Johann Tetzel
Johann Tetzel was a German Dominican
Dominican Order
The Order of Preachers , after the 15th century more commonly known as the Dominican Order or Dominicans, is a Catholic religious order founded by Saint Dominic and approved by Pope Honorius III on 22 December 1216 in France...

Preacher is a term for someone who preaches sermons or gives homilies. A preacher is distinct from a theologian by focusing on the communication rather than the development of doctrine. Others see preaching and theology as being intertwined...

 known for selling indulgence
In Catholic theology, an indulgence is the full or partial remission of temporal punishment due for sins which have already been forgiven. The indulgence is granted by the Catholic Church after the sinner has confessed and received absolution...



Tetzel was born in Pirna
Pirna is a town in the Free State of Saxony, Germany, capital of the administrative district Sächsische Schweiz-Osterzgebirge. The town's population is over 40,000. Pirna is located near Dresden and is an important district town as well as a Große Kreisstadt...

, Saxony
Electorate of Saxony
The Electorate of Saxony , sometimes referred to as Upper Saxony, was a State of the Holy Roman Empire. It was established when Emperor Charles IV raised the Ascanian duchy of Saxe-Wittenberg to the status of an Electorate by the Golden Bull of 1356...

, and studied theology
Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.-Definition:Augustine of Hippo...

 and philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 at the university of his native city. He entered the Dominican order in 1489, achieved some success as a preacher, and was in 1502 commissioned by the pope to preach the jubilee
Jubilee (Christian)
The concept of the Jubilee is a special year of remission of sins and universal pardon. In the Biblical Book of Leviticus, a Jubilee year is mentioned to occur every fifty years, in which slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven and the mercies of God would be particularly...

 indulgence, which he did throughout his life. In 1509 he was made an inquisitor
An inquisitor was an official in an Inquisition, an organisation or program intended to eliminate heresy and other things frowned on by the Roman Catholic Church...

 of Poland, and in 1517 Pope Leo X
Pope Leo X
Pope Leo X , born Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici, was the Pope from 1513 to his death in 1521. He was the last non-priest to be elected Pope. He is known for granting indulgences for those who donated to reconstruct St. Peter's Basilica and his challenging of Martin Luther's 95 Theses...

 made him commissioner of indulgences for all Germany.

He acquired the degree of Licentiate of Sacred Theology
Licentiate of Sacred Theology
Licentiate of Sacred Theology is the title of the second cycle of studies of a Faculty of Theology offered by a pontifical universities or ecclesiastical faculties of sacred theology. An Ecclesiastical Faculty offers three cycles of study: Baccalaureate or fundamentals, Licentiate or specialized,...

 in the University of Frankfurt an der Oder, 1517, and that of Doctor of Sacred Theology
Doctor of Sacred Theology
The Doctor of Sacred Theology is the final theological degree in the pontifical university system of the Catholic Church....

, 1518, by defending, in two disputations, the doctrine of indulgences against Luther. The accusation that he sold full forgiveness for sins not yet committed, caused great scandal; Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

 considered his actions evil, and began to preach openly against him.

In 1517, it was believed that Tetzel was trying to raise money for the ongoing reconstruction of St. Peter's Basilica
St. Peter's Basilica
The Papal Basilica of Saint Peter , officially known in Italian as ' and commonly known as Saint Peter's Basilica, is a Late Renaissance church located within the Vatican City. Saint Peter's Basilica has the largest interior of any Christian church in the world...

, though the money went towards helping the Archbishop of Mainz, Albert of Brandenburg, under whose authority Tetzel was operating, to pay off the debts he had incurred in securing the agreement of the Pope to his acquisition of the Archbishopric. Luther was inspired to write his Ninety-Five Theses, in part, due to Tetzel's actions during this period of time.

He was also condemned (though later pardoned) for immorality. It became necessary to disavow Tetzel and, when he discovered that Karl von Miltitz
Karl von Miltitz
Karl von Miltitz was a papal nuncio and a Mainz Cathedral canon.-Biography:He was born in Rabenau near Meißen and Dresden, his family stemming from the lesser Saxon nobility. He studied at Mainz, Trier, Cologne , and Bologna , but his deficient Latin reveals that he was not especially learned...

 had accused him of perpetrating numerous frauds and embezzlements, he withdrew, broken in spirit, wrecked in health, into the Dominican monastery
Paulinerkirche, Leipzig
The Paulinerkirche was a church on the Augustusplatz in Leipzig, named after the "Pauliner", its original Dominican friars. It was built in 1231 as the Klosterkirche St. Pauli for the Dominican monastery in Leipzig. From the foundation of the University of Leipzig in 1409, it served as the...

 in Leipzig
Leipzig Leipzig has always been a trade city, situated during the time of the Holy Roman Empire at the intersection of the Via Regia and Via Imperii, two important trade routes. At one time, Leipzig was one of the major European centres of learning and culture in fields such as music and publishing...

. Miltitz was later discredited to the point where his claims carry no historical weight.

Tetzel died in Leipzig in 1519. At the time of his death, Tetzel had fallen into disrepute and was shunned by the public. On his deathbed, Tetzel received a magnanimously penned correspondence from Martin Luther, stating that the child (i.e. the scandal) had a different father.

Doctrinal position

Tetzel overstated Catholic doctrine in regard to indulgences for the dead, but his teaching on indulgences for the living was orthodox. He became known for a couplet attributed to him: :"As soon as a coin in the coffer rings / the soul from purgatory springs."
German: "Wenn die Münze im Kästlein klingt, die Seele in den Himmel springt".
This often-quoted saying was exaggerated. German Catholic historian of the Papacy, Ludwig von Pastor
Ludwig von Pastor
Ludwig Pastor, later Ludwig von Pastor, Freiherr von Campersfelden , was a German historian and a diplomat for Austria. He became one of the most important Roman Catholic historians of his time and is most notable for his History of the Popes...


The Papal Bull of indulgence gave no sanction whatever to this proposition. It was a vague scholastic opinion, rejected by the Sorbonne in 1482, and again in 1518, and certainly not a doctrine of the Church, which was thus improperly put forward as dogmatic truth.

Pastor notes that the leading theologian Cardinal Thomas Cajetan
Thomas Cajetan
Thomas Cajetan , also known as Gaetanus, commonly Tommaso de Vio , was an Italian cardinal. He is perhaps best known among Protestants for his opposition to the teachings of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation while he was the Pope's Legate in Wittenberg, and perhaps best known among...

 opposed these extravagances.

External links

  • "Johann Tetzel" Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911 Edition.
  • Ludwig von Pastor
    Ludwig von Pastor
    Ludwig Pastor, later Ludwig von Pastor, Freiherr von Campersfelden , was a German historian and a diplomat for Austria. He became one of the most important Roman Catholic historians of his time and is most notable for his History of the Popes...

    , The History of the Popes, from the Close of the Middle Ages, Ralph Francis Kerr, ed., 1908, B. Herder, St. Louis, Volume 7, pp. 347–348.
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