Summary: When Martin Luther posted his challenge to the church's selling of indulgences on the church door in Wittenberg, Pope Leo X was not pleased. The Pope issue a Papal Bull condemning Luther as a heretic. Luther responded by burning copies of the Bull.
OPEN: October 31st was Halloween… but it was also the date of something even more significant. Many churches celebrate the last day of October as “Reformation Day” – the day (500 years ago) when Martin Luther nailed a document to the door of a Church building in Wittenberg, Germany that challenged the Roman Catholic Church on its doctrine. But we’ll get to that historical event in just a moment.
A little over 500 years ago, the Catholic Church had a problem – his name was Giovanni de' Medici. From his youth, Giovanni was a rising star in the Roman Catholic Church: at age 7 he’d been made a monk, at age 13 he was a cardinal, and at age 40 he became Pope. When he ascended to the Papacy he took the name - Leo X.
Now Leo X wasn’t really a very good Pope. His predecessor - Pope Julius II – had left a fairly healthy treasury for the Vatican, but because Leo lived a luxurious lifestyle he blew through that surplus in a little under 8 years. Adding to the problem the fact that Leo had been committed to an upcoming building project. The Vatican was building a new church – St. Peter’s Basilica – and it was going to be HUGE! Up until the 1990s it was the largest church building ever built, covering nearly 6 acres of ground - and it is still the 2nd tallest building in Rome. To this day, it is still considered one of the most famous works of Renaissance culture and it was designed by some of the most famous architects of the day (including Michelangelo).
But back in 1500s it still hadn’t been built because there was no money to build it … Leo had spent it all. So now he has to raise the money. BUT how was he going to do that? Well, he fell back on a tried and true method used by other Bishops and Popes of the past, (PAUSE) he sold forgiveness. They called it the “selling of indulgences”
Now, this is how it worked: Catholic theology held (and still teaches) that even if you were a good Catholic and were were bound for heaven, you were still required to spend time in Purgatory to work off your sins. Indulgences were papers you could buy that forgave those sins. Basically they were “Get Out Of Purgatory Free Cards.”
Now, just to be clear: the word purgatory does occur in Scripture, and neither does the word indulgences.
Just to make sure I wasn’t misrepresenting Catholic teaching on these topics I went online and found this description of Catholic doctrine on Purgatory (https://www.olrl.org/Lessons/Lesson12.shtml). The following are questions and answers on that page:
1. “What does the word "Purgatory" mean? It means "cleansing" (or "purging"). Purgatory is a place where… people who die with Sanctifying Grace in their souls, but -- who die with venial sin on their souls, or who have not completed (satisfied) the punishment still due to their ALREADY FORGIVEN (emphasis mine) sins.”
(My words: “This means that, even though God forgives your sins, He still requires that you be punished for them - i.e. "pay" for them - either in this life or in the next.
2. “Do you suffer in Purgatory? Yes. Besides not being allowed to see God face to face, the souls in Purgatory suffer a great deal.”
3. “Can you help the souls in Purgatory? You can shorten their stay by having Masses said for them (which unless I’m mistaken, must be paid for), by praying for them and by doing good works for them. All Souls' Day (Nov. 2nd) is the day set aside by the (Catholic) Church for special prayers and Masses for all the souls suffering in Purgatory.”
4. How can you avoid Purgatory? Avoid even the smallest faults, do penance for sins already forgiven, gain INDULGENCES (emphasis mine)….”
Now, let’s digress for a moment here… can you SELL forgiveness? No! Can forgiveness of sins be BOUGHT?
Of course not!!! There’s not enough gold in the world, and there aren’t enough good deeds that anyone could do to pay off our sins.
That’s why Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the GIFT of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Romans 5:16-17 “… the FREE GIFT is not like the result of that one man’s sin (Adam). For the judgment following one trespass (Adam’s sin) brought condemnation, but the FREE GIFT following many trespasses brought justification…. (and we) receive the abundance of grace and the FREE GIFT of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”
Did you see that phrase “free gift”? It’s in this passage no less than 3 times. Now how much money does it take to buy a “free gift??” None!!!… it’s FREE!!!!