Works of Martin Luther, with introductions and notes/Volume 1/Disputation on Indulgences

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search









Sections (not listed in original)


"A Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences"[1] is the full title of the document commonly called "The Ninety-five Theses." The form of the document was determined by the academic practice of the Middle Ages. In all the Mediæval Universities the "disputation" was a well-established institution. It was a debate, conducted according to accepted rules, on any subject which the chief disputant might elect, and no student's education was thought to be complete until he had shown his ability to defend himself in discussions of this kind. It was customary to set forth the subject which was to be discussed, in a series of "theses," which were statements of opinion tentatively advanced as the basis of argument. The author, or some other person whom he might designate, announced himself ready to defend these statements against all comers, and invited all who might wish to debate with him to a part in the discussion. Such an academic document, one out of many hundreds, exhaling the atmosphere of the Mediæval University, is the Disputation, which by its historical importance has earned the name "The XCV Theses."

The Theses were published on the Eve of All Saints (Oct. 31), 1517. They were not intended for any other public than that of the University,[2] and Luther did not even have them printed at first, though copies were forwarded to the Archbishop of Mainz, and to Luther's own diocesan, the Bishop of Brandenburg. The manner of their publication too was academic. They were simply posted on the door of the Church of All Saints—called the "Castle-church," to distinguish it from its neighbor, the "Town-church"—not because more people would see them there than elsewhere, but because that church-door was the customary place for posting such announcements, the predecessor of the "black-board" in the modern German University. It was not night, but mid-day[3] when the Theses were nailed up, and the Eve of All Saints was chosen, not that the crowds who would frequent the next day's festival might read them, for they were written in Latin, but because it was the customary day for the posting of theses. Moreover, the Feast of All Saints was the time when the precious relics, which earned the man who "adored" them, long years of indulgence,[4] were exhibited to worshipers, and the approach of this high feast-day put the thought of indulgences uppermost in the minds of everybody in Wittenberg, including the author of the Theses.[5]

But neither the Theses nor the results which followed them could be confined to Wittenberg. Contrary to Luther's expectation and to his great surprise,[6] they circulated all through Germany with a rapidity that was startling. Within two months, before the end of 1517, three editions of the Latin text had been printed, one at Wittenberg, one at Nürnberg, and one as far away as Basel, and copies of the Theses had been sent to Rome. Numerous editions, both Latin and German, quickly followed. Luther's cotemporaries saw in the publication of the Theses "the beginning of the Reformation,"[7] and the judgment of modern times has confirmed their verdict, but the Protestant of to-day, and especially the Protestant layman, is almost certain to be surprised, possibly deeply disappointed, at their contents. They are not "a trumpet-blast of reform"; that title must be reserved for the great works of 1520.[8] The word "faith," destined to become the watchword of the Reformation, does not once occur in them; the validity of the Sacrament of Penance is not disputed; the right of the pope to forgive sins, especially in "reserved cases," is not denied; even the virtue of indulgences is admitted, within limits, and the question at issue is simply "What is that virtue?"

To read the Theses, therefore, with a fair degree of comprehension we must know something of the time that produced them, and we must bear two facts continually in mind. We must remember that at this time Luther was a devoted son of the Church and servant of the pope, perhaps not quite the "right frantic and raving papist"[9] he afterwards called himself, but as yet entirely without suspicion of the extent to which he had inwardly diverged from the teachings of Roman theology. We must also remember that the Theses were no attempt at a searching examination of the whole structure and content of Roman teaching, but were directed against what Luther conceived to be merely abuses which had sprung up around a single group of doctrines centering in the Sacrament of Penance. He sincerely thought that the teaching of the Theses was in full agreement with the best traditions of the Church,[10] and his surprise that they should have caused so much excitement is undoubtedly genuine and not feigned. He shows himself both hurt and astonished that he should be assailed as a heretic and schismatic, and "called by six hundred other names of ignominy."[11] On the other hand, we are compelled to admit that from the outset Luther's opponents had grasped far more completely than he himself the true significance of his "purely academic protest."

2. Penance and Indulgence.—The purpose of the disputation which Luther proposed to hold was to clear up the subject of the virtue of "indulgences," and the indulgences were the most striking and characteristic feature of the religious life of the Church in the last three Centuries of the Middle Ages.[12] We meet them everywhere—indulgences for the adoration of relics, indulgences for worship at certain shrines, indulgences for pilgrimages here or there, indulgences for contributions to this or that special object of charity. Luther roundly charges the indulgence-vendors with teaching the people that the indulgences are a means to the remission of sins. What are these indulgences?

Their history is connected, on the one hand, with the history of the Sacrament of Penance, on the other with the history of the development of papal power. The Sacrament of Penance developed out of the administration of Church discipline. In the earliest days of the Church, the Christian who fell into sin was punished by exclusion from the communion of the Church. This excommunication was not, however, permanent, and the sinner could be restored to the privileges of Church-fellowship after he had confessed his sin, professed penitence, and performed certain penitential acts, chief among which were alms-giving, fasting and prayer, and, somewhat later, pilgrimage. These acts of penitence came to have the name of "satisfactions," and were a condition precedent to the reception of absolution. They varied in duration and severity, according to the enormity of the offence, and for the guidance of those who administered the discipline of the Church, sets of rules were formulated by which the "satisfactions" or "penances" were imposed. These codes are the "Penitential Canons."[13] The first step in the development of the indulgences may be found in the practice which gradually arose, of remitting some part of the enjoined "penances" on consideration of the performance of certain acts which could be regarded as meritorious.

The indulgences received a new form, however, and became a part of the regular Church administration, when the popes discovered the possibilities which lay in this institution for the advancement of their own power and the furtherance of their own interests. This discovery seems to date from the time of the Crusades. The crusading-indulgences, granted at first only to those who actually went to the Holy War, subsequently to those also who contributed to the expense of the expedition, were virtually the acceptance of this work as a substitute for any penance which the Church might otherwise require. As zeal for the Crusades began to wane, the indulgences were used more and more freely to stimulate lagging interest; their number was greatly increased, and those who purchased the indulgences with money far outnumbered those who actually took the Cross. Failing in their purpose as an incentive to enlistment in the crusading armies, they showed their value as a source of income, and from the beginning of the XIV. Century the sale of indulgences became a regular business.

