This series has thirteen easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Luther Nails His 95 Points to the Cathedral Door.
To the Christian, both Catholic and Protestant, the Reformation was necessary to the prospering of the religion. History has shown that monopolies are bad, whether they be in business or religion. In order to compete with the Protestants the Catholic Church did its own counter-reformation and as a result, it became a much better church because of that. Like free market competition in the business sector, there are excesses in the religious sector, too. Still, religion is better because of it. This may be why God had the Protestant Reformation happen.
The selections are from:
- Life of Luther History of the Life, the Works and the Doctrines of Luther by Julius Koestlin published in 1883.
- Life of Luther by Jean-M.-Vincent Audin published in 1839.
For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. There’s 9 installments by Julius Koestlin and 4 installments by Jean-M.-Vincent Audin.
We give both sides of the story — the Protestant by Koestlin, the Catholic by Jean M. V. Audin, whose Life of Luther has been called the “tribunal” before which the great reformer must be summoned for his answer.
Julius Koestlin was was a German Protestant theologian , church historian and co-founder of the “Association for the Reformation”. Now with Kostlin, Luther Begins the Reformation in Germany.
Place: Wittenberg, Germany
Luther longed now to make known to theologians and ecclesiastics generally his thoughts about indulgences, his own principles, his own opinions and doubts, to excite public discussion on the subject, and to awake and maintain the fray. This he did by the ninety-five Latin theses or propositions which he posted on the doors of the Castle Church at Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, the eve of All Saints’ Day and of the anniversary of the consecration of the church.
These theses were intended as a challenge for disputation. Such public disputations were then very common at the universities and among theologians, and they were meant to serve as means not only of exercising learned thought, but of elucidating the truth. Luther headed his theses as follows:
“Disputation to Explain the Virtue of Indulgences.–In charity, and in the endeavor to bring the truth to light, a disputation on the following propositions will be held at Wittenberg, presided over by the Reverend Father Martin Luther. Those who are unable to attend personally may discuss the question with us by letter. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”
It was in accordance with the general custom of that time that, on the occasion of a high festival, particular acts and announcements, and likewise disputations at a university, were arranged, and the doors of a collegiate church were used for posting such notices.
The contents of these theses show that their author really had such a disputation in view. He was resolved to defend with all his might certain fundamental truths to which he firmly adhered. Some points he considered still within the region of dispute; it was his wish and object to make these clear to himself by arguing about them with others.
Recognizing the connection between the system of indulgences and the view of penance entertained by the Church, he starts with considering the nature of true Christian repentance; but he would have this understood in the sense and spirit taught by Christ and the Scriptures. He begins with the thesis: “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when he says repent, desires that the whole life of the believer should be one of repentance.” He means, as the subsequent theses express it, that true inward repentance, that sorrow for sin and hatred of one’s own sinful self, from which must proceed good works and mortification of the sinful flesh. The pope could only remit his sin to the penitent so far as to declare that God had forgiven it.
Thus then the theses expressly declare that God forgives no man his sin without making him submit himself in humility to the priest who represents him, and that he recognizes the punishments enjoined by the Church in her outward sacrament of penance. But Luther’s leading principles are consistently opposed to the customary announcements of indulgences by the Church. The pope, he holds, can only grant indulgences for what the pope and the law of the Church have imposed; nay, the pope himself means absolution from these obligations only, when he promises absolution from all punishment. And it is only the living against whom those punishments are directed which the Church’s discipline of penance enjoins; nothing, according to her own laws, can be imposed upon those in another world.
Further on Luther declares: “When true repentance is awakened in a man, full absolution from punishment and sin comes to him without any letters of indulgence.” At the same time he says that such a man would willingly undergo self-imposed chastisement, nay, he would even seek and love it.
Still, it is not the indulgences themselves, if understood in the right sense, that he wishes to be attacked, but the loose babble of those who sold them. Blessed, he says, be he who protests against this, but cursed be he who speaks against the truth of apostolic indulgences. He finds it difficult, however, to praise these to the people, and at the same time to teach them the true repentance of the heart. He would have them even taught that a Christian would do better by giving money to the poor than by spending it in buying indulgences, and that he who allows a poor man near him to starve draws down on himself, not indulgences, but the wrath of God. In sharp and scornful language he denounces the iniquitous trader in indulgences, and gives the Pope credit for the same abhorrence for the traffic that he felt himself. Christians must be told, he says, that, if the Pope only knew of it, he would rather see St. Peter’s Church in ashes than have it built with the flesh and bones of his sheep.
Agreeably with what the preceding theses had said about the true penitent’s earnestness and willingness to suffer, and the temptation offered to a mere carnal sense of security, Luther concludes as follows: “Away therefore with all those prophets who say to Christ’s people ‘Peace, peace!’ when there is no peace, but welcome to all those who bid them seek the Cross of Christ, not the cross which bears the papal arms. Christians must be admonished to follow Christ their Master through torture, death, and hell, and thus through much tribulation, rather than, by a carnal feeling of false security, hope to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The Catholics objected to this doctrine of salvation advanced by Luther that, by trusting to God’s free mercy, and by undervaluing good works, it led to moral indolence. But, on the contrary, it was to the very unbending moral earnestness of a Christian conscience, which, indignant at the temptations offered to moral frivolity, to a deceitful feeling of ease in respect to sin and guilt, and to a contempt of the fruits of true morality, rebelled against the false value attached to this indulgence money, that these theses, the germ, so to speak, of the Reformation, owed their origin and prosecution. With the same earnestness he now for the first time publicly attacked the ecclesiastical power of the papacy, in so far namely as, in his conviction, it invaded the territory reserved to himself by the heavenly Lord and Judge. This was what the Pope and his theologians and ecclesiastics could least of all endure.
Jean-M.-Vincent Audin begins here.
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