What Was the Best Business in History? Selling Indulgences

Everyone who is into entrepreneurship, at least once, must have gotten curious about what was the best business in the history of humanity? And who was that genius entrepreneur that started it? There are many opinions but most facts point towards the Catholic church widely known for selling indulgences and achieving astonishing profit. Urban the Second was the pope that started the praxis of indulgences.

What Is an Indulgence?

An indulgence is a remission(full or partial) of punishment for sins after the sinner has confessed and received the absolution. Catholic teaching made the purification of sins inevitability through claiming that every sin must be washed away either here on earth, either inside the purgatory on the other side. Purgatory was the harder way, therefore the indulgences commissioned by church seemed like a better option.

Who Was the First Man to Commission an Indulgence?

It was the above-mentioned pope Urban the Second in 1095. He remains remembered for the first use of plenary indulgences that gave forgiveness to all of the participants in crusade wars. Soon after, realizing this can lead to astonishing profits, the church was offering indulgences to those that for some reason didn’t join the Crusades in exchange for a certain amount of money. Price depended on the depth of sin and the sinner’s position in society.

How Did Indulgence Business Work?

By believers assured in the unquestionable authority of the catholic church, indulgences were considered to be the only way for reducing the time in purgatory. Preachings were pointing out that sins require millions of years to be cleansed from the soul that seeks to achieve peace and rejoins with God in heavens. Some priests were even saying that temptations in purgatory may lead to new sins and prolong the stay. That is why believers were so eager when it came to purchasing their way into God’s kingdom. Furthermore, alive ones could purchase indulgences for their dead beloved as it could make their time in purgatory easier and shorter.

Pope in Charge

In the 16th century, the pope delegated the privilege of dispensing indulgences. The Castle Church in Wittenberg was one of the rare God’s houses given the authority to commit a full remission of sins.
Holy Items as Foundation of Remission

All the items that were used by saints during their lives and had left preserved and in the possession of church were considered as the source of power that made remission through indulgences possible. Frederick the Wise, elector for the region of Holy Roman Empire that included Wittenberg(the birthplace of Martin Luther) assembled over 19 000 holy bones and 5000 relics claiming that they can reduce the time in purgatory for over 1.9 million years.
Catholic Church Cash Flow

Lives of popes throughout history are mostly known by high luxury and tremendous power. Besides personal satisfaction, money the church had been earning was used to build new temples, universities and establish and rise influences all over the world. That’s how the building of St. Peter basilica in Rome was accomplished.


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