On this day in 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. These 95 Theses are considered a charter for the Protestant Reformation. But that’s not what they were meant to be. When Luther wrote these discussion points, his intention was to invite and encourage his fellow academics to debate the abuse of indulgences in the penitential rite of the church. The following “talking points” are some of the highlights of Luther’s Theses:
When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.
Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh.
They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.
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.
Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.
For the graces of indulgences are concerned only with the penalties of sacramental satisfaction established by man.
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.
Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters.
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.
Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences.
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.
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.
Injury is done to the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or larger amount of time is devoted to indulgences than to the Word.
The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.
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.
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 reason would be most just; the latter is most trivial.
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?”
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 Christians unhappy.
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.
Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell.
And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace (Acts 14:22).