home‎ > ‎

papal indulgences

Early Papal Indulgences for Christians Fighting Muslims


[Translated by the students of Pomona College Classics 103 ("Medieval Latin Translation"): Sam Kaplan, Daniel Martin, and Lily Stewart, under the guidance of Professor Ken Wolf (Fall, 2013)]


Leo IV (847-855),  “To the Army of the Franks”

[PL 115:655]

Laying aside all fear and dread, strive to act in a manly way against the enemies of the holy faith and the adversaries of all regions. Up until now, whenever your parents mobilized their military forces, they always emerged victorious; no multitude of people was ever able to overcome them. We are aware of no time when they were turned back without the fame of a victory. We wish the charity of all of you to know that the celestial kingdoms of heaven will by no means be denied to any who dies—we say this hoping it does not happen—in the faith [fideliter] in battle in this war.  When anyone of you dies, The All Powerful knows whether you have died for the sake of the truth of the faith, the protection of the homeland, and the defense of Christians. For that reason the aforementioned reward from Him will follow.


John VIII (872-882), “To the bishops constituted in kingdom of Louis [II ‘the Stammerer’]” (879)

[PL 126:816]

To all the most reverent and most holy venerable bishops throughout the entire kingdom of my most beloved son, Louis.

Because your venerable fraternity has asked, inquiring with modest inquiry, whether those who lately died in war in defense of the holy church of God and for the state of the Christian religion and republic--and   those who, of the ones left behind, are about to die--might be able to secure a pardon [indulgentia] for their sins, let us respond boldly with the piety of our Christ God that the repose of eternal life will receive those within the piety of the Catholic religion who fall in battle in war while fighting vigorously against pagans and infidels, because the Lord deigned to say through a prophet: “in whatever hour the sinner shall have converted, I will not remember any longer his iniquity.”[1] Moreover, that venerable thief deserved paradise on the basis of a single word of profession from the cross.[2] Also Manasseh, formerly a most impure king, was captured and bound in the most confining jail, but, doing penance there, with the perfection of forgiveness [indulgentia], he obtained the throne of his former kingdom on account of the mercy of the Lord, which is immense toward the race of men.[3] With our mediocrity and the intercession of St. Peter the Apostle, whose power of binding and loosing [applies] in heaven as well as on earth, to the extent that it is lawful, we have absolved the aforementioned and we commend them to the Lord with our prayers. We wish your fraternity to be strong in Christ. Given as above. 

Urban II to the Count of Urgel (July 1, 1091)

[P. Kehr, Papsturkunden in Katalanien, II.22, pp. 286-287]

U[rban], bishop, servant of the servants of God, to his son, beloved in Christ, Count Ermengaud of Urgell, greetings and apostolic benediction. We know that it is most well known to your prudence how the city of Tarragona, once a most famous city, having been captured by the Saracens now almost 390 years ago, and left deserted, the Christians having been expelled, now, with God well disposed, it has begun to be restored by the command of our authority and the zeal of good men. Just as we previously invited your love by means of a letter of privilege, so now, exhorting the magnitude of your power by means of a letter of command, we wish you to labor toward the execution of this restauration for the sake of the salvation of your soul and the status of your honor. Therefore you should not hesitate to offer yourself as an acceptable sacrifice to the Omnipotent Lord and to obtain forgiveness [indulgentiam] for your sins, if it might be procured in this same city of Christendom [christianitatis] with your help. We have confered the pallium as well as the privilege—not only on behalf of the justice of its ancient dignity but also on behalf of the liberality of the Roman church—to our brother B[erengar], up to now, bishop of Vic, pressing on with great pains toward the restoration of this city, and we have addressed letters of our authority to the suffragan [bishops] of the church of Tarragona so that all of them may be obedient to him just as to their own metropolitan in all remote matters, [letters] in which we have [also] removed from the body of Christ and the church the transgressors of this our disposition, deprived of the power of their honor and office, as long as they shall live. By the authority of our privilege, we have transmitted to your love and committed to your power this acquired gift and all that pertains to the ancient dignity of this metropolis, through our forgiveness [indulgentiam] and that of the blessed apostles, so that, being obedient to this same one as to your own metropolitan,  you might assist most diligently the reestablishment of the church in Tarragona and protect with the help of your power, against those obstructing our commands. We have conveyed this to you [for your] penance and the absolution of [your] sins. May your obedience to our warnings be guarded with divine grace. 

Urban II to the Counts of Besalú, Empurias, Rousillon, and Cerdaña (1089-91)

[P. Kehr, Papsturkunden in Katalanien, II.23, pp. 287-288]

Urban, bishop, servant of the servants of God. To his beloved sons the counts [Bernard] of Besalú, [Hugo] of Empurias, [Guislabert] of Rousillon, [William Raimund] of Cerdaña and to their knights, greetings and apostolic benediction. We most diligently entreat your nobility for the sake of the city and church of Tarragona and we order in remission of [your] sins that you persevere in every way toward its restoration. You know how far the defense [propugnatio] of the people of Christ—and the attacks [impugnatio] of the Saracens—will increase, if the status of that excellent city is restored, the Lord bestowing it. If therefore knights of other provinces have unanimously proposed to come to the aid of the Asian church and free their brothers from the tyranny of the Saracens, those of you from neighboring churches, with our exhortations, are to work unanimously and patiently to offer assistance against the incursion of the Saracens. Clearly in this expedition, should anyone die for the sake of God or the love of his brothers, he should by no means doubt the forgiveness [indulgentiam] of his sins and the fellowship of eternal life that is to come from God’s most clement mercy itself. If therefore anyone of you might have weighed going to Asia, may he [instead] strive to consummate the desire of his devotion right here. It is a virtuous thing for Christians to rescue from the Saracens in one place, thus exposing the Christians to the tyranny and oppression of the Saracens in another place. May Omnipotent God both stir your heart to the love of fraternity and administer victory to your army over your enemies.

[1] Based on Ezechiel 18:23.

[2] Luke 23:43.

[3] II Chronicles 33:11-13.