TREASURY OF MERIT
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Let’s pick up where we left off 2 posts back. We were talking about Martin Luther and the events that led up to the Protestant Reformation.
In order to understand the key act that caused the protest- we will have to teach some Catholic history/doctrine.
In the 16th century Pope Julius began the effort to build St. Peters basilica in Rome. He got as far as laying the foundation and died. Pope Leo the 10th would pick up after him.
The church needed to raise money for the project- and the German prince- Albert- would play a major role.
It should be noted that both Catholic and Protestant scholars agree that the Popes of the day were pretty corrupt. They came from what we call the Medici line of Popes.
If you remember last month I wrote a post on the Renaissance- I talked about the Medici family and how they played a major role in supporting the Renaissance that took place in the 13th century in Florence Italy that would spread to the region.
Well this very influential family also played a big role in who would get top positions in the church.
At the time of Luther and prince Albert- if you had the right connections and the money- you could literally buy a position in the church.
Albert already held 2 Bishop seats- and there was an opening for an Archbishops seat in Mainz [Germany] and he wanted that one too.
It should be noted that official Canon law [church law] said you could only hold one seat at a time- Albert was bidding on his 3rd one! And he was too young for all of them.
So even the Pope and the officials held little respect for what the church actually taught at the time.
So Albert opens up negotiations with Leo- and the bidding starts AT 12,000 Duckets [money] Albert counters with 7,000- and they agree on 10,000. How did they justify the numbers? 12- The number of Apostles. 7- The 7 deadly sins. 10- The 10 commandments.
Yes- the church was pretty corrupt at the time.
So Albert works out a plan with Leo- he will borrow the money from the German banks- and pay the banks off by the Pope giving Albert the right to sell Indulgences.
What’s an Indulgence?
Okay- this is where it gets tricky.
The ancient church taught a system called The Treasury of Merit. This was a sort of spiritual bank account that ‘stored up’ the good deeds of others over the years.
You had the good deeds of Jesus at the top- but you also had Mary and Joseph- the 12 Apostles- and other various saints thru out time.
The way the ‘bank’ worked was you could tap into the account by getting a Papal indulgence- a sort of I.O.U. that had the Popes guarantee that it would get so much time out of Purgatory for a loved one.
The actual sacrament that accesses the account is called Penance [confession].
When a penitent does penance- he confesses his sin to the priest- and he is absolved by the authority of the church that the priest has. The priest usually tells the person ‘say so many Hail Mary’s- Our Father’s’ and that’s a form of penance.
One of the other things the church practiced was called Alms Deeds. This term is found in the bible and it means giving your money to the poor- it is a noble act that Jesus himself taught.
In theory- part of the sacrament of penance was tied into Alms Deeds- you can access the account thru the practice of giving to the poor- which also meant giving to the church that helps the poor- and in the hands of the Medici line of Popes- meant outright giving money to the Pope.
So now you see how the abuse worked its way into the pockets of the faithful.
Albert now had the permission from Leo to sell these indulgences in Germany- and he would pick a certain corrupt priest to sell them in a place called Saxony- the region where Luther operated out of.
It should be noted that the Catholic Church never taught the crass act of ‘buying your way out of Purgatory’. The practice of including giving money as a part of the sacrament of penance was tied into the biblical principle of giving to the poor- a good thing.
But Tetzel and others abused the official meaning of the indulgence- and did make it sound like you could by your way out of Purgatory [in theory- a loved one might be in Purgatory for so many years- and through the indulgence you are actually getting time off for them- because the good deeds of others are now applied to the account].
The money Albert would raise- half would go to Rome for the building of St. peters- and half would go to pay off the banks in Germany- it was a sad system- and a sad time for the church as a whole.
It would be wrong to judge the entire church at the time as being corrupt- you did have many sincere Priests and Catholic men and women who saw the abuses and did not take part in them.
But there was corruption at the top- and this would eventually lead to the breakup of the church- and the launching of what we now call the Protestant Movement.
As a side note- it should be said that many Catholics and Protestants are not aware of the whole treasury of merit system- and the church never officially changed her position on the doctrine.
There were 3 Church councils since the time [Trent- 1500’s, Vatican 1- 1800’s and Vatican 2- 1962-65]. The Treasury of Merit never came up for change.
Obviously Protestants don’t believe in Purgatory- and it’s not my purpose in these posts to change Catholics into Protestants or vice versa- but to give all sides a clear view of the issues that divided us- and to try and be honest- and respectful during the process.
Does the bible teach anything like a Treasury of Merit? Well actually it does. The bible teaches that the righteousness of Christ is the treasury that people can access- by faith- and become righteous in the sight if God.
The idea- applied to Christ- is good.
But in the hands of the Medici Popes- and the ambitious prince of Germany- it would lead to disaster.
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