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Freivalds: The theology of taxation: Martin Luther, Where Are you now that we need you?



Published 12/9/2017

By John Freivalds

Freivalds runs an international communications firm in Lexington.

We just marked the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his Ninety Five Theses complaining about the practice and efficacy of indulgences in the Catholic Church. In modern parlance this allowed you freedom from God’s punishment for your sins if you purchased it with money. A theological loophole. And it’s worthwhile to reflect as we are debating the merits of new tax bill and why we need a present day Martin Luther to rescue us.


Luther started the Protestant revolution and got really angry that the loopholes (excuse me indulgences) could be bought for past, present and future sins. Here’s the language from Leo X (Pope during Luther’s time 1513-1521):

“In virtue of the Apostolic powers committed to me, I absolve thee from all ... excesses, sins and crimes that thou mayest have committed however great and enormous they may be, and whatever kind ... I remit the pains thou wouldst have had to endure in purgatory ... And if thou shouldst live long this grace continueeth unchangeable till the time of thy end.”

So how much did these babies cost?

A bit of background. During the Medici era (1500’s), the time the huge St. Peters Cathedral was built, there was a sliding scale for murder, robbery, adultery The money from these indulgences paid for loopholes built St. Peter’s.

A royal crime against the laws of the church cost more, i.e. marriage to a first cousin was $5,000 in today’s money while the sin of a wife murder went for $20 according to biblestudents .com. I think of that every time I see the Pope give his blessings from there.

I know we like to think of ourselves as modern and having nothing to do with the past but isn’t our tax code handing out indulgences (loopholes) merely the same thing but now wearing different clothes. Human nature stayed the same.

And since Biblical times not paying taxes was akin to a sin. According to Genesis 1:27and 5:1, Caesar (i.e. the government) was created in the image of God and therefore he belongs to and is accountable to God. Jesus went further in teaching the Pharisees and said that “one should pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar and God what belongs to God (Matthew 17:27).

But greedy man drifted way from the scriptures and the indulgences came into being which is why Martin Luther rebelled against this practice. This diity was attributed to him” As soon as the coffer rings, the sound from purgatory (hell) springs.”

Even today, when lunch bucket Harry strives to pay his taxes in Clifton Forge he feels that is not right to avoid them although he’ll enjoy a little loophole now and then (medical expenses). However a major corporation has recourse and the wealthy have recourse to all sorts of loopholes such as tax shelters and tax havens to avoid paying taxes. And the NFL which we all watch is one big tax loophole for the owners, they can even depreciate players.

However I should add that loopholes are not free just like paid for the indulgences given out that Luther protested against. First you have to hire a lobbyist to champion your loophole. Then he has to find Congressmen to pass legislation allowing it. And to accomplish that you have to contribute to his campaign. As one that went to school in D.C. I can assure you there is no such thing as a free lunch there.

So could Martin Luther reform the mess we have now? Probobaly not totally, but he could shame those who are abusing it. Their credo is of course “them that has keeps.”