90 Thesis Martin Luther

90 Thesis Martin Luther-1
The theology and practice of indulgences had been around for centuries, although it had gotten increasingly out of hand in the decades leading up to 1517.At its root lay a long medieval distinction between guilt and punishment: although true repentance of sins and confession to a priest could give the believer absolution from and therefore from hellfire, sin still demanded some kind of temporal punishment.Luther’s concern with the late medieval church was less that it had made salvation too hard (by endless works rather than simple faith) and more that it had made salvation too easy (by thoughtless outward works or transactions rather than heartfelt repentance, being crucified with Christ).

The theology and practice of indulgences had been around for centuries, although it had gotten increasingly out of hand in the decades leading up to 1517.

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Pope Julius II had announced a jubilee indulgence for the year 1510 to raise funds for the construction of the new basilica of Saint Peter in Rome.

Julius died in 1513, and his successor was Pope Leo X, who decided to revive the jubilee indulgence because he wanted to finish building the church of Saint Peter.

Some of this punishment could be handled by taking penitential actions prescribed by the priest, but much of it would remain to be exacted after death.

Accordingly, the medieval church came to increasingly teach the doctrine of purgatory, a place where the faithful must undergo a term (perhaps even hundreds of thousands of years) of purifying torment before they could enter heaven. By doing certain holy acts, like participating in or helping pay for a Crusade, Christians could receive an “indulgence” from the Pope, shortening their time in purgatory or perhaps even skipping it altogether.

As he nailed his Theses to the door of the Castle Church, Martin Luther had no way of knowing that his name would soon be known through virtually all of Europe. Luther was concerned about members of his church in Wittenberg who were buying indulgences with the understanding that they could shorten the time that they and/or their dead relatives would suffer in Purgatory.

What did Martin Luther actually say in his Ninety-five Theses? At first Luther assumed that if the Pope only knew what was going on, he would put a stop to the abuses of the indulgence salesmen.

Such exploitation of the poor infuriated Luther, and in thesis 45, he decries those who, instead of helping the needy, as Christ commanded for the truly penitent, spent all their spare money on indulgences.

More fundamentally, though, Luther worried that indulgences were a form of cheap grace, a way for people to purchase false security for their souls without truly facing the depth of their sin and repenting from the heart.

Luther here is not so much interested in overthrowing the whole penitential system of the Catholic Church as he is in purifying it from obvious abuses, and he continues to accept many of the Pope’s claims of authority.

Indeed, in Theses 80-90 he says that one of his chief concerns is to defend the honor of the Pope against the easy attacks to which the careless teaching of the indulgence preachers had exposed him.


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