You might say that on October 31, 1517 Christianity entered into a new era. The posting of the "95" was only the beginning for Luther. The following year he would publish over a 150 page discourse expanding the issues he had raise the previous year. Many are content to accept a simple summation of Luther's Theses, but since this was effectively the foundation on which Lutheranism would be build it seems appropriate to take the time to peruse the 95 points themselves. If nothing else, it certainly sets forth the tone of the Protestant temperament that would forever change western culture.
Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences
love and zeal for truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following theses
will be publicly discussed at Wittenberg under the chairmanship of the reverend
father, Martin Lutther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology and regularly appointed
Lecturer on these subjects at that place. He requests that those who cannot
be present to debate orally with us will do so by letter.
In the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, "Repent" [Matt. 4:17], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
2. This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.
3. Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortifications of the flesh.
4. The penalty of sin remains as long as the hatred of self, that is, true inner repentance, until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
5. The pope neither desires nor is able to remit any penalties except those imposed by his own authority or that of the canons.
6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring and showing that it has been remitted by God; or, to be sure, by remitting guilt in casesreserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in these cases were disregarded, the guilt would certainly remain unforgiven.
7. God remits guilt to no one unless at the same time he humbles him in all things and makes him submissive to his vicar, the priest.
8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to the canons themselves, nothing should be imposed on the dying.
9. Therefore the Holy Spirit through the pope is kind to us insofar as the pope in his decrees always makes exception of the article of death andof necessity.
10. Those priests act ignorantly
and wickedly who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penalties for
11. Those tares of changing the canonical
penalty to the penalty of purgatory were evidently sown while the bishops slept
12. In former times canonical penalties
were imposed, not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.
13. The dying are freed by death
from all penalties, are already dead as far as the canon laws are concerned,
and have a right to be releasedfrom
14. Imperfect piety or love on the
part of the dying person necessarily brings with it great fear; and the smaller
the love, the greater the fear.
15. This fear or horror is sufficient
in itself, to say nothing of other things, to constitute the penalty of purgatory,
since it is very near the horror of despair.
16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem
to differ the same as despair, fear, and assurance of salvation.
17. It seems as though for the souls
in purgatory fear should necessarily decrease and love increase.
18. Furthermore, it does not seem
proved, either by reason or Scripture, that souls in purgatory are outside the
state of merit, that is, unable to grow in love.
19. Nor does it seem proved that
souls in purgatory, at least not all of them, are certain and assured of their
own salvation, even if we ourselves may be entirely certain of it.
20. Therefore the pope, when he uses
the words "plenary remission of all penalties," does not actually
mean "all penalties," but only those imposed by himself.
21. Thus those indulgence preachers
are in error who say that a man is absolved from every penalty and saved by
22. As a matter of fact, the pope
remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which, according to canon law, they
should have paid in this life.
23. If remission of all penalties
whatsoever could be granted to anyone at all, certainly it would be granted
only to the most perfect, that is, to very few.
24. For this reason most people are
necessarily deceived by that indiscriminate and high-sounding promise of release
25. That power which the pope has
in general over purgatory corresponds to the power which any bishop or curate
has in a particular way in his own diocese or parish.
26. The pope does very well when
he grants remission to souls in purgatory, not by the power of the keys, which
he does not have, but by way of intercession for them.
27. They preach only human doctrines
who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies
out of purgatory.
28. It is certain that when money
clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the
church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.
29. Who knows whether all souls in
purgatory wish to be redeemed, since we have exceptions in St. Severinus and
St. Paschal, as related in a legend.
30. No one is sure of the integrity
of his own contrition, much less of having received plenary remission.
31. The man who actually buys indulgences
is as rare as he who is really penitent; indeed, he is exceedingly rare.
32. Those who believe that they can
be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally
damned, together with their teachers.
33. Men must especially be on their
guard against those who say that the pope's pardons are that inestimable gift
of God by which man is reconciled to him.
34. For the graces of indulgences
are concerned only with the penalties of sacramental satisfaction established
35. They who teach that contrition
is not necessary on the part of those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory
or to buy confessional privileges preach unchristian doctrine.
36. Any truly repentant Christian
has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence
37. Any true Christian, whether living
or dead, participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this
is granted him by God, even without indulgence letters.
38. Nevertheless, papal remission
and blessing are by no means to be disregarded, for they are, as I have said
[Thesis 6], the proclamation of the divine remission.
39. It is very difficult, even for
the most learned theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people
the bounty of indulgences and the need of true contrition.
40. A Christian who is truly contrite
seeks and loves to pay penalties for his sins; the bounty of indulgences, however,
relaxes penalties and causes men to
hate them-at least it furnishes occasion for hating them.
41. Papal indulgences must be preached
with caution, lest people erroneously think that they are preferable to other
good works of love.
42. Christians are to be taught that
the pope does not intend that the buying of indulgences should in any way be
compared with works of mercy.
43. Christians are to be taught that
he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who
44. Because love grows by works of
love, man thereby becomes better. Man does not, however, become better by means
of indulgences but is merely freed from penalties.
45. Christians are to be taught that
he who sees a needy man and passes him by, yet gives his money for indulgences,
does not buy papal indulgences but God's wrath.
46. Christians are to be taught that,
unless they have more than they need, they must reserve enough for their family
needs and by no means squander it on indulgences.
47. Christians are to be taught that
the buying of indulgences is a matter of free choice, not commanded.
48. Christians are to be taught that
the pope, in granting indulgences, needs and thus desires their devout prayer
more than their money.
