Instructio Summaria
Funding the building of St. Peter's through Indulgences.

Albert of Brandenburg (Hohenzollern) Germany (1490 -1545) became bishop of Magdeburg in 1513 and Archbishop of Mainz in 1514. In doing so, Albert unknowingly laid the groundwork for the Reformation. Albert at the time was only 24 years of age, way below the prescribed age for a bishop. A papal dispensation was required, along with a large payment, to acquire the high ecclesiastical offices. (This practice of selling a church office is called simony, and originates from Acts 8:18-24.) Needing 24,000 ducats to pay Pope Leo X in exchange for the title of Archbishop of Mainz, Albert borrowed the money from a south German banking house (The Fuggers), and then set about to pay back the loan. To raise the necessary funds, Archbishop Albert promoted the sale of indulgences for the rebuilding of St. Peter's in Rome. Half the collected funds went to Rome for the building of St. Peter's and half went into Albert's pocket. Johann Tetzel, a Dominican monk employed by Albert, sold these indulgences in Germany, prompting Martin Luther to write his disputation in 95 thesis which he posted to the door of Wittenberg Castle Church (a copy of which he also sent to Archbishop Albert), on the 31st of October 1517, thus sparking the Reformation.

Martin Luther's accompanying letter to Archbishop Albert is online at the Internet Medieval Sourcebook.

Also of note, Leo X on his election as pope spent 100,000 ducats on his inauguration festival (1/7th of the Vatican treasury) and soon depleted the rest of the church's money on various forms of entertainment and parties. He was such a big spender that he was soon forced to borrow money from bankers at a 40% rate of interest. To help remedy the situation he also sold indulgences and church offices, even creating 30 new cardinals in 1517, which alone yielded some 500,000 ducats for the coffers. So Archbishop Albert was clearly following the lead of the pontiff in offering forgiveness for a price.

What follows are the instructions issued by Archbishop Albert that authorized the sale of these indulgences in Germany:


Albert, by the grace of God and the Apostolic Chair, Archbishop of Magdeburg and Mainz, Primate and Chancellor of the Holy Roman Empire in Germany, Elector, Administrator of the Churches in Halberstadt, Margrave in Brandenburg, Duke of Stettin, etc.

To all who read this letter: Salvation in the Lord.

We do herewith proclaim that our most holy Lord Leo X, by divine providence present Pontiff, has given and bestowed to all Christian believers of either sex who lend their helpful hand for the reconstruction of the cathedral church of St. Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, in Rome, complete indulgence as well as other graces and freedoms, which the Christian believer may obtain according to the apostolic letter dealing with this matter. . . .

Here follow the four principal graces granted in the apostolic bull. These can be obtained separately. Utmost industriousness should be exercised in order to commend each grace most emphatically to the faithful. . . .

The first grace is the complete remission of all sins. Nothing can be greater than this grace, since man, living in sin and deprived of divine grace, obtains complete forgiveness by these means and enjoys anew the grace of God. Moreover, through such forgiveness of sins the punishment which one is obliged to undergo in purgatory on account of the offence of the Divine Majesty is all remitted and the pain of purgatory is altogether done away with. And even though nothing satisfactory and worthy could be given in exchange for such a grace - since it is a gift of God and a grace beyond price - yet we decree the following rules in order that Christian believers may obtain it all the more easily:

In the first place: Everyone who is contrite in heart and has confessed with his mouth - or at least has the intention of confessing at a suitable time - shall visit the designated seven churches in which the papal coat of arms is displayed and pray in each church five devout Lord's Prayers and five Ave Marias in honor of the five wounds of our Lord Jesus Christ whereby our redemption took place, or one Miserere [Ps. 51], which psalm seems particularly appropriate to obtain forgiveness of sins. . . .

Where, however, persons are so weak that they could not easily come to such a church, their confessor or penitentiary should cause to be brought an altar to a suitable place according to his discretion. When such persons visit this place and offer their prayers near the altar or before, they shall receive the indulgence as though they had visited the seven churches.

Those on a sick bed are to be given a holy picture, before or near which they shall offer several prayers according to the decision of the confessor. Thus they shall receive the indulgence in this manner as though they had visited the seven churches. Wherever any person for a certain reason desires to be relieved of the necessity to visit said altars and churches, it may be granted him by the penitentiary. However, a larger amount will become necessary under such circumstances.

