July 6th marked the 601st anniversary of the martyrdom of Jan Hus, the Czech reformer who was condemned by the Council of Constance and burned at the stake as a heretic on July 6, 1415. One of the charges against Hus involved his vehement condemnation of the sale of indulgences by emissaries of the antipope John XXIII (who should not be confused with the 20th century pope of the same name) as a means of fundraising to finance John’s struggle against his rivals. Hus argued that the Czech people were being exploited for John’s private benefit.
The complex theology supporting the issuance of indulgences had been developed in the 11th and early 12th centuries as the concept of Purgatory became more popular throughout Western European Christianity. At first indulgences were granted by the pope, or less often by archbishops and other church leaders, to those who had expressed contrition for their sins and done some act of penitence. The belief was that the indulgence would lessen the time that a soul spent in Purgatory, hastening the attainment of eternal salvation.