95 Theses: 24-34

Our Lutheran World Federation has given the theme of “Liberated by God’s Grace” to this Reformation Commemoration year. There are three sub-themes, Salvation – Is Not For Sale, Human Beings – Are Not For Sale, Creation – Is Not For Sale. These themes hearken to the Theses Luther wrote: one can not buy salvation, people, or creation, and one can not own salvation, people, or creation. That said, the church of Luther’s time was keeping people in bondage by threatening purgatory and hell if they did not pay to absolved! As a business model, it was practically fool-proof: if everyone believes you possess the cure, you have a corner on the market!

“Although many focus Luther’s discomfort with indulgences on Tetzel and the ‘Peter’s indulgence,’ we can see in Luther’s own surviving sermons from early 1517 that he had serious theological questions regarding indulgences from the very moment Tetzel showed up on Saxony’s doorstep. For example, Luther delivered a sermon probably on 16 or 17 January 1517, at the anniversary of the Castle Church’s dedication and just as Tetzel was beginning to preach in Eisleben. Martin Luther was thus preaching a dedication indulgence on which occasion Frederick the Wise may have even been in the congregation (given Luther’s later recollections about the elector’s anger at his questioning indulgences). Luther directed his comments not at the prince’s relics but at the entire ‘foundation,’ which was connected to the church’s dedication. There were not Luther’s only critical comments about indulgences from sermons delivered during this time.” (The Roots of Reform, p.20)

“Having obtained a copy of the Summary Instruction, [Luther] began serious investigation concerning the nature of indulgences in the summer of 1517, researching the books of canon law and and asking experts for their assistance. His approach to the problem betrayed a method of investigation, shared with other humanist scholars of the day, which insisted that to understand a topic fully, one had to return ad fontes (to the sources), where the earliest sources were more reliable than later ones. What this study revealed to Luther was that the ancient church had understood the satisfaction owed for temporal punishment of sin quite differently than the church of his day. In Luther’s studied opinion, the pope had authority to grant indulgences but could offer them only for ecclesiastical punishment established in canon law, which had nothing to do with divine punishment.” (ibid, pp.21-22)

With regard to statement 27, below: Perhaps a phrase used by Johann Tetzel, as he admitted in his attack on the 95 Theses. The German ditty “As soon as money in the chest rings, a soul from purgatory springs,” predated Tetzel and was used commonly to sell indulgences. (ibid, p.38)

24. For this reason most people are necessarily deceived by that indiscriminate and high-sounding promise of release from penalty.

25. That power which the pope has in general over purgatory corresponds to the power which any bishop or curate has in a particular way in his own diocese and parish.

26. The pope does very well when he 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.

27. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.

28. It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.

29. Who knows whether all souls in purgatory wish to be redeemed, since we have exceptions in St. Severinus and St. Paschal, as related in a legend.

30. No one is sure of the integrity of his own contrition, much less of having received plenary remission.

31. The man who actually buys indulgences is as rare as he who is really penitent; indeed, he is exceedingly rare.

32. Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.

33. Men must especially be on guard against those who say that the pope’s pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to him.

34. For the graces of indulgences are concerned only with the penalties of sacramental satisfaction established by man.

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