Just a Little Indulgence (Part 1)

JUST A LITTLE INDULGENCE (PART 1)

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Albert was ambitious, and his ambitions needed money. He needed a LOT of money and he needed it quickly

Albert desperately wanted to be the Archbishop of Mainz and he needed to finance the purchase of the role from Rome. He was already the Archbishop of Magdeburg and if Albert could secure the Mainz position then his power and influence in central Germany would be vast.

There was only one problem – Pope Leo was willing to give Albert his “blessing” to become the Archbishop of Mainz as long as Albert paid him. And the Pope’s price of sale was significant.

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Portrait of Albert in 1526 when he was promoted from Archbishop to Cardinal

Like Albert, Pope Leo also ambitious. Leo’s ambitions also needed a LOT of money. Pope Leo wanted to continue the rebuild of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome and in particular finish off the Sistine Chapel with the help of his artist-in-residence Michelangelo.

So, five hundred years ago Leo and Albert hatched a plan. The plan was that Albert would borrow the money for the sale-price Rome was asking for in order to become the Archbishop of Mainz. To help repay the loan Albert would be given permission by Pope Leo to sell religious “indulgences” to the large population in the region, and Leo and Albert’s plan was they would share the proceeds of the sale of these “indulgence certificates” fifty-fifty.

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Portrait of Pope Leo X (centre) painted by Renaissance master Raphael (hung in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy)

So, what were these indulgence certificates? According to the teachings of the church at the time the purchase of an indulgence entitled the buyer to receive less punishment for a sin during their life. It also entitled the person whose name appeared on the indulgence certificate to spend less time being punished in Purgatory after they’d died. Therefore, it was common for well-meaning but misinformed Christians to buy these indulgence certificates for recently deceased family-members. Their hope was to help lessen the time their loved-ones spent suffering in Purgatory.

A common expression at the time regarding purchasing an indulgence from the church was: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”

This sale of indulgence certificates by the church to naïve believers five hundred years ago was a “spiritual shakedown” of the most malevolent kind. The Bible teaches no such thing as a sinner suffering in Purgatory after they die, but instead says that forgiveness by God is given “freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.” (Romans 3:24)

But there’s money and power when you prey on people’s fear of eternal suffering compared to encouraging people to pray to a loving Father for His gift of eternal life.

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Medieval drawing of the church selling “indulgence” certificates

 

Pope Leo and Archbishop Albert’s plan to raise money through the sale of indulgences to naïve believers was going well. If only their travelling roadshow had avoided going to the German town of Wittenberg history might be different.

For at the University of Wittenberg, there was a professor of moral theology who’d vehemently disagree with the church selling indulgence certificates to believers.

The year was 1517, and the professor’s name was Martin Luther.

(To be continued by clicking here)

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Pope Leo X (1475-1521) needed to raise money to continue rebuilding St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome – including completing the Sistine Chapel with Michaelangelo’s masterpiece “The Last Judgment”

 

Author: David Riley is a minister on the Gold Coast in Australia. This blog is a series of articles and “rambles” on the Reformation and christian church history.

 

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