Luther’s “Ninety-Five Theses”

Luther’s “Ninety-Five Theses”

Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a Cathotic monk who began the Protestant Reformation. As a biblical scholar
and professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg in the Holy Roman Empire, Luther hoped to reform
the Catholic Church. Among other reforms, Luther called for the end of the popular and lucrative practice of
selling indulgences. At this time, Church officials sold indulgences to the faithful for cash payments, with the
claim that they served as penance for sins and, therefore, shortened a person’s time in purgatory after death.
Luther beiieved this, and other practices, to be a corruption of early Christian beiiefs and practices. in October
of 1517, in response to the arrival of an indulgence seller in Wittenberg, Luther tacked this document to the
door of the cathedral, calling for reforms but instead beginning what would culminate in the Protestant break
with the Catholic Church.
Source: Reprinted with permission from Martin Luther, The Reformation Writings of Martin Luther, voi. 1, The
Basis of the Protestant Reformation, ed. and trans. Bertram Lee Woolf (London: Lutten/vorth Press, 1953), 3242.
Focus Questions:
1. What reasons did Luther give for why the sale of indulgences was wrong? What other practices did he
condemn and why?
2. How and why did Luther’s theses initiate the Protestant Reformation?
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.
1. When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of
penitence-
5. The pope has neither the will nor the power to remit any penalties beyond those imposed either at his own
discretion or by canon law.
6. The pope himself cannot remit guilt, but only declare and confirm that it has been remitted by God; or, at
most, he can remit it in cases reserved to his discretion. Except for these cases, the guilt remains untouched.
20. Therefore the pope, in speaking of the plenary remission of all penalties, does not mean “all” in the snict
sense, but only those imposed by himself.
21. Hence those who preach indulgences are in error when they say that a man is absolved and saved from
every penalty by the pope’s indulgences;
27. There is no divine authority for preaching that the soul flies out of purgatory immediately the money chinks
in the bottom of the chest.
28. It is certainly possible that when the money chinks in the bottom of the chest avarice and greed increase; but
when the church offers intercession, all depends on the will of God.
32. All those who believe themselves certain of their own salvation by means of letters of indulgence, will be
eternally damned, together with their teachers.
35. It is not in accordance with Christian doctrine to preach and teach that those who buy off souls, or purchase
confessional licenses, have no need to repent of their own sins.

1. When was this document written? Who was the author and who was the intended audience?
2. Why was this document written (i.e. what were the author’s purposes)? What basic assumptions does the author make?
3. What does the document reveal about historical change in the society in which it was produced? What does it reveal about the causes of those changes?
4. What is the historical significance of the document?