16. The Reformation
Necessary Because the Church Had Fallen
THE Roman church was sadly in need of a reformation, but she refused to surrender the elements that corrupted her, and slew those who tried to save her. There were two papal ordinances which especially contributed toward the terrible and widespread depravity of her priesthood: (1) enforced celibacy (forbidding priests to marry), and (2) exemption of the clergy from the domain of civil law, so that government officials could not punish them for any crime. H. C. Lea says of the Roman Catholic clergyman:
“No matter what crimes he might commit,
secular justice could not take cognizance of them, and secular officials could
not arrest him. He was amenable only to the tribunals of his own order, which
were debarred from inflicting punishments involving the effusion of blood, and
from whose decisions an appeal to the supreme jurisdiction of distant Rome
conferred too often virtual immunity.’ - “History of the Inquisition of the
Middle Ages,” Vol. I, p. 2.
This author makes a further statement
concerning a “complaint laid before the pope by the imperial Diet held at
Let the reader remember that those “complaints were made by the highest authority in the empire.” - Ibid.
Professor Philip Limborch records the same fact, and adds:
“Erasmus says: ‘There is a certain
German bishop, who declared publicly at a feast, that in one year he had
brought to him 11,000 priests that openly kept women’ : for they pay annually a
certain sum to the bishop. This was one of the hundred grievances that the
German nation proposed to the Pope’s nuncio at the convention at
H. C. Lea says:
“The extent to which the evil sometimes
grew may be guessed from a case mentioned by Erasmus, in which a theologian of
While the pope had ample machinery in the Inquisition for correcting his sinning priests, yet he was very lenient with them, except for “heresy.” In fact, heinous depravity seemed to have been worse where the Inquisition reigned supreme. H. C. Lea continues:
“It is rather curious that in
Of the “remedial” laws enacted in 1255, 1274, and 1302, Lea says:
“However well meant these efforts were,
they proved as useless in all previous ones, for in 1322 the council of
“We have already seen ecclesiastical
authority for the assertion that in the
Such conditions seem almost
unbelievable. But, when in 1900 W. H. Taft was sent to the
If some Protestants of today had known the conditions existing at the time of the Reformation they would not have judged Dr. Martin Luther so critically for his harsh statements. That the Reformation was the inevitable result of the fallen condition of the Catholic Church, was acknowledged by the speakers at the Council of Trent. H. C. Lea says:
“Even in the Council of Trent itself,
the Bishop of St. Mark, in opening its proceedings with a speech,
The subject of indulgences is of great importance at this time, for the strenuous protest of Romanists against any discussion of this subject has changed both our schoolbooks and our encyclopedias. We therefore invite the reader to a careful investigation of this subject. The grossest doctrines that ever disgraced the church of Rome, usually began as apparently innocent injunctions, which developed for centuries into the final monstrosity. This was the case with “indulgence.” It began simply as a release from some ecclesiastical punishment.
Catholic authorities today teach that there are two kinds of punishments for sin, one eternal and the other temporal. Dr. M. J. Scott, S. J., says:
“The forgiveness of sin is . . . the remission of the eternal chastisement. . . .
“After the guilt and eternal punishment
have been remitted there remains the temporal chastisement . . . which must be
suffered either here or . . . hereafter . . . by the suffering of Purgatory.” -
“Things Catholics Are Asked About,” p. 145.
The debt in purgatory may be settled in this life by penances, masses, or by indulgences. On the cost of having masses celebrated see “Fifty Years in the Church of Rome” by Charles Chiniquy, chap. XXV. Catholic authors admonish a Catholic to settle his account with the church in this life, for when he dies “his family might have hundreds of Masses offered up for his soul,” before it affects him in purgatory.- “Things Catholics Are Asked About,” p. 147. As some Catholics may be unwilling to pay such sums for their deceased relatives, Dr. J. T. Roche warns them:
“The last will and testament of a Catholic in which there is no provision made for Masses gives evidence of an oversight which is truly deplorable. Children and heirs-at-law are the same the world over. In many instances they are dissatisfied with the bequests made to them individually. Their disappointment precludes the possibility of having Masses said for the dead testator. Some of them too are so selfish and grasping that they cannot think of parting with even a small portion of their inheritance to comply with what is clearly a duty.” – “Masses for the Dead,” pp. 23, 24. (This booklet bears the sanction of the Catholic Church and its censor).