About the same time a new kind of indulgence arose to take the place of the now somewhat antiquated crusading-indulgence. This was the Jubilee-indulgence, and had its origin in the Jubilee of 1300. By the Bull Antiquorum Habet Fide, Boniface VIII. granted to all who would visit the shrines of the Apostles in Rome during the year 1300 and during each succeeding centennial year, a plenary indulgence.[14] Little by little it became the custom to increase the number of these Jubilee-indulgences. Once in a hundred years was not often enough for Christians to have a chance for plenary forgiveness, and at last, unwilling to deprive of the privileges of the Jubilee those who were kept away from Rome, the popes came to grant the same plenary indulgence to all who would make certain contributions to the papal treasury.[15]

Meanwhile the Sacrament of Penance had become an integral part of the Roman sacramental system, and had replaced the earlier penitential discipline as the means by which the Church granted Christians forgiveness for sins committed after baptism. The scholastic theologians had busied themselves with the theory of this Sacrament. They distinguished between its "material," its "form" and its "effect." The "form" of the Sacrament was the absolution; its "effect," the forgiveness of sins; its "material," three acts of the penitent: "confession," "contrition," and "satisfaction." "Confession" must be by word of mouth, and must include all the sins which the sinner could remember to have committed; "contrition" must be sincere sorrow of the heart, and must include the purpose henceforth to avoid sin; "satisfaction" must be made by works prescribed by the priest who heard confession. In the administration of the Sacrament, however, the absolution preceded "satisfaction" instead of following it, as it had done in the discipline of the early Church.[16] To justify this apparent inconsistency, the Doctors further distinguished between the "guilt" and the "penalty" of sin.[17] Sins were classified as "mortal" and "venial."[18] Mortal sins for which the offender had not received absolution were punished eternally, while venial sins were those which merited only some smaller penalty; but when a mortal sin was confessed and absolution granted, the guilt of the sin was done away, and with it the eternal penalty. And yet the absolution did not open the gate of heaven, though it closed the door of hell; the eternal penalty was not to be exacted, but there was a temporal penalty to be paid. The "satisfaction" was the temporal penalty, and if satisfaction was in arrears at death, the arrearage must be paid in purgatory, a place of punishment for mortal sins confessed and repented, but "unsatisfied," and for venial sins, which were not serious enough to bring eternal condemnation. The penalties of purgatory were "temporal," viz., they stopped somewhere this side of eternity, and their duration could be measured in days and years, though the number of the years might mount high into the thousands and tens of thousands.

It was at this point that the practice of indulgences united with the theory of the Sacrament of Penance. The indulgences had to do with the "satisfaction."[19] They might be "partial," remitting only a portion of the penalties, measured by days or years of purgatory; or they might be "plenary," remitting all penalties due in this world or the next. In theory, however, no indulgence could remit the guilt or the eternal penalty of sin,[20] and the purchaser of an indulgence was not only expected to confess and be absolved, but he was also supposed to be corde contritus, i. e., "truly penitent."[21] A rigid insistence on the fulfilment of these conditions would have greatly restricted the value of the indulgences as a means of gain, for the right to hear confession and grant absolution belonged to the parish-priests. Consequently, it became the custom to endow the indulgence-venders with extraordinary powers. They were given the authority to hear confession and grant absolution wherever they might be, and to absolve even from the sins which were normally "reserved" for the absolution of the higher Church authorities.

The demand for contrition was somewhat more difficult to meet. But here too there was a way out. Complete contrition included love to God as its motive, and the truly contrite man was not always easy to find; but some of the scholastic Doctors had discovered a substitute for contrition in what they called "attrition," viz., incomplete contrition, which might have fear for a motive, and which the Sacrament of Penance could transform into contrition. When, therefore, a man was afraid of hell or of purgatory, he could make his confession to the indulgence-seller or his agent, receive from him the absolution which gave his imperfect repentance the value of true contrition, released him from the guilt of sin, and changed its eternal penalty to a temporal penalty, then he could purchase the plenary indulgence, which remitted the temporal penalty, and so in one transaction, in which all the demands of the Church were formally met, he could become sure of heaven. Thus the indulgence robbed the Sacrament of Penance of its ethical content.

Furthermore, indulgences were made available for souls already in purgatory. This kind of indulgence seems to have been granted for the first time in 1476. It had long been held that the prayers of the living availed to shorten the pains of the departed, and the institution of masses for the dead was of long standing; but it was not without some difficulty that the Popes succeeded in establishing their claim to power over purgatory. Their power over the souls of the living was not disputed. The "Power of the Keys" had been given to Peter and transmitted to his successors; the "Treasury of the Church,"[22] i. e., the merits of Christ and of the Saints, was believed to be at their disposal, and it was this treasury which they employed in the granting of indulgences;[23] but it seemed reasonable to suppose that their jurisdiction ended with death. Accordingly, Pope Sixtus IV, in 1477, declared that the power of the Pope over purgatory, while genuine, was exercised only per modum suffragii, "by way of intercession."[24] The distinction was thought dogmatically important, but to the layman, who looked more to results than to methods, the difference between intercession and jurisdiction was trifling. To him the important thing was that the Pope, whether by jurisdiction or intercession, was able to release the soul of a departed Christian from the penalties of purgatory. It is needless to say that these indulgences for the dead were eagerly purchased. In filial love and natural affection the indulgence-vender had powerful allies.

3. The Indulgence of 1515.—The XCV Theses were called forth by the preaching of the "Jubilee Indulgence"[25] of 1510, which was not placed on sale in central Germany until 1515. The financial needs of the papacy were never greater than in the last years of the XV. and the first years of the XVI. Century, and they were further increased by the resolve of Julius II. to erect a new church of St. Peter, which should surpass in magnificence all the churches of the world. The indulgence of 1510 was an extraordinary financial measure, the proceeds of which were to pay for the erection of the new Basilica, but when Julius died in 1513, the church was not completed, and the money had not been raised. The double task was bequeathed to his successor, Leo X. On the 31st of March, 1515, Leo proclaimed a plenary indulgence for the Archbishoprics of Magdeburg and Mainz, and appointed Albrecht, of Brandenburg, who was the incumbent of both sees and of the bishopric of Halberstadt as well, Commissioner for the sale of this indulgence. By a secret agreement, of which Luther was, of course, entirely ignorant, one-half of the proceeds was to be paid to the Fuggers of Augsburg on account of moneys advanced to the Archbishop for the payment of the fees to Rome, and of the sums demanded in consideration of a dispensation allowing him to occupy three sees at the same time; the other half of the proceeds was to go to the papal treasury to be applied to the building of the new church. The period during which the indulgence was to be on sale was eight years.

