Thursday, February 02, 2017

Hell, Purgatory and Indulgences

It was common practice for the building of cathedrals to be financed by the sale of indulgences, and this practice became a scandal in the Middle Ages. Professional fund-raisers (Pardoners) were employed on commission to sell indulgences, much like travelling salesmen. An indulgence is a remission of the temporal punishment due to sin, the guilt of which has been forgiven.

Indulgences were also used to benefit the Papacy financially in other ways. For example, one condition inserted into indulgences after 1462 was that they were invalid for anyone importing Turkish alum (a ,1s the Pope was trying to establish a monopoly within Christendom for his own newly discover alum deposits at Tolfa).

Matters came to a head in the sixteenth century when a Dominican called Johann Tetzel (c.1465-1519) undertook a sales tour of Germany, hawking indulgences. Proceeds were to be used partially to pay for the building of St Peter's in Rome** and partly to discharge debts incurred by the Archbishop of Mainz. 

As soon as a coin rang in the bottom of Tetzel's coffer so soon was a soul released for Heaven, or so he said. Better still, Tetzel sold the right to sin in the future. It was this sales tour that so outraged Martin Luther, "lighting the touch-paper of the Reformation."

Protestants reject the doctrine of Purgatory, holding that the dead proceed immediately to Heaven or Hell. The Church of England is scathing about it. The 22nd of the 39 Articles of Religion for example says:

The Romish [Roman Catholic] Doctrine concerning Purgatory .... is a fond [i.e. foolish] thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God (by the way, no member of the human species, past or present, has any way of knowing what the "Word of God" would be or even if such an entity exist... the humongous fabrications that are the foundation of organized religion, are predicated on colossal, absurd speculations, superstition, ignorance and fear).

The Roman Church has also backed off recently. For centuries it had set tariffs for certain virtuous actions. Specific pilgrimages, relics, prayers or gifts to the Church bought specific reductions in one's sentence. It was possible to read off the reduction of suffering against specified acts: so many days for a certain prayer, so many days for a certain pilgrimage, so many days for joining a crusade, so many days for acquiring a holy relic, and so on. 

Pope Leo X calculated that a pious German who collected over 17,000 holy relics had saved himself 694,779,550.5 days in Purgatory.

More recently, in 1991, one considerate believer organized a campaign to induce 200,000 people to say a certain prayer five times a day for a year. He pointed out that St Gertrude the Great had been told by Our Lord nearly 700 years ago that this prayer would release 1000 souls from Purgatory. It was thus believed that 365,000,000,000 (billion) souls could be released each year. The challenge was to empty Purgatory altogether.

After many centuries of acceptability the authorities are now embarrassed by this sort of thought, and tariffs have generally been abolished. The sale of indulgences is now universally regarded as corrupt and inimical to Christianity. No longer is it possible to tick off the days of one's sentence in Purgatory as one collects holy relics.

Unfortunately, in the 21st century, every Sunday worldwide, indulgences are still being piously hawked to superstitious, benighted believers.

This article was inspired, along with some excerpts and quotes from the "Great Agnostic," Robert G. Ingersoll.

** St. Peter's Basilica is an Italian Renaissance church in Vatican City, the papal enclave within the city of Rome.

Catholic tradition holds that the Basilica is the burial site of St. Peter, one of Christ's Apostles and also the first Pope; supposedly, St. Peter's tomb is directly below the high altar of the Basilica. For this reason, many Popes have been interred at St. Peter's since the Early Christian period. There has been a church on this site since the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. Construction of the present basilica, replacing the Old St. Peter's Basilica of the 4th century AD, began on 18 April 1506 and was completed on 18 November 1626.  
~ Wikipedia