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Why Luther Did It (Listen to scoundrel Tetzel as he bilks German peasants)

On this Reformation 500 Day, read an excerpt where Dominican Friar Johan Tetzel deceives the peasant multitude near Wittenberg, and where Luther finds himself in a full rowling rage, a man on fire for the Truth: 22 PASSPORT TO PARADISE "That’s him,” said Carlstadt, nodding toward the mounted friar. “Johann Tetzel. Notorious scoundrel, here to do the pope’s bidding.” “And Albert of Brandenburg’s,” added Luther, the muscles of his jaw flexing. “Archbishop Albert, you mean,” said his companion. “Or more accurately, Archbishop, Archbishop, Archbishop Albert. Archbishop three-times over is he. It is a bit of a mouthful to say.” “And more impossible to do.” Luther snorted in disgust. “He already has Halberstadt and Magdeburg and now Mainz. Canon Law forbids three archbishoprics, especially for an under-age upstart like Albert.” “There’s good money in archbishoprics.” “Indeed, but they come at a price,” said Luther. “But worth it, so some believe. The banking house of Fugger lent Albert the ducats. It’s purely a business deal.” 120 “Nothing pure about it, is there?” said Luther. “And the price is his eternal soul; who knows how many other souls along with him.” “Once a man has the revenue of an archbishopric,” continued Carlstadt, “let alone three, he can live like a prince.” “Until he dies,” said Luther. “Dying and eternity seem entirely forgotten in Rome.” “Rome,” said Melanchthon, a faraway look in his blue eyes. “I have never been. What is it like?” “If there is a hell,” said Luther, “Rome is built over it.” “Is it as bad as all that?” “Worse,” said Carlstadt and Luther in unison. “If only the putrefaction would confine itself to Rome,” said Carlstadt. “Word is Pope Leo X wanted Albert to pay 12,000 ducats for Mainz; to keep everything holy and biblical, the amount was meant to represent the twelve apostles.” “I have heard,” said Luther. “And Albert countered with an offer of 7,000 ducats for the seven deadly sins.” “Jawohl. Word is, they settled on 10,000 ducats, a vast sum of money.” “Manifestly not for the Ten Commandments,” said Luther, “of which neither of these charlatans has any inclination.” Carlstadt grabbed Luther’s sleeve and looked both ways. “Martin, you must be more guarded. Someone might think you were referring to the Holy Father.” Shrugging, Luther continued, “Tetzel, Albert, Leo—what is the difference?” “The difference? Martin, surely you are not that naïve. You can probably get by with criticizing a hireling friar, but an archbishop, still more, the pope himself? I can smell the faggots burning.” “Sniff away,” said Luther. “Albert colluded with the pope for a commission from ‘His Holiness’ to sell a new and augmented indulgence. I for one do not take kindly to a 121 German prince colluding with a luxury-loving Italian to fleece my poor flock here in our Saxony.” He frowned at the crowds pressing close to see the show. “Just how augmented?” asked Melanchthon. Nodding at the friar stepping up onto a makeshift platform, “I believe Tetzel is about to tell us,” said Luther. “My dearest people of Wittenberg,” began Tetzel. “Words dripping with fat,” murmured Luther, “as a hog turning on the spit drips the same.” Smiling expansively at his audience, Tetzel continued, “I have come at the behest of His Holiness himself, Pope Leo X from Rome; the Holy Father has sent me from the Eternal City. And I come bearing rich gifts for all Saxony.” At his signal, one of his attendants bowed before him, holding aloft a gold-gilded velvet cushion. With a flourish, Tetzel took a rolled parchment from the pillow. As if it were made of delicate lace, he unrolled it, and held it for them all to see. “This, my good friends of Germany, is nothing short of your passport to the celestial joys of paradise. You priest, you noble,” he gestured with the indulgence toward them as he spoke. “You merchant, you virgin, you matron, you youth, you old man, enter now into your church, which is the Church of St. Peter. Visit the most holy cross erected before you and ever imploring you.” Here he paused, gesticulating dramatically at the cross held aloft by one of his courtiers. Draping from it was the scarlet banner and papal seal of Leo X, the banner fluttering in the breeze. “Have you considered that you are lashed in a furious tempest,” continued Tetzel, “amid the temptations and dangers of the world, and that you do not know whether you can reach the haven for your immortal soul? Consider that all who are contrite and have confessed—and made contribution—will receive complete remission of all their sins.” A murmur of wonder rose from the crowd. 