Martin Luther’s 95 Theses – Part 4


Happy Reformation Day to all you Protestants out there who embrace the doctrine of justification through faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone according to the scriptures alone and for the glory of God alone.

Here is the last section of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses that set off a firestorm that continues to burn throughout the world today!

Ecclesia semper reformans, semper reformanda!

  • Let him be anathema and accursed who denies the apostolic character of the indulgences.
  • On the other hand, let him be blessed who is on his guard against the wantonness and license of the pardon-merchant’s words.
  • In the same way, the pope rightly excommunicates those who make any plans to the detriment of the trade in indulgences.
  • It is much more in keeping with his views to excommunicate those who use the pretext of indulgences to plot anything to the detriment of holy love and truth.
  • It is foolish to think that papal indulgences have so much power that they can absolve a man even if he has done the impossible and violated the mother of God.
  • We assert the contrary, and say that the pope’s pardons are not able to remove the least venial of sins as far as their guilt is concerned.
  • When it is said that not even St. Peter, if he were now pope, could grant a greater grace, it is blasphemy against St. Peter and the pope.
  • We assert the contrary, and say that he, and any pope whatever, possesses greater graces, viz., the gospel, spiritual powers, gifts of healing, etc., as is declared in I Corinthians 12 [:28].
  • It is blasphemy to say that the insignia of the cross with the papal arms are of equal value to the cross on which Christ died.
  • The bishops, curates, and theologians, who permit assertions of that kind to be made to the people without let or hindrance, will have to answer for it.
  • This unbridled preaching of indulgences makes it difficult for learned men to guard the respect due to the pope against false accusations, or at least from the keen criticisms of the laity.
  • They ask, e.g.: Why does not the pope liberate everyone from purgatory for the sake of love (a most holy thing) and because of the supreme necessity of their souls? This would be morally the best of all reasons. Meanwhile he redeems innumerable souls for money, a most perishable thing, with which to build St. Peter’s church, a very minor purpose.
  • Again: Why should funeral and anniversary masses for the dead continue to be said? And why does not the pope repay, or permit to be repaid, the benefactions instituted for these purposes, since it is wrong to pray for those souls who are now redeemed?
  • Again: Surely this is a new sort of compassion, on the part of God and the pope, when an impious man, an enemy of God, is allowed to pay money to redeem a devout soul, a friend of God; while yet that devout and beloved soul is not allowed to be redeemed without payment, for love’s sake, and just because of its need of redemption.
  • Again: Why are the penitential canon laws, which in fact, if not in practice, have long been obsolete and dead in themselves,—why are they, to-day, still used in imposing fines in money, through the granting of indulgences, as if all the penitential canons were fully operative?
  • Again: since the pope’s income to-day is larger than that of the wealthiest of wealthy men, why does he not build this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of indigent believers?
  • Again: What does the pope remit or dispense to people who, by their perfect repentance, have a right to plenary remission or dispensation?
  • Again: Surely a greater good could be done to the church if the pope were to bestow these remissions and dispensations, not once, as now, but a hundred times a day, for the benefit of any believer whatever.
  • What the pope seeks by indulgences is not money, but rather the salvation of souls; why then does he suspend the letters and indulgences formerly conceded, and still as efficacious as ever?
  • These questions are serious matters of conscience to the laity. To suppress them by force alone, and not to refute them by giving reasons, is to expose the church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies, and to make Christian people unhappy.
  • If therefore, indulgences were preached in accordance with the spirit and mind of the pope, all these difficulties would be easily overcome, and indeed, cease to exist.
  • Away, then, with those prophets who say to Christ’s people, “Peace, peace,” where in there is no peace.
  • Hail, hail to all those prophets who say to Christ’s people, “The cross, the cross,” where there is no cross.
  • Christians should be exhorted to be zealous to follow Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hells.
  • And let them thus be more confident of entering heaven through many tribulations rather than through a false assurance of peace.