The actual work of organizing the "indulgence-campaign" was put into the hands of John Tetzel, whose large experience in the selling of indulgences fitted him excellently for the post of Sub-commissioner. The indulgence-sellers acted under the commission of the Archbishop and the directions of Tetzel, who took personal charge of the enterprise. The preachers went from city to city, and during the time that they were preaching the indulgence in any given place, all other preaching was required to cease.[26] They held out the usual inducements to prospective buyers. The plenary nature of the indulgence was made especially prominent, and the people were eloquently exhorted that the purchase of indulgence-letters was better than all good works, that they were an insurance against the pains of hell and of purgatory, that they availed for all satisfactions, even in the case of the most heinous sins that could be conceived.[27] "Confessional letters"[28] were one of the forms of this indulgence. They gave their possessor permission to choose his own confessor, and entitled him to plenary remission once in his life, to absolution from sins normally reserved, etc. The indulgences for the dead were zealously proclaimed, and the duty of purchasing for departed souls release from the pains of purgatory was most urgently enjoined. So great was the power of the indulgence to alleviate the pains of purgatory, that the souls of the departed were said to pass into heaven the instant that the coins of the indulgence-buyer jingled in the money-box.[29]

4. Luther's Protest.—The Theses were Luther's protest against the manner in which this indulgence was preached, and against the false conception of the efficacy of indulgences which the people obtained from such preaching. They were not his first protest, however. In a sermon, preached July 27th, 1516,[30] he had issued a warning against the false idea that a man who had bought an indulgence was sure of salvation, and had declared the assertion that souls could be bought out of purgatory to be "a piece of temerity." His warnings were repeated in other sermons, preached October 31st, 1516, and February 24th, 1517.[31] The burden of these warnings is always the same: the indulgences lead men astray; they incite to fear of God's penalties and not to fear of sin; they encourage false hopes of salvation, and make light of the true condition of forgiveness, viz., sincere and genuine repentance.

These warnings are repeated in the Theses. The preaching of indulgences has concealed the true nature of repentance; the first thing to consider is what "our Lord and Master Jesus Christ means," when He says, "Repent."[32] Without denying the pope's right to the power of the keys, Luther wishes to come into the clear about the extent of the pope's jurisdiction, which does not reach as far as purgatory. He believes that the pope has the right to remit "penalties," but these penalties are of the same sort as those which were imposed in the early Church as a condition precedent to the absolution; they are ecclesiastical penalties merely, and do not extend beyond the grave; the true penalty of sin is hatred of self, which continues until entrance into the kingdom of heaven.[33]

The Theses are formulated with continual reference to the statements of the indulgence-preachers, and of the Instruction to the Commissaries issued under the name of the Archbishop of Mainz.[34] For this reason there is little logical sequence in the arrangement of the Theses, and none of the attempts to discover a plan or scheme underlying them has been successful.[35] In a general way it may be said that for the positive views of Luther on the subjects discussed, Theses 30–37 and 42–52 are the most vital, while Theses 92–95 are sufficient evidence of the motive which led Luther to make his protest.

5. Conclusion.—The editors of this Translation present herewith a new translation of the Theses, together with three letters, which will help the reader to understand the mind of Luther at the time of their composition and his motive in preparing them. The first of these letters is that which was sent, with a copy of the Theses, to Albrecht of Mainz. The second and third are addressed respectively to Staupitz and Leo X., and were written to accompany the "Resolutions,"[36] an exhaustive explantion and defense of the Theses, published in 15 18, after the controversy had become bitter.

6. Literature.—(a) Sources. The source material for the history of indulgences is naturally widely scattered. The most convenient collection is found in Koehler, Dokumente zum Ablassstreit, Tübingen, 1900. For the indulgences against which Luther protested, see, beside the Editions of Luther's Works, Kapp, Schauplatz des Tetzelischen Ablass-Krams, Leipzig, 1720; Sammlung einiger zum päbstlichen Ablass gehörigen Schriften, Leipzig, 1721; Kleine Nachlese zur Erläuterung der Reformationsgeschichte, Leipzig, 1730 and 1733; also Loescher, Vollstandige Reformationsacta, I, Leipzig, 1720.

(b) Secondary Works. Beside the general works in Church History and History of Doctrine, see the Lives of Luther, in German especially those of Köstlin-Kawerau, Kolde, Berger and Hausrath; in English those of Beard, Jacobs, Lindsay, Smith and McGiffert; also Boehmer, Luther im Lichte der neueren Forschung, 2d ed., Leipzig, 1910.

On the indulgences in their relation to the Sacrament of Penance, H. C. Lea, History of Confession and Indulgence, especially Vol. III, Philadelphia, 1896; Brieger, Das Wesen des Ablasses am Ausgang des Mittelalters, Leipzig, 1897, and Article Indulgenzen in PRE.3 IX, pp. 76 ff. (Eng. in Schaff-Herzog v., pp. 485-88); Gottlob, Kreuzablass und Almosenablass, Stuttgart, 1906 (especially valuable for the origin of indulgences).

On the indulgences and the XCV Theses, Koestlin, Luther's Theologie, Leipzig, 1883 (Eng. Trans, by Hay, The Theology of Luther, Philadelphia, 1897); Bratke, Luther's XCV Thesen und ihre dogmengeschichtlichen Voraussetzungen, Göttingen, 1884; Dieckhoff, Der Ablassstreit dogmengeschichtlich dargestellt, Gotha, 1886; Lindsay, History of the Reformation, I, New York, 1906; Tschachert, Entstehung der lutherischen und reformierten Kirchenlehre, Göttingen, 1910.

On the financial aspects of the indulgence-traffic, Schulte, Die Fugger in Rom, 2 vols., Leipzig, 1904.


Allentown, Pa.



OCTOBER 31, 1517

To the Most Reverend Father in Christ and Most Illustrious Lord, Albrecht of Magdeburg and Mainz, Archbishop and Primate of the Church, Margrave of Brandenburg, etc., his own lord and pastor in Christ, worthy of reverence and fear, and most gracious.


The grace of God be with you in all its fulness and power! Spare me, Most Reverend Father in Christ and Most Illustrious Prince, that I, the dregs of humanity, have so much boldness that I have dared to think of a letter to the height of your Sublimity. The Lord Jesus is my witness that, conscious of my smallness and baseness, I have long deferred what I am now shameless enough to do,—moved thereto most of all by the duty of fidelity which I acknowledge that I owe to your most Reverend Fatherhood in Christ. Meanwhile, therefore, may your Highness deign to cast an eye upon one speck of dust, and for the sake of your pontifical clemency to heed my prayer.

Papal indulgences for the building of St. Peter's are circulating under your most distinguished name, and as regards them, I do not bring accusation against the outcries of the preachers, which I have not heard, so much as I grieve over the wholly false impressions which the people have conceived from them; to wit,—the unhappy souls believe that if they have purchased letters of indulgence they are sure of their salvation;[38] again, that so soon as they cast their contributions into the money-box, souls fly out of purgatory;[39] furthermore, that these graces [i. e., the graces conferred in the indulgences] are so great that there is no sin too great to be absolved, even, as they say — though the thing is impossible—if one had violated the Mother of God;[40] again, that a man is free, through these indulgences, from all penalty and guilt.[41]

O God, most good! Thus souls committed to your care, good Father, are taught to their death, and the strict account, which you must render for all such, grows and increases. For this reason I have no longer been able to keep quiet about this matter, for it is by no gift of a bishop that man becomes sure of salvation, since he gains this certainty not even by the "inpoured grace"[42] of God, but the Apostle bids us always "work out our own salvation in fear and trembling,"[43] and Peter says, "the righteous scarcely shall be saved."[44] Finally, so narrow is the way that leads to life,[45] that the Lord, through the prophets Amos[46] and Zechariah,[47] calls those who shall be saved "brands plucked from the burning," and everywhere declares the difficulty of salvation.

