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Wikipedia recounts a story told by Martin Luther about Johann Tetzel. It goes a little something like this:

Tetzel was in Leipzig selling indulgences. After collecting a large sum of money, Tetzel was preparing to leave town for Rome. A nobleman approached him and asked if he could purchase an indulgence for a future sin. Tetzel sold him one. Outside of town, the nobleman beat and robbed Tetzel. He then told Tetzel this was the sin for which he bought the indulgence.

Although Wikipedia does not offer a source, it seems to come from Luther's Sämmtliche schriften, vol 15.

Did this incident occur? If not, did Luther invent it or learn it from somewhere else?

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    I recommend that you either provide a direct quote of the story, or link to a specific version of the Wikipedia article, in case it gets edited and the story removed. – Thunderforge Oct 28 '17 at 22:21
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    As a "did this actually happen" question, would this fare well on Skeptics.SE, or are they hostile towards Christian topics? – Zenon Oct 29 '17 at 1:48
  • @Zenon I think they could work on either site. – Thunderforge Nov 1 '17 at 6:42
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This is a tentative answer.

Volume 15 of Johann Walch's Sämmtliche schriften has the story of Tetzel's robbery in section 97 on the numbered page 363. The Go To page number seems not to work, but doing find on Tetzel brings up 12 items on page xi and a little further down 9 items on page ccxxx. Clicking where it says page ccxxx gets one to the place.

This tells the story, in German, but before it does it ascribes the story to Georgii Arnoldi in his Life of the Elector Maurice, duke of Saxony; and to the German economist and historian Seckendorf's History of Lutheranism.

It seems that Dr Walch did not ascribe the story directly to Luther at all. This suggests that Dr Walch was unaware of any record of Luther recounting the story himself, which suggests that there is no record of him doing so.

It may be possible that the inclusion by Dr Walch of this story in his book led someone mistakenly to ascribe it to Luther.

The nobleman's name was Hans von Hake (1472 - 1541) and the robbery is said to have occurred near Juterbog, between Leipzig and Berlin. The empty chest which contained the money Tetzel had collected, and which Herr Hans relieved him of, can still be seen in the Protestant Church of St. Nicholas in Juterbog.

The auto-translation of the German Wikipedia page on Tetzel has the following:

The Nikolaikirche in Jüterbog also has a Tetzelkasten. Hans von Hake (1472-1541) from Julebog handed over this ark after Tetzel had removed the box. He had already purchased the release card from him and waved it as Tetzel threatened him with the torment of purgatory. Theodor Fontane describes this story in the first volume of his " Wanders through the Mark Brandenburg ".

There is no mention here of the story being attributed to Luther, as there is on the English site.

The Brandenburg site for the Luther 2017 Jubilee has a section on

Luther und der "Bad Boy" von Juterbug

which translates as Luther and the Bad Boy of Juterbug. An auto-translation of the last part of this says:

For, according to legend, Knight Hans von Hake has bought from the monk an indulgence for a yet unrequited sin in the future - and then attacked Tetzel and robbed his wooden vault.

Here again there is no attribution to Luther (even on a site dedicated to his Jubilee), and the story is described as a legend suggesting that part, at least, is poorly attested historically, which doesn't mean it didn't happen.

So a tentative conclusion is that Luther did not make it up, or even, as far as we know, mention it. But whether or not it really happened may be uncertain.

  • Does “tentative answer” mean that this answer is a work in progress? – Thunderforge Oct 31 '17 at 22:29
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    @Thunderforge No, although if I come across anything I will update it. I feel it is tentative in that although the evidence I have presented seems to lead to a conclusion the story does not originate with Luther, a better answer would have stronger proof (or else a ref to him saying it). Also saying it is uncertain whether it actually happened is tentative in that there might be more definite proof one way or the other. So I feel this is not a good answer, and I hope someone posts a better one, but until they do, I thought this answer worth posting. – davidlol Nov 1 '17 at 10:21

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