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Luther's Works

Publications by Luther 1517

The Ninety-Five Theses

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Gruber 90 Disputatio D. Martini Luther Theologi, Pro Declaratione Virtutis Indulgentiarum. Basel: Adam Petri. [95 theses]. Aland 721; Benzing 89; WA 1.229-38; Luther's Works31.17-33; Lull, 40-46. Disputatio pro declaratione virtutuis indulgentiarum. Luther's 95 theses on indulgences, prepared for academic debate and dutifully sent to his superior, Archbishop Albert of Mainz, were suddenly disseminated far and wide, to the monk's surprise. Adam Petri of Basel was the most energetic printer of these theses.

On October 31, 1517, Luther nailed on the Castle Church door his Ninety-Five Theses, as his Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences is commonly called. The timing may have been triggered by the fact that people were gathering at Wittenberg to adore the collection of religious relics of Frederick the Wise on All Saints' Day in order to receive indulgences.

By Luther's time, if a sinner was absolved of a mortal sin, he was freed from guilt as well as the eternal penalty in hell, but still had to render satisfaction either through a temporal penalty on earth or, if not enough had been done here, in purgatory. The specific indulgence Luther had encountered was the jubilee indulgence announced by Pope Julius II in 1510, the proceeds of which would be used to build the new St. Peter's basilica in Rome.

Johann Tetzel, who sold these indulgences, gave the impression that money paid for indulgences would remit the guilt and the penalties for the worst crimes and would immediately transfer souls suffering in purgatory to heaven. Luther insisted that penance is not a mechanical act but a permanent inner attitude. This reprint by Petri in 1517 is one of the few extant copies of the original theses. For a translation, see Luther's Works 31:25-33.

Thesis 1: When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, "Repent," he willed the entire live of believers to be one of repentance.

Thesis 94: Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their head, through penalties, death, and hell;

Thesis 95: And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace [Acts 14:22].

 


The Gruber Collection was assembled by L. Franklin Gruber, President of Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary, Maywood, Illinois.

Annotation prepared by Ralph W Klein