Image of Johann Tetzel.
|Died||11 August 1519
|Known for||selling indulgences|
Tetzel was born in Pirna, Saxony, and studied theology and philosophy at the University of Leipzig. 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 (Christian) indulgence, which he did throughout his life. In 1509 he was made an inquisitor of Poland, and in 1517 Pope Leo X made him commissioner of indulgences for all of Germany.
He acquired the degree of Licentiate of Sacred Theology in the University of Frankfurt an der Oder, 1517, and that of Doctor of Sacred Theology, 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 considered his actions evil, and began to preach openly against him.
In 1517, it was believed that all of the money that Tetzel was trying to raise was for the ongoing reconstruction of St. Peter's Basilica, though half 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, in which he states,
27. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory. 28. It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.
Tetzel was also condemned (though later pardoned) for immorality. When he discovered that Karl von Miltitz had accused him of perpetrating numerous frauds and embezzlements, he withdrew, broken in spirit, wrecked in health, into the Dominican monastery in Leipzig. 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. He became known for a couplet attributed to him: "As soon as a coin in the coffer rings / the soul from purgatory springs"
- "Johann Tetzel" Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911 Edition.
- Ludwig von Pastor, 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.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Johann Tetzel|