Why, then, do the preachers of pardons, by these false fables and promises, make the people careless and fearless? Whereas indulgences confer on us no good gift, either for salvation or for sanctity, but only take away the external penalty, which it was formerly the custom to impose according to the canons.[48]

Finally, works of piety and love are infinitely better than indulgences,[49] and yet these are not preached with such ceremony or such zeal; nay, for the sake of preaching the indulgences they are kept quiet, though it is the first and the sole duty of all bishops that the people should learn the Gospel and the love of Christ, for Christ never taught that indulgences should be preached. How great then is the horror, how great the peril of a bishop, if he permits the Gospel to be kept quiet, and nothing but the noise of indulgences to be spread among his people![50] Will not Christ say to them, "straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel"[51][52]?

In addition to this, Most Reverend Father in the Lord, it is said in the Instruction to the Commissaries[53] which is issued under your name, Most Reverend Father (doubtless without your knowledge and consent), that one of the chief graces of indulgence is that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to God, and all the penalties of purgatory are destroyed.[54] Again, it is said that contrition is not necessary in those who purchase souls [out of purgatory] or buy confessionalia.[55]

But what can I do, good Primate and Most Illustrious Prince, except pray your Most Reverend Fatherhood by the Lord Jesus Christ that you would deign to look [on this matter] with the eye of fatherly care, and do away entirely with that treatise[56] and impose upon the preachers of pardons another form of preaching; lest, perchance, one may some time arise, who will publish writings in which he will confute both them and that treatise, to the shame of your Most Illustrious Sublimity. I shrink very much from thinking that this will be done, and yet I fear that it will come to pass, unless there is some speedy remedy.

These faithful offices of my insignificance I beg that your Most Illustrious Grace may deign to accept in the spirit of a Prince and a Bishop, i. e., with the greatest clemency, as I offer them out of a faithful heart, altogether devoted to you, Most Reverend Father, since I too am a part of your flock.

May the Lord Jesus have your Most Reverend Fatherhood eternally in His keeping. Amen.

From Wittenberg on the Vigil of All Saints, MDXVII.

If it please the Most Reverend Father he may see these my Disputations, and learn how doubtful a thing is the opinion of indulgences which those men spread as though it were most certain.

To the Most Reverend Father,

Brother Martin Luther.



OCTOBER 31, 1517

Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter.

In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite,[57] willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.

2. This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i. e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.

3. Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers mortifications of the flesh.

4. The penalty[58] [of sin], therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

5. The pope does not intend to remit, and cannot remit any penalties other than those which he has imposed either by his own authority or by that of the Canons.[59]

6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring that it has been remitted by God and by assenting to God's remission; though, to be sure, he may grant remission in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in such cases were despised, the guilt would remain entirely unforgiven.

7. God remits guilt to no one whom He does not, at the same time, humble in all things and bring into subjection to His vicar, the priest.

8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to them, nothing should be imposed on the dying.

9. Therefore the Holy Spirit in the pope is kind to us, because in his decrees he always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity.[60]

10. Ignorant and wicked are the doings of those priests who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penances for purgatory.

11. This changing of the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory is quite evidently one of the tares that were sown[61] while the bishops slept.

12. In former times the canonical penalties were imposed not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.

13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties; they are already dead to canonical rules, and have a right to be released from them.

14. The imperfect health [of soul], that is to say, the imperfect love, of the dying brings with it, of necessity, great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater is the fear.

15. This fear and horror is sufficient of itself alone (to say nothing of other things) to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.

16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ as do despair, almost-despair, and the assurance of safety.

17. With souls in purgatory it seems necessary that horror should grow less and love increase.

18. It seems unproved, either by reason or Scripture, that they are outside the state of merit, that is to say, of increasing love.

19. Again, it seems unproved that they, or at least that all of them, are certain or assured of their own blessedness, though we may be quite certain of it.

20. Therefore by "full remission of all penalties" the pope means not actually "of all," but only of those imposed by himself.

21. Therefore those preachers of indulgences are in error, who say that by the pope's indulgences a man is freed from every penalty, and saved;

22. Whereas he remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which, according to the canons, they would have had to pay in this life.

23. If it is at all possible to grant to any one the remission of all penalties whatsoever, it is certain that this remission can be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to the very fewest.

24. It must needs be, therefore, that the greater part of the people are deceived by that indiscriminate and high-sounding promise of release from penalty.

25. The power which the pope has, in a general way, over purgatory, is just like the power which any bishop or curate has, in a special way, within his own diocese or parish.

26. The pope does well when he grants remission to souls [in purgatory], not by the power of the keys (which he does not possess),[62] but by way of intercession.

27. They preach man[63] who say that so soon as the penny jingles into the money-box, the soul flies out [of purgatory].[64]

28. It is certain that when the penny jingles into the money-box, gain and avarice can be increased, but the result of the intercession of the Church is in the power of God alone.

29. Who knows whether all the souls in purgatory wish to be bought out of it, as in the legend of Sts. Severus and Paschal.[65]

30. No one is sure that his own contrition is sincere; much less that he has attained full remission.

31. Rare as is the man that is truly penitent, so rare is also the man who truly buys indulgences, i. e., such men are most rare.

32. They will be condemned eternally, together with their teachers, who believe themselves sure of their salvation because they have letters of pardon.[66]

33. Men must 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 these "graces of pardon" concern only the penalties of sacramental satisfaction, and these are appointed by man.[67]

35. They preach no Christian doctrine who teach that contrition is not necessary in those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessionalia.[68]

36. Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of pardon.

37. Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part in all the blessings of Christ and the Church; and this is granted him by God, even without letters of pardon.

38. Nevertheless, the remission and participation [in the blessings of the Church] which are granted by the pope are in no way to be despised, for they are, as I have said,[69] the declaration of divine remission.

39. It is most difficult, even for the very keenest theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the abundance of pardons and [the need of] true contrition.

40. True contrition seeks and loves penalties, but liberal pardons only relax penalties and cause them to be hated, or at least, furnish an occasion [for hating them].

41. Apostolic[70] pardons are to be preached with caution, lest the people may falsely think them preferable to other good works of love.

42. Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend the buying of pardons to be compared in any way to works of mercy.

43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better work than buying pardons;

44. Because love grows by works of love, and man becomes better; but by pardons man does not grow better, only more free from penalty.

45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a man in need, and passes him by, and gives [his money] for pardons, purchases not the indulgences of the pope, but the indignation of God.

46. Christians are to be taught that unless they have more than they need, they are bound to keep back what is necessary for their own families, and by no means to squander it on pardons.

47. Christians are to be taught that the buying of pardons is a matter of free will, and not of commandment.

48. Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting pardons, needs, and therefore desires, their devout prayer for him more than the money they bring.

