95 Thesis 1517

The intention is not to 'debunk', or to belittle Luther's achievement, but rather to invite renewed reflection on how the past speaks to the present - and on how, all too often, the present creates the past in its own image and likeness. The impetus for this was the controversy over indulgences.The remaining theses argue that penance is not for the dead, but for the living and that the pope has no power to remit sins of the dead, criticizes the theological foundation of indulgences in the treasury of merits, and rebuts many of the popular ideas indulgence preachers were peddling.

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Throughout many of his early lectures, including Psalms (1513-1515) and Romans (1515-1516), and sermons, Luther had already criticized the theology behind indulgences.

Then on October 31, he sent letters both to Albrecht and to the bishop of Brandenburg expressing reservations about Tetzel’s preaching of indulgences.

It was there that they heard Tetzel’s famous cry, “When the coin in the coffer rings/the soul from purgatory springs,” and brought it back to Luther.

While the local sale of indulgences was the impetus for Luther’s writing, his rethinking of certain scholastic assumptions about sin, grace, and free will led the Wittenberg professor to question the penitential theories supporting the sale of indulgences.

This was the same day he posted his written in Latin for disputation amongst clerics and students.

The pivotal first thesis questioned the entire understanding of penance, which was not something one does, but should characterize the entire life of the believer.

Once he translated them into German, however, the theses gained widespread popularity.

As posters and pamphlets, the theses were printed and distributed across the Holy Roman Empire's territories in northern and central Europe.

Yet he argues that this makes the incident all the more historically significant: “The Thesenanschlang is an event which most likely never took place”, says Professor Marshall.

“Or if it did, it may have occurred at a time other than on 31 October, or in more than one location, and it may not have involved Luther directly at all.


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