DAN KONFAL is an American friend and former colleague in Capgemini. He majored in Political Science and could boast (but doesn’t) of a highly successful business career, including a Vice-Presidency in Capgemini as its National Director of Training. He is also a Protestant, a Lutheran in fact. I am delighted that Dan has accepted my invitation to publish this post to mark a significant anniversary in the history of Christianity.
The source for the following is the book “The Richest Man Who Ever Lived”, by Greg Steinmetz, a biography of Jacob Fugger, an early 16th century German financier who became the richest man in the Holy Roman Empire (famously neither holy, Roman or an empire) by loaning money to emperors, kings, Popes and bishops.
Today, Fugger is barely known outside of Germany, but among his accomplishments were financing the founding of the Hapsburg dynasty, persuading the Pope to lift the Church’s ban on charging interest (thereby making possible modern debt financing) and inventing the consolidated balance sheet (which should make him the patron saint of CPAs).
Most people who read history know that the sale of indulgences in Germany prompted Luther to post his “95 Theses”, triggering the Reformation. That event ultimately blew up the Catholic Church’s religious monopoly, but the little-known back-story tells how Fugger lit the fuse.
In 1514, Uriel von Gemmingen, Archbishop of Mainz, died and candidates to succeed him began lining up. It seems that not only was Mainz the only city besides Rome to be designated a Holy See, but the Archbishop of Mainz was one of the seven Electors of the Holy Roman Empire. More significantly, he was “chairman” of the Electors and second only to the Emperor in political influence.
For all these reasons, the price of the seat was high. Candidates needed lots of money and Fugger had lots of money to lend.
The negociated price for the open seat was settled at 200,000 florins, approximately $22 million in today’s money, and the eventual beneficiary was one Albrecht of Hohenzollern. The money found its way into Pope Leo X’s personal account and the twenty-four year old Albrecht found his way to the Cathedral of Mainz.
Here is where the story gets really interesting.
Fugger understandably wanted a failsafe repayment plan, and a three-way scheme was put in place between Fugger, Albrecht and Leo. Leo was in the process of building the new St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and needed money for the project. Albrecht needed money to repay Fugger.
The sale of indulgences was hit on as the solution to Leo’s and Albrecht’s mutual problem : one half of the proceeds from the sales would go to Leo for his project, and the other half would go to Fugger to repay the loan to Albrecht. As the indulgence peddlers spread out through Europe (primarily Germany), each was accompanied by one of Fugger’s accountants who did the actual collection and divvying-up of the receipts.
As we know, on theological grounds, Luther was enraged by the practice and nailed his arguments against indulgences to the cathedral door the night before All Saints’ Day, 1517. However, being unaware of Albrecht’s role in the scheme, he naïvely sent a written petition to the Archbishop asking him to condemn the indulgence “racket”.
Albrecht never replied to Luther, but he did send a copy of Luther’s petition to Leo.
MANY THANKS DAN !