We learn from history what Solomon wrote from inspiration: “What was, will be again, what has been done, will be done again, and there is nothing new under the sun!” (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NJB). Smart churchmen have always devised means of raising funds to execute one project or the other.
About 500 years ago, just before the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press that made the Bible available to the common man, St. Peter’s Dome in Rome was built with proceeds from the sale of indulgences.
The convoluted doctrine of indulgences (remission of the temporal punishment of sin, on condition of penitence and the payment of money to the church), peculiar to the Roman Church, was developed and sanctioned by the leadership of the Church. It was justified and closely connected with the doctrine of the sacrament of penance and priestly absolution which claims that God forgives only the eternal punishment of sin, but the sinner has to bear the temporal punishments, either in this life or in purgatory; these punishments are under the control of the church, especially the Pope as its legitimate head! This papal power, it is further claimed, extends even to ‘departed souls in purgatory’.
“The convoluted doctrine of indulgences (remission of the temporal punishment of sin, on condition of penitence and the payment of money to the church), peculiar to the Roman Church, was developed and sanctioned by the leadership of the Church.”
The selling and buying of the remission of punishment and release from purgatory became a source of tremendous wealth for the high churchmen and the monasteries; a good portion of the profits went into the papal treasury.
And, of course, testimonies emanating from this doctrine abounded: A bishop, by celebrating 30 masses, helped out of purgatory a poor soul who was frozen in a block of ice; a woman, who had neglected, before dying, to make a confession to the priest, was raised from her bier by the prayer of St. Francis d’Assisi. She went and confessed to the priest and then had the satisfaction of lying down in peace and dying over again. Most of these medieval ‘testimonies’ are laughable today but so also will intelligent and pious men find many of our own modern-day ‘testimonies’.
The Bible, a rarity in those days (and rarely read nowadays), was not in the language of the masses; they depended on the priests to read and interpret divine requirements. These peddler preachers, by daily sermons, hymns and processions, waxed lyrical about the Papal decree in urging the people to purchase letters of indulgence for their own benefit; at the same time, they played on people’s sympathies for departed loved ones: they would be released from their sufferings in purgatory “as soon as the penny tinkles in the box.”
The common people eagerly embraced this ‘rare offer’ of salvation from punishment; intelligent and devout men were shocked at such scandal.
A most infamous preacher of indulgences was Johann Tetzel, portrayed by writers of the time as a noisy, impudent, ignorant and immoral charlatan, who was not ashamed to boast that he saved more souls from purgatory by his letters of indulgence than St. Peter by his preaching. Tetzel travelled around with great pomp recommending, with devious boldness and pompous eloquence the Pope’s indulgences to large crowds who gathered to hear him.
Today, with the Bible available in so many languages and translations, in hard and soft (electronic) forms, the pressure of survival distracts many from the most important issue of life: ‘Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.” Like the Berean Believers in the days of Paul, we should take nothing for granted and accept the personal responsibility that goes with being Believers: checking for ourselves if these teachings are true or not. Luke describes this behavioural pattern as “noble” (Acts 17:11 RSV).
A studious and prayerful examination of Scriptures (see, for instance, I Timothy 6; Titus 1; 1 Peter 5) and Church history will lead to the conclusion that such hobby-horses now being ridden to death by some in the Protestant Movement – e.g. first-fruits, ‘redemption of the first-born’, an anointing that works miracles within a particular time-frame, ‘seed of completion’ (the price tag is usually a multiple of 52, the number of days it took Nehemiah to complete the reconstruction of the wall of Jerusalem) – are modern-day equivalents of the sale of indulgences. These are high-pressure fund-raising tactics, not to be reckoned as divine statutes.
“The application of Romans 11:16 (if the first fruit is holy, the lump is also holy) to Giving is disingenuous.
The application of Romans 11:16 (if the first fruit is holy, the lump is also holy) to Giving is disingenuous. The context is about the ultimate salvation of the Jews, given that ‘to them pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the service of God, and the promises’ (Rom 9:4 NKJV). Paul is also exhorting Gentile Believers to not be disdainful about the current ‘affliction’ of the Jewish nation. Jesus is the First fruit of the new order of Believers-in every regard. The responsibility lies with you to get past modern-day indulgence-peddling and pardon-preaching and myriad of fund- raising rituals to Christ Himself
.(This article was first published on 5 July 2009 in my Making Sense of Life column in The Nation on Sunday, a Nigerian newspaper).
#Adewale Adefuye has an academic and professional background in engineering and accountancy, and currently serves on the bench of ministers at Ipswich International Church, England.