49. Christians are to be taught that the pope's pardons are useful, if they do not put their trust in them; but altogether harmful, if through them they lose their fear of God.[71]

50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the pardon-preachers, he would rather that St. Peter's church should go to ashes, than that it should be built up with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep.

51. Christians are to be taught that it would be the pope's wish, as it is his duty, to give of his own money to very many of those from whom certain hawkers of pardons cajole money, even though the church of St. Peter might have to be sold.

52. The assurance of salvation by letters of pardon is vain, even though the commissary,[72] nay, even though the pope himself, were to stake his soul upon it.

53. They are enemies of Christ and of the pope, who bid the Word of God be altogether silent in some Churches, in order that pardons may be preached in others.

54. Injury is done the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or a longer time is spent on pardons than on this Word.[73]

55. It must be the intention of the pope that if pardons, which are a very small thing, are celebrated with one bell, with single processions and ceremonies, 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,"[74] out of which the pope grants indulgences, are not sufficiently named or known among the people of Christ.

57. That they are not temporal treasures is certainly evident, for many of the vendors do not pour out such treasures so easily, but only gather them.

58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the Saints, for even without the pope, these always work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outward man.

59. St. Lawrence said that the treasures of the Church were the Church's poor, but he spoke according to the usage of the word in his own time.

60. Without rashness we say that the keys of the Church, given by Christ's merit, are that treasure;

61. For it is clear that for the remission of penalties and of reserved cases, the power of the pope is of itself sufficient.

62. The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God.

63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last.

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 they formerly were wont to fish for men of riches.

66. The treasures of the indulgences are nets with which they now fish for the riches of men.

67. The indulgences which the preachers cry as the "greatest graces" are known to be truly such, in so far as they promote gain.

68. Yet they are in truth the very smallest graces compared with the grace of God and the piety of the Cross.

69. Bishops and curates are bound to admit the commissaries of apostolic pardons, with all reverence.

70. But still more are they bound to strain all their eyes and attend with all their ears, lest these men preach their own dreams instead of the commission of the pope.

71. He who speaks against the truth of apostolic pardons, let him be anathema and accursed!

72. But he who guards against the lust and license of the pardon-preachers, let him be blessed!

73. The pope justly thunders[75] against those who, by any art, contrive the injury of the traffic in pardons.

74. But much more does he intend to thunder against those who use the pretext of pardons to contrive the injury, of holy love and truth.

75. To think the papal pardons so great that they could absolve a man even if he had committed an impossible sin and violated the Mother of God — this is madness.[76]

76. We say, on the contrary, that the papal pardons are not able to remove the very least of venial sins, so far as its guilt is concerned.[77]

77. It is said that even St. Peter, if he were now Pope, could not bestow greater graces; this is blasphemy against St. Peter and against the pope.

78. We say, on the contrary, that even the present pope, and any pope at all, has greater graces at his disposal; to wit, the Gospel, powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written in I. Corinthians xii.

79. To say that the cross, emblazoned with the papal arms, which is set up [by the preachers of indulgences], is of equal worth with the Cross of Christ, is blasphemy.

80. The bishops, curates and theologians who allow such talk to be spread among the people, will have an account to render.

81. This unbridled preaching of pardons makes it no easy matter, even for learned men, to rescue the reverence due to the pope from slander, or even from the shrewd questionings of the laity.

82. To wit:—"Why does not the pope empty purgatory, for the sake of holy love and of 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 mortuary and anniversary masses for the dead continued, and why does he not return or permit the withdrawal of the endowments founded on their behalf, since it is wrong to pray for the redeemed?"

84. Again:—"What is this new piety of God and the pope, that for money they allow 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 that pious and beloved soul's own need, free it for pure love's sake?"

85. Again:—"Why are the penitential canons,[78] long since in actual fact and through disuse abrogated and dead, now satisfied by the granting of indulgences, as though they were still alive and in force?"

86. Again:—"Why does not the pope, whose wealth is to-day greater than the riches of the richest, build just this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of poor believers?"

87. Again:—"What is it that the pope remits, and what participation[79] does he grant to those who, by perfect contrition, have a right to full remission and participation?"

88. Again:—"What greater blessing could come to the Church than if the pope were to do a hundred times a day what he now does once,[80] and bestow on every believer these remissions and participations?"

89. "Since the pope, by his pardons, seeks the salvation of souls rather than money, why does he suspend the indulgences and pardons granted heretofore, since these have equal efficacy?"[81]

90. To repress these arguments and scruples 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.

91. If, therefore, pardons were preached according to the spirit and mind of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved; nay, 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![82]

93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, "Cross, cross," and there is no cross![83]

94. Christians are to be exhorted that they be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hell;

95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven rather through many tribulations,[84] than through the assurance of peace.




To his Reverend and Dear Father


Professor of Sacred Theology, Vicar of the Augustinian Order,

Brother Martin Luther,

his pupil,

sendeth greeting.

I remember, dear Father, that once, among those pleasant and wholesome talks of thine, with which the Lord Jesus ofttimes gives me wondrous consolation, the word poenitentia[85] was mentioned. We were moved with pity for many consciences, and for those tormentors who teach, with rules innumerable and unbearable, what they call a modus confitendi.[86] Then we heard thee say as with a voice from heaven, that there is no true penitence which does not begin with love of righteousness and of God, and that this love, which others think to be the end and the completion of penitence, is rather its beginning.

[87]This word of thine stuck in me like a sharp arrow of the mighty, and from that time forth I began to compare it with the texts of Scripture which teach penitence. Lo, there began a joyous game! The words frollicked with me everywhere! They laughed and gamboled around this saying. Before that there was scarcely a word in all the Scriptures more bitter to me than "penitence," though I was busy making pretences to God and trying to produce a forced, feigned love; but now there is no word which has for me a sweeter or more pleasing sound than "penitence," For God's commands are sweet, when we find that they are to be read not in books alone, but in the wounds of our sweet Saviour.

After this it came about that, by the grace of the learned men who dutifully teach us Greek and Hebrew, I learned that this word is in Greek metanoia and is derived from meta and noun, i. e., post and mentem,[88] so that poenitentia or metanoia is a "coming to one's senses," and is a knowledge of one's own evil, gained after punishment has been accepted and error acknowledged; and this cannot possibly happen without a change in our heart and our love. All this answers so aptly to the theology of Paul, that nothing, at least in my judgment, can so aptly illustrate St. Paul.

Then I went on and saw that metanoia can be derived, though not without violence, not only from post and mentem, but also from trans and mentem,[89] so that {sp|metanoia}} signifies a changing[90] of the mind and heart, because it seemed to indicate not only a change of the heart, but also a manner of changing it, i. e., the grace of God. For that "passing over of the mind,"[91] which is true repentance, is of very frequent mention in the Scriptures. Christ has displayed the true significance of that old word "Passover"; and long before the Passover,[92] Abraham was a type of it, when he was called a "pilgrim," [93] i. e., a "Hebrew,"[94] that is to say, one who "passed over" into Mesopotamia, as the Doctor of Bourgos[95] learnedly explains. With this accords, too, the title of the Psalm [96] in which Jeduthun, i. e., "the pilgrim,"[97] is introduced as the singer.

