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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

Had prohibited Tetzel from entering his territories


exegetical lectures seemed like a rediscovery of the Holy Scriptures. Grave burghers of Wittenberg matriculated as students in order to hear them. The fame of the lecturer spread, and students from all parts of Germany crowded to the small remote University, until the Elector became proud of his seat of learning and of the man who had made it prosper.

Such a man could not keep silent when he saw what he believed to be a grave source of moral evil approaching the people whose souls God had given him in charge; and this is how Luther came to be a Reformer.

Up to this time he had been an obedient monk, doing diligently the work given him, highly esteemed by his superiors, fulfilling the expectations of his Vicar-General, and recognised by all as a quiet and eminently pious man. He had a strong, simple character, with nothing of the quixotic about him. Of course he saw the degradation of much of the religious life of the times, and had attended at least one meeting where those present discussed plans of reformation. He had then (at Leitzkau in 1512) declared that every true reformation must begin with individual men, that it must reveal itself in a regenerate heart aflame with faith kindled by the preaching of a pure gospel.

? 6. The Indulgence-seller.

What drew Luther from his retirement was an Indulgence

proclaimed by Pope Leo X., farmed by Albert of Brandenburg, the Archbishop of Mainz, and preached by John Tetzel, a Dominican monk, who had been commissioned by Albert to sell for him the _Papal Letters_, as the Indulgence tickets were called. It had been announced that the money raised by the sales would be used to build the Basilica of St. Peter to be a tomb worthy of the great Apostle, who rested, it was said, in a Roman grave.

The Indulgence-seller had usually a magnificent reception when he entered a German town. Frederick Mecum (Myconius), who was an eye-witness, thus describes the entrance of Tetzel into the town of Annaberg in Ducal Saxony:

"When the Commissary or Indulgence-seller approached the town, the Bull (proclaiming the Indulgence) was carried before him on a cloth of velvet and gold, and all the priests and monks, the town council, the schoolmasters and their scholars, and all the men and women went out to meet him with banners and candles and songs, forming a great procession; then all the bells ringing and all the organs playing, they accompanied him to the principal church; a red cross was set up in the midst of the church, and the Pope's banner was displayed; in short, one might think they were receiving God Himself."

The Commissary then preached a sermon extolling the Indulgence, declaring that "the gate of heaven was open," and that the sales would begin.

Many German princes had no great love for the Indulgence-sellers, and Frederick, the Elector of Saxony, had prohibited Tetzel from entering his territories. But the lands of Ernestine (Electoral) and Albertine (Ducal) Saxony were so mixed up that it was easy for the Commissary to command the whole population of Electoral Saxony without actually crossing the frontier. The "Red Cross" had been set up in Zerbst in Ducal Saxony a few miles to the west, and at Jueterbogk in the territory of Magdeburg a few miles to the east of Wittenberg, and people had gone from the town to buy the Indulgence. Luther believed that the sales were injurious to the moral and religious life of his townsmen; the reports of the sermons and addresses of the Indulgence-seller which reached him appeared to contain what he believed to be both lies and blasphemies. He secured a copy of the letter of recommendation given by the Archbishop to his Commissary, and his indignation grew stronger. Still it was only after much hesitation, after many of his friends had urged him to interfere, and in deep distress of mind, that he resolved to protest. When he had determined to do something he went about the matter with a mixture of caution and courage which were characteristic of the man.

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