The war between the Holy Scriptures and the commandments of man was heating up in Switzerland. Light from heaven was shining on the Swiss people as Zwingli opened up the Bible to them. He was helped in spreading truth by a man named Lucian who was going from home to home selling the books of Martin Luther. Little by little the power of the papacy was being removed from the people’s minds.
Samson, the Indulgence Seller
I’m sure you will remember Samson – the indulgence seller. He was slowly making his way through Switzerland toward Zurich, selling his slips as he went. The town’s people crowded around him, eager for an easy way to have their sins forgiven. They didn’t really want to change their wicked ways, but they didn’t want to worry about hellfire either. It was so simple – especially for the wealthy people – to just give Samson some money and receive the slip of paper saying that their sins were gone.
Salvation by Deals and Bargains
One day an important knight came to the church where Samson was. He had a beautiful horse that the indulgence seller immediately fell in love with. The knight told Samson that he wanted indulgences for himself, his 500 soldiers, all the people that worked for him, and all his ancestors. In exchange, he would give him the grey-dappled charger. It wasn’t much of a deal for Samson, but he really wanted the horse. As the animal was led away to the monk’s stable, he loudly declared that all the knight’s people were now safe from hellfire.
At another place, Samson commanded all the people crowding around him to kneel on the church floor and say three “Our Fathers” and three “Aves”. These were memorized prayers that the people could recite without even thinking about what they were saying. With satisfaction, he watched the people fall to their knees. “Not only are all your sins forgiven,” he promised, “but everyone who has died in this city will be saved from purgatory and hellfire no matter what sin they committed.”
While many people eagerly welcomed the pope’s monk, there were some who did not have faith in Samson’s promises. In one place Samson took the people to the cemetery. His helpers slowly walked around the graves chanting a song to the dead while he stood and gazed up into the sky. “See how they fly,” he claimed as someone up in the tower of the church waved a white pillow in the air. The townspeople doubled over in laughter at this silliness, and Samson left them in a huff.
Bullinger and the Council Resist Samson
Samson had even less success in Bremgarten. Bullinger, the dean of that parish, forbade the monk from selling indulgences there. When Samson ordered that the church be opened so that he could sell indulgences, Bullinger flatly refused. He assured the pope’s representative that he would not allow his flock to be swindled out of their money. This of course caused a huge uproar. Samson pronounced Bullinger excommunicated; Bullinger promised to bring the matter before the church leaders in Zurich.
Zwingli went on the attack. He immediately began presenting what the Bible says about forgiveness and salvation. “Christ is your righteousness! Christ is your salvation!” preached Zwingli. “No man can forgive sins; Jesus (who is God) is the only one with that power.”
Bullinger arrived at Zurich ahead of the monk and placed his complaint before the church leaders. Men sent to represent the Bishop for that area also spoke out against allowing Samson to sell his indulgences in Zurich. By the time the pope’s men arrived, the council had agreed to stop Samson from entering the city.
He was met at the city gates and informed of the council’s decision. Samson asked to be allowed to speak to the council and he was given permission. However, he only spoke about the papal indulgences. The leaders demanded that he withdraw Bullinger’s excommunication and then they ordered him to leave Zurich. Soon a very angry monk left Switzerland and headed home to Rome.