Depending on these things, I ventured to think those men false teachers who ascribed so much to works of penitence that they left us scarcely anything of penitence itself except trivial satisfactions[98] and laborious confession, because, forsooth, they had derived their idea from the Latin words poenitentiam agere,[99]. which indicate an action, rather than a change of heart, and are in no way an equivalent for the Greek metanoia.

While this thought was boiling in my mind, suddenly new trumpets of indulgences and bugles of remissions began to peal and to bray all about us; but they were not intended to arouse us to keen eagerness for battle. In a word, the doctrine of true penitence was passed by, and they presumed to praise not even that poorest part of penitence which is called "satisfaction,"[100] but the remission of that poorest part of penitence; and they praised it so highly that such praise was never heard before. Then, too, they taught impious and false and heretical doctrines with such authority (I wished to say "with such assurance") that he who even muttered anything to the contrary under his breath, would straightway be consigned to the flames as a heretic, and condemned to eternal malediction.

Unable to meet their rage half-way, I determined to enter a modest dissent, and to call their teaching into question, relying on the opinion of all the doctors and of the whole Church, that to render satisfaction is better than to secure the remission of satisfaction, i. e., to buy indulgences. Nor is there anybody who ever taught otherwise. Therefore, I published my Disputation;[101] in other words, I brought upon my head all the curses, high, middle and low, which these lovers of money (I should say "of souls") are able to send or to have sent upon me. For these most courteous men, armed, as they are, with very dense acumen, since they cannot deny what I have said, now pretend that in my Disputation I have spoken against the power of the Supreme Pontiff.[102]

That is the reason. Reverend Father, why I now regretfully come out in public. For I have ever been a lover of my corner, and prefer to look upon the beauteous passing show of the great minds of our age, rather than to be looked upon and laughed at. But I see that the bean must appear among the cabbages,[103] and the black must be put with the white, for the sake of seemliness and loveliness.

I ask, therefore, that thou wilt take this foolish work of mine and forward it, if possible, to the most Excellent Pontiff, Leo X, where it may plead my cause against the designs of those who hate me. Not that I wish thee to share my danger! Nay, I wish this to be done at my peril only. Christ will see whether what I have said is His or my own; and without His permission there is not a word in the Supreme Pontiff's tongue, nor is the heart of the king in his own hand.[104] He is the Judge whose verdict I await[105] from the Roman See.

As for those threatening friends of mine, I have no answer for them but that word of Reuchlin's—"He who is poor fears nothing; he has nothing to lose." Fortune I neither have nor desire; if I have had reputation and honor, he who destroys them is always at work; there remains only one poor body, weak and wearied with constant hardships, and if by force or wile they do away with that (as a service to God),[106] they will but make me poorer by perhaps an hour or two of life. Enough for me is the most sweet Saviour and Redeemer, my Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom I shall always sing my song;[107] if any one is unwilling to sing with me, what is that to me? Let him howl, if he likes, by himself.

The Lord Jesus keep thee eternally, my gracious Father!

Wittenberg, Day of the Holy Trinity, MDXVIII.




To the

Most Blessed Father,


Martin Luther,

Augustinian Friar,

wisheth everlasting welfare.

I have heard evil reports about myself, most blessed Father, by which I know that certain friends have put my name in very bad odor with you and yours, saying that I have attempted to belittle the power of the keys and of the Supreme Pontiff. Therefore I am accused of heresy, apostasy, and perfidy, and am called by six hundred other names of ignominy. My ears shudder and my eyes are astounded. But the one thing in which I put my confidence remains unshaken—my clear and quiet conscience. Moreover, what I hear is nothing new. With such like decorations I have been adorned in my own country by those same honorable and truthful men, i. e., by the men whose own conscience convicts them of wrongdoing, and who are trying to put their own monstrous doings off on me, and to glorify their own shame by bringing shame to me. But you will deign, blessed Father, to hear the true case from me, though I am but an uncouth child.[108]

It is not long ago that the preaching of the Jubilee indulgences[109] was begun in our country, and matters went so far that the preachers of indulgences, thinking that the protection of your name made anything permissible, ventured openly to teach the most impious and heretical doctrines, which threatened to make the power of the Church a scandal and a laughing-stock, as if the decretals De abusionibus quaestorum[110] did not apply to them.

Not content with spreading this poison of theirs by word of mouth, they published tracts and scattered them among the people. In these books—to say nothing of the insatiable and unheard of avarice of which almost every letter in them vilely smells—they laid down those same impious and heretical doctrines, and laid them down in such wise that confessors were bound by their oath to be faithful and insistent in urging them upon the people. I speak the truth, and none of them can hide himself from the heat [111] thereof. The tracts are extant and they cannot disown them. These teachings were so successfully carried on, and the people, with their false hopes, were sucked so dry that, as the Prophet says, "they plucked their flesh from off their bones";[112] but they themselves meanwhile were fed most pleasantly on the fat of the land.

There was just one means which they used to quiet opposition, to wit, the protection of your name, the threat of burning at the stake, and the disgrace of the name "heretic." It is incredible how ready they are to threaten, even, at times, when they perceive that it is only their own mere silly opinions which are contradicted. As though this were to quiet opposition, and not rather to arouse schisms and seditions by sheer tyranny!

None the less, however, stories about the avarice of the priests were bruited in the taverns, and evil was spoken of the power of the keys and of the Supreme Pontiff, and as evidence of this, I could cite the common talk of this whole land. I truly confess that I was on fire with zeal for Christ, as I thought, or with the heat of youth, if you prefer to have it so; and yet I saw that it was not in place for me to make any decrees or to do anything in these matters. Therefore I privately admonished some of the prelates of the Church. By some of them I was kindly received, to others I seemed ridiculous, to still others something worse; for the terror of your name and the threat of Church censures prevailed. At last, since I could do nothing else, it seemed good that I should offer at least a gentle resistance to them, i. e., question and discuss their teachings. Therefore I published a set of theses, inviting only the more learned to dispute with me if they wished; as should be evident, even to my adversaries, from the Preface to the Disputation.[113]

Lo, this is the fire with which they complain that all the world is now ablaze! Perhaps it is because they are indignant that I, who by your own apostolic authority am a Master of Theology, have the right to conduct public disputations, according to the custom of all the Universities and of the whole Church, not only about indulgences, but also about God's power and remission and mercy, which are incomparably greater subjects. I am not much moved, however, by the fact that they envy me the privilege granted me by the power of your Holiness, since I am unwillingly compelled to yield to them in things of far greater moment, viz., when they mix the dreams of Aristotle with theological matters, and conduct nonsensical disputations about the majesty of God, beyond and against the privilege granted them.

