ungodly persons, or that there ever will be an end to it, then let them be excommunicated.” And they promptly excommunicated Origen, an early Church father, for saying that he thought hell was finite.’

“It is true that the New Testament speaks about a fiery place, which is translated in some English Bibles as, ‘hell.’ The Greek word for this place is ‘gehenna.’ It does not, however, describe an ever-burning hell, as commonly understand by many. Craze explains:

“‘Gehenna — the place of fire. It is probable that it was named after the place just outside Jerusalem where the household rubbish, including the bodies of criminals and animals, was burnt.’

“Please note the following excerpts from our free booklet, ‘Do You Have an Immortal Soul?’, addressing the concept of a fiery hell:

“‘The word “gehenna” and the very concept of it are derived from the Valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem in which the corpses of dead people, mainly criminals, would be burned up. It is another expression for the ‘lake of fire’ in Revelation 20:15, in which all who have acted wickedly, and who have refused to repent, will be thrown into, to be burned up or “devoured.” (Remember that Hebrews 10:27… tells us that the wicked wait for God’s fiery indignation that will “devour” them.). That is the “hell” or the “gehenna” fire that Christ is talking about…– “the second death” from which there will be no resurrection.

“‘Those who sin deliberately, wilfully and maliciously, God will resurrect to physical life [please note that they were dead — not in heaven, hell, limbo or purgatory — and that they had to be brought back from death to physical life] to throw them—their physical body and their soul or their “life”—into “gehenna” or the lake of fire (Revelation 20:13-15; 21:8). They won’t burn there forever-rather, they will be burned up. They are the “chaff,” that will be “burned up” with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:12)—that is, no human can quench it. Notice that this fire will ultimately even burn up or bring to dissolution “heaven and earth,” so that a “new heaven and a new earth” can be created by God (2 Peter 3:10-13).

“‘The wicked, such as the rich man in Christ’s parable in Luke 16, will not burn forever and ever, for all eternity, in an everlasting hell fire, but they will be “burned up” (cp. again Matthew 3:12). The Greek word for “burned up” is “katakaio”—conveying the meaning that nothing of what is burned up will remain. We read in Revelation 18:8 that modern Babylon “shall be utterly burned with fire.” The word for “utterly burned” is, again, “katakaio” in the Greek. And we are told that “that great city Babylon [will] be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all” (Revelation 18:21). In the same way, the wicked, such as the rich man in Luke 16, that are [brought back to life from the dead and then] thrown into “gehenna” or the lake of fire [called the SECOND death!], will be “burnt up”—they “shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up… that it shall leave them neither root nor branch” (Malachi 4:1). They will become ashes under the feet of the righteous (Malachi 4:3); it will be as if they had never existed (Obadiah 16).”

“The wicked will be burnt up in a temporary gehenna fire, to die the SECOND death, from which there will be no further resurrection to life (Revelation 20:14-15; 21:8) — they will not be tortured forever and ever in an eternal hell fire, without ever being destroyed. We need to understand, too, that those who will be burnt up will have committed the unpardonable sin. As it is true in regard to the concept of ‘hell,’ very few understand properly, either, what the ‘unpardonable sin’ really is.”

We have other Q&A’s which cover different aspects of hell and purgatory. For instance, one Q&A answers the question as to what is meant in Revelation 14:11, which states: “And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night…”  (Recall that the Catholic Church is using this passage to “prove” that the wicked are being tortured in “hell.”) The Q&A is titled, “Would you please explain Revelation 14:11? Does this Scripture teach that the wicked will be forever tormented in hell fire?”

Another Q&A addresses Revelation 20:10, which states, in the rendition of the new King James Bible:

“The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” That Q&A is titled: “Would you explain Revelation 20:10? Does this Scripture say that the beast and the false prophet will be tormented in hell fire forever?”