The Pope’s Spiritual Bank
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that a person can by his good works and penances, pay off his own debt, and have some to spare. These extra good works form a Spiritual Bank from which the pope can draw for the benefit of those who lack, as the following quotations show. Dr. M. J. Scott says:
“A sinner has it in his own power to merit forgiveness and mercy while he lives.” - “Things Catholics Are Asked About,” p. 148.
Rev. J. Procter writes:
“Some holy ones of God more than
satisfy the debt of temporal punishment which they owe to the Eternal Father. .
. . All these ‘satisfactions,’ these merits, these uncalled-for penances, are
not lost, nor are they useless and in vain. They form a spiritual
treasure-house, a ‘bank’ we have called it, upon which the Church can draw for
the benefit of her needy children.” - “Indulgences” (Roman Catholic), p. 9.
Canon Law says: “To the Roman Pontiff is committed by Christ the entire spiritual treasury of the Church, wherefore only the Pope and those to whom he has given participation in the power by law, have the ordinary power to grant indulgences. (Canon 912).” - “The New Canon Law,” Rev. S. Woywod, O. F. M., pp. 143, 144. New York: 1918.
The Catholic Encyclopedia testifies:
“According to Catholic doctrine, therefore, the source of indulgences is constituted by the merits of Christ and the saints. This treasury is left to the keeping, not of the individual Christian, but of the Church.
“This treasure He . . . entrusted to Blessed Peter, the keybearer, and his successors.” - Vol. VII, pp. 785, 784.
“By a plenary indulgence is meant the remission of the entire temporal punishment due to sin so that no further expiation is required in purgatory. A partial indulgence commutes only a certain portion of the penalty.
“An indulgence is valid both in the tribunal of the Church and in the tribunal of God.” - 1d., p. 788.
“When the church, therefore, by an indulgence, remits this penalty, her action, according to the declaration of Christ, is ratified in heaven.” - Id., p. 785.
“Here, as in many other matters, the love of money was the chief root of the evil; indulgences were employed by mercenary ecclesiastics as a means of pecuniary gain.” - Id., p. 787.
We shall now enter into a careful examination of the two questions: (1) whether Catholic authorities, before the Protestant Reformation., had begun to represent indulgences as actual remissions of sin.; and (2) if these indulgences could be purchased for money. Professor William E. Lunt says of the period following 1095 A. D.:
“The commercialization of indulgences began with those issued in connection with the Crusades.” - “Papal Revenues in the Middle Ages,” Vol. I, p. 115. Columbia University Press, 1934.
“Boniface IX (1389-1404) issued several bulls of plenary indulgence to aid the building of the dome of the cathedral at Milan. In the course of the fifteenth century plenary indulgences for similar purposes became common. . . . One third or one half was the share most commonly taken by the pope, occasionally it amounted to two thirds.” - Id., p. 114.
“The general Summons of Pope Innocent III to a Crusade A. D. 1215 [requested all civil rulers] for the remission of their sins [to furnish soldiers. To all who joined in the Crusade, and also to those who could not go themselves, but who paid the expense of sending a substitute, the pope declared:] ‘We grant full pardon of their sins.’ [To those who went at their own expense, he promised not only] full pardon of their sins, [but he says:] ‘We promise them an increase of eternal salvation.” - “Bullarium Romanum, editio Taurinensis,” Vol. III, p. 300; copied in “Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages,” E. F. Henderson, pp. 337, 339, 343. London: 1892.
This papal permission to secure an indulgence by paying for a substitute in one’s place, to fight in the Crusades, soon developed into a system of paying for indulgences. Another means of enormous income to the Holy See was started by Pope Boniface VIII, by inaugurating the “Jubilees” with their indulgences. We read of these:
“Jubilees. - On the 22nd of February of the present Year 1300, he issued a Bull, granting a full Remission of all Sins to such as should in the present Year, beginning and ending at Christmas, or in every other Hundreth Year, visit the Basilica of the two Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul [on fifteen different days.] - Bower’s “History of the Popes,” Vol. VI, year 1300, P. 474.
