I thought I would share a tid-bit of historical story that relates to the topic of confession. In 1517, Martin Luther nailed a list of 95 thesis on the church noticeboard in Wittenburg, Germany. This began a massive reformation of the church. He was prompted to do that because the church of his day went around telling people that if they paid enough money to just see a sacred icon, or if they bought a piece of paper that told them they were forgiven any future sin would be forgiven [see final story below]. He was deeply concerned because his parishioners no longer felt the need to confess their sins. Why should they, they literally held a ticket to heaven – a piece of paper they paid for which promised them an entrance to Heaven. So why practice confession any more? So the first statement of his 95 thesis, “When our Lord and master, Jesus Christ, said repent! He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” This was an attempt to remind the church of the importance of continual repentance and confession. So that the individual never forgot their need of Jesus.
Quite aside from the rightness or wrongness of his expected practice of going to confession, Luther was concerned that his parishioners no longer recognized the need for Jesus’ forgiveness. So he began by preaching a series of sermons. He explained, “…the paper they purchased meant nothing if they were not genuinely contrite for any sins they had committed. And if they were genuinely contrite, the paper still meant nothing, because God forgave their sins anyway.” [Metaxas, Martin Luther, p. 103]
The Catholic practice of indulgence selling was essentially a money making ruse. But there is a somewhat humorous story, whether fact or legend, relating to Johannes Tetzel. Tetzel was a well-known indulgence peddler, famous for reportedly saying that an indulgence would grant forgiveness even if they purchaser were to ‘rape the mother of God.’ The story goes, “After Tetzel had received a substantial amount of money at Leipzig, a nobleman asked him if it were possible to receive a letter of indulgence for a future sin. Tetzel quickly answered in the affirmative, insisting, however, that the payment had to be made at once. This the nobleman did, receiving thereupon letter and seal from Tetzel. When Tetzel left Leipzig the nobleman attacked him along the way, gave him a thorough beating, and sent him back empty-handed to Leipzig with the comment that this was the future sin which heh had in mind.” [Metaxas, Martin Luther, p. 106]