At the start of the 16th century, the practice of paid indulgences, where one would be made out to pay a fine for their penance rather than to pray or perform acts of kindness, had already been around. Yet it wasn't until then that widespread and extreme cases of abuse had started to pop up. The church in 16th century Europe had fostered a dependency unlike any other religion before it or of its time. At a time of intense self reflection, and the gradual collective realization of the brevity of life, the church was left with a burden in that it had to take care of the masses as well as try and be ahead of the curve when it came to the many questions that people had about their existence. The higher up figures within the church were asking these same questions, and having to be the ones to answer them. The mental health of the people very much depended on the church and these findings. The church then began a phase of making accomodations for the people, and really trying to help those who felt like they had nothing to be and no one to relate to, and bring them in. This was seen through the use of stained glass windows depicting vivid and beautiful scenes throughout the history of christianity. It was because of this dependence, that the outreach that the church had was able to be utilized to gain money for the church. As seen in the image, there are prices that vary from 7 pounds to 2000 pounds in today's currency, based upon the sin and the ability to pay. Not only was it clearly a way to generate money, but it was also putting a monetary value to your mistakes, and thus perpetuating a feeling of guilt rather than the intended effect of the feeling of forgiveness. When put into a system where guilt is promoted and shame is the intended effect, sins are bound to be repeated.
This major abuse of power and outreach was seen by all, but completely noticed by few. Martin Luther being the main of those who noticed. Although it came from an injustice, this time marked a major point in human history. It was this fundamentally wrong act that divided people for the first time unlike any other idea/moral practice had before. This in part with the revelations the human race was coming to about the world at the time created a heightened urge to stand up for oneself and their own beliefs. Martin Luther, a priest at the time, felt the same urge and took it upon himself to act upon it. He drafted his 95 theses statement, which detailed a large amount of the grievances he had with the church. Of those however, indulgences were a large focus. He stated that "Christians are to be taught that he who sees a needy man and passes him by, yet gives his money for indulgences, does not buy papal indulgences but God's wrath". In placing them on the door of the Wittenberg castle catholic church, Martin Luther took a direct stand in placing his opinions to the people that needed to hear them. Martin Luther went against a world government almost in the church and could have been seriously endangered for calling the majority of the church officials heretics and committing immoral acts in the name of God. The events that ensued because of this are very messy, as Martin Luther was excommunicated from the church, which was clearly not the appropriate reactions as the faith was split up into several new adaptations with their own changes on what they thought were to be either heresy or just plain out immoral. This shift for humanity was important because it helped usher in the idea of taking a stand for what you believe is right, which has been utilized successfully several times throughout modern history.
Devil Selling Indulgences
In an image taken from the manuscript of John Huss, the devil is depicted selling indulgences to the poor. The mere creation of the image, depicting a person selling indulgences as the devil, was an immediate attack on church officials, and quite possibly worse than being named a heretic. The image's importance lies in the fact that this idea was shared, and widespread on its own. This idea is important because it plays in part with this change in momentum that showed that the masses can control the higher ups if need be, with widespread concern and strong figures pushing the narrative forward. Through the promotion of self discovery and seeking out a higher understanding without the help of those already ahead of you, the understanding humans had for their own mortality grew. This in turn nurtured the necessary ego and character for a human to rise above their natural shortcomings and to find purpose and meaning in their own individual existence. With enough people affected by the same thing, the ability to make change, and a significant one at that, it is made easier, and it was this demonstration that strengthened this idea. The idea that brought about the revolutionary war, the civil war, and the civil rights movement being three of the most important moments in history, which have shaped the world as we know it.
Link to works cited