The monk strolled confidently into the village’s bustling market square and stepped upon a discarded apple crate. Before long village folk of all ages became aware of the newcomer and gathered about him, lifting up innocent, childlike faces.
“Oh my children, when I am surrounded by such gentle hearted folk as yourselves it reminds me of why I entered the priesthood. I am Father Bernhardin, and have come from Rome to offer you comfort and hope.” The balding monk opened his arms in a gesture of goodwill. “Beloved of the Lord, have any of you lost a loved one? Do thoughts of these precious ones lingering in purgatory’s torments burden you day and night? Would you like to lessen their sufferings?”
As one, the villagers responded in the affirmative.
Father Bernhardin pulled a sheaf of papers from his travel bag and smiled warmly, “Then suffer no more, my children. I have here in my very hand indulgences from the Pope himself. See here his holy seal and blessed writings?”
Though few could read, all looked upon the papers with high expectations. “For just five pennies, a mere trifle, you can donate one of these indulgences to a soul held in purgatory. That soul will not only be sped on its way to heaven--whereupon it can experience not only the presence of God--but will also be in a position to pray for you, its earthly benefactor.”
Elderly Dieter stepped forward. “My misses passed away this last winter. She was a good lady, bless her soul. I will have one of them indulgences to speed her heavenward, Good Father.”
“Oh, you gentle soul. Your dearly departed wife will be winging her way shortly to the Lord,” said the monk as he received the five coins and handed over the indulgence.
Anna, a mother in her early twenties, cast her gaze respectfully upon the ground, “Holy Father, my little one left this world just two months past. It troubles me heart greatly to think of the little fellow lingering in purgatory.”
“Oh, dear lady, the love for your son warms my heart. Here, come take your indulgence and hasten your dear one home,” said the monk as he sniffed back tears.
“But Father, I have but three pennies left to my name,” the lady said sorrowfully.
“Oh, lady, I am sorry, but only for five pennies can I hand you this relief,” the monk lamented.
Crest-fallen, the woman began to withdraw, when two neighbours darted forth to press coins into her hand. Crying now, she handed over the coins, received the indulgence, and held it to her breast.
Several others came forward and purchased indulgences, until a new voice shouted out in horror. “Stop this madness at once!”
The village priest, Father Matthias, pushed his way through the crowd to confront the monk. “I do not know what enrages me more--that you offer pieces of paper to speed these people’s loved ones from a place that does not exist…”
“You speak heresy, priest!” wailed the monk.
“…or that you are cheating my flock of their hard earned life savings to do so!”
“These indulgences have been endorsed by the Pope himself, priest,” the monk protested.
“God's gifts of salvation are free, Father. We cannot pay for them.”
“From where do you get these heretical ideas, priest?”
“I am a disciple of Ulrich Zwingli. He has opened the eyes of many to what the Holy Scriptures teach.” Turning now to his fellow villagers, Father Matthias continued, “My friends, this man is deceiving you. Departed ones who trusted in Jesus are already with Him. Return the indulgences and retrieve your money.”
No one moved. Instead, the villagers clutched ever more tightly to their indulgences.
Distraught, Father Matthias tore the sheaf of indulgences from the monk. “Behold! These have been produced on printing presses--they are all the same. And your money? It is to be used for the construction of a new cathedral in Rome.”
The villagers would not meet their priest’s tortured gaze nor surrender the worthless indulgences.
I have much work to do. Father Matthias reflected sadly before turning to the monk. “You will leave this village at once, Father Bernhardin, and I will send word of your arrival to Zwingli at Zurich. He will know how to deal with you.”
The villagers returned to their duties after the monk disappeared from view.
Father Matthias hurried to his chapel to pen a letter, but not before inconspicuously slipping three of his own pennies into Anna’s right hand.
The monk Bernhardin Samson arrived at the gates of Zurich in 1519, but was denied entry into the city due to the efforts of one Ulrich Zwingli.
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