Johann (John) Tetzel – People of the Reformation
You’ve heard the phrase, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” But who popularized that saying? His name was John Tetzel, and his message was that the purchase of indulgences from the Pope held as much power for forgiving sin, as did Jesus dying on the cross!
John Tetzel would ride into a German village, set up a theatrical stage, and dramatically convince people to give of their money to purchase relatives our of purgatory or in some cases, pre-pay for their own sins. He had a quaint little saying; “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs!”
Tetzel was born in Saxony in 1465, and died August 11, 1519, almost two years after Luther nailed the 95 theses that was the spark that lit the Reformation. He joined the order of Dominican monks in 1489. He became known for selling indulgences. In 1517, he was selling indulgences, commissioned by the pope near Wittenberg. He claimed that the papal cross, under which these indulgences were sold, held as much power as the cross of Christ.
The selling of indulgences was a practice that was started during the Crusades to raise money for the church. People could purchase from the church a letter that supposedly freed a dead loved one from purgatory. But in this case, some of the proceeds were intended to help Pope Leo X pay for a new St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome that he wanted built. The Pope taught that indulgences could free a soul from God’s wrath but he was really fundraising for St. Peter’s Basilica.
This practice enraged Luther, for several reasons. When Luther’s parishioners asked him about the indulgences, he became concerned that there would cease to be true repentance. He determined that there must be a public debate on the matter. So on October 31, 1517, he nailed a list of Ninety-five Theses regarding indulgences to the front door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.
Initially, Luther didn’t want division, he earnestly wanted the church to be aware of this harmful practice. But in the end, Pope Leo X needed more $ to finance his extravagant lifestyle. The selling of indulgences continued, and Luther became convinced that this was not of God.