Friday, October 31, 2014



October 31 is not only Halloween. It is Reformation Day -- that day on which Martin Luther set in motion the Protestant Reformation, sealed the doom of the temporal and spiritual power of the Roman Catholic Church, ensured that the nascent Renaissance would never be suppressed.

Here's now it happened:

1514, Albert Hohenzollern becomes Archbishop of Magdeburg. At the age of twenty-three. More gold in the Pope's coffers: he also buys the bishopric of Halberstadt.

1517, Mainz. The biggest ecclesiastical principality in Germany awaits the appointment of a new bishop. If he wins the appointment, Albert will get his hands on a third of the whole German territory.

He makes his offer: 14,000 ducats for the archbishopric, plus 10,000 for the papal dispensation that allows him to hold all these offices.

The deal is negotiated via the Fugger bank of Augsburg, which anticipates the sum required. Once the operation is concluded, Albert owes the Fuggers 30,000 ducats.

The bankers decree the mode of payment. Albert must promote the sale of indulgences for Pope Leo X in his territory. The faithful will make a contribution to the construction of St. Peter's Basilica and will receive a certificte in exchange: the Pope absolves them of their sins.

Only half of the takings will go to the Roman builders. Albert will use the rest to pay the Fuggers.

The task is given to Johann Tetzel, the most expert preacher around.

Tetzel travels the villages for the whole of the summer of 1517. He stops on the orders with Thuringia, which belongs to Frederick the Wise, Duke of Saxony. He can't set foot there.

Frederick is collecting indulgences himself, through the sale of relics. He doesn't tolerate competitors on his territories. But Tetzel is a clever bastard: he knows that Frederick's subjects will happily travel a few miles beyond the border. A ticket to paradise is worth the trip.

The coming and going of souls in search of reassurance infuriates a young Augustinian friar, a doctor at Wittenberg University. He can't bear the obscene market that Tetzel has set in motion, with the Pope's coat of arms and the papal bull in full view.

31 October 1517, the friar nails ninety-five theses against the traffic in indulgences, written in his own hand, to the northern door of Wittenberg church.

His name is Martin Luther. With that gesture the Reformation begins.

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