95 Theses

95 Theses

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The Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences , commonly known as The Ninety-Five Theses, was written by Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

, 1517 and is widely regarded as the primary catalyst for the Protestant Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

. The disputation
Disputation
In the scholastic system of education of the Middle Ages, disputations offered a formalized method of debate designed to uncover and establish truths in theology and in sciences...

 protests against clerical abuses, especially the sale of indulgence
Indulgence
In Catholic theology, an indulgence is the full or partial remission of temporal punishment due for sins which have already been forgiven. The indulgence is granted by the Catholic Church after the sinner has confessed and received absolution...

s.

Background


The background to Luther's Ninety-Five Theses centers on practices within the Catholic Church regarding baptism
Baptism
In Christianity, baptism is for the majority the rite of admission , almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church generally and also membership of a particular church tradition...

 and absolution
Absolution
Absolution is a traditional theological term for the forgiveness experienced in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This concept is found in the Roman Catholic Church, as well as the Eastern Orthodox churches, the Anglican churches, and most Lutheran churches....

. Significantly, the Theses reject the validity of indulgence
Indulgence
In Catholic theology, an indulgence is the full or partial remission of temporal punishment due for sins which have already been forgiven. The indulgence is granted by the Catholic Church after the sinner has confessed and received absolution...

s (remissions of temporal punishment due for sins which have already been forgiven). They also view with great cynicism the practice of indulgences being sold, and thus the penance
Penance
Penance is repentance of sins as well as the proper name of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox Christian, and Anglican Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation/Confession. It also plays a part in non-sacramental confession among Lutherans and other Protestants...

 for sin
Sin
In religion, sin is the violation or deviation of an eternal divine law or standard. The term sin may also refer to the state of having committed such a violation. Christians believe the moral code of conduct is decreed by God In religion, sin (also called peccancy) is the violation or deviation...

 representing a financial transaction rather than genuine contrition. Luther's Theses argued that the sale of indulgences was a gross violation of the original intention of confession and penance, and that Christians were being falsely told that they could find absolution
Absolution
Absolution is a traditional theological term for the forgiveness experienced in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This concept is found in the Roman Catholic Church, as well as the Eastern Orthodox churches, the Anglican churches, and most Lutheran churches....

 through the purchase of indulgences.

The Castle Church in Wittenberg
Wittenberg
Wittenberg, officially Lutherstadt Wittenberg, is a city in Germany in the Bundesland Saxony-Anhalt, on the river Elbe. It has a population of about 50,000....

, Germany, in the Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire was a realm that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe.It was ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. Its character changed during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, when the power of the emperor gradually weakened in favour of the princes...

, where the Ninety-Five Theses famously appeared, held one of Europe's largest collections of holy relic
Relic
In religion, a relic is a part of the body of a saint or a venerated person, or else another type of ancient religious object, carefully preserved for purposes of veneration or as a tangible memorial...

s. These had been piously collected by Frederick III of Saxony
Frederick III, Elector of Saxony
Frederick III of Saxony , also known as Frederick the Wise , was Elector of Saxony from 1486 to his death. Frederick was the son of Ernest, Elector of Saxony and his wife Elisabeth, daughter of Albert III, Duke of Bavaria...

. At that time pious veneration
Veneration
Veneration , or veneration of saints, is a special act of honoring a saint: an angel, or a dead person who has been identified by a church committee as singular in the traditions of the religion. It is practiced by the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic, and Eastern Catholic Churches...

 of relics was purported to allow the viewer to receive relief from temporal punishment for sins in purgatory
Purgatory
Purgatory is the condition or process of purification or temporary punishment in which, it is believed, the souls of those who die in a state of grace are made ready for Heaven...

. By 1509 Frederick had over 5,000 relics, purportedly "including vials of the milk of the Virgin Mary, straw from the manger [of Jesus], and the body of one of the innocents massacred by King Herod
Massacre of the Innocents
The Massacre of the Innocents is an episode of infanticide by the King of Judea, Herod the Great. According to the Gospel of Matthew Herod orders the execution of all young male children in the village of Bethlehem, so as to avoid the loss of his throne to a newborn King of the Jews whose birth...

."

