Johann Tetzel (1465-1519) was a Dominican priest who is perhaps best known for selling indulgences during the 16th century. In 1517, Tetzel was trying to raise money for the ongoing construction of St. Peter's Basilica and it is believed that Martin Luther was inspired to write his 95 Theses, in part, due to Tetzel's actions during this period.
He was born in Leipzig, and died there in July, 1519.
Johann Tetzel studied theology and philosophy at the university of his native city, entered the Dominican order in 1489, achieved some success as a preacher, and was in 1502 commissioned by the pope to preach the jubilee indulgence, which he did throughout his life. In 1509 he was made inquisitor, and in 1517 Pope Leo X made him commissioner of indulgences for all Germany.
He acquired the degree of licentiate of theology in the University of Frankfurt an der Oder, 1517, and that of doctor of theology, 1518, by defending, in two disputations, the doctrine of indulgences against Luther. The impudence with which he sold full forgiveness for sins not yet committed, caused great scandal; Luther considered his actions evil, and began to preach openly against him.
He was also condemned (though later pardoned) for immorality. It became necessary to disavow Tetzel; and, when he discovered that Miltitz had accused him of perpatrating numerous frauds and embezzlements, he withdrew, frightened, into the Dominican monastery in Leipzig. He died at the time of the Leipzig disputation in 1519. At the time of his death, Tetzel had fallen into disrepute and was shunned by the public. Yet, on his deathbed, Tetzel received a kind correspondence from Martin Luther, stating that he was not to blame for the whole ordeal, and offering his consolations
In C. H. H. Wright and Charles Neil's Protestant Dictionary (London, 1904), pp. 294 sqq., is a facsimile of a Tetzel indulgence.
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