Ninety-Five Theses


Ninety-Five Theses
the theses of Luther against the sale of indulgences in the Roman Catholic Church, posted by him on the door of a church in Wittenberg, October 31, 1517.

* * *

Propositions for debate on the question of indulgences, written by Martin Luther and, according to legend, posted on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Ger.

, on Oct. 31, 1517. This event is now seen as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The theses were written in response to the selling of indulgences to pay for the rebuilding of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. They represented an implicit criticism of papal policy and stressed the spiritual, inward character of the Christian faith. Widely circulated, they aroused much controversy. In 1518 Luther published a Latin manuscript with explanations of the theses.

* * *

▪ work by Luther
 propositions for debate concerned with the question of indulgences, written (in Latin) and possibly posted by Martin Luther (Luther, Martin) on the door of the Schlosskirche (Castle Church), Wittenberg, on Oct. 31, 1517. This event came to be considered the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. (See Researcher's Note.)

      Ordinarily, Luther's theses would have been of interest only to professional theologians, but various political and religious situations of the time, and the fact that printing had been invented, combined to make the theses known throughout Germany within a few weeks. Luther did not give them to the people, although he did send copies to the Archbishop of Mainz and to the Bishop of Brandenburg. Others, however, translated them into German and had them printed and circulated. Thus, they became a manifesto that turned a protest about an indulgence scandal into the greatest crisis in the history of the Western Christian Church.

      The doctrine concerning indulgences was uncertain in the Roman Catholic Church prior to the Council of Trent (1545–63), which defined the doctrine and eliminated abuses. Indulgences were the commutation for money of part of the temporal penalty due for sin—i.e., the practical satisfaction that was a part of the sacrament of penance. They were granted on papal authority and made available through accredited agents. Not at any time did they imply that divine forgiveness could be bought or sold or that they availed for those who were impenitent or unconfessed. But during the Middle Ages, as papal financial difficulties grew more complicated, they were resorted to very often, and abuses grew common. Further misunderstanding developed after Pope Sixtus IV extended indulgences to souls in purgatory. The often outrageous statements of indulgence sellers were a matter of protest among theologians.

      The immediate cause of scandal in Germany in 1517 was the issue of an indulgence that was to pay for the rebuilding of St. Peter's in Rome. But by secret agreement of which most Germans, probably including Luther, were unaware, half the proceeds of the German sales were to be diverted to meet the huge debt owed to the financial house of Fugger by the archbishop and elector Albert of Mainz, who had incurred the debt in order to pay the Pope for appointing him to high offices. Such a prince could not afford to be squeamish about the methods and language used by his agents, and the agent in Germany, the Dominican Johann Tetzel (Tetzel, Johann), made extravagant claims for the indulgence he was selling. The sale of this indulgence was forbidden in Wittenberg by the elector Frederick III the Wise, who preferred that the faithful should make their offerings at his own great collection of relics, exhibited in the Church of All Saints. Nevertheless, Wittenberg church members went to Tetzel, who was preaching nearby, and they showed the pardons for their sins received from him to Luther. Outraged at what he considered grave theological error, Luther wrote the Ninety-five Theses.

      The theses were tentative opinions, about some of which Luther had not decided. In the theses the papal prerogative in this matter was not denied, though by implication papal policy was criticized. The spiritual, inward character of the Christian faith was stressed. The fact was emphasized that money was being collected from poor people and sent to the rich papacy in Rome, a point popular with the Germans, who had long resented the money they were forced to contribute to Rome.

      Subsequently, the Archbishop of Mainz, alarmed and annoyed, forwarded the documents to Rome in December 1517, with the request that Luther be inhibited. A counterthesis was prepared by a Dominican theologian and defended before a Dominican audience at Frankfurt in January 1518. When Luther realized the extensive interest his tentative theses had aroused, he prepared a long Latin manuscript with explanations of his Ninety-five Theses, published in the autumn of 1518.

      The practice of dating the beginning of the Reformation from the date that the Ninety-five Theses were posted did not develop until after the mid-17th century.

* * *


Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Ninety-five Theses —    The Protestant Reformation is traditionally traced to Martin Luther s Ninety five Theses, or debating points, which he is said to have posted on the door of the parish church at Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. The theses were Luther s first… …   Encyclopedia of Protestantism

  • Ninety-Five Theses — the theses of Luther against the sale of indulgences in the Roman Catholic Church, posted by him on the door of a church in Wittenberg, October 31, 1517 …   Useful english dictionary

  • Ninety-five Theses —  Девяносто пять тезисов …   Вестминстерский словарь теологических терминов

  • The Ninety-Five Theses — Protestant Reformation Precursors Waldensians (I 12th century) Avignon Papacy (1309–77) John Wycliffe (E, 1320–84) Western Schism (1378–1417) Jan Hus …   Wikipedia

  • Five solas — Protestantism (The Ninety Five Theses) The Reformation History Pre Reformation movements Hussites  • Lollards  • Waldensians Refo …   Wikipedia

  • five — /fuyv/, n. 1. a cardinal number, four plus one. 2. a symbol for this number, as 5 or V. 3. a set of this many persons or things. 4. a playing card, die face, or half of a domino face with five pips. 5. Informal. a five dollar bill: Can you give… …   Universalium

  • Martin Luther — For other people named Martin Luther, see Martin Luther (disambiguation). Martin Luther Luther in 1533 by Lucas Cranach …   Wikipedia

  • Luther, Martin — born Nov. 10, 1483, Eisleben, Saxony died Feb. 18, 1546, Eisleben German priest who sparked the Reformation. The son of a miner, he studied philosophy and law before entering an Augustinian monastery in 1505. He was ordained two years later and… …   Universalium

  • Protestantism — Part of a series on Christianity   …   Wikipedia

  • Protestantism — /prot euh steuhn tiz euhm/, n. 1. the religion of Protestants. 2. the Protestant churches collectively. 3. adherence to Protestant principles. [1640 50; PROTESTANT + ISM] * * * One of the three major branches of Christianity, originating in the… …   Universalium


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.