The Vatican said it was the first "ecumenical theological consultation on the theme of indulgences" since the birth of Protestantism in the Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries.
The sale of indulgences by corrupt churchmen was one of the issues that Martin Luther protested in his theses of October 31, 1517, and which ultimately led to the Protestant breakaway from the Roman Catholic Church.
Catholics have continued to believe that an indulgence—remission of temporal punishment for sins—can be gained through penitence and contrition, while Protestants reject the concept. The granting of indulgences was a key feature of last year's Holy Year observances by Roman Catholics.
The Vatican said leaders of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Lutheran World Federation, and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches met in Rome on February 9 and 10.
"The purpose was to clarify historical, theological, and pastoral issues related to indulgences in order to come to a better understanding of each other," the Vatican said. "[The meeting] did not aim at an agreement on indulgences."
While acknowledging "long-standing differences between the Roman Catholic Church and the churches of the Reformation" on the issue of indulgences, the Vatican said the consultation "took place in a positive atmosphere which lent itself to honest and constructive discussion."
The participants prayed together and discussed papers presented by six scholars. Gerhard L. Mueller of Munich and Jared Wicks, a Jesuit, presented the Roman Catholic understanding of indulgences.
Responding for Protestants were Michael Root, a Lutheran, of Columbus, Ohio; Ellen Babinsky, Reformed, of Austin, Texas; Theodor Dieter, Lutheran, of Strasbourg, France; and George Sabra, Reformed, of Beirut, Lebanon.
The sessions were led by Walter Kasper, the second-ranking prelate on the Vatican council; Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran federation; and Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the Reformed alliance. Edward Cassidy, president of the Vatican council, also participated.
The Vatican said the papers will be published as a basis for further discussion.
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See our earlier coverage of the meeting, "Catholics and Protestants Discuss Indulgences | Groups dialogue for further understanding of differences, not to reach a theological consensus" (Mar. 1, 2001)
Incarnationis Mysterium:Bull of Indiction of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 is available at the Vatican's Web site.
The 1998 document Conditions for Gaining the Jubilee Indulgence says that, "The plenary indulgence of the Jubilee can also be gained through actions which express in a practical and generous way the penitential spirit which is, as it were, the heart of the Jubilee. This would include abstaining for at least one whole day from unnecessary consumption (e.g., from smoking or alcohol, or fasting or practicing abstinence according to the general rules of the Church) or other similar forms of personal sacrifice." Read more here.
Other Christianity Today articles about the doctrine of indulgences include:
Protestants Boycott Jubilee Event | (March 6, 2000)
Many—But Not All—Churches Share in Opening of Jubilee Door in Rome | Historical ceremony's link to indulgences brings criticism from some Protestant churches (Jan. 24, 2000)
Taming the Reformation | What the Lutheran-Catholic Justification Declaration really accomplished—and what it did not. (Jan. 10, 2000)
Roman Catholics | Vatican Amends Indulgences Doctrine (Nov. 15, 1999)
Reformation Day Celebrations Ain't What They Used to Be | The Lutheran-Catholic Justification Declaration is a good step, but it's only a beginning. (Nov. 1, 1999)
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