Martin Luther’s 95 Theses – Part 3


  • Christians should be taught that they purchase indulgences voluntarily, and are not under obligation to do so.
  • Christians should be taught that, in granting indulgences, the pope has more need, and more desire, for devout prayer on his own behalf than for ready money.
  • Christians should be taught that the pope’s indulgences are useful only if one does not rely on them, but most harmful if one loses the fear of God through them.
  • Christians should be taught that, if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence-preachers, he would rather the church of St. Peter were reduced to ashes than be built with the skin, flesh, and bones of the sheep.
  • Christians should be taught that the pope would be willing, as he ought if necessity should arise, to sell the church of St. Peter, and give, too, his own money to many of those from whom the pardon-merchants conjure money.
  • It is vain to rely on salvation by letters of indulgence, even if the commissary, or indeed the pope himself, were to pledge his own soul for their validity.
  • Those are enemies of Christ and the pope who forbid the word of God to be preached at all in some churches, in order that indulgences may be preached in others.
  • The word of God suffers injury if, in the same sermon, an equal or longer time is devoted to indulgences than to that word.
  • The pope cannot help taking the view that if indulgences (very small matters) are celebrated by one bell, one pageant, or one ceremony, the gospel (a very great matter) should be preached to the accompaniment of a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.
  • The treasures of the church, out of which the pope dispenses indulgences, are not sufficiently spoken of or known among the people of Christ.
  • That these treasures are not temporal are clear from the fact that many of the merchants do not grant them freely, but only collect them.
  • Nor are they the merits of Christ and the saints, because, even apart from the pope, these merits are always working grace in the inner man, and working the cross, death, and hell in the outer man.
  • St. Laurence said that the poor were the treasures of the church, but he used the term in accordance with the custom of his own time.
  • We do not speak rashly in saying that the treasures of the church are the keys of the church, and are bestowed by the merits of Christ.
  • For it is clear that the power of the pope suffices, by itself, for the remission of penalties and reserved cases.
  • The true treasure of the church is the Holy gospel of the glory and the grace of God.
  • It is right to regard this treasure as most odious, for it makes the first to be the last.
  • On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is most acceptable, for it makes the last to be the first.
  • Therefore the treasures of the gospel are nets which, in former times, they used to fish for men of wealth.
  • The treasures of the indulgences are the nets which to-day they use to fish for the wealth of men.
  • The indulgences, which the merchants extol as the greatest of favours, are seen to be, in fact, a favourite means for money-getting.
  • Nevertheless, they are not to be compared with the grace of God and the compassion shown in the Cross.
  • Bishops and curates, in duty bound, must receive the commissaries of the papal indulgences with all reverence.
  • But they are under a much greater obligation to watch closely and attend carefully lest these men preach their own fancies instead of what the pope commissioned.

Martin Luther’s 95 Theses – Part Two


Allow me to let theologian B.B. Warfield introduce the next group of Luther’s 95 protests against the Roman Catholic Church with his summary on their significance:

The significance of the Theses as a Reformation act emerges thus in this: that they are a bold, an astonishingly bold, and a powerful, an astonishingly powerful, assertion of the evangelical doctrine of salvation, embodied in a searching, well-compacted, and thoroughly wrought-out refutation of the sacerdotal conception, as the underlying foundation on which the edifice of the indulgence traffic was raised. This is what Walther Köhler means when he declares that we must recognize this as the fundamental idea of Luther’s Theses: “the emancipation of the believer from the tutelage of the ecclesiastical institute”; and adds, “Thus God advances for him into the foreground; He alone is Lord of death and life; and to the Church falls the modest role of agent of God on earth – only there and nowhere else.” “The most far-reaching consequences flowed from this,” he continues; “Luther smote the Pope on his crown and simply obliterated his high pretensions with reference to the salvation of souls in this world and the next, and in their place set God and the soul in a personal communion which in its whole intercourse bears the stamp of interiorness and spirituality.” Julius Köstlin puts the whole matter with his accustomed clearness and balance – though with a little wider reference than the Theses themselves – when he describes the advance in Luther’s testimony marked by the indulgence controversy thus: “As he had up to this time proclaimed salvation in Christ through faith, in opposition to all human merit, so he now proclaims it also in opposition to an external human ecclesiasticism and priesthood, whose acts are represented as conditioning the imparting of salvation itself, and as in and of themselves, even without faith, effecting salvation for those in whose interests they are performed.” Continue reading

Martin Luther’s 95 Theses – Part 1


In honor of Reformation Day on Sunday, October 31st, I am posting Luther’s 95 Theses over the next four days.  I hope they will serve as a reminder of the significance of the Protestant Reformation that began with the hammer strike of this document to the Wittenburg church door in 1517.  Meditate on these words and please remember that at the time of this writing Luther is still a Roman Catholic monk of the Augustinian order. Continue reading