Three Principles of Protestantism -- By: James E. McGoldrick

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 01:1 (Winter 1992)
Article: Three Principles of Protestantism
Author: James E. McGoldrick


Three Principles of Protestantism

James E. McGoldrick

The Protestant faith originated in a time of scandal when Johann Tetzel, a Dominican monk, appeared in Germany and went from place to place selling certificates of indulgence. It was in the fall of 1517 that the scandal began. Tetzel promised his listeners that they could obtain remission for their sins and for the sins of their loved ones who had died and gone to purgatory. Consequently, pious people collected their savings and rushed to Tetzel to purchase his documents, for that seemed to be the requirement of Christian charity—that loved ones might be released from the torments of purgatory and admitted to heaven itself. In fact, Tetzel led people to believe that they could obtain forgiveness merely by dropping their coins in his box and taking the certificates he offered. In order to popularize the sale, Tetzel recited a jingle: “So bald der Pfennig im Kasten klingt, die Selle aus dem Fegfeuer springt!” (“As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul out of purgatory springs.”) People seemed to come from everywhere, seeking to liberate loved ones from the flames of punishment. Purgatory, in the teaching of the medieval church, was portrayed as a place of temporal punishment for sin; the length of time a soul would spend there was determined by the number and severity of his offences. When one had been purged fully, he would be released to go to heaven.

Word of Tetzel’s activities soon reached Wittenberg University where Dr. Martin Luther, Professor of Theology, received it with consternation. Rather than react with joyous hope that characterized the people who were purchasing Tetzel’s documents, Luther became enraged. He spoke out vigorously and denounced the entire affair as a scandal of immense significance and contended that the church must be saved from the wretched traffic in indulgences. Luther went to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, a document in one hand, a hammer in the other, and fastened to that door a list of ninety-five protests against the

sale of indulgences. He likewise told the souls under his care that they had been deceived cruelly. The certificates of indulgence did not promise the remission of sins and did not assure salvation either for them or for the departed. The poor German peasants and common townspeople, however, could not read the Latin language of the certificates, and Tetzel had preyed upon their ignorance by encouraging them to believe that they had obtained benefits which the documents themselves did not promise

According to Roman Catholic teaching, the church had custody of a Treasury of Merits which were acquired by great saints who had exceeded the good works req...

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