The Roman Catholic Church is also referring to Mark 9:47-48 (see quote above) to “prove” that the wicked, after they die, keep on living in hell “where their worm does not die” and where “the fire is not quenched.” We are explaining this passage in our Q&A, titled, “Please explain Jesus’ saying in Mark 9:43-48.” 

A booklet by the (now defunct) Worldwide Church of God from 1972, titled, “After Death… Then What?”, asked the question as to whether there was any life after death. The answer given was as follows:

“Remember what Job was inspired to say? ‘O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me!  If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come’ (Job 14:13, 14).

“Job knew about the resurrection of the dead. And so does anyone who knows the promises of God. Your Bible speaks in both Old and New Testaments of a resurrection of the dead — a re-creation of life!

“Daniel was inspired to write: ‘And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to ever­lasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt’ (Dan. 12:2).

“Later, Christ quoted these same words. Read John 5:21 through verse 29. Jesus said: ‘For as the Father raiseth up the dead . . . even so the Son quickeneth [makes alive] whom he will. . . . Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.. .. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation [judgment — margin].’

“Christ spoke of more than one resurrection!  Notice the proof. Turn to Revelation, chapter 20. Now read verses 4 and 5. ‘And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them [Greek word: psuche — meaning same as nephesh in the Hebrew] that were beheaded for the wit­ness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.’  And the ‘souls’ John saw in this vision were dead!  Notice the proof. ‘But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished’ (Rev. 20:5).

“John saw a vision concerning the resurrection of the just. Christ promises rulership with Him to those who overcome (Rev. 2:26; 3:21), which He will give at His return (I Cor. 15:23; Phil. 3:20, 21).

“The resurrection of the dead was the whole hope — the heart and center of the message — of the early Church. Notice how it completely dominates the sermons of Peter and Paul in early Church history. Read all of the following verses in context in your own Bible. ‘Ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up . . .’ (Acts 2:23, 24). ‘This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses… For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself… The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thy foes thy footstool’ (verses 32-35).

“Peter continually emphasized Christ’s resurrection as proof of the future resurrection of all mankind. ‘And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead…’ (Acts 3:15). ‘Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus…’ (verse 26). ‘… The Sadducees came upon them, being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead’ (Acts 4:1-2).

“Notice. Peter preached the resurrection. He said nothing about the completely pagan doctrines of a supposed ‘immortal soul’ or going to ‘hell’ or ‘heaven’ when one dies.

“Rather, he emphasized how even David, a man after God’s own heart, was dead and buried (Acts 2:29) and showed the believers that David had not gone to heaven (Acts 2:34), but was waiting in his grave, just as the Bible says, until a resurrection of the just.”

We read in the Word of God that, “For the living know that they will die; But the dead know nothing, And they have no more reward, For the memory of them is forgotten (Ecclesiastes 9:5). It is clear from this passage of Scripture that when we die we simply cease, as a human being, to exist. Those who are dead can’t breathe, eat, drink, speak, act, think, or feel anything.

The Bible is clear on this issue—we will return to dust. Because of his disobedience, God told Adam: “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).

When Adam died, he returned to dust and ceased to exist. The same happens to those who die now. “For what happens to the sons of men also happens to animals; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other. Surely, they all have one breath; man has no advantage over animals, for all is vanity. All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust” (Ecclesiastes 3:19-20).

In the above-quoted excerpts from the Roman Catholic’s Catechism, death was defined as “separation from God” or even as “eternal separation from God.” This idea is false. Life and death are opposites. Death is not merely separation from God, while the person is still alive. As we stated in the first installment, death is a dreamless sleep without consciousness. We said: “He will not go to heaven when he dies, nor will he suffer in a purgatory or ‘hell.’ Rather, he is asleep, until Christ awakens him out of his sleep.” We showed above that when we die, we know nothing.

We read in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

When Christ died, He was not merely “separated” from God. He was DEAD—without any life or consciousness. He said in Revelation 1:18: “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.”

(To be continued)

Lead Writers: Brian Gale (United Kingdom) and Norbert Link