122 “Complete remission?” came a voice from the crowd. Leering at the friar, the speaker pattered the tips of his fingers together expectantly. Ample flesh bulged around the edges of his greasy leather jerkin. “Did I not promise you I was bearing rich gifts?” replied Tetzel, nodding knowingly at the fellow. “With one of these indulgences, each bearing the papal seal, as you see, you may indulge yourself in sins, that is to say, in the forgiveness of sins—past, present, or future ones—as you wish, and for whom you wish.” He broke off theatrically, cocking his head, cupping his hand to his ear. “Do you not hear them? God and St. Peter call you. Consider the salvation of your souls and those of your loved ones departed.” After placing the papal certification reverently back onto the velvet cushion, he continued, his voice quavering with apparent anguish. “Do you not hear the voices of your dead parents and other relatives crying out, ‘Pity us! Have mercy upon us, for we suffer great punishment. With a few coins, you could release us from our misery. We have created you, fed you, cared for you and left you our temporal goods. Why do you treat us so cruelly and leave us to suffer in the flames, when it takes only a little to save us?’” As if rehearsed, Tetzel’s attendants brandished two torches, flames hissing, black tentacles of smoke hovering over the crowds. Carlstadt leaned close to Martin’s ear. “What a pious fraud, is this.” “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings,” continued Tetzel, with obvious pleasure at his little jingle, “the soul from purgatory springs!” At his words, his attendants yanked a drape from a bird cage. Wings beating the air, eight or ten white doves flew upward, cavorting over the wondering faces. 123 “Nothing pious about this fraud,” said Luther through gritted teeth. “He is an infernal, diabolical, antichristian fraud.” “Lay a stone for St. Peter’s in Rome,” continued Tetzel, “and you lay the foundation for your own salvation and felicity in heaven!” “The man is a mountebank,” said Luther, “unworthy to call himself a Christian. This is foul, despicable!” “So vastly generous is His Holiness in this indulgence,” persisted the friar, “so kindly extended to the good people of Germany, that there is no sin beyond its reach. Go ahead. Let your imagination roam the transgress-atorial possibilities, the unrestrained, unbounded trespass-atorial opportunities. Go on.” Here, Tetzel proceeded to graphically describe the most horrific sinning that one could commit and yet Pope Leo’s indulgence was sufficient. “So virulent an indulgence do I hold in my hand, that one could herein find remission for the most heinous of sins—” He paused dramatically, snatching up the parchment and letting it tremble over the upturned faces of the crowd. “—For the very sin of violating the everVirgin Mother herself!” His congregation emitted a collective gasp at the thought. Nodding approvingly, Tetzel appeared satisfied with their response. “Will you not then for a quarter of a florin receive these letters of indulgence through which you are able to lead an immortal soul into the fatherland of paradise?” “Even Lucifer,” said Melanchthon, shaking his head in wonder, “was not guilty of so great a sacrilege in heaven. God help us!” “A false preacher, such as this cheat,” said Luther, “is worse than the deflowerer of a virgin.” “Which according to common knowledge,” said Carlstadt, his eyebrows raised, “Tetzel is a master practitioner of such 124 deflowering.” He shook his head in disgust. “Look at them. The working poor of Wittenberg leave the walls of their village to come out here and give their quarter florin to this despoiler of souls.” Luther’s heart sank. “Wait! Is that not—? We must stop her. She has nothing.” Holding her grandmother’s hand, little Liesel turned. Waving, she grinned at them. “I believe a devoted woman such as she would gladly forfeit her own soul for her granddaughter,” said Carlstadt. “Perhaps that is the currency with which she is buying the indulgence.” “A swine like Tetzel won’t take souls,” said Luther. “He cares nothing for that woman and the dear little one. He only wants her money—and she has none. I believe I am watching the old dragon from the abyss of hell, parading in all this trumpery before us.” “Wait for me,” called Carlstadt as they marched back to the village. “You are angry, Martin. I cannot keep your pace.” “Who would not be angered?” said Luther, his jaw set, the folds of his black habit swishing at his ankles, Melanchthon jogging at his side. “I fear for you.” Carlstadt, breathing hard, called after him. “You must calm yourself, act with restraint.” “Rage suits me,” said Luther over his shoulder. “I work better when I am angry, and I have work to do.” Douglas Bond is author of many books, including LUTHER IN LOVE (2017). He leads Church history tours, including the Armistice 100 Tour, June 15-25, 2018, (Reformation tour of France, teen Calvin in Paris, Calvin's birthplace in Noyon; including teen atheist 2/Lt CS Lewis raging at God in the trenches of WW I, Huguenots in Rouen and Amiens, and the failure of Modernism in WW I and WW II). Space is limited so register (what better day to register than REFORMATION DAY!). You can purchase a signed copy of LUTHER IN LOVE and his other books at

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