St. Peter's Basilica
St. Peter's Basilica is the chief church of Roman Catholicism. Situated on the Vatican Hill in Rome, it is said to have been built over the burial site of St. Peter, whose remains were allegedly discovered by archaeologists in the 1940s. During Roman times the area was held sacred by Christians, and when the Emperor Constantine came to power a large church, or basilica, was built on the site, between approximately AD 330 and 360. Though it always had an important place within the Catholic church, it did not actually become its headquarters until the 19th century, previously that position was held by the church of St. John Lateran, also in Rome. So when using the word "Vatican" to refer to the rulership of the Catholic Church, it is incorrect to do so before the 1870s, and the proper term should be "Lateran". Despite this, St. Peter's Basilica was always very important, and in 1505 Pope Julius II took the decision to demolish the then more than thousand-year-old building and build a much bigger new replacement. This caused much dismay at the time, and as work progressed it had profound and unforeseen consequences for Catholicism - in order to pay for it, the pope authorized the massive "sale" of indulgences (penitential contributions) across Europe, and the abuse of authority by men such as John Tetzel, who distorted the doctrine in their eager promoting of indulgences for the sake of avaricious profit (he was later excommunicated), led directly to the revolt of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. Work itself continued for over a century, and the new basilica wasn't finally completed until 1626, after many changes of design with ever more grandiose embellishments. During this time, in order to ensure continuity of services, the old basilica remained standing, and the new one, with its massive domed roof, was literally built over the top of it, an astonishing achievement for the time. Finally, amid much sadness, the old basilica was demolished, and the internal fittings of the new basilica constructed. The only thing that remains from the old structure is the altar.
- At the time of the Reformation, the real intent of money used for the rebuilding of St. Peter's Basilica, as an act of moral and spiritual reparation "in justice" after forgiveness of sins, was distorted by preachers such as the Dominican John Tetzel, who in his eagerness to obtain large amounts of money for the project, began to preach that "confession and reparation were not necessary" to remove the eternal and temporal punishment for sins committed, but only an inward sorrow for sin and the contribution of money for the project (also involving a sin called Simony). He was afterward accused of misappropriating a large percentage for his own use, and later excommunicated for promoting this distortion of the doctrine of the Church. Because of this scandal, the Catholic Church forbids the receiving of money by confessors immediately after giving absolution to the penitent in the confessional.
- See the following articles
- John Tetzel (christian-history.org)
- Johann Tetzel - Catholic Encyclopedia (newadvent.org)
- Myths About Indulgences (catholic.com)
- The Indulgence Controversy, Again! by Michael Root (2001) (firstthings.com)
- Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation - Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) Part Two, Section Two, Chapter Two, Article 4 - X. Indulgences (scborromeo.org)
- Indulgence definitions (finedictionary.com)