Martin Luther and the 95 Theses

Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences

Martin Luther and the 95 Theses

The divide then over creature merit is not just between Lutherans and the papacy. It has involved every follower of God throughout history—from Cain and Abel, to you and me.

Martin Luther – “Here I Stand” (A Reenactment of Martin Luther before the Diet of Worms)

All about Martin Luther Thesis - Educational Writing

The indulgence controversy set off by the was the beginning of the , a in the Catholic Church which initiated profound social and political change in Europe. Luther later stated that the issue of indulgences was insignificant relative to controversies he would enter into later, such as his debate with over the , nor did he see the controversy as important to his intellectual breakthrough regarding the gospel. But it was out of the indulgences controversy that the movement which would be called the Reformation began, and the controversy propelled Luther to the leadership position he would hold in that movement. The also made evident that Luther believed the church was not preaching properly and that this put the laity in serious danger. Further, the contradicted the decree of , that indulgences are the treasury of the church. This disregard for papal authority presaged later conflicts.

But let’s go back to the present development between Lutherans and the papacy.

The theologians, including , , , and , differed on the significance of the words spoken by Jesus at the : "This is my body which is for you" and "This cup is the new covenant in my blood" (:23–26). Luther insisted on the of the body and blood of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine, which he called the , while his opponents believed God to be only spiritually or symbolically present. Zwingli, for example, denied Jesus' ability to be in more than one place at a time but Luther stressed the of his human nature. According to transcripts, the debate sometimes became confrontational. Citing Jesus' words "The flesh profiteth nothing" ( 6.63), Zwingli said, "This passage breaks your neck". "Don't be too proud," Luther retorted, "German necks don't break that easily. This is Hesse, not Switzerland." On his table Luther wrote the words "" ("This is my body") in chalk, to continually indicate his firm stance.

In the following messages R. C. Sproul introduces us to Martin Luther and the events that led to the beginning of the Reformation.


Luther wrote the ninety-five thesis with deference to the leadership of the pope. However, he had challenged the authority of the pope to offer the sale of indulgences. In a charged political climate, it was seen by some as an attack on the papacy and therefore on the Church. Luther was summoned to Rome to answer charges of heresy. Luther did not respond to the summons, which led to an escalating controversy between Luther and those who defended the absolute authority of the papacy. Luther continued writing about salvation by faith alone as well as other reforms that he saw needed to occur in the church. As a result, the rift between Luther and those who wanted to defend the authority of the papacy, as well as to protect the lucrative source of income from the sale of indulgences, fueled a growing controversy.No, on both counts. He himself tells us in 1545 that, in 1517, he was a committed Catholic who would have murdered—or at least been willing to see murder committed—in the name of the Pope. There is some typical Luther hyperbole there, but the theology of the Ninety-Five Theses is not particularly radical, and key Lutheran doctrines, such as justification by grace through faith alone, are not yet present. He was an angry Catholic, hoping that, when the Pope heard about Teztel, he would intervene to stop the abuse.”Luther studied the history of papacy, denied the authority of the pope in 1519, in a large public disputation with a Catholic debater. The Catholic Church went crazy and condemned Luther’s propositions ordering his books to be burned and giving him 2 months to recant or he would be excommunicated. Luther’s reply went all over Europe “ unless I am convinced by the evidence of scripture I do not accept the authority of the pope or the councils alone, since its established they have often erred and contradicted themselves- I am bound by the scriptures… I cannot and will not recant anything, for its neither safe nor right to go against conscience. God help me. Amen.” (Martin Luther)In 1521, Pope Leo X excommunicated Luther from the Catholic Church and declared him a heretic. Luther was so despised by the church that a death warrant was issued, giving anyone permission to kill him. However, Luther was given protection by Prince Frederick of Saxony, a staunch defender of Luther. Hidden in one of Frederick’s castles, Luther began producing a translation of the Bible into the German language. Ten years later it was finally completed.When Martin Luther posted the 95 theses, his intention was to discuss and debate the misuse of indulgences, but it was interpreted by the church heirarchy as an attack on the power of the papacy.Luther used the printing press, which had been invented in the previous century, to . “Luther would have just been one more reformer in a small area if it had not been for the printing press. … He mastered this new medium; he used it to spread and turn what would have been a local affair into an international movement,” says Mark Edwards Jr., president of St. Olaf College.In 1505, Luther entered the Augustinian monastery and became a priest two years later. In 1510, he was sent to Rome. Glimpses of Christian History notes that “Luther was disenchanted with the ritualism and dead faith he found in the papal city. … He seemed so cut off from God, and nowhere could he find a cure for his malady.”On Halloween of 1517, Luther changed the course of human history when he nailed his 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg, accusing the Roman Catholic Church of heresy upon heresy. Many people cite this act as the primary starting point of the Protestant Reformation. Luther's action was in great part a response to the selling of indulgences by Johann Tetzel, a Dominican priest. Luther viewed indulgences as false and going against God's salvation. Luther believed it was faith in God's forgiveness and compassion that we achieve redemption, not through money. Luther's charges also directly challenged the position of the clergy in regard to individual salvation. Due to the recently invented printing press, Luther's 95 Thesis spread far and wide. "Within two weeks, the theses had spread throughout Germany; within two months throughout Europe. In contrast, the response of the papacy was painstakingly slow" (Wikipedia). Luther's Protestant views were condemned as heretical by Pope Leo III in the bull Exsurge Domine in 1520. Consequently Luther was summoned to either renounce or reaffirm them at the Diet of Worms on 17 April 1521. When he appeared before the assembly, Johann von Eck acted as spokesman for Emperor Charles the Fifth. He presented Luther with a table filled with copies of his writings. Eck asked Luther if he still believed what these works taught. He requested time to think about his answer. Granted an extension, Luther prayed, consulted with friends and mediators and presented himself before the Diet the next day. When the counselor put the same question to Luther the next day, the reformer apologized for the harsh tone of many of his writings, but said that he could not reject the majority of them or the teachings in them. Luther respectfully but boldly stated, "Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen." On May 25, the Emperor issued his Edict of Worms, declaring Martin Luther an outlaw.