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Indulgence: an act of indulging; a licence, favour, or privilege granted; The action of indulging (desire, inclination, etc.); the yielding to or gratification of some propensity (const. of, in, formerly to); the action of indulging in some practice, luxury, etc.; The practice or habit of indulging or giving way to ones inclinations; self-gratification, self-indulgence. A remission of the punishment which is still due to sin after sacramental absolution, this remission being valid in the court of conscience and before God, and being made by an application of the treasure of the Church on the part of a lawful superior (Amort, quoted in Catholic Dict. s.v.).
-- taken from The Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, @ 1992
The following is taken from The History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century (by J. H. Merle D'Aubigne, D.D., Hartland Institute, PO Box 1, Rapidan, VA 22733, paperback, ISBN # 0-923309-14-4, 876 pages) unless otherwise noted.
A Jesuit historian, speaking of the Dominican monks whom Tetzel had taken with him, says: "Some of these preachers failed not, as usual, to go behond the matter they were treating of, and so far to exaggerate the worth of indulgences, that they gave the people cause to believe that they were assured of their salvation, and of deliverance of souls from purgatory, so soon as they had given their money."
... that system of barter celebrated under the title of Indulgences. They said to their penitents: "You cannot accomplish the tasks imposed on you. Well ! we, the priests of God and your pastors, will take this heavy burden upon ourselves. For a seven weeks' fast," said Regino, abbot of Prum, "you shall pay twenty pence, if you are rich; ten, if less wealthy; and three pence if you are poor; and so on for other matters. [Libri duo de Ecclesasticis Disciplinia]
Incest, if not detected, was to cost five groats; and six, if it was known. There was a stated price for murder, infanticide, adultery, perjury, burglary, &c. "O disgrace of Rome!"
"As for those," said they, "who wish to deliver souls from purgatory and procure the pardon of all their offences, let them put money into the chest; contrition of heart or confession of mouth is not necessary. Let them only hasten to bring their money; for thus will they perform a work most useful to the souls of the dead, and to the building of the Church of St. Peter." Greater blessings could not be offered at a lower rate ... Kings, queens, princes, archbishops, bishops, were, according to scale, to pay twenty-five ducats for an ordinary indulgence. Abbots, counts, and barons, ten. The other nobles, the rectors, and all those who possessed an income of five hundred florins, paid six. Those who had two hundred florins a year paid one; and others, only a half. Moreover, if this tarriff could not be carried out to the letter, full powers were given the apostolical commissionary; and all was to be arranged according to the data of "sound reason," and the generosity of the donor. For particular sins, Tetzel and a particular tax. For polygamy it was six ducats; for sacrilege and perjury, nine ducats; for murder, eight ducats; for witchcraft, two ducats.
...It frequently happened, both in towns and villages, that the men were opposed to this traffic, and forbade their wives to give anything to these merchants. What could their pious spouses do? "Have you not your dowry, or other property, at your own disposal?" asked the vendors. "In that case you can dispose of it for so holy a work, against the will of your husbands."
At Magdeburg, Tetzel refused to absolve a rich lady, unless (as he declared to her) she would pay one hundred florins in advance. She requested the advice of her usual confessor, who was a Franciscan: "God grants the remission of sins gratuitously," replied the monk, "[H]e does not sell it." He begged her, however, not to communicate to Tetzel the counsel she had received from him. But this merchant having notwithstanding heard a report of this opinion so contrary to his interests, exclaimed: "Such a counsellor deserves to be banished or to be burnt."
