Martin Luther’s 95 Theses
The Protestant Reformation can be defined through a series of different people,
places, and events. Some may recall John Calvin and his expansion on Calvinism
throughout Europe and others may think of Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre or the
Thirty Years War. Whatever comes to mind, it should be well known that the Protestant
Reformation changed the religious aspects, views, and way of life during the 19th century,
and all over the world as well. But where did this all start; how did the Reformation
begin? It began in the year 1517 by a monk named Martin Luther. Luther had “increasing
doubts about his own salvation”1 and learned of the Catholic Church’s solution of
salvation through good works, more specifically through the sale of indulgences. The
Pope sold these indulgences as “free tickets” into heaven and the money was used for
him and other church personnel. Luther was unsatisfied and furious with this assessment,
which led him to write his 95 Theses, “which, among other things, he protested the
Church’s practice of selling indulgences.”2 On October 31st of 1517, Luther nailed these
theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.3 Little did he know, he
was setting the stage for the Protestant Reformation and all the other people, places, and
events that would follow after him. He “ultimately led to the fracture of the Catholic
Church and the formation of new Christian dominations.”4 The most important
components of Luther’s Theses’ were how he enabled people to see themselves as sinners
1 Sourcebook, p. 242.
2 Sourcebook, p. 242.
3 Veith, A Place to Stand: The World of God in the Life of Martin Luther, p. 45.
4 Sourcebook, p. 242.
in need of repentance and how that salvation was a gift from God and could be found in
faith and forgiveness alone, not through indulgences.
Martin Luther very well knew that sin was something that could be bought off.
Instead, people needed to live their lives with repentance and ask for forgiveness from
God. This forgiveness was offered as a free gift from God; however, the Catholic Church
seemed to ignore that fact in order to make some money. The first thesis Luther wrote
primarily focused on the idea of repentance: “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He
said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.”5
This thesis tells the people that repentance brings out forgiveness and both can be found
through faith in God in the Bible. Luther was opposed to the Church’s way of forgiveness
and expressed it clearly in theses 27: “The preach man who say that so soon as the penny
jingles into the money-box, the soul flies out.”6 He is ultimately saying that there is
nobody, in this case the Pope, who can tell others that paying money will ensure a
straight shot into heaven. He did not believe in a power great enough to do such a foolish
thing, especially to those who have committed the worst sins. Thesis 76 demonstrates
how Luther felt about this: “We say, on the contrary, that the papal pardons are not able
to remove the very least of venial sins, so far as its guilt is concerned.”7 Luther used these
specific theses’, and many others, to demonstrate to the people that they were sinners
who needed repentance, but did not need to find it through buying indulgences.
So where can the people find their salvation? In thesis 36, Luther explains to the
people that their salvation is not found through indulgences: “Every truly repentant
5 Sourcebook, p. 242.
6 Sourcebook, p. 244.
7 Sourcebook, p. 247.
Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of
pardon.”8 The next thesis goes on to say where this salvation could be truly found:
“Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part in all the blessings of Christ and
the Church; and this is granted by God, even without letters of pardon.”9 Luther was
trying to say that only God could give people religious benefits and not the Pope. He also
wanted people to know that God gives these conveniences not through indulgences but
simply through living as a Christian and asking for forgiveness. Along with forgiveness,
Luther believed that salvation could be found in having faith through the written word
and the Bible. In thesis 62 Luther writes that “The true treasure of the Church is the Most
Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God,”10 which can be translated to mean that
the gospel holds the life and love of God. If we have faith in God and his works, we can
ultimately pursue our salvation. The true treasure of the church is not indulgences; it is
the faith a person has in God.
The Protestant Reformation was an important part of the world’s history because
it challenged the religious command of the Pope and resulted in new religious
dominations. This result in large parts can be credited to Martin Luther, whose 95 Theses
informed people of the corruptness of the Catholic Church and that the correct place to
find salvation was through faith, not indulgences. Luther wrote these theses because he
was so unsatisfied and upset with how the Christian lifestyle “was a continuing cycle of
sin, confession, contrition, and penance.”11 Instead, Luther believed that faith was the key
to salvation, not works. He was able to inform people that they were sinners who needed
8 Sourcebook, p. 245.
9 Sourcebook, p. 245.
10 Sourcebook, p. 247.
11 Noble, et. al., Western Civilization, p. 391.
to be forgiven and that the proper way to do so was by believing in God and his teachings
from the Bible. Because of Martin Luther, other religious dominations were formed,
including Lutheranism, and people realized that “acts of charity were important products
resulting from God’s love,”12 but having faith is the most important thing a person can
12 Noble, et. al., Western Civilization, p. 391.