Herbert Thurston, S. J., in his book: “The Roman Jubilee,” bearing the sanction of the Catholic Church, and of its “censor,” says:
“And the same year, since a solemn remission of all sins, to wit, both of guilt and of penalty (solemnis remissio omnium peccatorum, videlicet culparum et poenarum), was granted by Pope Boniface to all who visited Rome, many - both Christians and Tartars - came to Rome for the aforesaid indulgence.” Id., p. 12. London and Edinburgh: 1925, abridged edition.
Of the Jubilee of 1450 we read:
“Large sums of money were brought as offerings by the pilgrims, and we learn that money was scarce at this time, because ‘it all flowed into Rome for the Jubilee’. . . . Early in the following year the Pope . . dispatched legates to certain foreign countries, to extend the Jubilee indulgence to the faithful who were unable to visit Rome. The conditions usually enjoined were a visit, or series of visits, to the cathedral of the Diocese, and an alms to be offered there for a special intention.” - Id., p. 27.
During one of these Jubilees, we are told, there were millions in Rome, and the plague that had broken out carried off innumerable victims. Graves were to be seen all along the roads. H. C. Lea declares: “The pilgrim who went to Rome to secure pardon came back much worse than he started.” And any one who joined the “crusades” against the Turks or the “heretics” to gain a “plenary indulgence,” if he came back alive, “was tolerably sure to return a lawless bandit.” - “The Inquisition of the Middle Ages,” Vol. I, pp. 42, 43.
Pope Alexander VI ordered a Jubilee in 1500, but great as the crowds were who sought the papal indulgence at Rome, there remained a still greater number in the British Isles, “who were prevented from seeking Rome”; and so the pope issued another “Bull dated 9 December 1500,” proclaiming a Jubliee in 1501 for Britain. Professor William E. Lunt quotes the following from Polydore Vergil’s “Historiae Anglicae”:
“A Chronicler’s Account of the Sale of Jubilee Indulgences in England. - It was not gratuitous liberality, for Alexander . . . had decreed what was the price of his grace for providing for the salvation of men.” - “Records of Civilization Sources and Studies,” Vol. XIX, “Papal Revenues In the Middle Ages,” Vol. II, p. 477.
Professor Lunt informs us that this Papal Bull is found in the “British Museum, Cottonian MS, Cleop. E. III, fol. 157V,” “as entitled by Gairdner, Letters and Papers Illustrative of the Reigns of Richard III and Henry VII, 11, 93-100,” from which we quote the following:
“The Article of the Bull of the holy Jubilee of full remission and great joy granted to the realm of England, Wales, Ireland, and Garnesey, . . by granting of great indulgence and remission of sins and trespasses.”
Those who “at any time after the publication hereof to the last evensong of the Octaves of Easter next coming, truly confessed and contrite, visit such churches as shall be assigned . . . and there put into the chest for the intent ordained such sum or gratuity of money, gold or silver, as is limited and tared here following in the last end of this paper, to be spent for the defense of our faith, shall have the same indulgence, pardon, and grace, with remission of all their sins, which they should have had if they had gone personally to Rome in the year of grace.” - Id., pp. 478, 479.
Then follows the “Tax List”:
“Tax that every man shall put into the chest that will receive this great grace of their jubilee.
“First, every man and woman. . . . having lands, tenements, or rents, amounting to the yearly value of £2,000 or above, must pay, or cause to be paid . . . . and effectually, without fraud or deceit, put into the chest . . . lawful money current in that country where they be, £3, 6s. and 8d (£r is $4.80, 1s. 24 cents, and id. is 2 cents).
“Also, every man and woman having tenements and rents to the yearly value of £1,000 or above, to the sum of £2,000 exclusive, must pay for themselves and their wives and children 40s.” - Id., pp. 481, 482.
This sliding scale goes down to the payment of 12d.
“The Pope . . . granted full authority and power to the venerable father in God, Jasper Powe, his orator and commissary, to absolve [any one who] hath committed simony. . . .with all those that occupy evil gotten goods, all usurers, and all such that wrongfully and unlawfully occupyeth or witholdeth other men’s goods, . . . that they may lawfully keep and occupy the same goods, first making composition for the same with said commissary of some certain sum of money to be spent in the foresaid holy use.” - Id., pp. 482, 483.
