A small excerpt on the chapter on Indulgences from "History's Greatest Deceptions and Confidence Scams."
It’s unclear exactly when the practice of selling Indulgences was stopped, but it probably had something to do with the Reformation. The Reformation was the largest schism the Christian faith has ever seen, and like all great moments in Christianity, it started with something being nailed to a piece of wood.
The something was Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses, a scathing document about making Christianity more accessible to the common people, calling out Tetzel by name for charging people for salvation, and arguably claiming that the poor couldn’t afford to get into heaven. This was the protest that started Protestantism.
Luther translated the Bible into common vernacular, getting away from the Latin that the average person couldn’t understand. As an example of how little the average church-goer understood of what they heard: the magical phrase “hocus pocus” is actually a mishearing of the phrase “hoc es mea corpus”, meaning “this is my body” from the communion rites.
It’s probable that once believers could actually understand their holy book they came to realise that there wasn’t anything that directly mentioned Purgatory, let alone Indulgences. We can also assume that priests were a bit more careful about scamming their congregation with hip new competition down the street.
But, you may be asking, why wasn’t Protestantism stamped out by the Inquisition? That’s how the Church dealt with all its previous opponents. The thing was, all those previous “heretics” didn’t have the backing of a monarch. Protestantism, however, happened to come along just when Henry VIII of England was having an argument with the pope over whether or not he was married to Catherine of Aragon.
They couldn’t agree and so the Reformation found itself with a very powerful ally. It wasn’t long after that the Catholic Church issued an official decree condemning the abuse of Indulgences. They do still exist in a heavily altered form today, one much closer to a charitable donation to the Church.
Read more about indulgences and many other scams throughout human history in 'History's Greatest Deceptions and Confidence Scams' available on Amazon.