The 95 Theses – that event from 500 years ago!
We, as Lutherans, know of “The Ninety-Five Theses.” It’s probably safe to say that most of us know little of their actual content. We study Luther’s Small Catechism in Confirmation Class, but we generally don’t delve into many of his other works. But it’s 2017, and we hold up this year as a year to commemorate the Reformation, albeit a part of history that divided the church. So why don’t we make our way through the theses, and perhaps learn about the times in which Luther lived, and what lead to this kind of action and call for debate? After this introduction, there will be a weekly post that will provide about 10 of the theses/statements so that, by October 31st, we will have made our way through all 95 from 1517!
Much of the commentary that will be provided comes from “The Annotated Luther, Volume 1: The Roots of Reform,” edited by Timothy J. Wengert, published by Fortress Press.
“On 31 October 1517 a little-known professor of theology at an out-of-the-way, relatively new university in the town of Wittenberg, Saxony, enclosed a copy of ninety-five statements concerning indulgences in a letter to Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz, primate of the Catholic churches in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. By 1520 that same professor, an Augustinian friar named Martin Luther, had become the world’s first living best-selling author while, at the same time, was threatened with excommunication by Pope Leo X (1475-1521).” (The Roots of Reform, p.1)
“This title (Latin: Disputatio…pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum) [Disputation for Clarifying the Power of Indulgences] is taken from the 1517 reprint of Luther’s theses, which in all other printings bore no title at all.” (ibid, p.13)
“By the late Middle Ages, indulgences had become a central part of piety for many people in the Western church. It was also a useful means of financial support for a cash-strapped papacy, so that indulgence preaching was labeled a sacrum negotium (holy business).” (ibid. p.17)
Martin Luther had preached against indulgences prior to calling for debate in this way. As the opening states, he desired clarity and the truth.
Out of love and zeal for bringing the truth to light, what is written below will be debated in Wittenberg with the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of the Arts and Sacred Theology and regularly appointed lecturer on these subjects at that place, presiding. Therefore, he requests that those who cannot be present to discuss orally with us will in their absence do so by letter. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.