Two Feathers from the Holy Spirit?
In 1517, Luther posted his famous 95 Theses, attacking abuses in the sale of indulgences. A full twenty-five years later, and only four years before he died, Luther wrote against this practice again, this time with wit.
In 1542, a pamphlet entitled New Newspaper from the Rhine appeared in Halle. The anonymous author alerted the public to the transfer of Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz's collection of relics from Halle to Mainz, where they would be exhibited at St. Martin's Church and, if solemnly viewed, would grant an indulgence.…
In addition, newly discovered relics would be exhibited, with a special indulgence offered by Pope Paul Ill. The new relics included:
1. A nice section from Moses' left horn (Exod. 34:29, Vulgate: "his face was horned from the conversation with the Lord");
2. Three flames from the burning bush on Mount Sinai (Exod. 3:3);
3. Two feathers and an egg from the Holy Spirit;
4. A remnant from the flag with which Christ opened hell;
5. A large lock of Beelzebub's beard, stuck on the same flag;
6. One-half of the archangel Gabriel's wing;
7. A whole pound of the wind which roared by Elijah in the cave on Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:11);
8. Two ells (about ninety inches) of sound from the trumpets on Mount Sinai (Exod. 19:16);
9. Thirty blasts from the trumpets on Mount Sinai;
10. A large, heavy piece of the shout with which the children of Israel tumbled the walls of Jericho (Josh. 6:20);
11. Five nice, shiny strings from David's harp;
12. Three beautiful locks of Absalom's hair, which got caught in the oak and left him hanging (2 Sam. 18:9).
The author concluded by sharing a tip he had received from a friend in high places: Archbishop Albrecht had willed a trifle of his pious, loyal heart, and a whole section of his truthful tongue to the existing collection. Whoever paid one guilder at the exhibition would receive a papal indulgence remitting all sins committed up to the time of payment and for ten more years, thus giving the people of the Rhineland a unique opportunity to attain a special state of grace.
The author was Martin Luther, of course. He revealed his identity after the pamphlet had been widely circulated. The old issue of indulgences had once more cropped up, and this was his way of annoying Archbishop Albrecht, the most notorious advocate of the indulgences traffic, one more time.
Dr. Eric W. Gritsch is Maryland Synod Professor of Church History at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and director of the Institute for Luther Studies.
Copyright © 1993 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian History magazine.
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