Johann Tetzel

"When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs."

Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar, was the Pope's master salesman. Tetzel traveled from village to village with a brass-bound chest, a bag of printed receipts and an enormous cross draped with the papal banner. His entrance into the town square, with the papal bull announcing the indulgence on a velvet cushion, was heralded with bells, candles, flags and relics. Staging his show in the nave of the local church, Tetzel would announce, "I have here the passports...to lead the human soul to the celestial joys of paradise. The Holy Father [the Pope] has the power in heaven and earth to forgive sin, and if he forgives it, God must do so also." The cost of the indulgence, Tetzel was quick to point out, was cheap when the alternatives were taken into account. Among the demons and tempests in the medieval world, the indulgence, no matter the price, offered a glimpse of light in a world of darkness. In Germany, Tetzel exceeded his quota, as he always did. Indulgences were most popular among the peasants, yet it also hit them the hardest; they had the least money to spare. Tetzel's indulgence-selling campaign led Martin Luther to act on the frustrations that were consuming his thoughts. When Luther posted his "Ninety-Five Theses," the sales of indulgences dropped considerably. Tetzel, like Pope Leo, underestimated the power the monk from Wittenberg.