Monday, October 31, 2011

John Tetzel - A Lutheran Nightmare

Wenn das Gelt in Kasten Klingt
Dann zu Himmel die Seele springt!
That's Johann Tetzel. He's the one. From second grade on, we learned about John Tetzel. Second only to Satan in evil, Tetzel was the poster-boy for Lutheran grade-school students' hatred of Catholics. Just two blocks away from the safety of our classroom (relative safety, if you counted Miss Taras's classroom), children were being marched straight through the Box Office to the Gates of Hell. Yes, Catholicism! Satan would see a Catholic coming, and say "Ah, a Catholic - come right in, we left the light on!".

Just two blocks away was St. Henry's - the church with the idol on the outside of the building. And an entire school devoted to the destruction of children's faith, the stealing of their souls. At St. Henry's, we were told in school, they worshiped idols, they prayed to dead people, they kept people in Purgatory and wouldn't let them go to heaven. The Rosary - an obvious cultic scheme to earn one's salvation by meaningless repetition. And those nuns, sneaking around in their penguin suits - what were they up to? And then there was Johann Tetzel.

October 31, 1517. Martin Luther's 95 Theses were nailed to the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg. The 95 Theses formed a concise declaration of Luther's argument with the established Catholic Church at the time. Most of Luther's objections to the teachings of the day were embodied in the ministry of Johann Tetzel. Johann Tetzel sold indulgences If you bought an indulgence, your sins were forgiven. So, if you were a sinner, and for some reason wanted to go to heaven when you die, you had options. You could make nice with God, or you could buy indulgences. This was very popular among the organized crime bosses of the time, because they had their sins all arranged on the calendar at the beginning of each week, and it was a good way to streamline their operations. A translation of the caption verse above:
"When the Gold in Coffers Rings
Then the soul to Heaven springs"

Luther declared, in his Theses, that you couldn't buy the stairway to heaven, and, since nobody had ever heard of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant at the time, Luther was correct. Coincidentally, the construction of St. Peter's Basilica was being financed by the sale of indulgences - so, when Luther was preaching against the sale of indulgences, he was rocking a very big-ga boat indeed.

In later years, we found out that many of the claims put forth by our grade-school teachers regarding Catholics were exaggerations and fabrications. We had more than enough in common with our Catholic peers to overcome some of our differences. But the doctrine of indulgences exists to this day. Here's a link to the Catholic Encyclopedia doctrine of indulgences, for further reading:

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