John Tetzel

ca. 1465 - 11.08.1519

 A brief biography.


Johann Tetzel, also spelled Tezel, was born c.1465 in  Pirna, Saxony Germany. His preaching on indulgences, considered by many of his contemporaries to be an abuse of the sacrament of penance, sparked Martin Luther's revolt.

After entering the Dominican order at Leipzig (1487/88), Tetzel was appointed inquisitor for Poland (1509) and later for Saxony. His experiences as a preacher of indulgences, especially between 1503 and 1510, led to his appointment as commissary by Albert, Archbishop of Mainz, who, deeply in debt to pay for a large accumulation of benefices, had to contribute a considerable sum toward the rebuilding of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Albert obtained permission from Pope Leo X to conduct the sale of a special plenary indulgence (i.e., remission of all temporal punishment of sin), half of the proceeds of which Albert was to claim to pay the fees of his benefices. In effect, Tetzel became a salesman whose product was to cause a scandal in Germany that evolved into the greatest crisis (the Reformation) in the history of the Western church.
Tetzel preached for the indulgence in the German dioceses of Meissen (1516), Magdeburg, and Halberstadt (1517), but he was forbidden to do so in Wittenberg by the elector Frederick III the Wise of Saxony. Tetzel's preaching at Jüterbog, near Wittenberg, in the spring of 1517 provoked Martin Luther's Ninety-five Theses at Wittenberg on Oct. 31, 1517, attacking the system of indulgences. In reply, an uncompromising 50 theses under Tetzel's name (but composed by the theologian Konrad Wimpina) were published in May 1518. At the end of 1518 Tetzel withdrew to Leipzig priory, where he died on Aug. 11, 1519.
Tetzel was not a profound theologian and was severely criticized for his unorthodox teaching on indulgences for the dead. His view that gifts secured this indulgence, together with the financial transactions surrounding the preaching of it, was symptomatic of the abuses that provoked the Reformation.
Copyright 1994-1999 Encyclopædia Britannica.

A reproduction of an unknown wood engraver, 16th century, from Germany. This woodcarving is the Frontpage of the anonymous pamphlet entitled: On aplas von Rom kan man wol selig werden durch anzaigung der götlichen hailigen geschryfft. (publishing by Melchior Kamminger, 1520, 4th edition).
On the left you can see the pulpit with a Dominican friar (Tetzel?) reading the papal bull of indulgence provided with five hanging seals.  On the background at the left the arms of Pope Julius II (1503-1513) and at the right the arms of the Medici for Pope Leo X (1513-
1521).Before the big cross the strongbox.
The engraver made his work around 1520 and gave a critical note to show the cross
with the crown of thorns! To see is also a man with a hat with over his shoulder a flail in discussion with a friar.
This tableau is in the Middle Ages the indication of the critical horse sense.

Surinam 1983, Michel 1064, Sc 662.



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