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Building St. Peters

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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October 26, 2023 12:01 am

Building St. Peters

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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October 26, 2023 12:01 am

After depleting the treasuries of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Leo X devised a plan to save the church from bankruptcy: the selling of indulgences. Today, R.C. Sproul describes this episode as the backdrop behind Martin Luther's 95 Theses.

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In the Roman Catholic scheme of things, this treasury contains the merit of Christ, the merit of the apostles, and the merits of the saints. And all this surplus merit is there and may be used and distributed at the disposal and the judgment of the pope. If you grew up Roman Catholic, you may have heard of indulgences and the treasury of merit.

But even if you have heard of them, you may not understand what Rome believes about them. And today, many Protestant Christians have forgotten what it is that they're protesting. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind on this Thursday, as this week we prepare for Reformation Day on October 31, often celebrated as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. To help us better understand the Reformation, why Luther was so willing to stand for the truth, and why we must have the same conviction today, we've been featuring messages from R.C. Sproul's 10-message series, Luther and the Reformation. You can own the digital edition of this series and receive the companion book in the mail when you give a gift of any amount at

Now, here's R.C. Sproul to take us back to Martin Luther's day and the corruption and error that Luther was seeing all around him. We continue now with our study of Luther and the Reformation. In our last session, we looked at the crisis that took place in Luther's life in 1515 and the so-called tower experience when he was awakened to a new understanding of the righteousness of God, that righteousness of God, which is by faith the righteousness that God provides to those who lack it in and of themselves.

And Luther later would say that once he saw that concept and understood the gospel from that perspective, he began to see it virtually on every page of the Bible, and it completely altered his whole understanding of theology and the Christian life. Meanwhile, back in Rome, things were taking place there of momentous importance. During this time, there were two popes that had been in power that are numbered even by Roman Catholic historians as two of the most corrupt popes in the history of the church, the first one being Julius II, who was known as the Warrior Pope, and he was the head of his soldiers trying to annex lands to papal control and spilled volumes and volumes of blood in that enterprise.

Well, he had an ambitious dream. He wanted to build a new cathedral for the Roman bishop, a new basilica with a dome that would rival that of the Parthenon, and that dome would cover this enormous church and give a suitable place to house the bones of the apostles Peter and Paul, which allegedly would be in the basement of this grand edifice. And so he began work on this project, and very soon after the footers were laid for the building of St. Peter's, Julius II died, and he was succeeded by the Medici Pope, Leo X, who one Catholic historian described as a severe trial for the church, because in the midst of his personal corruption, Leo X also had depleted the treasuries of the Roman church, spending the monies that had been gathered by previous popes as well as what was there when he took power. And so the church was on the brink of bankruptcy, and the building of St. Peter's was basically halted after the footers had been established and weeds were overgrowing the bottom structures of the building.

And it seemed for a while at least that the building of St. Peter's would never be completed. At the same time as there in Rome, Leo X was struggling with depleted finances in Germany. There was a young prince of the Hohenzollern line whose name was Prince Albert of Brandenburg. Now, Albert is also a pivotal figure for the Protestant Reformation for this reason. Even though he was too young by canon law to become a bishop anywhere, he had already secured two bishoprics, one in Halverstadt and the other in Magdeburg. And of course he acquired these two bishoprics through the process that is called simony.

I'll write that on the board, simony. Simony was the process by which people bought church offices. They paid the pope or the ecclesiastical structures enough money to be rewarded with these appointments as being bishops and the name simony goes back to the New Testament through the episode where the magician Simon Magus tried to purchase the Holy Spirit from Peter when he saw Peter working his miracles to which Peter replied, may your money perish with you, which I think is a somewhat polite translation of what Peter said to Simon Magus.

But in any case, simony became rampant in the Middle Ages and particularly at this time. This is the kind of thing that Luther witnessed during his critical visit to Rome in 1510 where he saw the city given to so much corruption. And so first of all, first of all, you weren't allowed to be bishop of more than one place. Second of all, canon law said you had to be a certain age and Albert didn't qualify in either case. He wasn't old enough and he had two bishoprics and he purchased the two of these. Well, his ambition was to be the most powerful cleric in all of Germany. And there was an archbishopric that came vacant in the large city of Mainz.

