Toward a Modest Reevaluation of Johann Tetzel

With this translation of his Rebuttal, Tetzel is granted a new hearing, indeed probably a first hearing for most persons. What one has heard of his own words is the infamous jingle (unfortunately, actually part of the indulgence preachers’ promotional techniques): “As soon as the penny in the money chest clinks, the soul out of purgatory springs.” In the Rebuttal, however, instead of the caricatured money-grubber, one hears a genuine concern for the salvation of souls, praise of God’s inestimable mercy, and a concern for the whole of Christendom. In his impassioned outcry of rebuttal 20, Tetzel foresees what tragic consequences can follow upon Luther’s ideas—the dissolution of Christianity, its shattering into fragments, the very opposite of Christ’s desire that all people might be one in him.

For centuries Tetzel has also been consistently caricatured as stupid, ignorant of Latin, and unable to write his own theses. The Rebuttal provides a different witness. His presentation here is well-structured; exhibits a credible understanding of Scripture, Catholic doctrines, and the major theologians of the Christian tradition; and shows him fully as proficient as his debate opponent in Latin and in the citation of Scripture to support his arguments.