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Rise of the Reformation.
doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, and to expose the flagrant vices, and shameless cupidities, of its ministers, while the bold defence of his principles, and the universal conversion to his reasonings, it was which ultimately produced that Reformation since which the papal power is but as the shadow of her former glory and
The first attack made by the then humble, simple, Luther was on the efficacy of " Indulgences," and though in this age it must be a matter of amazement that such a belief could prevail, yet so absolute was the dominion of priestcraft in those days that we must the more wonder at the boldness of him who controverted so established a creed, and who attacked such formidable supporters of it.
The precise meaning, or extent, of the term Plenary Indulgence" so commonly affixed outside the doors of Roman Catholic Churches, I have never been able exactly to fathom. It may undoubtedly mean some relaxation, or indulgence, from fast, or other penance, and mortifications, on certain solemn occasions; also probably some atonement, or absolution, for sins committed.
But, in process of time, money was made a readier passport to heaven, and with the purchase of these." Indulgences," and a proportionate number of masses to be said either by yourself,
Doctrine of Indulgences.
or by others, it matters not, the sinner may make sure of releasing his soul from the purifying fires of purgatory, and of thereby mounting the quicker to heaven; and if his crimes be very black and he dread a long probationary burning, he may nevertheless buy exemption for thousands of years; for there are in Rome some certain churches very particularly favored by the Saints above where, on the anniversary of their festival, freedom from purgatorial fire may be bought for more than 25,000 years to come! and as this purchase may again be doubled, or more, the release may perhaps extend to any term short of infinity!
The doctrine of the Catholic Clergy, with the Pope at their head, inculcated that all the good works of the Saints, and the pious, with every particle of faith over and above the exact measure for our own salvation are all gathered together in the treasury of Heaven, and deposited in one place in company with the Redemption of mankind, and the infinite Mercies of Jesus Christ. St. Peter has the keys to unlock this precious deposit, so have, of course, his successors the Popes, and they again the power to delegate downwards through all the gradations of Catholic priests, who thus could pardon, at pleasure, any sin in ourselves, or release any departed soul we wished from the fires of purgatory, by transferring a portion of these supererogatory good works to us immediately upon pay.
Doctrine of Indulgences.
ment to them of a proportionate sum of money! How over righteous, and holy, some few people must have been in those days, and must be so now, since, spite of the general, and increasing, wickedness of mankind, and womankind; spite of the millions of Infidels, Deists, Pagans, Turks, Jews, Mahometans, this treasury of superabundant good works was never, never exhausted, but is even yet always open, and ready, to furnish a supply for fresh sins!
In process of time, Popes enriched themselves by offering Indulgences for sale even upon no other prétext than for the foundation of a favourite building, and St. Peter's owes much of its completion to those very contributions.
Towards the end of the fifteenth century cotemporary authors generally agree in describing the clergy as abandoned to every species of worldly lusts and desires; "as not having any discipline with regard to morals, any knowledge of sacred literature, any reverence for divine things; there was not almost any religion remaining." (Bellarmine.) Popes Alexander VI and Julius II displayed in their lives extraordinary profligacy, ambition, cruelty, and voluptuousness.
The sale of crimes was a public traffic for the benefit of the Court of Rome, and according to a book published by authority, permissions for sins were graduated by a scale of payments; thus, a
Doctrine of Indulgences.
Bishop might assassinate for 300 livres; a Deacon for 20 crowns, and a Priest, or Nun, might break their vow of chastity, and in any way they pleased, for 100 livres. Other crimes which cannot be named, and some perhaps too impure ever to have existed but in imagination are nevertheless put down, with the price to be paid for their
But if money alone could thus purchase the favour of Heaven, how desperate would have been the condition of the poor! The policy of the Church had previously hit upon another admirable expedient, and the enthusiasm displayed in that most extraordinary memento of human folly and crime, the Crusades, was greatly attributable to the alternative first offered by Pope Urban II; that those who could neither give money, nor land, to the Church in commutation for the penance imposed for their sins should, for the pious effort of redeeming the Holy Land, be entitled to Plenary Indulgence; to Absolution for past sins; and to all the future penances for sins.†
Regarding the rate, or price, of "indulgence," it appears that a year's penance might be commuted for about four pounds English, in the case of a rich man; and nine shillings for an indigent
(Vide Laurence Banck's Taxa S. Cancellariæ Romanæ.) + "Iter illud pro omni pœnitentia reputeter." Canon of the Council of Clermont.
one: but in process of time another expedient was allowed and substituted-Voluntary Flagellation, and three thousand lashes were fixed as an equivalent for a twelvemonth's penance. Even ladies of quality are said to have adopted this new, and certain mode of getting to Heaven; but when tired of self-flagellation, they were then assured of the equal efficacy of transferring their sins, and their floggings to the back of a substitute, and hence the extraordinary devotion of St. Dominic, surnamed Loricatus, or the Saint of the Iron Cuirass, who commuted, or wiped off, the penance of an entire century in the short space of six days by giving himself 300,000 lashes in that little time!
At the period of Luther's interference, the chief agent employed by authority of Albert, Archbishop of Magdeburg and Elector of Metz, who, by delegation from the Pope, shared in the profits of such sales in his dominions in Saxony, was one Tetzel, a Dominican Friar, assisted by his brother Monks, and who, themselves, were frequently detected in spending in drunkenness, and debauchery, the sums given to them from the most pious motives, and in the hope of obtaining eternal salvation.
I subjoin the terms in which this Tetzel, and his associates, describe the Indulgences they offer for sale.
"If any man purchase Letters of Indulgence,