Friday, November 02, 2012

Comments on Luther’s 95 Theses

Since “Reformation Day,” October 31, a celebration of Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses, has just passed, I thought it would be appropriate to post the following brief study of the Theses.

Are Luther’s 95 Theses a presentation of classic Protestant theology?  Contrary to widespread public opinion, Luther’s 95 Theses have nothing to do with justification by faith alone—which is not supported, but rejected, in them.  Nor do they utter a word of protest against the Catholic Mass, the sacramental system, Mary worship, the Pope, or numerous other Roman Catholic heresies.  They certainly say nothing against baptismal regeneration, a heresy that Luther clave to his entire life.  They do not even condemn the practice of paying money to get Papal pardons—on the contrary, they anathematize those who deny Papal indulgences, and they support the existence of Purgatory.  The idea that Luther had been born again, and consequently condemned Roman Catholicism in the 95 Theses, is pure myth.

The only thing condemned by the 95 Theses is the abuse of indulgences—and even here, Luther put his Theses on the door of the Roman Catholic “church” in Latin, so that the common people could not understand what he wrote.  He only intended to debate in Latin certain abuses of indulgences with other faithful servants of Rome.  Indeed, many of Luther’s theses would be heartily endorsed by the Catholic counter-reformation.  I give a sample of his theses below, with brief comments.

3. Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers mortifications of the flesh.

Luther affirms that without Catholic mortifications of the body there is no repentance.

7. God remits guilt to no one whom He does not, at the same time, humble in all things and bring into subjection to His vicar, the priest.

How Protestant is this?

17. With souls in purgatory it seems necessary that horror should grow less and love increase.

So, according to the 95 Theses, Purgatory exists, and souls there increase in love over time.

18. It seems unproved, either by reason or Scripture, that they are outside the state of merit, that is to say, of increasing love.

In Purgatory, souls are earning merit before God so that they can get into heaven.

25. The power which the pope has, in a general way, over purgatory, is just like the power which any bishop or curate has, in a special way, within his own diocese or parish.

The Pope has various powers over people in Purgatory.

29. Who knows whether all the souls in purgatory wish to be bought out of it, as in the legend of Sts. Severinus and Paschal.

Various Catholic legends have some authority in teaching us about who wants to get out of Purgatory and who does not.

30. No one is sure that his own contrition is sincere; much less that he has attained full remission.

Nobody can be certain of his own salvation.

56. The “treasures of the Church,” out of which the pope. grants indulgences, are not sufficiently named or known among the people of Christ.

These treasures through which the Pope grants indulgences should be better known.

58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the Saints, for even without the pope, these always work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outward man.

Both the merit of Jesus Christ and of dead Catholic “saints” are a means through which saving grace is received.  Note that salvation is by sanctification, rather than through justification by faith alone.

69. Bishops and curates are bound to admit the commissaries of apostolic pardons, with all reverence.

Bishops and curates are to have all reverence for pardons given by the Pope to people, and admit those who are carrying them to the territory of their bishoprics in the Catholic State-Church.

71. He who speaks against the truth of apostolic pardons, let him be anathema and accursed!

If you deny the ability of the Pope to grant indulgences, you will be eternally damned in hell.

73. The pope justly thunders against those who, by any art, contrive the injury of the traffic in pardons.

The Pope should thunder against those who deny, by any means, that one can purchase with money remission of various penalties.

91. If, therefore, pardons were preached according to the spirit and mind of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved; nay, they would not exist.

Indulgences should be preached in accordance with the mind of the Pope—then all would be well.

Thesis 94

94. Christians are to be exhorted that they be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hell;

Thesis 95

95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven rather through many tribulations, than through the assurance of peace.

Christians should be diligent to do good works and follow Christ in order to be saved, since by such means they enter into heaven, rather than by having assurance of salvation, for assurance of salvation is bad.

Are these 95 Theses really something to be excited about?



Anonymous said...

Never looked at them this way. The 95 theses are mostly garbage.

Anonymous said...

That's one of the more ignorant things I've read recently. Thanks for posting - by taking basically everything out of context and twisting the actual meaning, rather than showing Luther's "heresy" you've demonstrated you own ignorance.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Anonymous #2,

If what I wrote takes "basically everything out of context,” surely you could provide me with seven examples – or perhaps five examples – or at least three examples – or maybe two examples – or at least one example of something that I took out of context. Since you didn't do that, do you think readers will think that I am the one who is "ignorant,” when I give evidence for my position, or you think of the person who gives no evidence but throws out baseless insults will be considered ignorant?

Please read the study here:


Kent Brandenburg said...

Also Anonymous,

You come on with big words, hidden behind anonymity, which is total cowardice of the worst kind. I published it only because I wanted Thomas Ross to expose it. You are joke. If you are going to come on with such bluster, then at least put your real name. Until then, what you've done is totally disrespectful.

Anonymous said...

First of thanks for posting the very true fact that Martin Luther did not believe as we do, and many of his teaching directly disagree with scripture. I do unfortunately somewhat agree with anonymous that it would be good to post more context. Your point is true, but from a debate standpoint, your argument is easily attacked because your evidence is not completely presented.

I will give an example. Number 3 is not one I think you disagree with. True inward repentance does produce outward "mortification of the flesh" though this could easily be interpreted several ways. In fact, I think Luther meant it to, as he was not ready to leave the false church, but instead wanted to debate points of doctrine. Let us consider 1. and 2. of his theses...
1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ``Repent'' (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
2.This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.

So, when we see 3 in context, it could be argued he was strongly rejecting the confession and sacrament as the avenues of repentance. Just some food for thought. I think this is a much needed article, but maybe include the whole theses.

KJB1611 said...

Dear (most recent) Anonymous,

It is true that in this blog post I did not post the entire context. However, the entire text of the 95 theses is available online and can be found easily, and I would encourage anyone who is concerned about my use of context to read the entire document. It is not very long.

Thanks for making the contextual argument about theses #1 and #2. Luther was making the specific point that the Latin Vulgate mistranslated "repent" as "do penance" in #1 and #2. He was definitely not rejecting the sacrament of penance. In 1519 he wrote a treatise defending penance as a sacrament--at that point he believed in three sacraments: baptism, the Supper, and penance, so he would not have rejected penance in 1517 when he was more Catholic than in 1519.

Obviously Luther's theology got more Biblical over time, and I am glad that he translated the Bible into German (the Waldensians had beat him to it, however--Luther's was not the first German Bible) and that he eventually he articulated justification by faith alone, although he never renounced the damnable heresy of baptismal regeneration. My post makes the limited point that the 95 Theses are not a strongly Protestant document but were simply against the abuse--not the use--of indulgences.