The Ninety-Five Theses

The strokes that nailed Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses to the local church door marked a defining moment in history. It was one of the greatest turning points in Western Civilization, and they struck a blow at the Roman Church, causing the much needed Reformation.

Print of Luther Posting His Ninety-Five Theses
Martin Luther nailing the Theses, October 31, 1517

Martin Luther’s Theses were aimed at errors in the Roman Church’s view of indulgences. The Roman Church believed that acts of piety or charity or a donation to the church could reduce or even remove the eternal punishment for sin. Such sayings as “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory into heaven springs” were fiercely objected to by Luther, who believed that only God can forgive sins (Mathew 9:6, Colossians 1:14). If forgiveness of sins can only be obtained through the blood of Jesus, than a coin cannot do so, and it is blasphemy against God to declare that that could be the case.

The Theses also strikes at the pope. Luther states in Thesis 86, “Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?” A similar point can be made like this; if the pope has the keys of heaven and hell, why doesn’t he let everybody into heaven? Would that not be a Christian thing to do? Would not he have the “merit” necessary to do so? Is he not “God on this earth”?

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5 thoughts on “The Ninety-Five Theses

  1. Catholics do not believe that indulgences reduce eternal punishment, and never have. Nothing can reduce time in hell. However, Catholics do believe that an indulgence reduces time in purgatory (temporal punishment).

    Catholics believe that charitable acts are rewarded by God; they do not believe that a coin can forgive sins.

    Catholics believe that the pope is infallible, but they do not believe that he is perfect. Plenty of popes have been corrupt or have made bad decisions, but no pope has ever declared a false doctrine. (John 21: 15-17; John 14: 16-17; Luke 10: 16)

    The pope is not “God on this earth.” Jesus gave him the authority to lead the church, but to call him God would be blasphemous. According to the bible, when the pope binds or looses someone on earth, that person is bound or loosed in heaven (Matthew 16: 19), so Catholics believe that when the pope absolves a person, God forgives that person’s sins.

    1. OK, I’ll respond to your arguments in order.

      First, concerning indulgences… The indulgence offered in return for donating money towards St. Paul’s Cathedral gave forgiveness of sins, past, present, and future. If you had already committed a sin worthy of hell, and that sin was absolved, wouldn’t you consider that that time in hell was just, well, at least reduced, if not eliminated?

      Second, Catholics have changed a lot since the Protestant Reformation. The Catholic church no longer believes the same things it once did. They no longer claim to accept (as far as I know) money for indulgences.

      Third, concerning the Pope. Lets say that I considered you infallible, I am also implying that you are perfect in whatever judgments you have ever made. And, I strongly (very, very strongly) disagree with your blanket statement concerning the Pope never declaring a false doctrine. For instance, the Pope still encourages repetitions of prayers (the rosary), which practice is strictly forbidden (Mathew 6:7). The Roman Church still encourages prayers to the dead, which is also forbidden, and the Bible also states that they cannot hear your prayers (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6). Also, there doesn’t happen to be any reference to purgatory in the Scriptures. There just isn’t.

      The Pope has repeatedly called himself God on Earth throughout the ages. One example is how Catholics call him “Holy Father”. Jesus himself said, “Call no man your father upon earth: for one is your father, which is in heaven.” (Mathew 23:9) Throughout time, the Pope has declared himself capable of changing the very laws of God, which is the highest of blasphemies.

      Jesus never gave authority to Peter to lead the Church, hence there is no “mantle” for the Pope to wear. Jesus is talking to all the disciples in Mathew 18:18 and 16:19, not just Peter. And the Bible never mentions the Pope, except as Antichrist, so how did he “give” him authority over the church?

      Thank you for your time.

      1. I’ll respond to your arguments in order.

        First: Forgiveness of sins past and present, but NOT future. From Catholic Encyclopedia: “It is not a permission to commit sin, nor a pardon of future sin.” Now to respond: if a sin is forgiven by God, the eternal punishment of hell is removed completely. Catholics do not believe that indulgences can do that. However, Catholics believe that temporal punishment is still necessary even after forgiveness; this is a different type of punishment, and it is not eternal. (1 Corinthians 3:11-15) It can therefore be reduced by an indulgence.

        Second, Catholic beliefs have not changed. Heresies have come and gone, scandals have come and gone, and habits have changed, but the actual beliefs have not. Whether or not a bishop has accepted money for indulgences at one point is irrelevant.

        Third, there is a big difference between encouragement and declaration. If the pope encouraged the faithful to steal, that is not a declaration, and therefore does not contradict his infallibility. He could encourage people to kill each other, or anything he wanted, and it means nothing about his infallibility. The pope is infallible when he defines a doctrine, not when he orders a beer. (Related: Matthew 23:2-3) Even so, the repetition of prayers has not been condemned in the bible (Luke 18 1-8 and Matthew 6: 9-13); your quote was in reference to the idea that the words themselves were what mattered, instead of the actual prayer.

        And there is, indeed, a reference to Purgatory in the scriptures. (Matthew 5:24-25 and, again, 1 Corinthians 3:11-15)

        Now, about Ecclesiastes 9:5-6… with similar reasoning, there is no heaven, according to that verse. So it appears that the verse is actually talking about dead bodies, not the souls of the dead.

        The pope is called the “vicar of Christ,” or the representative of God on Earth. Not God on Earth.

        If you’ve ever referred to your male parent as “dad,” you’re in big trouble according to that verse. Actually, Christ was talking about the replacement of God with another figure. The pope does not try to replace God, so he does not fall under this category. Neither does your dad, which is why you can refer to him as your “father.”

        Finally: yes, he was speaking to all the disciples, which is why Catholics believe that the pope isn’t the only person capable of absolving sins. But there was another one which was addressed specifically to Peter (John 21:16), so Catholics believe that Peter was the first pope.

        I think I’ve answered the most important stuff there. Now I’m going to bed.

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