Steven Lazaroff
9 min readDec 20, 2020

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INDULGENCES

Johann Tetzel c. 1465–11 August 1519

A brief disclaimer: this is not an attack on the present-day Catholic Church. It will be talking about the medieval era, a time when the people of Europe believed that there were witches, that the planet was flat, and that their kings were directly chosen by God.

Most people in this world were illiterate, and the lucky ones died at 30. This is not a debate about the validity of organised religion or the existence of God. This is the story of how the Bible was deliberately mistranslated to make a few people extremely rich, renovate a couple of cathedrals, and fund a handful of holy wars.

This is the story of one of the greatest and most widespread cons of all time.

This is the story of Indulgences.

It should be common knowledge that Christianity is based on the idea that people who do good things (saving drowning puppies, helping old ladies to cross the street, killing non-believers) go to heaven, a place where good things (all you can eat pizza, backgammon tournaments, smiles from cute angels) happen to you eternally. People who do bad things on the other hand (drowning puppies, pushing old ladies into the street, doubting the awesomeness of God) go to hell, a place where — I’m sure you can see where this is going.

But around the 12th Century, an important question was raised: what happens if you aren’t really good or bad? Is it a tipping scale where St Peter agonisingly balances the puppies you drowned on one side and the puppies you saved on the other and whichever way it tipped points to the door for you?

No, the Catholic God is forgiving, and so there is always a chance for redemption. The papal decree was that no one goes to hell on a technicality. Those that have sinned (read: everyone) but have confessed their sins (read: Catholics) go to Purgatory when they die. Purgatory is a place that should be familiar to you if you stuck it out with the TV show “Lost,” up until its whimpering finale, or have ever been to the waiting area of a bus station, motor vehicles office or any doctor’s office. You could look at it as being friend-zoned by God. There is the promise of heaven in the future, but you have to wait until you are accepted, perhaps indefinitely.

Like the friend zone, the existence of Purgatory is the subject of much debate, but for Catholics, in…

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Steven Lazaroff
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Writer and boutique independent publisher