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