Martin Luther Collection: Luther, Martin - 95 Thesis: English

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Martin Luther Collection: Luther, Martin - 95 Thesis: English

TOPIC: Luther, Martin - 95 Thesis (Other Topics in this Collection)
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Martin Luther's 95 Theses

Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther

on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences

by Dr. Martin Luther, 1517

Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther

on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences

by Dr. Martin Luther, 1517

Published in:

Works of Martin Luther

Adolph Spaeth, L.D. Reed, Henry Eyster Jacobs, et Al., Trans. & Eds.

(Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1915), Vol. 1, pp. 29-38.




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, willed that the whole life of believers should be


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 [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.

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


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.

10. Ignorant and wicked are the doings of those priests who,

in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penances for


11. This changing of the canonical penalty to the penalty of

purgatory is quite evidently one of the tares that were sown

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


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


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


24. It must needs be, therefore, that the greater part of the

people are deceived by that indiscriminate and highsounding

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), but by way of intercession.

27. They preach man who say that so soon as the penny jingles

into the money-box, the soul flies out [of purgatory].

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


29. Who knows whether all the souls in purgatory wish to be

bought out of it, as in the legend of Sts. Severinus and


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


32. They will be condemned eternally, together with their

teachers, who believe themselves sure of their salvation

because they have letters of pardon.

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.

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.

36. Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full

remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of


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, 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 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


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


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.

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, 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


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," 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


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 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. 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. 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 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 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, and bestow on every believer these remissions and


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


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!

93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of

Christ, "Cross, cross," and there is no cross!

94. Christians are to be exhorted that they be diligent in

following Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and


95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven rather

through many tribulations, than through the assurance of