Martin Luther's 95 Theses | Study Guide

Martin Luther

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Martin Luther's 95 Theses | Quotes


When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, "Repent" (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

Thesis 1

Luther expresses confidence in his arguments because he claims they are based in scripture. While the Ninety-Five Theses were conceived as a call for debate, Luther treats the first four theses as statements of fact and the foundation of his overall argument.


This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.

Thesis 2

Luther states that repentance does not refer to the church ritual of penance. Properly translated, the term refers to an inner transformation.


Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh.

Thesis 3

In Christian theology, mortification of the flesh means putting one's sinful physical nature to death through the infliction of physical hardship. Mortification can refer to fasting but can also mean flagellation, prolonged kneeling, or sexual abstinence.


The pope ... grants remission to souls in purgatory, not by the power of the keys, which he does not have, but by way of intercession for them.

Thesis 26

Keys are an important symbol to the papacy, which draws its authority from the Book of Matthew. In that text, Jesus tells Peter that he will give him the keys of heaven. Luther disputes the notion that these "keys" give the pope power over souls in the afterlife. He stresses that the pope can and should intercede, or help souls by praying for them.


As soon as the money clinks into the chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.

Johann Tetzel, quoted in Thesis 27

Johann Tetzel was tasked by the church with selling indulgences in Germany. Tetzel sought to convince the faithful that they could buy indulgences to free departed loved ones from purgatory. Many of Luther's theses respond directly to Tetzel's ideas. Here, Luther quotes Tetzel in order to refute what he says.


Christians are to be taught that he who sees a needy man and passes him by, yet gives his money for indulgences, does not buy papal indulgences but God's wrath.

Thesis 45

Luther felt the church should base its teachings and practices on scripture. Here, he explains what the church should teach its followers: that using funds for indulgences instead of helping those in need is sinful. This thesis evokes the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan, in which several people walk past a man who has been beaten and robbed. Finally, a Samaritan takes pity on the man. Jesus holds up the Samaritan as an example for all. Luther argues that God wants the church to focus on such biblical lessons such as the importance of helping those in need, not indulgences. Those who spend money on indulgences rather than on helping the poor will anger God.


They are the enemies of Christ and the pope who forbid altogether the preaching of the Word of God in some churches in order that indulgences may be preached in others.

Thesis 53

Luther viewed the preaching of the Gospel—the biblical texts about Jesus—as crucial. For the believer, the Gospel is the word of God. Luther felt that access to the word of God was of utmost importance. He draws on several biblical passages to support his assertion, including Matthew 4:4, "For man shall live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." Luther charges that pastors who cancel sermons in order to funnel a faithful audience to indulgence sellers are enemies of Christ.


It is certainly the pope's sentiment that if indulgences, which are a very insignificant thing, are celebrated with one bell, one procession, and one ceremony, then the gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.

Thesis 55

It was a common practice throughout Europe for the church to promote the arrival of indulgence sellers with church bells and welcoming ceremonies. While careful to avoid implicating the pope directly, Luther rails against what he sees as a perversion of the church's mission and priorities. In later explaining this thesis, Luther said, "Nothing in the church must be treated with greater care than the holy gospel, since the church has nothing which is more precious and salutary."


The treasures of the church, out of which the pope distributes indulgences, are not sufficiently discussed or known among Christians.

Thesis 56

The concept of indulgences led certain theologians to quantify the amount of punishment necessary to satisfy sin and achieve grace with God. Roman Catholic doctrine held that Christ and the saints, through their holiness and good works, had stockpiled merits, which were like credits granted by God. These were kept in a spiritual "treasury of merit." The papacy suggested that it could withdraw merit from this treasury to remit (reduce or pay off) punishment required of an individual for sins. Luther asserted that it is impossible for mortals to have such an accounting. In Thesis 62 he says that the true treasury of the church is the word of God as revealed in the Gospels.


Why does not the pope empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a church?

Thesis 82

The practice of selling indulgences stirred debate among the faithful. Luther brings up the questions that people were asking regarding indulgences and the power of the pope. For example: why would the pope not simply release everyone from purgatory, as an act of compassion, rather than asking for money before doing so? The mention of building a church is a reference to sale of indulgences to fund the building of Saint Peter's Basilica. By acknowledging the questions people are asking, Luther also directly challenges the pope's power over the souls in purgatory.


What does the pope remit or grant to those who by perfect contrition already have a right to full remission and blessings?

Thesis 87

Luther again notes the types of questions people ask about the idea that the pope can reduce the punishment that individuals must endure for sin. For example, some ask what the pope will or can give those who do not need their punishment reduced, since they have done the work of contrition (repentance) themselves. Luther argues that a faithful Christian earns absolution from God by expressing genuine sorrow for sins and engaging in penance. There is nothing that the pope can add to something that is granted by God.


To repress these very sharp arguments of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies.

Thesis 90

Luther acknowledges that the laity—ordinary members of the church—are asking good, reasonable, thoughtful questions. He suggests that it is in the interest of the Roman Catholic Church to engage in healthy debate about the theological justification for indulgences, as opposed to trying to stifle dissent.


Away, then with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, 'Peace, peace,' and there is no peace!

Thesis 92

Most of the Ninety-Five Theses is Luther's reaction to what he deemed the indulgence sellers' unethical and unchristian practices. He urges the Church to push back against these indulgence sellers. He compares these sellers to false prophets, referencing the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah. Luther frequently grounds his discussion in the lessons of the Bible, demonstrating his belief that scripture should hold the greatest authority for Christians.


Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell.

Thesis 94

Several theses focus on what the church should teach. Luther urges the church to teach the faithful to follow Christ. He echoes an argument he makes in Thesis 40, where he argues that Christians who truly repent for sins want to pay the required penalties, which they can do by acts of contrition.


And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace.

Thesis 95

Luther ends his argument with a reference the New Testament Book of Acts (14:22). The apostle Paul tells disciples of Christ that "through many tribulations they must enter the kingdom of heaven." Luther sought biblical justifications for his teachings, and this reliance on scripture as the basis for Christian doctrine became a hallmark of the Protestant Reformation. Luther stresses that, rather than buy indulgences, Christians can achieve salvation by accepting "tribulation" such as living according to the teachings of Jesus, fasting, and giving alms.

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