49. Christians are to be taught that
papal indulgences are useful only if they do not put their trust in them, but
very harmful if they lose their fear of God because of them.
50. Christians are to be taught that
if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence preachers, he would rather
that the basilica of St. Peter were burned to ashes than built up with the skin,
flesh, and bones of his sheep.
51. Christians are to be taught that
the pope would and should wish to give of his own money, even though he had
to sell the basilica of St. Peter, to many of those from whom certain hawkers
of indulgences cajole money.
52. It is vain to trust in salvation
by indulgence letters, even though the indulgence commissary, or even the pope,
were to offer his soul as security.
53. They are enemies of Christ and
the pope who forbid altogether the preaching of the Word of God in some churches
in order that indulgences may be preached in others.
54. Injury is done the Word of God
when, in the same sermon, an equal or larger amount of time is devoted to indulgences
than to the Word.
55. It is certainly the pope's sentiment
that if indulgences, which are a very insignificant thing, are celebrated with
one bell, one procession, and one ceremony, then the gospel, which is the very
greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions,
a hundred ceremonies.
56. The treasures of the church,
out of which the pope distributes indulgences, are not sufficiently discussed
or known among the people of Christ.
57. That indulgences are not temporal
treasures is certainly clear, for many [indulgence] preachers do not distribute
them freely but only gather them.
58. Nor are they the merits of Christ
and the saints, for, even without the pope, the latter always work grace for
the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outer man.
59. St. Laurence said that the poor
of the church were the treasures of the church, but he spoke according to the
usage of the word in his own time.
60. Without want of consideration
we say that the keys of the church, given by the merits of Christ, are that
61. For it is clear that the pope's
power is of itself sufficient for the remission of penalties and cases reserved
62. The true treasure of the church
is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.
63. But this treasure is naturally
most odious, for it makes the first to be last [Matt. 20:16].
64. On the other hand, the treasure
of indulgences is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first.
65. Therefore the treasures of the
gospel are nets with which one formerly fished for men of wealth.
66. The treasures of indulgences
are nets with which one now fishes for the wealth of men.
67. The indulgences which the demagogues
acclaim as the greatest graces are actually understood to be such only insofar
as they promote gain.
68. They are nevertheless in truth
the most insignificant graces when compared with the grace of God and the piety
of the cross.
69. Bishops and curates are bound
to admit the commissaries of papal indulgences with all reverence.
70. But they are much more bound
to strain their eyes and ears lest these men preach their own dreams instead
of what the pope has commissioned.
71. Let him who speaks against the
truth concerning papal indulgences be anathema and accursed;
72. But let him who guards against
the lust and license of the indulgence preachers be blessed;
73. Just as the pope justly thunders
against those who by any means whatsoever contrive harm to the sale of indulgences.
74. But much more does he intend
to thunder against those who use indulgences as a pretext to contrive harm to
holy love and truth.
75. To consider papal indulgences
so great that they could absolve a man even if he had done the impossible and
had violated the mother of God is madness.
76. We say on the contrary that papal
indulgences cannot remove the very least of venial sins as far as guilt is concerned.
77. To say that even St. Peter, if
he were now pope, could not grant greater graces is blasphemy against St. Peter
and the pope.
78. We say on the contrary that even
the present pope, or any pope whatsoever, has greater graces at his disposal,
that is, the gospel, spiritual powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written
in I Cor. 12 [:28].
79. To say that the cross emblazoned
with the papal coat of arms, and set up by the indulgence preachers, is equal
in worth to the cross of Christ is blasphemy.
80. The bishops, curates, and theologians
who permit such talk to be spread among the people will have to answer for this.
81. This unbridled preaching of indulgences
makes it difficult even for learned men to rescue the reverence which is due
the pope from slander or from the shrewd questions of the laity,
82. Such as: "Why does not the
pope empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls
that are there if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable
money with which to build a church? The former reasons would be most just; the
latter is most trivial."
83. Again, "Why are funeral
and anniversary masses for the dead continued and why does he not return or
permit the withdrawal of endowments founded for them, since it is wrong to pray
for the redeemed?"
84. Again, "What is this new
piety of God and the pope that for a consideration of money they permit a man
who is impious and their enemy to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend
of God and do not rather, because of the need of that pious and beloved soul,
free it for pure love's sake?"
85. Again, "Why are the penitential
canons, long since abrogated and dead in actual fact and through disuse, now
satisfied by the granting of indulgences as though they were still alive and
86. Again, "Why does not the
pope, whose wealth is today greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus,
build this one basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the
money of poor believers?"
87. Again, "What does the pope
remit or grant to those who by perfect contrition already have a right to full
remission and blessings?"
88. Again, "What greater blessing
could come to the church than if the pope were to bestow these remissions and
blessings on every believer a hundred times a day, as he now does but once?"
89. "Since the pope seeks the
salvation of souls rather than money by his indulgences, why does he suspend
the indulgences and pardons previously granted when they have equal efficacy?"
90. To repress these very sharp arguments
of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to
expose the church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies and to make
91. If, therefore, indulgences were
preached according to the spirit and intention of the pope, all these doubts
would be readily resolved. Indeed, they would not exist.
92. Away then with all those prophets
who say to the people of Christ, "Peace, peace," and there is no peace!
93. Blessed be all those prophets
who say to the people of Christ, "Cross, cross," and there is no cross!
94. Christians should be exhorted
to be diligent in following Christ, their head, through penalties, death, and
95. And thus be confident of entering
into heaven through many tribulations rather than though the false security
of peace [Acts 14:22].