Concerning the contribution to the chest, for the building of said church of the chief of the apostles, the penitentiaries and the confessors are to ask those making confession, after having explained the full forgiveness and privilege of this indulgence: How much money or other temporal goods they would conscientiously give for such full forgiveness? This is to be done in order that afterwards they may be brought all the more easily to make a contribution. Because the conditions of men are many and diverse, it is not possible to establish a general fee. We have therefore fixed the following rates:

Kings, queens, and their sons, archbishops and bishops, and other great rulers should pay, upon presenting themselves to places where the cross is raised, twenty-five Rhenish guilders.

Abbots, prelates of cathedral churches, counts, barons, and others of the higher nobility and their wives shall pay for each letter of indulgence ten such gold guilders. Other lesser prelates and nobles, as also to the rectors of famous places, and all others who take in, either from steady income or goods or other means, 500 gold guilders should pay six guilders.

Other citizens and merchants, who ordinarily take in 200 such gold florins, should pay three florins.

Other citizens and merchants, and artisans, who have their families and income of their own, shall pay one such guilder; those of lesser means, pay only one half. . . .

But those who do not have any money should supply their contribution with prayer. For the kingdom of heaven should be open to the poor no less than to the rich.

Even though a wife cannot obtain from the property of her husband without his will, she can still dispose of her dowry or other property elsewhere, which enables her to contribute even against the will of her husband. Where she does not have anything or is hindered by her husband, she is to supply her contribution with prayer. This applies also to sons who are under paternal authority.

Where, however, poor wives and sons yet under paternal authority are able to beg or to receive gifts from the rich and devout persons, they are to put these contributions into the chest. If they have no opportunity to obtain the necessary amount, they may obtain said treasure of grace through prayer and intercession both for themselves and also for the dead.

. . . The second principle grace is a letter of indulgence, entailing the greatest, exceeding quickening and hitherto unheard of powers, which will continue beyond the eight years designated in the present bull. . . . The content of this letter shall be explained by the preachers and confessors to the best of their ability. . . .

The third principle grace is the participation in all the possessions of the Church universal; . . . contributors toward said building, together with their deceased relatives, who have departed this world in a state of grace, shall from now on, and for eternity, be partakers in all petitions, intercessions, alms, fastings, prayers, in each and every pilgrimage, even those to the Holy Land; furthermore, in the stations at Rome, in masses, canonical hours, flagellations, and all other spiritual goods which have been, or shall be, brought forth by the universal, most holy Church militant or by any of its members. Believers who purchase confessional letters may also become participants in all these things. Preachers and confessors must insist with great perseverance upon these advantages, and persuade believers not to neglect to acquire these benefits along with their confessional letter.

We also declare that in order to obtain these two most important graces, it is not necessary to make confession, or to visit the churches and altars, but merely to procure the confessional letter. . . .

The fourth distinctive grace is for those souls which are in purgatory, and is the complete remission of all sins, which remission the Pope brings to pass through his intercession, to the advantage of said souls, in this wise: that the same contribution shall be placed in the chest by a living person as one would make for himself. It is our wish, however, that our subcommissioners should modify the regulations regarding contributions of this kind which are given for the dead, and that they should use their judgment in all other cases, where, in their opinion, modifications are desirable.

It is, furthermore, not necessary that the persons who place their contributions in the chest for the dead should be contrite in heart and have orally confessed, since this grace is based simply on the state of grace in which the dead departed, and on the contribution of the living, as is evident from the text of the bull. Moreover, preachers shall exert themselves to give this grace the widest publicity, since through the same, help will surely come to departed souls, and the construction of the church of St. Peter will be abundantly promoted at the same time. . . .

Source: Instructio Summaria ad Subcommissarios Poenitentiarum et Confessores (W. Köhler, Dokumente zum Ablassstreit, pp. 104-16) as quoted in The Reformation, by Hans J. Hillerbrand, published by Harper & Row, publishers, Copyright 1964 by SCM Press Ltd and Harper and Row, Inc., Library of Congress catalog card number 64-15480, pp. 37-41.



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