Subject: World/Middle Ages; Religions/Christianity

Ages: 12+; Middle School, High School, and College Levels

Length: Two Film Clips for a total of 12 minutes.

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Students will have a vivid image of the sale of indulgences by the Catholic Church in the middle ages.


The abuses involved in the sale of indulgences was one of the main reasons for the break with Rome that became the Protestant Reformation.


The first clip shows Martin Luther going to Rome and purchasing an indulgence for a relative. The second shows the techniques used by John Tetzel, one of the Church’s most renowned sellers of indulgences.


John Tetzel, shown in the film, was one of the leading commissioners for the sale of indulgences. There is no textual evidence that John Tetzel said the words, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” However, this is clearly implied from his writings. See Beggars All blog post for 1/712 by James Swan.

Many Catholic theologians and church officials objected to the sale of indulgences. Usually, these concerns were expressed within the institution of the Catholic church. At times, however, these objections, joined with other grievances, led to open rebellion. One example was the Hussite wars. Jan Hus was a Czech priest and University lecturer who sought reform of the Church, including restrictions on the sale of indulgences. Hus had a large following among the Czechs. Lured to the Council of Constance with false assurances of a fair hearing for his views and safe-conduct for his passage to and from the safety of his home in Prague, Hus was imprisoned and tried as a heretic. He was burned at the stake in 1415, some 70 years before Martin Luther was born. This led to a 25 year civil war in central Europe. Hus is still revered as a national hero of the Czech Republic. He is considered a predecessor of Martin Luther in the effort to reform Christianity.


Other than the general introduction to the importance of Rome in the Middle Ages and the abuses of the sale of indulgences, no introduction to this Snippet is necessary.


The first clip consists of Chapter 3 of the film beginning at minute 8:05 when one monk explains to another why Martin Luther is being sent to Rome. It ends at minute 13:20 after Luther has climbed the steps and when he crumples the indulgence he has purchased. The second clip begins at Chapter 7, minute 32:32 when John Tetzel makes his entry into a city and ends at minute 38:20 at the point that Hanna runs to tell Luther that she has purchased an indulgence for her daughter.

After Watching the Film Clips, Consider telling the class the interesting facts shared in Helpful Background.

This Snippet Lesson Plan was written by James Frieden. It was published on July 22, 2015.

Thanks to Steve Jessen, a history teacher at Palisades Charter High School in Los Angeles, for suggesting this film clip.

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