It is a miracle to me by what fate it has come about that this single Disputation of mine should, more than any other, of mine or of any of the teachers, have gone out into very nearly the whole land. It was made public at our University and for our University only, and it was made public in such wise that I cannot believe it has become known to all men. For it is a set of theses, not doctrines or dogmas, and they are put, according to custom, in an obscure and enigmatic way. Otherwise, if I had been able to foresee what was coming, I should have taken care, for my part, that they would be easier to understand.

Now what shall I do? I cannot recant them; and yet I see that marvelous enmity is inflamed against me because of their dissemination. It is unwillingly that I incur the public and perilous and various judgment of men, especially since I am unlearned, dull of brain, empty of scholarship; and that too in this brilliant age of ours, which by its achievements in letters and learning can force even Cicero into the corner, though he was no base follower of the public light. But necessity compels me to be the goose that squawks among the swans.

And so, to soften my enemies and to fulfil the desires of many, I herewith send forth these trifling explanations of my Disputation; I send them forth in order, too, that I may be more safe under the defense of your name and the shadow of your protection. In them all may see, who will, how purely and simply I have sought after and cherished the power of the Church and reverence for the keys; and, at the same time, how unjustly and falsely my adversaries have befouled me with so many names. For if I had been such a one as they wish to make me out, and if I had not, on the contrary, done everything correctly, according to my academic privilege, the Most Illustrious Prince Frederick, Duke of Saxony, Imperial Elector, etc., would never have tolerated such a pest in his University, for he most dearly loves the Catholic and Apostolic truth, nor could I have been tolerated by the keen and learned men of our University. But what has been done, I do because those most courteous men do not fear openly to involve both the Prince and the University in the same disgrace with myself.[114]

Wherefore, most blessed Father, I cast myself at the feet of your Holiness, with all that I have and all that I am. Quicken, kill, call, recall, approve, reprove, as you will. In your voice I shall recognize the voice of Christ directing you and speaking in you. If I have deserved death, I shall not refuse to die. For the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof.[115] He is blessed forever. Amen.

May He have you too forever in His keeping. Amen.


  1. Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum.
  2. Luther says, Apud nostros at propter nostros editae sunt. Weimar Ed., I, 528. On the whole subject see Letters to Staupitz and the Pope, below.
  3. Cf. Weimar Ed., I, 229.
  4. The Church of All Saints at Wittenberg was the repository of the great collection of relics which Frederick the Wise had gathered. A catalogue of the collection, with illustrations by Lucas Cranach, was published in 1509. The collection contained 5005 sacred objects, including a bit of the crown of thorns and some of the Virgin Mother's milk. Adoration of these relics on All Saints' Day (Nov. 1st) was rewarded with indulgence for more than 500,000 years. So Von Bezold, Die deutsche Reformation (1890), p. 100; see also Barge, Karlstadt, I, 39 ff.
  5. Luther had preached a sermon warning against the danger of indulgences or the Eve of All Saints (1516). See below.
  6. See below, Letter to Leo X.
  7. Weimar Ed., I, 230.
  8. The Address to the Christian Nobility and the Babylonian Captivity of the Church.
  9. Introduction to the Complete Works (1545); above, p. 10.
  10. See Letter to Staupitz, below.
  11. See Letter to Leo X, below.
  12. Cf. Gottlob, Kreuzablass und Almosenablass, p. 1.
  13. See Theses 5, 8, 85.
  14. {gsp|Non solam plenam et largiorem, imo plenissimam omnium suorum concedemus et concedimus veniam peccatorum|0.2em}}. Mirbt, Quellen, 2d ed., No. 243.
  15. This custom of putting the Jubilee-indulgences on sale seems to date from the year 1390. Cf. Lea, Hist. of Conf. and Indulg., III ,206. No mention is here made of the indulgences attached to adoration of relics, etc. On the development of this form of indulgence see Lea, Hist. of Conf. and Indulg., III, 131–194, 234–195, and Gottlob, Kreuzablass und Almosenablass, pp. 195-254.
  16. See Thesis 12.
  17. See Theses 4–6, Note 2.
  18. For Luther's opinion of this distinction, see the Discourse Concerning Confession elsewhere in the present volume.
  19. "Not even the poorest part of penance which is called 'satisfaction,' but the remission of that poorest part of penance." Letter to Staupitz, below.
  20. There is ample proof that in practice the indulgences were preached as sufficient to secure to the purchaser the entire remission of sin, and the form a culpa et poena was officially employed in many cases (Cf. Brieger, Das Wesen des Ablasses am Ausgang des MA. and PRE3 IX. 83 ff., and Lea, History of Confession, etc., III, 54 ff.). "It is difficult to withstand the conclusion that even in theory indulgences had been declared to be efficacious for the removal of the guilt of sin in the presence of God," Lindsay, History of the Reformation, I, 226.
  21. It is on the basis of this theory that Roman Catholic writers on indulgences declare them to be "extra-sacramental," i. e., outside the Sacrament of Penance. So, e. g., Kent, in The Catholic Encyclopedia, Art. Indulgence.
  22. See Theses 56-58.
  23. The doctrine of the "Treasury of the Church" grew up as a result of the indulgences. It was an attempt to answer the question, How can a "satisfaction," which God demands, be waived? The answer is, By the application of merits earned by Christ and by the Saints who did more than God requires. These merits form the Treasury of the Church. Cf. Seeberg, PRE3 XV, 417; Lea, Hist of Confession, etc., III, 14–28.
  24. See Thesis 26.
  25. i. e. A plenary indulgence similar to those granted for pilgrimage to Rome in Jubilee-years. See above, p. 18.
  26. See Theses 53-55.
  27. See Thesis 75.
  28. See Thesis 35.
  29. See Thesis 27.
  30. Weimar Ed., I, 63 ff.; Erl. Ed., I, 101 ff.
  31. Weimar Ed., I, 94 ff., 138 ff.; Erl. Ed., I, 171 ff., 177 ff.
  32. See Thesis 1.
  33. See Thesis 4.
  34. See Letter to Archbishop, below. The text of this Instruction in Kapp, Sammlung, etc. (1721), pp. 117-206. Tschackert has surmised that even the number of the Theses was determined by the number of the paragraphs in this Instruction. There were 94 of these paragraphs, and of the Theses 94 + 1. Entstehung d. luth. u. ref. Kirchenlehre (1910), p. 16, note i.
  35. The following, based on an unpublished manuscript of Th. Brieger, is an interesting analysis of the contents and subject-matter of the Theses. For the sake of brevity the minor subdivisions are omitted:

    Introduction. The ideas fundamentally involved in the conception of poenitentia (Th. 1–7).
    I. Indulgences for souls in purgatory (Th. 8–29).
    1. Canonical penalties and the pains of purgatory (Th. 8–19).
    2. The relation of the Pope to purgatory (Th. 20–29).
    II. Indulgences for the living (Th. 30–80).
    1. The content and nature of the preaching of indulgences (Th. 30–55).
    2. The treasury of the Church (Th. 56–66).
    3. The duty of the regular church-authorities in the matter (Th. 67–80).
    Conclusion (Th. 81–95).
    1. The objections of the laity to the indulgence-traffic (Th. 81–91).
    2. The evil motive of the traffic in indulgences, with special reference to the statements of Th. 1–4 (Th. 91–95).

