John Tetzel: Unscrupulous 16th century monk who lied about indulgences, to make money.

… Pope Leo X needed funds to build St. Peter’s Basilica. Fortunately for him, the Church had as a major source of income at its disposal: the sale of indulgences. So, in 1517, Leo announced the availability of new indulgences. Those who purchase them, he announced, will not only help protect the precious relics of St. Paul and St. Peter from the ravages of rain and hail, but would receive valuable religious merit.

This merit, which could be distributed at the Pope’s discretion from the treasury of merit of the saints, would alleviate the (temporal) penalty attached to (already forgiven) sin(s) in this life and the next.

A Dominican monk named John Tetzel was assigned to the sale of indulgences in Saxony. A talented and unscrupulous salesman, Tetzel was willing to make any claim that improved sales. He thus (falsely) promised not only a reduction in punishment for sin, but complete forgiveness of all sin and a return to the state of perfection enjoyed just after baptism.

He (falsely) added that if one would generously purchase indulgences to speed the release of a deceased loved one from Purgatory, no actual repentance on the part of the giver was even necessary. Marketing genius that he was, Tetzel employed a memorable jingle to make his offer clear and simple:

“As soon as the coin in the coffer rings,
a soul from Purgatory springs.”

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