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But the greatest source of wealth to the Pontiffs, was the sale of indulgences. This traffic was carried to awful excesses. For persuading the people, that there was an infinite treasure of merit in Christ and the saints, beyond what they needed themselves;-a treasure which was committed to the Popes, the bishops, the clergy, the Dominican and Franciscan friars, to be sold by them for money, and that whoever would purchase it, should be absolved themselves, from the greatest crimes, and deliver their friends, too, from the fires of purgatory; these crafty men had secured treasures of wealth almost unbounded. It was this abominable traffic, which first opened the eyes of Martin Luther to the corruptions of popery, and roused his spirit to the work of reformation.
This wonderful man, who holds the first place in modern ecclesiastical history, and who must ever be loved and revered, as one of the greatest benefactors of mankind, was born at Isleben, in Saxony, in the year 1483. His father was a man of integrity, employed in the mines of Mansfield; but he acted like a man of enlarged mind, in giving his son a learned education. At an early period, Martin discovered uncommon powers of mind; and having passed through the ordinary studies at Magdeburg, Eisenach, and Erfurt, he commenced master of arts at the University of Erfurt, at the age of twenty-two, and devoted himself to the study of civil law. But a providential occurrence suddenly changed the whole course of his life. While walking in the fields with an intimate friend, that friend was suddenly killed by lightning. Luther viewed it as a call from heaven, to devote himself to the divine service; and he retired in 1505 into a convent of Augustinian friars. As yet he was a stranger to vital piety; and his monastic life, having the form without the power and joy of godliness, was very gloomy. But his mind was too highly cultivated for him to sit down an idle drone. The fire of genius burned within him; and had he been left 10 himself, and the ordinary course of monastic life, he would have found his way to the papal chair. But an invisible hand conducted him to an old Latin bible in the library of the monastery. He seized it with avidity, and gave it a faithful perusal. Light shone in upon his understanding, and comfort dawned upon his soul. In this sacred treasury, he found the doctrine of justification by faith, the reception of which at once elevated his mind far above that scholastic philosophy and theology which were then in vogue, and of which he had become perfect master; and made his once gloomy monastery a paradise of bliss. Abandoning all other pursuits, he gave himself with incredible ardor to the study of the sacred volume; and such were his attainments in divine truth, that he was soon viewed as the most learned dirine in all Germany. In 1507 he was ordained priest; and as a reward for his diligence, and astonishing attainments, he was made, in 1508, professor of philosophy and theology in the University of Wittemberg, on the Elbe, by Frederick, elector of Saxony. He also officiated as pastor of the Church in Wittemberg, as the substitute of Simon Hensius, who was disabled by infirmity.
Luther is presented to us in history, as remarkably strong and healthy, and of a sanguine and bilious temperament. His eyes were piercing and full of fire; his voice was sweet and vehement, when once fairly raised; he had a stern countenance; and, though most intrepid and high spirited, he could assume the appearance of modesty and humility whenever he pleased, which, however, was not often the case. By friends and enemies, he was acknowledged as a man of great learning, and elegant taste, and pre-eminent above all others, as a popular preacher and teacher of philosophy.
His piety kept pace with his learning and popularity. In 1516 we find him thus writing to a friend. “I desire to know what your soul is doing, whether, wearied at length of its own righteousness, it learns to refresh itself, and to trust in the righteousness of Christ."-Remarkable language for that period.
While he was filling the highly important station, to which providence had raised him, with great credit to himself and his country, and gaining more and more knowledge of the fundamental doctrines of the gospel, John Tetzel appeared, in the year 1517, in the neighborhood of Wittemberg, selling indulgences.* To this office that bold dominican inqui
* According to a book, called a Tax book of the sacred Roman chancery, containing the exact sums demanded for the remission of sins, we find the following fees. For simony
10s. 6d. For sacrilege
sitor had been delegated by Albert, Archbisop of Mentz, to whom the indulgences had been sent by Leo X.
Had Tetzel been of a mild and timid spirit, the reformation might have been delayed another century; but he was a man of uncommon boldness and impudence, just calculated to rouse the indignation of Luther. He was indeed a veteran in the traffic. Ten years before, he had collected 2000 florins in the space of two days; and he boasted that, by his indulgences, he had saved more souls from hell than ever St. Peter converted by his preaching. The following was one of his abominable articles of traffic. "May our Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon thee, and absolve thee by the merits of his most holy passion. And I, by his authority, that of his Apostles Peter and Paul, and of the most holy Pope, granted and committed to me in these parts, do absolve thee first, from all ecclesiastical censures, in whatever manner they have been incurred; and then from all the sins, transgressions and excesses how enormous soever they may be, even such as are reserved for the cognizance of the Holy See, and as far as the keys of the Holy Church extend; I remit to thee all the punishment which thou deservest in purgatory on their account; and I restore thee to the holy sacraments of the Church, to the unity of the faithful, and to that innocence and purity which thou possessed at baptism; so that when thou diest, the gates of punishment shall be shut, and the gates of the paradise of delight shall be opened; and if thou shalt not die at present, this grace shall remain in full force when thou art at the point of death. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Another related to the deliverance of departed friends from the fire of purgatory; and such was the grossness of this man, that he would publicly say, “ The moment the money tinkles in the chest, your father's soul mounts out of purgatory.”
