Monday, October 24, 2011

A Brief History of Martin Luther, Part 6

Luther Angered By The Indulgences:

Luther was provoked to speak out against this profane practice when Tetzel, the famous hawker of indulgences came to Jüterbog, a few hours from Wittenberg. Tetzel was born somewhere between 1450 and 1460. He began his career as a preacher of indulgences. Protestant writers depict him as an ignorant, noisy, impudent, and immoral charlatan, who was not ashamed to boast that he saved more souls from purgatory by his letters of indulgence than St. Peter did by his preaching. Roman Catholic historians defend him as a learned and zealous servant of the church. His private character was certainly tainted, if we are to credit the papal nuncio, Karl von Miltitz, who had the best resources of information, and charged him with avarice, dishonesty, and sexual immorality.

Tetzel traveled with great pomp through Germany, proclaiming everywhere the indulgences of the Pope. He was received like an angel from heaven. Priests, monk, magistrates, men, women and children marched in great processions with songs and candles to meet him and his fellow monks. Tetzel displayed the papal Bull on a velvet cushion. This was placed on a high altar where a red cross draped in a silk banner bearing the papal arms was set up in front of it. Beneath the cross was placed a large iron chest for the indulgence money. Tetzel here spoke those notorious words: “A soul flies from Purgatory as soon as the penny tinkles in the box."

The common people made no distinction between the guilt of sin and its punishment, so they eagerly embraced this rare offer of salvation from punishment. The Elector of Saxony would not allow Tetzel to set up his trade in his territory for fear that he might take too much money from his subjects. So this is why Tetzel set up his trade on the border of Saxony, at Jüterbog.

Luther had experienced remission of sins as a gift of free grace. This was diametrically opposed to the system of forgiveness by payment of money. It was a conflict of principles.

Thus, he could not be silent when the traffic of indulgences came so near to the borders of his sphere of ministry. As a preacher, a pastor, and a professor, he felt it to be his duty to protest against such measures: to be silent was to betray his theology and his conscience. 

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