Hon. Thomas E. Watson, U. S. Senator from Georgia, writes:
“Claude Wespence was Rector of the University of Paris in the sixteenth century. He published a ‘Commentary on the Epistle to Titus.’ He was [a] devoted Roman Catholic and his standing was high in his church. . . . Here is what he wrote and published about the ‘Tariff on Sins’:
“‘Provided money can be extorted, everything prohibited is permitted. There is almost nothing forbidden that is not dispensed with for money . . . . They give permission to priests to have concubines . . . . There is a printed book which has been publicly sold for a considerable time, entitled, ‘The Tares of the Apostolical Chancery,’ from which one may learn more enormities and crimes than from all the books of the Summists. And of these crimes, there are some which persons may have liberty to commit for money, while absolution from all of them, after they have been committed, may be bought.’
“In the British Museum are two small volumes which contain the Pope’s Chancery Tares, and his Penitential Tares. These books - in manuscript bound in vellum - were taken from the archives of Rome, upon the death of Innocent XII. The Prothonotary, Amyon, was the abstractor. One of the booklets bears date, ‘6 February, 1514’: the other ‘10 March, 1520.’ The inscription is ‘Mandatum Leonis, Papae X.,’ - which, freely rendered, means that the compilation of these Tares was ordered by Pope Leo X.” (Of these “Tax Tables” forty-seven editions were issued. Eighteen at Rome itself. They itemised all classes of sins: “simony”, “perjury”, “murder,” “rape,” etc., stating the exact amount of “tax” for “absolution” of each class of crime. See “Spiritual Venality of Rome”, Rev. Joseph Mendham, M.A., “Traffic in Pardons,” George Hodson, and “Philosophical Dictionary”, Voltaire, Vol. II. pp. 474-478. See also “The Pope and the Council.” Dollinger, pp- 351-353). - “The Watsonian,” October, 1928, Vol. II, No. IX, pp. 275, 276.
“Pope Could Empty Purgatory”
Henry Charles Lea says:
“An enthusiastic Franciscan taught at Tournay, in 1482, that the pope at will could empty purgatory. . . The same year . . . the church of Saintes, having procured a bull of indulgence from Sixtus IV, announced publicly that, no matter how long a period of punishment had been assigned by divine justice to a soul, it would fly from purgatory to heaven as soon as three sols were paid in its behalf to be expended in repairing the church. . . . The doctrine . . . was pronounced to be unquestionable Catholic truth by the Dominican Silvestro Mozzolino, in his refutation of Luther’s Theses, dedicated to Leo X. (F. Silvest. Prieriatis Dialogus, No. 27) As Silvestro was made general of his order and master of the sacred palace, it is evident that no exceptions to his teaching were taken at Rome. Those who doubt that the abuses of the system were the proximate cause of the Reformation can consult Van Espen, Jur. Eccles. Universi P. II., tit. vii, cap. 3, No. 9-12.” – “History of the Inquisition in the Middle Ages,” Vol. I, p. 43, note.
Some Roman Catholic writers claim that the “tares charged in those “Tax Tables” were simply registration fees for the absolutions or pardons granted. If this were true, why are they called “tares,” and why should the registration fee for one man be fifty times as much as for another that had committed the same sin? Or why should registration fees vary so greatly for the different sins?
William Coxe, F. R. S., F. A. S., speaking of the time of Luther, says:
“The sale of indulgences gave rise to the schism of a great part of Europe from the church of Rome.
“Indulgences, in the early ages, were merely a diminution of ecclesiastical penances, at the recommendation of confessors or persons of peculiar sanctity. This license soon degenerated into an abuse, and being made by the popes a pretext for obtaining money, was held forth as an exemption from the pains of purgatory, and afterwards as a plenary pardon for the commission of all sins whatsoever; and this unchristian doctrine (The doctrine of the “treasury” containing the surplus of good works). was justified on the principle no less absurd than impious and immoral.
