The Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, known as the 95 Theses, challenged the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church on the nature of penance, the authority of the pope and the usefulness of indulgences. They sparked a theological debate that would result in the birth of the Lutheran, Reformed, and Anabaptist traditions within Christianity.
His actions criticized the ways of the church. Luther's action was indeed in great part a response to the selling of indulgences by Johann Tetzel, a Dominican priest, commissioned by the Archbishop of Mainz and Pope Leo X. The purpose of this fundraising campaign was to finance the renovation of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Even though Luther's prince, Frederick the Wise, and the prince of the neighboring territory, George, Duke of Saxony, forbade the sale in their lands, Luther's parishioners traveled to purchase them. When these people came to confession, they presented the plenary indulgence, claiming they no longer had to repent of their sins, since the document promised to forgive all their sins.
Luther is said to have posted the 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517. Some scholars have questioned the accuracy of this account, noting that no contemporary evidence exists for it. Others have countered that no such evidence is necessary, because this action was the customary way of advertising an event on a university campus of Luther's day. Church doors functioned very much as bulletin boards function on a twenty-first century college campus. Still others suggest the posting may well have happened sometime in November 1517. Most agree that, at the very least, Luther mailed the theses to the Archbishop of Mainz, the pope, friends and other universities on that date.
Essays about the 95 Theses
- Erwin Iserloh. trans. by Jared Wicks, S.J.. Boston: Beacon Press, 1968.
- Project Wittenberg: 95 Theses by Dr. Martin Luther (1517) in English.
- Latin Wikisource: 95 Theses by Martin Luther (1517) in Latin
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