And so now Albert's lust was inflamed. He knew that if he could capture that archbishopric of Mainz along with the other two seas that he already had, he could fulfill his ambition of being the most powerful cleric in Germany. And so he undertook negotiations with Rome and with the pope and with Leo in order to acquire this new archbishopric. And so the haggling started off where the pope demanded a payment of 12,000 gold ducats in exchange for the archbishopric of Mainz. And Prince Albert countered with an offer of 7,000 gold ducats. The pope had said he wanted 12,000, one for each of the twelve apostles, and Albert countered by offering 7,000, 1,000 for each of the seven deadly sins. And so finally a compromise was reached by which Albert was able to secure the archbishopric of Mainz for the tidy sum of 10,000 gold ducats, 1,000 for each of the Ten Commandments.

But then where the plot thickens had to do with how this whole process was going to be financed. As wealthy of a prince as Albert was, he didn't have 10,000 gold ducats at his disposal to purchase the archbishopric of Mainz. And so he undertook the process of borrowing the money from the Fueger bankers in Germany, and they agreed to loan him the 10,000 gold ducats, which he had then passed on to the pope. And now to sweeten the deal, the pope gave another benefit to Albert of Brandenburg. He gave him permission to be in charge of the distribution of indulgences throughout Germany in whatever areas or provinces it was permitted politically. And the agreement was this. For the money that Albert was able to raise through the distribution of papal indulgences, 50 percent of it would go to Rome for the building of St. Peter's, and the other 50 percent would be going then to pay off his debt to the German bankers.

And so this began this process of the widespread sale of indulgences in Germany. Now to understand how this worked, there are some things we need to clarify. First of all, it was understood by the Roman Catholic Church that as the successor to Peter and as the vicar of Christ on earth, the pope possessed the keys of the kingdom. He had what was called the power of the keys. Going back to apostolic days when Jesus said to the disciples, whatsoever things you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven, and whatsoever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, that Jesus in this manner gave the keys of the kingdom not just to the disciples in general, but to Peter in particular. And that petrine authority and ownership of the keys of the kingdom were then passed down to all of the successors of Peter, from the first pope all the way down now to the sixteenth century to Leo the tenth. Now what was so important about the keys of the kingdom is that the keys of the kingdom was the key basically to the most important treasury that the church possessed, not the vault that contained gold ducats, but rather that treasury that contained what the church then and now called and still calls the treasury of merit. And the treasury of merit is that depository where all of the merits that were earned by Jesus Christ are deposited. In addition to the merits deposited by Jesus, there are also the deposits of the merit of Mary, of Joseph, of the original apostles, and of the great saints throughout the ages.

And so the treasury of merits is this vast sum of merits that have been amassed through the centuries, through the work of Christ, through the work of the apostles, and through the work of the great saints. In order for somebody to go to heaven in the Roman Catholic scheme of things, which we will examine separately later, a person has to arrive at such a state in his or her life where she or he is inherently righteous, where there is not only no mortal sin tarnishing their character or their behavioral performance, but also no venial sin, no blemish whatsoever. If a person dies with any blemish attached to their soul before they can get to heaven, they must first serve time in purgatory, which is the place of purging. It purges, blemishes from the soul like a crucible, purges the dross from pure gold.

And as we've seen, a person's time in purgatory can range from a few days to millions of years, depending on how much blemish you carry with you into purgatory. And so people who lack merit to get into heaven have to find a way to, if possible, diminish the time that they are spending in this place of purging. Now, only a handful of people historically have achieved enough merit by which they go directly to heaven when they die. And the Roman Catholic Church distinguishes among three types of merit, and this distinction becomes at the very center of the controversy in a very short period of time during the Reformation. The three types of merit are these.

The first is what is called condign, C-O-N-D-I-G-N, condign merit, or in the Latin, meritum de condigno. Condign merit is merit that is so virtuous that it imposes an obligation of justice upon God to reward it. If a person possesses that kind of merit, God would be unjust if He didn't give an appropriate reward for it. Of course, the church believed that the merit of Jesus that he achieved was condign merit.

