On October 31, 1517, Dr. Martin Luther nailed a disputation against the sale of indulgences on Castle Church door (Thesentür in der Schlosskirche) in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther was protesting the practices of Johann Tetzel who was a papel commissioner traveling through Germany raising funds from poor German peasants in order to build the stately St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome for the Pope.
Luther’s students quickly translated Luther’s arguments from Latin to German, and with the aide of the recently invented printing press, were able to send copies throughout Germany. Luther became famous overnight and German peasants and theologians thronged Wittenberg to hear Luther preach.
A sampling of the 95 Theses may be found below. The full set may be found at the following link: Luther’s 95 Theses.
The 95 Theses
Out of love and concern for the truth, and with the object of eliciting it, the following heads will be the subject of a public discussion at Wittenberg under the presidency of the reverend father, Martin Luther, Augustinian, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and duly appointed Lecturer on these subjects in that place. He requests that whoever cannot be present personally to debate the matter orally will do so in absence in writing.
(Luther’s Preface to the 95 Theses)
- When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
- The word cannot be properly understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, i.e. confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.
- The pope himself cannot remit guilt, but only declare and confirm that it has been remitted by God…
- There is no divine authority for preaching that the soul flies out of the purgatory immediately the money clinks in the bottom of the chest.
- It is certainly possible that when the money clinks in the bottom of the chest avarice and greed increase; but when the church offers intercession, all depends in the will of God.
- All those who believe themselves certain of their own salvation by means of letters of indulgence, will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.
- We should be most carefully on our guard against those who say that the papal indulgences are an inestimable divine gift, and that a man is reconciled to God by them.
- Any Christian whatsoever, who is truly repentant, enjoys plenary remission from penalty and guilt, and this is given him without letters of indulgence.
- Any true Christian whatsoever, living or dead, participates in all the benefits of Christ and the Church; and this participation is granted to him by God without letters of indulgence.
- The true treasure of the church is the Holy gospel of the glory and the grace of God.
- The indulgences, which the merchants extol as the greatest of favours, are seen to be, in fact, a favourite means for money-getting.
- Nevertheless, they are not to be compared with the grace of God and the compassion shown in the Cross.
- They ask, e.g.: Why does not the pope liberate everyone from purgatory for the sake of love (a most holy thing) and because of the supreme necessity of their souls? This would be morally the best of all reasons. Meanwhile he redeems innumerable souls for money, a most perishable thing, with which to build St. Peter’s church, a very minor purpose.
- Again: since the pope’s income to-day is larger than that of the wealthiest of wealthy men, why does he not build this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of indigent believers?
- Away, then, with those prophets who say to Christ’s people, “Peace, peace,” where in there is no peace.
Analysis of the 95 Thesis
The 95 Theses are not totally Protestant and do not represent the mature thoughts of Luther the reformer (and are not a safe guide or Creed of Christian doctrine for the believer today), but were a very large step toward turning from the bondage of idolatry to the saving light of the gospel as found in the sacred Word. With the wide dissemination of Luther’s writings and preaching, the fire of God’s gospel truth had begun a grand and glorious work of purifying the church’s doctrine – a work against which the gates of hell have not prevailed.
Reformation Day is a public holiday in many German states and is a Federal holiday in several other nations impacted by the reformation. Many Christian churches in the US designate the last Sunday before October 31 as Reformation Sunday, which I wholeheartedly support.
Whether we set a day aside or no, I think it is meet that we remember the great men and events the Lord has used to purify his Church and glorify His Holy Name.
- HAPPY REFORMATION DAY (2009)
- Happy Reformation Day (2010)
- Happy Reformation Day (2011)
- Happy Reformation Day (2012)
Do you think indulgences are a token of Dark Ages Superstition that have no relevance to our time – THINK AGAIN! The debate is as relevant to our time as it was to Luther’s.