Martin Luther’s 95 Theses
To combat abuses in the church of his day, Martin Luther drafted nearly a hundred propositions for public debate. The young German monk posted these “theses” on the church door in Wittenberg, an action that helped to give birth to the Reformation.
Nearly everyone has heard of the Ninety-Five Theses, but few have read them even once in their lifetime. “This is such a crucial text,” writes editor Stephen J. Nichols, “that it deserves to be read widely.” Nichols has written an illuminating introduction and many explanatory notes, putting Luther’s classic statement in everyone’s reach. The notes are conveniently located on facing pages.
“Martin Luther has left a legacy that continues to enrich the church through his writings,” writes Nichols. “All of this may be traced back to the last day in October 1517 and the nailing of the Ninety-Five Theses to the church door.”
A sampling of how Martin Luther’s 95 Theses begin:
The first ten are quoted below:
- When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
- This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.
- Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh.
- 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.
- The pope neither desires nor is able to remit any penalties except those imposed by his own authority or that of the canons.
- 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.
- 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.
- The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to the canons themselves, nothing should be imposed on the dying.
- 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 necessity.
- Those priests act ignorantly and wickedly who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penalties for purgatory.
About the Author
Martin Luther (1483–1546) was a German monk, priest, professor, theologian, and church reformer. His teachings inspired the Reformation and deeply influenced the doctrines and culture of the Lutheran and Protestant traditions. Other writings Luther found at Grace & Truth Books are:
- The Bondage of the Will
- Luther’s Small Catechism
- Martin Luther’s Table Talk
And other books about Luther:
- Luther and His Katie
- Luther in Love
- Martin Luther: Christian Biographies for Young Readers
- Luther on the Christian Life
- Luther’s Scottish Connection
- Here I Stand
- A World Upside Down
Martin Luther’s 95 Theses