But not only did Jesus achieve condign merit, but also other of the saints in history as well. The second type of merit is called congruous merit, or meritum de congruo. And congruous merit is not as high or as meritorious as condign merit, but nevertheless, it does have some sense of merit associated with it. Congruous merit is merit that is sufficient to make it fitting or congruous for God to reward it.

And that will come into play very, very significantly in the Roman Catholic Church's doctrine of the sacrament of penance. And when we look at the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification, we'll see where congruous merit comes into play. But there's a third kind of merit that's most important for our consideration here, and that is what's called congruous merit. That is what's called supererogatory merit, achieved by works of supererogation, not irrigation, supererogation. Works of supererogation are meritorious works that are above and beyond the call of duty. They are merits that are achieved beyond what God requires of obedient Christians. For example, the martyrs by their martyrdom were able to earn supererogatory merit. And the great saints of the ages, people like Jerome, like St. Francis of Assisi, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, these great saints were so virtuous in their life that not only did they achieve or acquire enough condign merit to get into heaven directly without having to go through purgatory, but they had more merit than they needed. They had a certain surplus of merit gained through, as I mentioned a moment ago, works of supererogation. And so the surplus merit earned by the saints is deposited in the treasury of merits.

So do you see the picture? This treasury contains the merit of Christ, the merit of the holy family, the merit of the apostles, and the merits of the saints. And all this surplus merit is there and may be used and distributed at the disposal and the judgment of the pope with the power of the keys. And what an indulgence is is a papal grant by which so much merit is taken out of the treasury of merit and applied to somebody who is deficient in merit, lacking in merit, so that they can shorten their time in purgatory and go to heaven. And so the gaining of indulgences was something that was extremely important then and now in the Roman system of salvation.

There are certain ironies that are associated with that that I'll look at further later, because this involves a kind of imputation, a kind of designation of one man's merit for another person's merit because of their deficiency. Now, to acquire an indulgence and gain the application of this merit from the treasury of merit, certain things had to take place that were associated, as I will go into more deeply later, with the sacrament of penance. But one of the elements of the sacrament of penance in which the contrite sinner comes to confession, confesses their sin to the priest, receives priestly absolution, and then is required to do certain works of congruous merit, such as saying, so many Hail Marys, or Our Fathers, or giving restitution. One of the things that was delineated in order to fulfill the requirements of penance was the giving of alms, so that if a person gave alms out of a genuine sense of repentance, that alms that were paid could gain the transfer of indulgences to their account.

Now again, the canon law of the church made it clear that this was not to be understood as a crass selling of forgiveness, whereby people could just write a check and get their relatives out of purgatory or throw a coin in a kettle and in a kettle and achieve the same end. But the way in which this was carried out, particularly in Germany, became the scandal that provoked Luther's reaction and the 95 Theses that he posted on the wall on All Saints' Eve in 1517. But the whole thing is related to the almsgiving process, and the pope was using this process to gain the finances he needed to build the church. I can be sympathetic with the pope, because I knew what I had to go through here to build this church, and I wish I would have had a treasury of merit to draw from in order to encourage people to give to the building of St. Andrews. But this is what started the issue that exploded then in Saxony with the sale of indulgences by the papal representative, Tetzel, which we'll look at in our next session.

You're listening to Renewing Your Mind, and that was R.C. Sproul from his series, Luther and the Reformation. You can request the paperback edition of Dr. Sproul's book, Luther and the Reformation, along with digital access to the complete 10-message series for a donation of any amount at In this resource package, Dr. Sproul responds to objections from Rome while also going into the significant and severe differences between the biblical gospel that Luther defended and the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Call us at 800 435 4343 to secure this book and teaching series today, or you can visit And for a very limited time, you can also stream the Luther documentary featuring R.C.

Sproul and other teachers for free on Ligonier's YouTube channel. Simply open your YouTube app, search for Luther documentary, and you'll find it there from Ligonier Ministries. When we think of Martin Luther and the Reformation, we remember his nailing of the 95 Theses on October 31st, 1517. Well that's where we'll pick up the story of God's work through Luther tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-10-26 03:58:26 / 2023-10-26 04:06:09 / 8

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