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Salvation for Sale
It was the sale of indulgences more than anything else that roused Luther's ire to such an extent
that he nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg castle chapel and sparked the
Reformation. As we have seen, salvation was sold in many other ways beside indulgences, and
still is to this day. Though the fee is today called an "offering," in fact money changes hands,
with the promise of salvation as the incentive for the "gift." Historian Will Durant's comments
are of interest:
Almost as mercenary as the sale of indulgences was the acceptance or
solicitation, by the clergy, of money payments, grants, legacies, for the saying of
Masses supposed to reduce a dead soul's term of punishment in purgatory. Large
sums were devoted to this purpose by pious people, either to relieve a departed
relative or friend, or to shorten or annul their own purgatorial probation after
death. The poor complained that through their inability to pay for Masses and
indulgences it was the earthly rich, not the meek, who would inherit the kingdom
of heaven; and Columbus ruefully praised money because, he said, "he who
possesses it has the power of transporting souls into paradise."
What fraud, as though God could be bought off for money! In Spain the annual papal Bull of
the Crusade had to be purchased by everyone of seven years and older at least once each year.
No one could be buried without the current Bull in the coffin. Upon purchase of the Bull, the
pope immediately granted indulgences and absolution from all sins except heresy and the vow of
chastity. A Catholic observer in eighteenth-century Spain, with reference to this Bull, made this
Let us say that we may suspect that this Bull sends more people into hell than it
can save from it; for it is the greatest encouragement to sin in the world. A man
says, I may satisfy my lusts and passions, I may commit all wickedness and yet I
am sure to be pardoned of all by the taking of this Bull for two reals of plate
[silver]. By the same rule their consciences cannot be under any remorse nor
trouble; for if a man commits a great sin, he goes to confess, he gets absolution, he
has by him this Bull, or permission to sin, and his conscience is at perfect ease,
insomuch that after he gets absolution he may go and commit new sins, and go
again for absolution.
Well-known Catholic apologist Peter Kreeft claims that "the Church soon cleaned up its act
and forbade [shortly after Martin Luther's defection] the sale of indulgences...." Charles Colson
erroneously claims the same. Of course, that simply isn't true. But even if it were, one cannot
dispense so easily with the gross deceit that milked the faithful of their money and robbed them
of salvation in the process. The sale of salvation had deceived millions for centuries by the time
of the Reformation. Were there any refunds given by the Church? Of course not. Any remedy for
those who had passed into eternity thinking they had bought their salvation? No. Tragically, the
fraud continues to this day.
Kreeft, like other Catholic apologists, omits the fact that the false and evil doctrine of
indulgences remains an integral part of present Catholicism, and that money is still given to
secure salvation. As we have earlier noted, Vatican II declares: "The Church .. commands that
the usage of indulgences ... should be kept ... and it condemns with anathema those who say that
indulgences are useless or that the Church does not have the power to grant them…[for] the task
of winning salvation."
It is no good to plead that the abominations of the past are no longer practiced by Rome. Of
course they are, and quite openly, especially in Roman Catholic countries, though less so in the
United States. Yet even here, salvation (in baby steps toward heaven, of course) may be
purchased by offerings to the Church. One friend of the author whose father died recently in the
United States said that more than 2000 dollars was expended for Mass cards at his father's
funeral, which would allow for a number of Masses to be said on his behalf to help get him out
Rome has given her people a gospel of despair. Multitudes of Catholics live in dread of
committing a mortal sin, of failing to reveal all in confession, of falling short of the rules and
regulations their Church has set for salvation. As a consequence, they are completely at the
mercy of the Church, looking to it for salvation rather than resting in God's rich grace and in
Christ's finished work at Calvary.