Monday, January 09, 2012

Luther lied when he said of Tetzel: "He sold grace for money at the highest price"?

In my recent look at Tetzel's alleged "as the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs", I came across some other interesting related tidbits. I found a blogger asserting, "Luther lied when he said of Tetzel in a 1541 pamphlet: 'He sold grace for money at the highest price.' " The blogger cites "Luther, Hartmann Grisar, S.J., translated by E.M. Lamond, edited by Luigi Cappadelta, London: 1914-1915, 6 volumes; taken from vol. 1: 342-344" as the background source for this assertion. This assertion appears to be based on Grisar's statement on page 342:
In his pamphlet of 1541 Luther says : "He sold grace for money at the highest price he could." He then instances six "horrible, dreadful articles " which the avaricious monk had preached.
As I looked through pages 342-344, I didn't find Grisar saying Luther lied about Tetzel selling "grace for money at the highest price." Rather, Grisar goes on to expound on six articles Luther brought up in that 1541 writing, and goes through some of the legends surrounding Tetzel. Grisar is more concerned with noting that Tetzel  held that those purchasing indulgences must also be contrite. That is, the indulgence had at least one string attached (more on this below, see addendum)*. That indulgences were sold by Tetzel is not disputed by Grisar, nor does Grisar tackle any sort of "lie" about grace being sold for money.

What exactly did Luther state in 1541? He didn't exactly say Tetzel "sold grace for money at the highest price he could." Rather, Luther stated Tetzel was "selling grace for money as dearly or as cheaply as he could, to the best of his ability":
It happened, in the year 1517, that a preaching monk called John Tetzel, a great ranter, made his appearance... This same Tetzel now went around with indulgences, selling grace for money as dearly or as cheaply as he could, to the best of his ability. At that time I was a preacher here in the monastery, and a fledgling doctor fervent and enthusiastic for Holy Scripture. [LW 41:231]
Grisar doesn't dispute this statement. He simply mentions what Luther stated in 1541. shortly after this, Grisar approvingly quotes a Dominican contemporary of Tetzel, Johann Lindner, criticizing the methods Tetzel used:
His teaching found favour with many; but he devised unheard-of ways of raising money, was far too liberal in conferring offices, put up far too many public crosses [as a sign of the Indulgence-preaching] in towns and villages, which caused scandal and bred complaints among the people and brought the spiritual treasury into disrepute" (Grisar, 343).
Tetzel did in fact have a financial interest in selling indulgences. Heinrich Boehmer explains :
In other respects also, Tetzel must have possessed all the characteristics which help to influence the masses. "Physically, he was a large, strong man, eloquent and very bold of speech, sufficiently educated, and his mode of life so-so," that is, neither too strict nor too lax. When he had finished his sermon, he would himself usually go to the indulgence chest and buy a certificate for his father or some other dead person, and when the money tinkled in the chest, he would cry out, "Now I am sure of his salvation; now I need pray for him no longer." In this way he stirred up the people, "especially the sentimental matrons," so that they too came to the chest and bought certificates. In fact, such power did he wield over the masses that on one occasion in Annaberg, Saxony, he prevailed upon the miners who had treated with disrespect the relics of the wandering monks of St. Anthony to follow the Anthonins in a crowd a distance of three miles to do penance for their offense. This he accomplished by threatening that all the mines would cease operations. He was always quick to utter threats. Whoever challenged his authority was immediately discomfited and reminded that he was also an inquisitor. Thus he always knew how to silence all critics, including the clerics who had been injured by the indulgence.

Apparently the unusual talent of this member of the Dominican Monastery of St. Paul in Leipzig for the business of selling indulgences was not discovered until quite late by his superiors. It was not until 1504 that he entered upon this career. After this time he was almost constantly active as an indulgence preacher. In the course of years on his journeys throughout Germany he also acquired a wide commercial experience, which later proved exceedingly useful to his employers. For example, when he could not get rid of his wares at the price demanded, he would immediately have the indulgence cross taken down again. Then after a time he would return and sell the indulgences at a substantially lower price. But he was also quite conscious of his own worth. "I am well known in Italy, in many other kingdoms, and in all Germany," he wrote on January 24, 1517, to a critic who had presumed to remark that he was not a doctor but only an ordinary begging monk. "I have showered my knowledge of theology and canon law upon mans German universities and no one has ever treated me with contempt. On the contrary, every one of them, as long as ten years ago, begged me most urgently to take my degree of doctor of theology with them. If I had wanted to, I could have been a doctor before you had ever seen even the outside of a Corpus Juris Civilis and Canonici."

Just because Tetzel thought so highly of himself, he was by no means inclined to sell himself too cheaply. For instance, for his co-operation in the Mainz indulgence enterprise he demanded eighty guldens monthly in cash, besides free transportation and free maintenance for himself and his companions and ten guldens extra for his servant, Veit. Thus this servant received in cash twenty guldens more a yew than the highest official of the wealthy town of Leipzig! Any for handling the external details of the holy trade he also demanded large sums of the Fuggers, who had financed the venture and allowed the retail sale of the holy wares to he taken care of by their agents. It is very doubtful whether he was always wholly conscientious in handling the large sums of money that passed through his hands [Heinrich Boehmer, Road to Reformation (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1946). pp. 181-182].
Martin Brecht notes:

Certainly many more historical testimonies could be added. Suffice it to say that Luther did not lie in 1541 about Tetzel's "selling grace for money as dearly or as cheaply as he could, to the best of his ability." Luther may have erred in other regards to Tetzel, but he certainly did not in regard to Tetzel's ability to sell indulgences and make a living off of it. One may try to quibble that an indulgence is not the selling of grace. However, if, as the Catholic Encyclopedia asserts, "An indulgence is the extra-sacramental remission of the temporal punishment due, in God's justice, to sin that has been forgiven which remission is granted by the Church in the exercise of the power of the keys, through the application of the superabundant merits of Christ and of the saints, and for some just and reasonable motive", I don't know how one can think of an indulgence as anything other than obtaining grace.

The Church as a matter of fact did distinguish theoretically between the purchase of an indulgence and the absolution as declared by the priest in Confession. The latter could be an absolution from culpability, or of the punishments exacted by the Church, or of the divine punishments for sin in time and eternity. But because this absolution was often granted by priests who accompanied the indulgence-vendors, and thus occurred at the same time when a purchase of indulgence was made; and because from the end of the 14th century the indulgences were also called indulgences for punishment and culpability (poena et culpa) and praised as an atonement of man with God, it can be readily understood that the common people generally were of the opinion that on these occasions they had the opportunity, not only to receive indulgence for punishments, but also for culpability. For the common man did not know that theoretically the Church had bound together freeing from culpability with Confession and Absolution; he could only form his judgment according to what he saw. What he really saw was something that savored strongly of the open marketplace, a business where Confession played a very much subordinated role, especially since attritio was considered enough. Although Tetzel, who was commissioned for his special trade, and of whom Paulus treats in a monogravure (1889), later after his acquittal, taught that the indulgences "served solely in the case of punishment of sins that had been repented of and confessed," yet his instructions read, outside of indulgence for punishment of sin, of the plenaria omnium peccatorum remissio, and without repenting one could buy an indulgence upon the presentation of which any promiscuously chosen priest was forced once during lifetime and in the hour of death to grant to the professor a general absolution. [source]

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