95 Theses: 55-66

“[In theses 6-80] Luther addresses the central topic of the limits of papal authority to remove the penalty (though not the guilt) of a person’s sin (theses 6-20). Thesis 20, introduced by ‘therefore,’ summarizes the foregoing arguments in language echoing thesis 5. In thesis 21 he mentions for the first time the indulgence preachers and begins the first of three corollaries to his main point: 2140 reject bad preaching and its false claims; theses 41-55 discuss how Christians ought to be taught given the tension between preaching indulgences and encouraging truly Christian works and the gospel; and theses 56-68 define the treasures of the church again over against the claims of indulgence preachers. A final section (69-80) outlines the proper response church leaders should take to restrain such preachers.” (The Roots of Reform, p.28)

“Luther in 1517 had not set out to bait and enrage the pope, but to appraise indulgences and the part they played in purging [sins that people committed in their earthly lifetimes, hence the term ‘purgatory’ – a place of purging before experiencing the divine reward], but this part was modest compared to what Tetzel and his colleagues were putting to work. There was no mistaking that the Ninety-Five Theses text turned out to be a surprise giant-killer attack on the system.” (October 31, 1517: Martin Luther and the Day that Changed the World, p.23)

55. 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.

56. The true treasures of the church, out of which the pope distributes indulgences, are not sufficiently discussed or known among the people of Christ.

57. That indulgences are not temporal treasures is certainly clear, for many indulgence sellers do not distribute them freely but only gather them.

58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the saints, for, even without the pope, the latter always work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outer man.

59. St. Lawrence said that the poor of the church were the treasures of the church, but he spoke according to the usage of the word in his own time.

60. Without want of consideration we say that the keys of the church, given by the merits of Christ, are that treasure.

61. For it is clear that the pope’s power is of itself sufficient for the remission of penalties and cases reserved by himself.

62. The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.

63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last (Mt. 20:16).

64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first.

65. Therefore the treasures of the gospel are nets with which one formerly fished for men of wealth.

66. The treasures of indulgences are nets with which one now fishes for the wealth of men.

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