Luther and the Virgin

A Letter from Luther. He makes me laugh every-time I read this! You have to realize how much of a shock this was back then. Luther definitely knew how to grab his audiences attention… (emphasis added):

  • Luther himself, many years after the storm of controversy had calmed down, summarized the course of events as he saw it.

It happened in 1517 that a Dominican monk named Johann Tetzel, a braggart, caused a great stir. Maximilian once sentenced him to drowning in the River Inn—presumably because of his great virtue—but Duke Frederick rescued him in Innsbruck from the punishment of being drowned. Duke Frederick reminded him of this incident when he began to denounce us Wittenbergers. Actually, he admitted it quite openly. This same Tetzel now began to peddle his indulgences. With might and main he sold grace for money as dearly or as cheaply as he could. At that time I was preacher here in the cloister and was filled as a new doctor with an ardent love for the Sacred Scriptures.

When many people from Wittenberg ran after indulgences to Jiiterborg and Zerbst, I did not yet know—as surely as my Lord Christ has redeemed me—what indulgences were, but no one else knew either. I carefully began to preach that one could do something better and more certain than to purchase indulgences. On an earlier occasion I had already preached here in the castle against indulgences, but was not very graciously received by Duke Frederick, who was fond of his collegiate church. Now, to speak about the real cause for the ‘Lutheran scandal’, at first I let everything continue its course. Then it was reported to me, however, that Tetzel was preaching some cruel and terrible propositions, such as the following:

He had grace and power from the Pope to offer forgiveness even if someone had slept with the Holy Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, as long as a contribution would be put into the coffer.

Furthermore, the red Cross of indulgences and the papal coat of arms on the flag in the churches was as powerful as the Cross of Christ.

Moreover, even if St Peter were here now he would have no greater grace or power than he had.

Furthermore, he would not want to trade places in heaven with St Peter, for he had redeemed more souls with his indulgences than Peter with his sermons.

Furthermore, if anyone put money into the coffer for a soul in purgatory, the soul would leave purgatory for heaven in the moment one could hear the penny hit the bottom.

Also, the grace of indulgences is the grace by which man is reconciled with God.

Furthermore, it is not necesssary to show remorse or sorrow or do penance for sins when purchasing indulgences or a letter of indulgence. He even sold indulgences for future sins. Such abominable things he did abundantly. He was merely interested in money.

At that time I did not yet know who was to get the money. Then there appeared a booklet with the illustrious coat of arms of the Bishop of Magdeburg. In it the commissioners of indulgences were ordered to preach some of these propositions. Thus it came to light that Bishop Albert had employed Tetzel, because he was such a braggart.

  • Martin Luther, Wider Hans Worst, 1541. (WA 51, 538.); Hans J. Hllerbrand, The Reformation: A Narrative History Related by Contemporary Observances and Participants (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1964), 44-45.