In 1517 Pope Leo X, empty-pocketed and needing funds to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica issued a special “sale” of indulgences. The very word “indulgence” tends to convey dubious moral connotations, but these indulgences were particularly questionable. What was an “indulgence”? It was a special sort of forgiveness for sins issued by the pope in consideration of various acts of merit, in this case, donations to Leo’s treasury. Indulgences could even be “purchased” on behalf of loved ones in purgatory.

Dominican friar Johann Tetzel became the pontiff’s peddler, a P. T. Barnum traveling around with a brass-bound chest, a bag of printed receipts, and an enormous cross draped with a papal banner. Whenever Tetzel came to a town, church bells peeled, crowds gathered, and street performers kicked up their heels. Tetzel would set up shop in the nave of the local church, open his bags, and shout, “I have here the passports to lead the human soul to the celestial joys of Paradise. As soon as the coin rings in the bowl, the soul for whom it is paid will fly from purgatory and straight to heaven.”

He usually exceeded his quota.

But many were troubled, and when the hard eyes of Martin Luther fell on the indulgences purchased by fellow villagers in Wittenberg, he studied them carefully and pronounced them frauds. At high noon on October 31, 1517, Luther, a 33-year-old university professor, walked to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, and tacked to it a document. The door served as the town bulletin board, and Martin Luther had an announcement to post. He called for a “disputation on the power and efficacy of indulgences.”

A few curious passersby drew near and scanned the words: “Out of love for the faith and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg under the chairmanship of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology. … ” There followed a list of 95 items.

Luther did not yet know what mighty blows he had struck.

God is our mighty fortress, always ready to help in times of trouble. Nations rage! Kingdoms fall! But at the voice of God the earth itself melts. The Lord All-Powerful is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress. (Psalm 46:1,6,7)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day: 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Oct.31.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

1772Thomas and Samuel Green of New Haven publish “A Sermon” by Indian preacher Samson Occum which he had given the month before at the hanging of an Indian man for murder. The sermon becomes wildly successful, going through ten editions in eight years.

1832George Washington Doane was consecrated Episcopal bishop of a diocese in New Jersey. He is remembered by Christians for his hymns, especially “Softly Now the Light of Day.”

1877Samuel Schereschewsky was consecrated Anglican Bishop of Shanghai. After developing Parkinson’s disease, he resigned from his position and spent the rest of his life completing a translation of the Bible into Wenli (a Chinese dialect), typing hundreds of pages with the one finger he could still move.

1920 – Spetume Florence Njangali was baptized in Saint Peter’s Cathedral, Hoima, Uganda. And became a leader in the effort to obtain theological education for women and their ordination as deaconesses in the Anglican Church of Uganda.

1992Pope John Paul II admits indirectly that the church erred three hundred and sixty years earlier when it condemned Italian astronomer Galileo.

2010Al Qaida terrorists stormed Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Baghdad. Fifty-eight worshipers, priests, policemen, and bystanders were killed including a three-year-old boy who pled with them to stop the killing. And seventy-eight were wounded or maimed.

*Information was extracted from Christianhistoryinstitute.org.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.