As part of a fund-raising campaign commissioned by Pope Leo X
Pope Leo X
Pope Leo X , born Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici, was the Pope from 1513 to his death in 1521. He was the last non-priest to be elected Pope. He is known for granting indulgences for those who donated to reconstruct St. Peter's Basilica and his challenging of Martin Luther's 95 Theses...

 to finance the renovation of St Peter's Basilica in Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

, Johann Tetzel
Johann Tetzel
Johann Tetzel was a German Dominican preacher known for selling indulgences.-Life:Tetzel was born in Pirna, Saxony, and studied theology and philosophy at the university of his native city...

, a Dominican
Dominican Order
The Order of Preachers , after the 15th century more commonly known as the Dominican Order or Dominicans, is a Catholic religious order founded by Saint Dominic and approved by Pope Honorius III on 22 December 1216 in France...

 priest
Priest
A priest is a person authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and deities. They also have the authority or power to administer religious rites; in particular, rites of sacrifice to, and propitiation of, a deity or deities...

, began the sale of indulgences in the German lands. Albert of Mainz
Albert of Mainz
Cardinal Albert of Hohenzollern was Elector and Archbishop of Mainz from 1514 to 1545, and Archbishop of Magdeburg from 1513 to 1545.-Biography:...

, the Archbishop of Mainz in Germany, had borrowed heavily to pay for his high church rank and was deeply in debt. He agreed to allow the sale of the indulgences in his territory in exchange for a cut of the proceeds. Luther was apparently not aware of this. Even though Luther's prince, Frederick III, and the prince of the neighboring territory, George, Duke of Saxony
George, Duke of Saxony
George the Bearded, Duke of Saxony , was duke of Saxony from 1500 to 1539.Duke George was a member of the Order of the Golden Fleece.-Early life:...

, forbade the sale thereof in their respective lands, Luther's parishioners traveled to purchase them. When these people came to confession
Confession
This article is for the religious practice of confessing one's sins.Confession is the acknowledgment of sin or wrongs...

, they presented their plenary indulgences which they had paid good silver money for, claiming they no longer had to repent of their sins, since the document promised to forgive all their sins. Luther was outraged that they had paid money for what was theirs by right as a free gift from God. He felt compelled to expose the fraud that was being sold to the pious people. This exposure was to take place in the form of a public scholarly debate at the University of Wittenberg. The Ninety-Five Theses outlined the items to be discussed and issued the challenge to any and all comers.

Initial dissemination


On 31 October 1517, Luther wrote to Albert of Mainz, protesting against the sale of indulgences. He enclosed in his letter a copy of his "Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences," which came to be known as The Ninety-Five Theses. Hans Hillerbrand writes that Luther had then no intention of confronting the church, but saw his disputation as a scholarly objection to church practices, and the tone of the writing is accordingly "searching, rather than doctrinaire." Hillerbrand writes that there is nevertheless an undercurrent of challenge in several of the theses, particularly in Thesis 86, which asks: "Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus
Marcus Licinius Crassus
Marcus Licinius Crassus was a Roman general and politician who commanded the right wing of Sulla's army at the Battle of the Colline Gate, suppressed the slave revolt led by Spartacus, provided political and financial support to Julius Caesar and entered into the political alliance known as the...

, build the basilica of Saint Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?"

Luther objected to a saying attributed to Johann Tetzel
Johann Tetzel
Johann Tetzel was a German Dominican preacher known for selling indulgences.-Life:Tetzel was born in Pirna, Saxony, and studied theology and philosophy at the university of his native city...

 that "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory [also attested as 'into heaven'] springs." He insisted that, since forgiveness was God's alone to grant, those who claimed that indulgences absolved buyers from all punishments and granted them salvation were in error. Christians, he said, must not slacken in following Christ on account of such false assurances.

On the eve of All Saint's Day, October 31, 1517, Luther posted the ninety-five theses, which he had composed in Latin, on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg, according to university custom.

On the same day, Luther sent a hand-written copy, accompanied with honourable comments to the archbishop Albert of Mainz
Albert of Mainz
Cardinal Albert of Hohenzollern was Elector and Archbishop of Mainz from 1514 to 1545, and Archbishop of Magdeburg from 1513 to 1545.-Biography:...

 and Magdeburg
Magdeburg
Magdeburg , is the largest city and the capital city of the Bundesland of Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. Magdeburg is situated on the Elbe River and was one of the most important medieval cities of Europe....

