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finding the revenues of the church exhausted by the vast projects of his ambitious predecessors, and his own extravagance,
device to increase his finances; and among others, had recourse to the sale of Indulgences ; which Luther, from laudable motives, had the boldness publickly to oppose. Since it was from that source that all the mighty effects of the reformation flowed, it deserves to be considered with more minute attention.
Dr. Robertson, in the history of Charles V., gives the following account of the origin and nature of indulgences; a subject almost unknown in protestant countries, and little understood at present in several places where even the Roman Catholic religion is established. “ According to the doctrine of the Romish Church, all the good works of the saints, over and above those which were necessary towards their own justification, are deposited, together with the infinite merits of Jesus Christ, in one inexhaustible treasury. The keys of this were committed to St. Peter, and to his successors, the popes; who may open it at pleasure, and by transferring a portion of this super-abundant merit to any particular person for a sum of money, may convey to him either the pardon of his own sins, or a release for any one in whose happiness he is interested, from the pains of purgatory. Such indulgences were first invented in the eleventh century, by Urban II. as a recompense for those who went in person upon the meritorious enterprise of conquering the Holy Land. They were afterwards granted to those who hired a soldier for that purpose; and in process of time, were bestowed on such as gave money for accomplishing any pious work enjoined by the pope. Julius II. had bestowed indulgences on all who contributed towards building the church of St. Peter at Rome; and as Leo was carrying on that magnificent and expensive fabrick, his grant was founded on the same pretence."
Albert, elector of Mentz, and archbishop of Magdeburg, having been empowered by the pope to promulgate indulgences in Germany, employed Tetzel, a Dominican Friar of licentious morals, to retail them in Saxony. This infamous traffick was conducted in a manner which gave general offence. The Roman Chancery published a book, containing the precise sum to be exacted for the pardon of each particular sin. A deacon guilty of murder, was absolved for twenty crowns : a bishop or abbot, might assassinate for three hundred livres : any ecclesiastick might violate his vows of chastity for one hundred livres. Tetzel violated all the laws of decency in recommending the purchase of indulgences; the efficacy of which was so great, he said, that as soon as the money tinkled in the chest, the souls escaped from the torments of purgatory.
Some traders in indulgences had recourse to the exposing of relicks; as a plume from the wing of the angel Michael ; some hay upon which Christ was laid after his birth; some coals upon which St. Ignatius had been burnt, &c. Indulgences could be had not only for past, but future sins; which Tetzel, however, in one instance, found to be to his own disadvantage: for a soldier having purchased the day before indulgence for a sin which he intended to commit, attacked him the next day in a forest, taking from him the chest of money, under pretence of having bought before of him the right to rob him.
They carried on this extensive and lucrative traffick among the credulous and ignorant for some time; and immoralities and crimes increased by the facility with which pardon could be obtained. The deluded people being taught to rely on the indulgences for the pardon of their sins, did not think it necessary either to study the doctrines, or practise the duties of christianity.
Such was the deplorable state of the christian
church when Luther made his first appearance. He found the evil effects of the sale of indulgences, in the immoral lives of his parishioners. When they came to the auricular confession, he told them, Except ye repent, ye shall all perish; (Luke xiii. 3.) a doctrine which they could not, or would not understand, since they had the seal of their pardon in their pockets.
When Tetzel was informed that Luther opposed his trade in private, he was so much exasperated, that he preached publickly against him, and all those that dared to resist the authority of the pope. Luther, who was at the height of his reputation, and whose pious zeal was warm and active, wrote to Albert, and remonstrated against the false opinions, as well as the wicked lives of the preachers of indulgences : but he found that prelate too deeply interested in their success to correct their abuses. He then published ninety-five theses, Oct. 31, 1517, containing his sentiments with regard to indulgences; and challenging any one to oppose them, either by writing or disputation.
The first of these theses was; Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, commanding repentance, requires that the whole life of his believers on earth, is to be a perpetual repentance without intermission. These theses were not yet perfectly free from his implicit submission to the authority of the Apostolick See: but they were spread in a fortnight's time over all Germany, with astonishing rapidity. They were translated and read with the greatest eagerness, and all admired the boldness of the man who ventured to oppose a power at which all the princes of Europe trembled; and which they had long, though without success, been endeavouring to overturn.
The secular princes had reason to be jealous of the growing power of papal authority, and its exactions, draining their credulous subjects of their wealth. But in the elector of Saxony, the wisest prince at that time in Germany, it was not so much interest, as the love of truth and justice, to support and screen Luther from the violence of his enemies. No sooner had Luther given the signal of attack upon the overbearing power of the pope, than a general attention was excited throughout Germany, how the boldness of the measure would end. While popish sophists, as Eccius and Prierias, wrote against, others rose in support of Luther.
The court of Rome little regarded this controversy at first, but the progress of Luther's opinions
, soon appeared too serious to be despised; and Leo summoned him to appear at Rome : but Luther had his reasons to decline this invitation, and wished rather to be tried in Germany.
tried in Germany. The university, as well as the elector of Saxony, interceded in his behalf with the pope, who so far gratified them, as to empower his legate in Germany, cardinal Cajetan, a Dominican, to try the cause. It was strange, however, that in the pope's letter to Cajetan, Luther was already declared a heretick, and condemned before he was heard and tried.
Luther arrived at Augsburg, Oct. 8, 1518; and under the safe conduct of the emperor, but much more of his own native intrepidity and just cause, waited on the cardinal; who, in a haughty manner, insisted upon a simple recantation, and desired him to abstain for the future from the publication of new and dangerous doctrines; such as, that the merit and atonement of Christ did not belong to the treasury of the church, and had nothing to do with the sale of indulgences; and that faith was required in receiving the holy sacrament worthily. The cardinal declared in private, that if Luther was ready to recant in point of indulgences, the doctrine about faith was of no great matter; which is a plain proof that money was of higher value at Rome than faith.
Luther declared that he could not renounce opinions founded in reason, and derived from scripture; that he was willing to submit to the mediation of some universities; and at the same time delivering a formal protest, the cardinal asked—“What do you mean? Do you rely on the force of arms? When the just punishment, and the thunder of the pope's indignation break in upon you, where do you think to remain ?" His answer was, “either in Heaven, or under Heaven.” At last the cardinal forbid his appearing again in his presence; and since there was strong reason to suspect that he was not safe, he was prevailed on to depart from Augsburg and return to Wittemberg.
The pope, as well as his legate Cajetan, did every thing to bring over the elector, his master, to their design; that he might be sent to Rome, and delivered up to their vindictive indignation : but that prince was too wise and cautious to comply with their request: and when Luther was about to quit Saxony, not to give his sovereign any uneasiness, the latter, finding it his interest to keep such a man as an ornament to his university, assured him of his protection. The German reformer, however, was in a perilous situation still; and for his safety, published an appeal to a general council, which he maintained was superior to the pope; whose infallibility he began to call in question.
He continued his inquiries from one doctrine to another, and having till now little thought that his actions would have such an effect as to produce a revolution, he began to form higher ideas of his call, and that it was nothing less than to assert the iberty of mankind.
Luther's excommunication, and perseverance.
The court of Rome published, with all formali