    H. Hermelink, in Kruger's Handbuch der Kirchengeschichte (1911), III, 66.

  36. Weimar Ed., I, pp. 525 ff.
  37. In the original editions the word Jesus appears at the head of each of the works, and the present editors have retained the use, which was apparently an act of obedience to the command, "Whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Col. 3:17).
  38. See Theses 18-24, 32, 52.
  39. See Thesis 75.
  40. See Thesis 27.
  41. See Theses 5, 6, 20, 21.
  42. Gratia infusa, meaning the working of God upon the hearts of men, by means of which their lives become pleasing to God. Cf. Loofs' Dogmengeschichte, 4th ed., pp. 562 ff.
  43. Phil. 2:12
  44. I Pet. 4:18
  45. Matt. 7:14
  46. Amos 4:11
  47. Zech. 3:2
  48. See Thesis 5.
  49. See Theses 41–47.
  50. See Theses 52-55.
  51. Matt. 23:24
  52. See Thesis 80.
  53. See above, Introduction, p. 22 f.
  54. See Theses 21, 33.
  55. See Thesis 35, and Introduction, p. 22.
  56. viz., The Instruction to the Commissaries.
  57. Matt. 4:17. Greek, μετανοεῖτε; English, "repent"; German, Bussetun. The Latin and German versions may also be rendered, "Do penance"; the Greek, on the other hand, can only mean "Repent."
  58. The Roman theology distinguishes between the "guilt" and the "penalty" of sin. See Introduction, p. 19.
  59. Decrees of the Church, having the force of law. The canons referred to here and below (Cf. Theses 8, 85) are the so-called penitential Canons. See Introduction, p. 17.
  60. Commenting on this Thesis in the Resolutions, Luther distinguishes between "temporal" and "eternal" necessity. "Necessity knows no law." "Death is the necessity of necessities" (Weimar Ed., I, 549; Erl. Ed. op. var. arg., II, 166).
  61. Matt. 13:25
  62. This is not a denial of the power of the keys, i. e., the power to forgive and to retain sin, but merely of the assertion that the power of the keys extends to purgatory.
  63. i. e., Merely human doctrine.
  64. An alleged statement of the indulgence-vendors. See Letter to Mainz and Introduction.
  65. Luther refers again to this story in the Resolutions (Weimar Ed., I, p. 586). The story is that these saints preferred to remain longer in purgatory that they might have greater glory in heaven. Luther adds, "Whoever will, may believe in these stories; it is no concern of mine."
  66. Luther uses the terms "pardon" and "indulgence" interchangeably.
  67. For meaning of the term "satisfaction," see Introduction, p. 19 f.
  68. Privileges entitling their holder to choose his own confessor and relieving him of certain satisfactions. See Introduction, p. 22.
  69. See above, Thesis 6.
  70. i. e., "Papal."
  71. Cf. Thesis 32.
  72. The commissioner who sold the letters of indulgence.
  73. The best texts read illi, "on it," i. e., the Word of God. The Erl. Ed. has a variant, verbis evangelicis, "the words of the Gospel" (op. var. arg., I, 289).
  74. See Introduction, p. 20, note 2.
  75. i. e., Threatens with the "thunder-bolt" of excommunication.
  76. See Letter to Mainz, above, p. 26. For repetition and defense of the statement against which Luther here protests, see Disp. I. Jo Tetzelii, Th. 99-101; Loescher, I, 513.
  77. Cf. Thesis 6.
  78. Thesis 5 and note.
  79. Cf. Theses 36, 37.
  80. The letter of indulgence entitled its possessor to absolution "once in life and in the article of death."
  81. During the time when the Jubilee-indulgences were preached, other indulgences were suspended.
  82. Ezek. 13:10
  83. In a letter to Michael Dressel, 22 June, 1516, Luther had written: "It is not that man, therefore, whom no one disturbs who has peace—which is, indeed, the peace of the world—but he whom all men and all things harass and who yet bears all quietly with joy. You say with Israel: "Peace, peace," and there is no peace; say rather with Christ, "Cross, cross," and there is no cross. For the cross ceases to be a cross as soon as you say joyfully: "Blessed cross, there is no tree like you" (Preserved Smith, Luther, p. 32).
  84. Acts 14:22
  85. "Penitence," "repentance," "penance," are all translations of this word. See above, p. 29, note 1.
  86. The modus confitendi, or "way of confession" is the teaching of what sins are to be confessed to the priest and how they are to be confessed. The subject is discussed fully by Luther in his Discussion of Confession, below, pp. 81–102.
  87. Ps. 120:4
  88. Gr., μετὰ, Lat., post, Eng., "after"; Gr. νοûς, Lat., mens, Eng., "mind."
  89. The Greek μετὰ can also be translated by the Latin trans, which, in compounds, denotes movement from one place, or thing, or condition to another.
  90. Lat. transmutatio, "the act or process of changing," not simply "a change" (mutatio).
  91. Transitus mentis.
  92. Ex. 12:11
  93. I Cor. 5:7
  94. The derivation of the term "Hebrew" is still disputed (v. PRE3 VII, p. 507). Luther conceives it to mean transitor, "one who passes through or across the land," "a pilgrim." Cf. Genesis 12:6.
  95. Burgensis, i. e., Paul of Bourgos (1353-1435).
  96. Ps. 39
  97. Another bit of Mediaeval philology.
  98. See Introduction, p. 19.
  99. Cf. Thesis 1, and foot-note.
  100. Here again, as above, we have the double sense of poenitentia. Satisfaction is a part of sacramental penance. Luther's charge is that in preaching the remission of this part of the Sacrament the doctrine of true penitence (cf. Thesis 1) is passed by.
  101. The Ninety-five Theses.
  102. Tetzel's reply to the Theses (Disputatio II, Jo. Tetzelii), 1517. Loescher, I, pp. 517 ff.
  103. A Latin adage, chorcorus inter olera.
  104. Ps. 138:4 (Vulgate)
  105. Prov. 21:1
  106. John 16:2
  107. Ps. 104:33
  108. Jer. 1:6
  109. See Introduction, pp. 18, 21.
  110. i. e., The papal laws regulating the methods of collectors of church-funds.
  111. Ps. 19:6
  112. Mic. 3:2
  113. The Ninety-five Theses.
  114. See Tetzel's II. Disputation, Theses 47, 48. Loescher, I, p. 522.
  115. Ps. 24:1

 This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.


This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

Public domainPublic domainfalsefalse


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published in 1517, before the cutoff of January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1932, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 91 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

Public domainPublic domainfalsefalse