“With a view to replenish the exhausted treasury of the church, Leo X had recourse to the sale of indulgences, an expedient which had been first invented by Urban II, and continued by his successors; Julius II had bestowed indulgences on all who contributed towards building, the church of St. Peter, at Rome, and Leo founded his grant on the came pretence. But . . . this scandalous traffic had been warmly opposed in Germany. . . . These indulgences were held forth as pardons for the most enormous crimes; they were publicly put up for sale, and even forced upon the people, and Tetzel and his coadjutors indulged themselves in drunkenness, and every other species of licentiousness, in which they squandered their share of the profits, and not unfrequently produced indulgences as stakes at the gaming table.” – “History of the House of Austria,” Vol. I, pp. 384-386.
Professor Coxe continues in a footnote:
“We subjoin the form of absolution used by Tetzel: “‘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, by that of his blessed 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 thy sins, transgressions, and excesses, how enormous so ever they may be, even from 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 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 possessest in 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’ - Seckend. Comment Lib. I, p. 14.” -Id., p. 385.
The author has several photographic reproductions of these “Indulgences.” The “Congregation of the Propaganda” at Rome, 1883, published a book called “Il Tesoro dele Sacre Indulgence,” which attempts to justify the sale of indulgences by monks at the time of Martin Luther. (Chap. III).
Dr. William Robertson gives the same facts in the “History of the Reign of the Emperor Charles the Fifth,” Vol. 1, pp. 460-463, as have been quoted from Dr. Coxe. In a footnote Dr. Robertson adds the following of Tetzel’s arguments:
“‘The soul confined in purgatory, for whose redemption indulgences are purchased, as soon as the money tinkles in the chest, instantly escape from that place of torment and ascend into heaven. . . . For twelve pence you may redeem the soul of your father out of purgatory; and are you so ungrateful that you mill not rescue your parent from torment?’” - Id., p. 462.
Turning the Tables on Tetzel
John Dowling, D. D., relates:
“A gentleman of Saxony had heard Tetzel at Leipsic, and was much shocked by his impostures. He went to the monk, and inquired if he was authorised to pardon sins in intention, or such as the applicant intended to commit? ‘Assuredly,’ answered Tetzel; ‘I have full power from the Pope to do so.’ ‘Well,’ returned the gentleman, ‘I want to take some slight revenge on one of my enemies, without attempting his life. I will pay you ten crowns, if you will give me a letter of indulgence that shall bear me harmless.’ Tetzel made some scruples; they struck their bargain for thirty crowns. Shortly after, the monk set out from Leipsic. The gentleman, attended by his servants, laid wait for him in a wood between Juterboch and Treblin, fell upon him, gave him a beating, and carried off the rich chest of indulgence-money the inquisitor had with him. Tetzel clamored against this act of violence, and brought an action before the judges. But the gentleman showed the letter signed by Tetzel himself, which exempted him beforehand from all responsibility. Duke George who had at first been much irritated at this action, upon seeing this writing, ordered that the accused should be acquitted.” - “History of Romanism,” p. 445. New York: 1870.
Some people finally began to feel that, if the pope could empty purgatory at will, he must be very hard hearted to leave so many millions in the flames just because the people did not buy sufficient indulgences to free them! Was not the pope more concerned about the souls of his spiritual children in purgatory, than about the building of a magnificent church at Rome? Should not the shepherd be more concerned about his sheep than about their wool? People had begun to break the shackles and think for themselves. A storm was brewing, only waiting for some one to take the lead.
When God’s hour strikes, He always has His instruments ready for action. On the 31st of October, 1517, Dr. Martin Luther stepped up to the beautiful Castle Church at Wittenberg, and nailed on its door the ninety-five theses he had written against the sale of indulgences. In two weeks “these propositions were circulated over all Germany. . . . In a month they had made the tour of Europe.” - “History of Protestantism,” J. A. Wylie, Vol. I, chap. X, p. 267. Thus the Reformation began, and it continued till a large part of Europe broke away from the Roman Church; and only by the work of Jesuits were some of these countries brought back to the Roman fold.
We shall now leave it with the reader to decide, whether or not sufficient proof has been given of the corrupt condition of the medieval church to justify a Reformation. When the Church refused to be reformed, turned against the Reformers, and bitterly opposed all attempts to place the Bible in the hands of the common people, then the time had come to separate from her communion, and establish churches where the people would be fed with the word of God, and where there was liberty to obey it.