God’s Bankers: the catholic church and indulgences

From Delancey Place:

PopeToday's selection — from God's Bankers by Gerald Posner. One of the scandalous practices of the Catholic church was the sale of “indulgences” to raise money. Indulgences allowed Catholics to buy forgiveness for their sins with cold, hard cash. Most remember that indulgences were one of the primary reasons Martin Luther made the cataclysmic decision to leave the Catholic church and start the “Protestant” movement. However, few realize that indulgences were used by the Catholic church as a primary source of revenue for over a thousand years, and that the practice did not end as a result of Luther's protests: “The cost of running the church's kingdom while maintaining the profligate lifestyle of one of Europe's grandest courts pressured the Vatican always to look for ways to bring in more money. Taxes and fees levied on the Papal States paid most of the empire's basic expenses. The sales of produce from its agriculturally rich northern land as well as rents collected from its properties throughout Europe brought in extra cash. But over time that was not enough to fuel the lavish lifestyles of the Pope and his top clerics. The church found the money it needed in the selling of so-called indulgences, a sixth-century invention whereby the faithful paid for a piece of paper that promised that God would forgo any earthly punishment for the buyer's sins. The early church's penances were often severe, including flogging, imprisonment, or even death. Although some indulgences were free, the best ones — promising the most redemption for the gravest sins — were expensive. The Vatican set prices according to the severity of the sin and they were initially available only to those who made a pilgrimage to Rome.

…”The licentious lifestyle of the Papal Court and the widespread abuses in selling indulgences became a rallying cry for Martin Luther and the Reformation. Pope Leo responded by excommunicating Luther. One of the few benefits from the schism was that since Protestants condemned indulgences, the Holy See remained unopposed when it came to selling forgiveness to believers in Christ. “The steady flow of cash became ever more important as the Vatican suffered from the repercussions of the liberal political and social upheaval that swept Western Europe in the late eighteenth century, climaxing in the 1789 French Revolution.”

More here.