The prices of these indulgences varied according to the circumstances and crimes of the purchasers. For the better sale of them, whole districts of country were farmed out to the highest bidders. These were often men of the most licentious characters, who, after they had quieted the consciences of thousands in sin, spent their nights in riot and voluptuousness. John Tetzel was a common adulterer.*
* That the Protestant reader may see to what extent this sale has been carried on since the reformation, in Popish countries, and how much we are indebted to Martin Luther, the following fact is added, as given by
When Tetzel appeared in Saxony, vast crowds flocked from all parts of the country to purchase indulgences. The spectacle grieved the spirit of Luther, and he gently remonstrated against it from the pulpit of Wittemberg. The least opposition was sufficient to rouse the haughty spirit of Tetzel. He stormed and raged, and constructed a pile of wood, and set it on fire, to show what he would do with the man who should dare to call in question the holiness of his sales. The effect of this on Luther's mind, was to lead him to examine thoroughly the subject; and, being satisfied of the iniquity of the traffic, he came out with great boldness against it; warned the people against trusting to any thing for salvation devised by man; wrote to Albert, elector of Mertz, to whose jurisdiction the country was immediately subject, exposing the wickedness of the sellers of indulgences, and reproaching the sales; and even dared to publish ninety-five theses, in which he developed his opinion concerning this iniquitous traffic, and challenged its friends to defend it.
Luther, as yet, thought not of the wonderful things which he was to accomplish. As fully as any man, he acknowl. edged the supremacy of the Pope, and the propriety of his granting indulgences, remitting Church censures and temporal punishments; but his mind was satisfied respecting the Pope's utter impotence, to remit divine punishment, either in this or the future world. In a subsequent account of himself, he says, “I was compelled in my conscience to expose the scandalous sale of indulgences. I found myself in it alone, and, as it were, by surprise. And when it became impossible for me to retreat, I made many concessions to the Pope; not, however, in many important points; but certainly at that time, I adored him in earnest."
The boldness of Luther, in doing what no one else dared to do, and what almost every one wished to have done, attracted great attention and applause throughout Germany.
Milner. “In the year 1709, the privateers of Bristol took a galleon, in which they found 500 bales of bulls, for indulgences, and 16 reams were in a bale. So that they reckon the whole came to 3,840,000, averaging in price, from 20 pence to elever pounds." In Spain and Portugal, the traffic is still continued. In Spain, the King has the profits. In Portugal, the King and the Pope go shares.
A short time since, a gentleman, to ascertain the present state of things, went to the office at Naples, and for two sequins purchased a plenary remission of all sins for himself, and any two persons, whose names he should insert,
His theses spread into every city and village, and were read by all classes of people with amazing avidity. Tetzel, find. ing it necessary for him to do more than rage and threaten, published in opposition to Luther, one hundred and six propositions, in which he made some efforts to refute the arguments of the bold reformer. Other champions of the Papal cause also came out in its defence; particularly Prierias, a dominican friar and Inquisitor General; and Eckius, a renowned professor of divinity at Ingoldstadt. But Luther stood firm against every adversary. He had the Scriptures in his hands, and from them he was able to draw weapons of defence, which, in every contest, gave him the decided advantage.
Although Luther had ventured to attack a power which appeared invincible, yet there were several circumstances occurring in that period which surprisingly favored his cause. The Papal power had risen to a height which could not long be sustained. The exorbitant wealth, and dissolute manners of the clergy, had alienated from them every reflecting mind. A general demand for more than a century had been made for a council which should reform abuses. The revi. val of learning in the west of Europe, in consequence of the literati having sought refuge from Constantinople, reduced by the Turks, in Italy, France, and Germany, where they became instructors of youth in all the public seminaries of learning, and introduced a taste for the study of the ancient Greek and Roman authors; had roused the human mind to a sense of its native dignity and worth, and introduced a bold spirit of investigation into the correctness of long established notions, and an ardent desire for improvement in every art and science. The art of printing, which had been invented in Germany about the year 1440, gave the world in 1450, at Mentz, a PRINTED BIBLE; and enabled mankind to multiply copies of books to almost any extent, with amazing rapidity, and but little comparative expense. Before that period, books were written out with the pen on parchment,* which made them expensive and scarce. Had
* The Jews wrote the Old Testament on skins, with very great care, and connected them together and rolled them in a double roll. The Greek manuscripts were written in capital letters, and without any separation of words; thus,
'BLESSEDARETHEDEADWHODIEINTHELORD. No manuscript of the New Testament extant, can be traced higher than the fourth century. Most of the Hebrew manuscripts were written between the years 1000 and 1457. Those of an earlier period have been, for some reasons unknown, destroyed.