Christian Passports to Heaven (Paradise) From Late 1200’s to 1567 AD

The Catholic Church, from the late thirteenth century to 1567 AD, sold to people special documents that would enable the buyer or a deceased family member or a friend to receive a redemption from the punishment of sin whereby a soul would be able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, also known as Paradise. The Christian was expected to also, while on earth, do Confession of Sins, (Penance), and other Godly work as charity. If a Christian volunteered to fight for Christendom during the Crusades, and died thereupon, the Pope proclaimed his soul went straight to Heaven as a martyr.

The Catholic Church taught that paper indulgences, also known as document indulgences or letter indulgences provided for the pardoning of the punishments of sin just temporarily, and the Christian must also do absolution like the sacrament of Confession; Penance; also known as Reconciliation, be truly sorry, and do good deeds; good works to appease God. Pope Nicholas V (1397-1455) issued a “complete indulgence” in 1451, and he used the money he had collected for such indulgences to finance the war against the Muslim Turks who were attacking Christendom territories, especially with the fall of Constantinople, the Capitol City of Christian Turkey on May 29, 1453 from the army of Sultan Mehmed Two (1432-1481).

In the early 1500’s, the Catholic Church had its greatest; most famous seller of document indulgences to the people of Germany. His name was Johann Tetzel (circa 1465-1519). Johann (John) Tetzel was a German Dominican friar and preacher who also was appointed Inquisitor for Poland and Saxony. He later became The Grand Commissioner for Indulgences in and throughout Germany by order of Pope Leo X (1475-1521). Tetzel sold letter indulgences for the masses of people not only for the lifting of sins committed, But also for full forgiveness by God for sins Not yet committed. By doing so, there was a great scandal in the eyes of many Christian theologians and Christian laity, but not exactly with the Catholic Church, which saw such a thing as provocative but still allowable to received badly need funds to be used to build Saint Paul’s Basicilia; Cathedral in Rome, Italy.

Friar Johann Tetzel selling indulgences

 But such indulgence factors of contention, and other grips with the Catholic Church, made an angry Martin Luther; the famous, highly controversial German Augustin monk, theologian,  writer, and later priest and public orator, who was born November 10, 1483, died February 18, 1546 to write his ninety five theses, then pound them with a nail to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Cathedral on October 31, 1517. 

Martin Luther believed indulgences to be unbiblical; not from the words of God, because Martin Luther claimed salvation came by spiritual grace through faith (Hebrews 10:38) and not by a papal proclamation of indulgence. Luther claimed salvation is free to the people and for the Christian people not to “waste” their money on indulgence papers; documents; letters; certificates. There are historical religious scholars of Christianity who believe that Martin Luther did not nail to the church door his 95 theses, but actually mailed them to the Archbishop of Meinz, according to an alleged admission made by Martin Luther, himself. Martin Luther’s severe criticism of the Catholic Church, especially letter indulgences, produced the breakaway Christian sect of Protestantism which bred horrible wars against Catholics, destroyed many Catholic churches, greatly weakened the Catholic Church, and helped the Muslim armies in the Middle East and elsewhere bloodily conquer Christian lands. 

Even though Prince Frederick III the Wise (1463-1525) had banned the sale of church indulgences in Wittenberg, Germany, many church members traveled to the city and then purchased these “spiritual permits”. Such soul salvation certificates, over the centuries, had various prices for various services against sin punishments; the cheapest only bought protection from a few hours, to days, to weeks, to months. Some were only good for two years. And of course Tetzel sold the most expensive that were good for perpetuity, and perceived by people as “able to buy oneself into Heaven; Paradise”. Over the centuries prices varied, but we shall review various prices from various times for these paper spiritual licenses for the soul. One cost was from 25 gold florins for Kings, Queens, and Archbishops down to 3 florins for merchants and just one quarter florin for the poorest of believers. 

In other cases of time and place, the prices ranged from around 1 gulden for ordinary citizens to more than 6 guldens for those with an annual income of 200 guldens, and as much as 25 Rhenish goldens for Kings, Queens, Princes, and Archbishops. In other cases of time and place, the prices were one quarter florin to 3 florin for ordinary merchants, 200 Groschen (20 ducats) from the “upper class” and 25 gold florins for Kings, Queens, and Archbishops. Friar Johann Tetzel sold document indulgences for 3 marks or a half year’s worth of wages for the average worker. But, Tetzel also sold such “heavenly; paradise passports” for those in high office and very wealthy for 30 crowns, usually after price haggling by very rich customers. 

We shall now describe what paper indulgences looked like, and their appearance varied a great deal. By the time the Gutenberg Press was invented, which had moveable type, paper indulgences were actually printed by the Gutenberg Press on parchment paper in 1454. Thousands of these spiritual, salvation prints were made and in one case at least 190,000 indulgences were printed. A centuries and centuries old letter indulgence today would be worth a fortune.

A Question for the Mintmaker – by Jorg Breu the Elder about 1530 – presenting the Pope and indulgences.

Printed indulgences had a very, great number of words, a blank space for the name of who the indulgence was for to be written in, living or dead, and a blank space for the date of purchase to be written in. There were detailed explanations about the purpose and meaning of the indulgence , and special prayers to God and Jesus Christ His Son and at times also The Holy Spirit to grant the spiritual favors, and the stamp seal of the Catholic Church or at least sentences showing the authority of the Pope of Rome and the Catholic Church written in Latin. Some document indulgences had a long row of red wax seals to show some sort of verification connected to the bottom of the paper.

Now the just shall live by faith, but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.” Hebrews 10:38. (King James Version 1611AD).

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