Statements made by Indulgence Sellers
"Indulgences are the most previous and most noble of God's gifts." (page 86)
This cross (pointing to the red cross) has as much efficacy of the very cross of Jesus Christ." (page 86)
"Come and I will give you letters, all properly sealed, by which even the sins that you intend to commit may be pardoned." (page 86)
"I would not change my privileges for those of St. Peter in heaven; for I have saved more souls by my indulgences than the apostle by his sermons." (page 86)
Tetzel "But more than this," said he: "indulgences avail not only for the living, bur for the dead. For that, repentance is not even necessary. Priest ! noble ! merchant ! wife ! youth ! maiden ! do you not hear your parents and your other friends who are dead, and who cry from the bottom of the abyss: We are suffering horrible torments ! a trifling alms would deliver us; you can give it, and you will not!" (page 86)
Tetzel "At the very instant that the money rattles at the bottom of the chest, the soul escapes from purgatory, and flies liberated to heaven. (page 86)
Tetzel "O stupid and brutish people, who do not understand the grace so richly offered! Now heaven is every where opened ! Do you refuse to enter now? When, then, will you enter? Now you can ransom so many souls! Stiffnecked and thoughtless man! with twelve groats you can deliver your father from purgatory, and you are ungrateful enough not to save him! I shall be justified in the day of judgment; but you, you will be punished so much the more severely for having neglected so great salvation. I declare to you, though you should have but a single coat, you ought to strip it off and sell it, in order to obtain this grace. The Lord our God no longer reigns. He has resigned all power to the pope." (page 86,87)
May our Lord Jesus Christ have pity on thee, N. N., and absolve thee by the merits of his most holy passion! And I, in virtue of the apostolical power that has been confided to me, absolve thee from all ecclesiastical censures, judgments, and penalties which thou mayst have incurred; moreover, from all excesses, sins, and crimes that thou mayst have committed, however great and enormous they may be, and from whatsoever cause, were they even reserved for our most holy father the pope and for the apostolic see. I blot out all the stains of inability and all marks of infamy that thou mayst have drawn upon thyself on this occasion. I remit the penalties that thou shouldst have endured in purgatory. I restore thee anew to participation in the sacraments of the Church. I incorporate thee afresh in the communion of saints, and re-establish thee in the purity and innocence which thou hadst at thy baptism. So that in the hour of death, the gate by which sinners enter the place of torments and punishment shall be closed against thee, and, on the contrary, the gate leading to the paradise of joy shall be open. And if thou shouldst not die for long years, this grace will remain unalterable until thy last hour shall arrive.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen
Friar John Tetzel, commissary, has signed this with his own hand. (Page 88)
The wife of a shoemaker, taking advantage of the authorization given in the commissary-general's instructions, had procured a letter of indulgence, contrary to her husband's will, and had paid a gold florin. She died shortly after. As the husband had not caused a mass to be said for the repose of her soul, the priest charged him with contempt of religion, and the magistrate of Hagenau summoned him to appear in court. The shoemaker put his wife's indulgence in his pocket, and went to answer the accusation. "Is your wife dead?" asked the magistrate. "Yes," replied he. "What have you done for her?" "Ihave buried her body, and commended her soul to God." "But have you had a mass said for the repose of her soul?" "I have not: it was of no use: she entered heaven at the moment of her death." "How do you know that?" "Here is the proof." As he said these words, he drew the indulgence from his pocket, and the magistrate, in presence of the priest, read in so many words, that, at the moment of her death, the woman who had received it would not go into purgatory, but would at once enter into heaven. "If the reverend gentleman maintains that a mass is still necessary," added the widower, "my wife has been deceived by our most holy father the pope; if she has not been, it is the priest who deceives me." There was no reply to this, and the shoemaker was acquitted. Thus did the plain sense of the people condemn these pious frauds. (page 89-90)
A Saxon nobleman, who had heard Tetzel at Leipsic, was much displeased by his falsehoods. Approaching the monk, he asked him if he had the power of pardoning sins that men have an intention of committing. "Most assuredly," replied Tetzel, "I have received full powers from his holiness for that purpose." "Well, then," answered the knight, "I am desirous of takjing a slight revenge on one of my enemies, without endangering his life. I will give you ten crowns if you will give me a letter of indulgence that shall fully justify me." Tetzel made some objects; they came, however, to an arrangement by the aid of thirty crowns. The monk quitted Leipsic shortly after. The nobleman and his attendants lay in wait for him in a wood between Juterbock and Treblin; they fell upon him, gave him a slight beating, and took away the well-stored indulgence-chest the inquisitor was carrying with him. Tetzel made a violent outcry, and carried his complaint before the courts. But the nobleman showed the letter which Tetzel had signed himself, and which exempted him beforehand from every penalty. Duke George, whom this action had at first exceedingly exasperated, no sooner read the document than he ordered the accused to be acquitted.
Leo IV (847-855): Forgiveness of Sins for Those Who Dies in Battle With the Heathen (Medieval Sourcebook)
Pope John VIII: Indulgence for Fighting the Heathen, 878 (Medieval Sourcebook)
Martin Luther: Letter to the Archbishop of Mainz, 1517 (Medieval Sourcebook) Luther wrote to the Archbishop protesting the sale of indulgences to finance the building of a new cathedral. The Archbishop, of course, was one of the people who had authorized the sale of indulgences for that purpose. Note the objections Luther states towards indulgences and their use by church officials.
Wyclif, On Indulgences In Wyclif's On Indulgences, he condemns the church practice of granting indulgences long before Luther posted his 95 Theses at Wittenberg.
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