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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 12. Zwingli and the Sale of Indulgences.


Bernhardin Samson, a Franciscan monk of Milan, crossed the St. Gotthard to Switzerland in August, 1518, as apostolic general commissioner for the sale of indulgences. He is the Tetzel of Switzerland, and equalled him in the audacious profanation of holy things by turning the forgiveness of sins and the release from purgatorial punishment into merchandise. He gave the preference to the rich who were willing to buy letters of indulgence on parchment for a crown. To the poor he sold the same article on common paper for a few coppers. In Berne he absolved the souls of all the departed Bernese of the pains of purgatory. In Bremgarten he excommunicated Dean Bullinger (the father of Henry) for opposing his traffic. But in Zurich he was stopped in his career.

Zwingli had long before been convinced of the error of indulgences by Wyttenbach when he studied in Basle. He had warned the people against Samson at Einsiedeln. He exerted his influence against him in Zurich; and the magistracy, and even the bishop of Constance (who preferred to sell indulgences himself) supported the opposition. Samson was obliged to return to Italy with his "heavy, three-horse wagon of gold." Rome had learned a lesson of wisdom from Luther’s Theses, and behaved in the case of Samson with more prudence and deference to the sentiment of the enlightened class of Catholics. Leo X., in a brief of April, 1519, expressed his willingness to recall and to punish him if he had transgressed his authority.5353    Mörikofer, I. 65 sqq.

The opposition to the sale of indulgences is the opening chapter in the history of the German Reformation, but a mere episode in the Swiss Reformation. That battle had been fought out victoriously by Luther. Zwingli came in no conflict with Rome on this question, and was even approved for his conduct by Dr. Faber, the general vicar of the diocese of Constance, who was then his friend, but became afterwards his enemy.



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