, responsible for the practice of the indulgence sales, and to the bishop of Brandenburg
Brandenburg
Brandenburg is one of the sixteen federal-states of Germany. It lies in the east of the country and is one of the new federal states that were re-created in 1990 upon the reunification of the former West Germany and East Germany. The capital is Potsdam...

, the superior of Luther. Within two weeks, copies of the Theses had spread throughout Germany; within two months throughout Europe. It was not until January 1518 that Christoph von Scheurl
Christoph von Scheurl
[File:C* Epist. Ad Charit. Pirckhameram, Nuernberg 1513* Epist. Ad Charit. Pirckhameram, Nuernberg 1513* Epist. Ad Staupitium de statu sive regimine reipubl. Noricae* Epist. Ad Petr...

 and other friends of Luther translated the Ninety-Five Theses from Latin into German, printed, and widely copied them, making the controversy one of the first in history to be aided by the printing press
Printing press
A printing press is a device for applying pressure to an inked surface resting upon a print medium , thereby transferring the ink...

.

Reaction to the Ninety-Five Theses


On June 15, 1520, Pope Leo X
Pope Leo X
Pope Leo X , born Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici, was the Pope from 1513 to his death in 1521. He was the last non-priest to be elected Pope. He is known for granting indulgences for those who donated to reconstruct St. Peter's Basilica and his challenging of Martin Luther's 95 Theses...

 issued a rebuttal to Luther's Ninety-Five Theses, a papal encyclical titled Exsurge Domine
Exsurge Domine
220px|thumb|Title page of first printed edition of Exsurge DomineExsurge Domine is a papal bull issued on 15 June 1520 by Pope Leo X in response to the teachings of Martin Luther in his 95 theses and subsequent writings which opposed the views of the papacy...

("Arise, O Lord"), from its opening words. This document outlined the Magisterium
Magisterium
In the Catholic Church the Magisterium is the teaching authority of the Church. This authority is understood to be embodied in the episcopacy, which is the aggregation of the current bishops of the Church in union with the Pope, led by the Bishop of Rome , who has authority over the bishops,...

 of the Church's findings of where the pope believed Luther had erred.

Luther's Theses became a declaration of independence from Papal authority in Northern Europe, around which rallied enormous changes (both religious and social), such as the rejection of Papal rule over much of Europe, the decline of feudalism
Feudalism
Feudalism was a set of legal and military customs in medieval Europe that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries, which, broadly defined, was a system for ordering society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour.Although derived from the...

, and the rise of commercialism
Commercialism
Commercialism, in its original meaning, is the practices, methods, aims, and spirit of commerce or business. Today, however, it primarily refers to the tendency within open-market capitalism to turn everything into objects, images, and services sold for the purpose of generating profit...

.

As early as October 27, 1521, the chapel at Wittenberg
Wittenberg
Wittenberg, officially Lutherstadt Wittenberg, is a city in Germany in the Bundesland Saxony-Anhalt, on the river Elbe. It has a population of about 50,000....

 began to turn away from private Masses. In 1522, much of the city began celebrating Lutheran services instead of the Roman Catholic services. Luther's popularity grew rapidly, mostly due to the general Roman Catholic church members' dissatisfaction with the corruption and "worldly" desires and habits of the Roman Curia
Roman Curia
The Roman Curia is the administrative apparatus of the Holy See and the central governing body of the entire Catholic Church, together with the Pope...

 coupled with the preaching of what was perceived as Biblical truth as opposed to Catholic ideology.

See also

  • The Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards
    The Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards
    The Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards is a Middle English religious text containing statements by followers of the English medieval sect, the Lollards, followers of John Wycliffe. The Conclusions were written in 1395...

  • Andreas Karlstadt
    Andreas Karlstadt
    Andreas Rudolph Bodenstein von Karlstadt , better known as Andreas Karlstadt or Andreas Carlstadt or Karolostadt, was a German Christian theologian during the Protestant Reformation. He was born in Karlstadt, Franconia.-Education:Karlstadt received his doctorate of theology in 1510 from the...

    - another leader of the Protestant Reformation who in 1516 (prior to Luther's list) wrote a series of 151 theses.

External links