Read the short Background notesand check the Questions to consider when reading Luther's 95 Theses. Check some older information that I have about this document as a mp3 file or as a txt file.
Sources: www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/luther95.txt and here
1. The life of believers is to be one of
2. This word cannot be understood as referring
to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as
administered by the clergy.
3. Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance;
such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward
mortification of the flesh.
4. The penalty of sin remains as long as the
hatred of self (that is, true inner repentance), namely till our entrance
into the kingdom of heaven.
5. The pope neither desires nor is able to remit
any penalties except those imposed by his own authority or that of the
6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by
declaring and showing that it has been remitted by God; or, to be sure, by
remitting guilt in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant
remission in these cases were disregarded, the guilt would certainly remain
7. God remits guilt to no one unless at the
same time he humbles him in all things and makes him submissive to the vicar,
8. The penitential canons are imposed only on
the living, and, according to the canons themselves, nothing should be imposed
on the dying.
9. Therefore the Holy Spirit through the pope
is kind to us insofar as the pope in his decrees always makes exception of
the article of death and of necessity.
10. Those priests act ignorantly and wickedly
who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penalties for
11. Those tares of changing the canonical penalty
to the penalty of purgatory were evidently sown while the bishops slept (Mt
12. In former times canonical penalties were
imposed, not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.
13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties,
are already dead as far as the canon laws are concerned, and have a right
to be released from them.
14. Imperfect piety or love on the part of the
dying person necessarily brings with it great fear; and the smaller the love,
the greater the fear.
15. This fear or horror is sufficient in itself,
to say nothing of other things, to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since
it is very near to the horror of despair.
16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ
the same as despair, fear, and assurance of salvation.
17. It seems as though for the souls in purgatory
fear should necessarily decrease and love increase.
18. Furthermore, it does not seem proved, either
by reason or by Scripture, that souls in purgatory are outside the state
of merit, that is, unable to grow in love.
19. Nor does it seem proved that souls in purgatory,
at least not all of them, are certain and assured of their own salvation,
even if we ourselves may be entirely certain of it.
20. Therefore the pope, when he uses the words
"plenary remission of all penalties," does not actually mean "all penalties,"
but only those imposed by himself.
21. Thus those indulgence preachers are in error
who say that a man is absolved from every penalty and saved by papal
22. As a matter of fact, the pope remits to
souls in purgatory no penalty which, according to canon law, they should
have paid in this life.
23. If remission of all penalties whatsoever
could be granted to anyone at all, certainly it would be granted only to
the most perfect, that is, to very few.
24. For this reason most people are necessarily
deceived by that indiscriminate and high-sounding promise of release from
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
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.
35. They who teach that contrition is not necessary
on the part of those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy
confessional privileges preach unchristian doctrine.
36. Any truly repentant Christian has a right
to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters.
37. Any true Christian, whether living or dead,
participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted
him by God, even without indulgence letters.
38. Nevertheless, papal remission and blessing
are by no means to be disregarded, for they are, as I have said (Thesis 6),
the proclamation of the divine remission.
39. It is very difficult, even for the most
learned theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the
bounty of indulgences and the need of true contrition.
40. A Christian who is truly contrite seeks
and loves to pay penalties for his sins; the bounty of indulgences, however,
relaxes penalties and causes men to hate them -- at least it furnishes occasion
for hating them.
41. Papal indulgences must be preached with
caution, lest people erroneously think that they are preferable to other
good works of love.
42. Christians are to be taught that the pope
does not intend that the buying of indulgences should in any way be compared
with works of mercy.
43. Christians are to be taught that he who
gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys
44. Because love grows by works of love, man
thereby becomes better. Man does not, however, become better by means of
indulgences but is merely freed from penalties.
45. 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.
46. Christians are to be taught that, unless
they have more than they need, they must reserve enough for their family
needs and by no means squander it on indulgences.
47. Christians are to be taught that they buying
of indulgences is a matter of free choice, not commanded.
48. Christians are to be taught that the pope,
in granting indulgences, needs and thus desires their devout prayer more
than their money.
