“Shysters in God’s House”

By Akin Ojumu

That we have snake oil salesmen parading themselves in the aisles of the Church today is nothing new. Since the inception of Christianity, there have always been conmen selling nonexistent bridges from the Church pulpits. In the 16th century, Johann Tetzel was the most notorious of them all.

Johann Tetzel was a German monk of the Dominican mendicant order. Not particularly known for his theological depth, Tetzel made up for his shortcomings by becoming the leading hawker of indulgences for Pope Leo X and the Archbishop Albert of Mainz. As a hawker of indulgences, Johann Tetzel built a reputation as an unseemly and despicable snake oil salesman.

As stated last time, an indulgence is a penance sacrament in the Roman Catholic Church where an individual is said to receive full or partial remission of punishment for their sins. By obtaining an indulgence, a person could have some or all of their time in purgatory eliminated after their death. Purgatory is a place where souls of Catholics go after death to atone for the sins that they committed during their lifetimes before being able to go to Heaven.

In due course, indulgences took on a more monetized tone as the Church leadership realized its revenue generating potentials. The sale of indulgences got exponentially more corrupted under successive Popes. Agents of the Church were dispatched across cities and towns in the Holy Roman Empire to sell indulgences to the people.

A manipulative fear mongering shyster, Johann Tetzel would travel from town to town with an entourage carrying along an indulgence chest to collect money. Prior to arriving in a town, he would send an advance party a day ahead to go around the town with drums, horns, and jingles to promote the coming of the indulgence salesman.

On the day of his arrival, Tetzel would march into town with pomp and pageantry, dragging along a massive cross in front of the entourage. Standing on a raised platform in the public square, Tetzel would proceed to preach a fire and brimstone sermon playing on the fear and guilt of his listeners.

Carter Lindberg, an American historian, provided us a typical Johann Tetzel’s sermon:

“Behold, you are on the raging sea of this world in storm and danger, not knowing if you will safely reach the harbor of salvation. You should know that all who confess and in penance put alms into the coffer will obtain complete remission of all their sins. Why are you then standing there? Run for the salvation of your souls!”

Taking a brief pause for maximum effect, Tetzel would continue:

“Don’t you hear the voices of your wailing dead parents and others who say, “Have mercy upon me, have mercy upon me, because we are in severe punishment and pain. From this you could redeem us with small alms and yet you do not want to do so.””

Eyes bulging and mouth frothing, he would conclude his sermon screaming at the terrified and guilt-ridden crowd:

“Open your ears as the father says to the son and the mother to the daughter, “We have created you, fed you, cared for you, and left you our temporal goods. Why then are you so cruel and harsh that you do not want to save us, though it only takes so little? You let us lie in flames so that we only slowly come to the promised glory.” You may have letters which let you have, once in life and in the hour of death, full remission of the punishment which belongs to sin.””

Johann Tetzel had a jingle he used to terrify his victims into giving their last farthing:

“As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.”

Those who dropped money in the indulgence chest were issued a certificate. Written on it was the date of the purchase of the indulgence and the name of the person receiving the indulgence, whether it was the person giving the money or the relative of the person giving the money.

Written in Latin at the bottom of the certificate were the following words:

“This document, and the giving of the monies for it, gives full and complete remission of sins.”

It was this racketeering in the name of God that aroused righteous indignation in Jan Hus in the 1400s and subsequently Martin Luther in the 1500s. Scandalized by the profiteering off of a penance sacrament, these two men rebelled against the Church establishment. This heinous exploitation of the poor masses was the spark that ignited the flame of the Protestant Reformation.

If all this sounds familiar to you, it’s because it is. The abuse of spiritual authority and extortion of the laity by the Church establishment in 16th century is similar to what we witness on a daily basis in the “Buying and Selling” Churches in Nigeria. In this category of Nigerian Churches, the House of God has been turned into a marketplace and a den of robbers. 

There are descendants of Johann Tetzel occupying positions of power in the horror houses of Nigeria today. Cruel indulgence salesmen, like locusts, have invaded the houses of horror in Nigeria. We have in Nigeria, General Overseers, Apostles, Prophets, Pastors and charlatans of all shapes and sizes peddling their own version of indulgences to their bewitched followers.

These shameless con artists deceive their captive preys by telling them that their offerings can buy God’s blessings. Offsprings of Johann Tetzel in Nigeria con their victims into thinking that with their tithes they can purchase God’s favor.

Next time, we’ll discuss some of the ungodly practices of the merchants of indulgences in Nigeria’s houses of horror.


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