49. Christians are to be taught that papal
indulgences are useful only if they do not put their trust in them, but very
harmful if they lose their fear of God because of them.
50. Christians are to be taught that if the
pope knew the exactions of the indulgence preachers, he would rather that
the basilica of St. Peter were burned to ashes than built up with the skin,
flesh, and bones of his sheep.
51. Christians are to be taught that the pope
would and should wish to give of his own money, even though he had to sell
the basilica of St. Peter, to many of those from whom certain hawkers of
indulgences cajole money.
52. It is vain to trust in salvation by indulgence
letters, even though the indulgence commissary, or even the pope, were to
offer his soul as security.
53. 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.
54. Injury is done to the Word of God when,
in the same sermon, an equal or larger amount of time is devoted to indulgences
than to the Word.
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
61. For it is clear that the pope's power is
of itself sufficient for the remission of penalties and cases reserved by
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.
67. The indulgences which the demagogues acclaim
as the greatest graces are actually understood to be such only insofar as
they promote gain.
68. They are nevertheless in truth the most
insignificant graces when compared with the grace of God and the piety of
69. Bishops and curates are bound to admit the
commissaries of papal indulgences with all reverence.
70. But they are much more bound to strain their
eyes and ears lest these men preach their own dreams instead of what the
pope has commissioned.
71. Let him who speaks against the truth concerning
papal indulgences be anathema and accursed.
72. But let him who guards against the lust
and license of the indulgence preachers be blessed.
73. Just as the pope justly thunders against
those who by any means whatever contrive harm to the sale of
74. Much more does he intend to thunder against
those who use indulgences as a pretext to contrive harm to holy love and
75. To consider papal indulgences so great that
they could absolve a man even if he had done the impossible and had violated
the mother of God is madness.
76. We say on the contrary that papal indulgences
cannot remove the very least of venial sins as far as guilt is
77. To say that even St. Peter if he were now
pope, could not grant greater graces is blasphemy against St. Peter and the
78. We say on the contrary that even the present
pope, or any pope whatsoever, has greater graces at his disposal, that is,
the gospel, spiritual powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written (1
79. To say that the cross emblazoned with the
papal coat of arms, and set up by the indulgence preachers is equal in worth
to the cross of Christ is blasphemy.
80. The bishops, curates, and theologians who
permit such talk to be spread among the people will have to answer for
81. This unbridled preaching of indulgences
makes it difficult even for learned men to rescue the reverence which is
due the pope from slander or from the shrewd questions of the laity.
82. Such as: "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? The former reason would be most just; the latter
is most trivial.
83. Again, "Why are funeral and anniversary
masses for the dead continued and why does he not return or permit the withdrawal
of the endowments founded for them, since it is wrong to pray for the
84. Again, "What is this new piety of God and
the pope that for a consideration of money they permit a man who is impious
and their enemy to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God
and do not rather, because of the need of that pious and beloved soul, free
it for pure love's sake?"
85. Again, "Why are the penitential canons,
long since abrogated and dead in actual fact and through disuse, now satisfied
by the granting of indulgences as though they were still alive and in
86. Again, "Why does not the pope, whose wealth
is today greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build this one basilica
of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor
87. Again, "What does the pope remit or grant
to those who by perfect contrition already have a right to full remission
88. Again, "What greater blessing could come
to the church than if the pope were to bestow these remissions and blessings
on every believer a hundred times a day, as he now does but once?"
89. "Since the pope seeks the salvation of souls
rather than money by his indulgences, why does he suspend the indulgences
and pardons previously granted when they have equal efficacy?"
90. 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 and to make
91. If, therefore, indulgences were preached
according to the spirit and intention of the pope, all these doubts would
be readily resolved. Indeed, they would not exist.
92. Away, then, with all those prophets who
say to the people of Christ, "Peace, peace," and there is no peace! (Jer
93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to
the people of Christ, "Cross, cross," and there is no cross!
94. Christians should be exhorted to be diligent
in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell.
95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven
through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace