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The 95 Theses - Martin Luther

A summary of the 95 theses.

Martin Luther wrote his 95 theses in 1517 as a protest against the selling of indulgences.

After he sent a copy of the theses to Albert of Mainz (who sent a copy to Pope Leo), Luther continued to write, elaborating on the issues raised.

Drawing of selling of indulgences

He makes three main points in his 95 theses. Here they are, in his own words:

1. Selling indulgences to finance the building of St. Peter's is wrong.

"The revenues of all Christendom are being sucked into this insatiable basilica. The Germans laugh at calling this the common treasure of Christendom. Before long, all the churches, palaces, walls and bridges of Rome will be built out of our money.

First of all, we should rear living temples, next local churches, and only last of all St. Peter's, which is not necessary for us. We Germans cannot attend St. Peter's. Better that it should never be built than that our parochial churches should be despoiled. ...

Why doesn't the pope build the basilica of St. Peter's out of his own money? He is richer than Croesus. He would do better to sell St. Peter's and give the money to the poor folk who are being fleeced by the hawkers of indulgences."

2. The pope has no power over Purgatory.

"Papal indulgences do not remove guilt. Beware of those who say that indulgences effect reconciliation with God. ... He who is contrite has plenary remission of guilt and penalty without indulgences.

The pope can only remove those penalties which he himself has imposed on earth, for Christ did not say, 'Whatsoever I have bound in heaven you may loose on earth.'

Therefore I claim that the pope has no jurisdiction over Purgatory.

... If the pope does have power to release anyone from Purgatory, why in the name of love does he not abolish Purgatory by letting everyone out? If for the sake of miserable money he released uncounted souls, why should he not for the sake of most holy love empty the place?

To say that souls are liberated from Purgatory is audacious. To say they are released as soon as the coffer rings is to incite avarice. The pope would do better to give everything away without charge."

3. Buying indulgences gives people a false sense of security and endangers their salvation.

"Indulgences are positively harmful to the recipient because they impede salvation by diverting charity and inducing a false sense of security. Christians should be taught that he who gives to the poor is better than he who receives a pardon.

He who spends money on indulgences instead of relieving want receives not the indulgence of the pope but the indignation of God. ...

Indulgences are most pernicious because they induce complacency and thereby imperil salvation. Those persons are damned who think that letters of indulgence make them certain of salvation.

God works by contraries so that a man feels himself to be lost in the very moment when he is on the point of being saved. ...Man must first cry out that there is no health in him. He must be consumed with horror. This is the pain of Purgatory. ...

In this disturbance salvation begins. When man believes himself to be utterly lost, light breaks. Peace comes in the word of Christ through faith. He who does not have this is lost even though he be absolved a million times by the pope, and he who does have it may not wish to be released from Purgatory, for true contrition seeks penalty. Christians should be encouraged to bear the cross."

Here is the full text of the 95 Theses.

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Martin Luther and the 95 Theses

By: Editors

Updated: June 6, 2019 | Original: October 29, 2009

Martin LutherMartin Luther, (Eisleben, 1483, Eisleben, 1546), German reformer, Doctor of Theology and Augustinian priest, In 1517, outlined the main thesis of Lutheranism in Wittenberg, He was excommunicated in 1520, Martin Luther nailed to the door of the Wittenberg castle church his Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences (31/10/1517), Colored engraving. (Photo by Prisma/UIG/Getty Images)

Born in Eisleben, Germany, in 1483, Martin Luther went on to become one of Western history’s most significant figures. Luther spent his early years in relative anonymity as a monk and scholar. But in 1517 Luther penned a document attacking the Catholic Church’s corrupt practice of selling “indulgences” to absolve sin. His “95 Theses,” which propounded two central beliefs—that the Bible is the central religious authority and that humans may reach salvation only by their faith and not by their deeds—was to spark the Protestant Reformation. Although these ideas had been advanced before, Martin Luther codified them at a moment in history ripe for religious reformation. The Catholic Church was ever after divided, and the Protestantism that soon emerged was shaped by Luther’s ideas. His writings changed the course of religious and cultural history in the West.

Martin Luther (1483–1546) was born in Eisleben, Saxony (now Germany), part of the Holy Roman Empire, to parents Hans and Margaretta. Luther’s father was a prosperous businessman, and when Luther was young, his father moved the family of 10 to Mansfeld. At age five, Luther began his education at a local school where he learned reading, writing and Latin. At 13, Luther began to attend a school run by the Brethren of the Common Life in Magdeburg. The Brethren’s teachings focused on personal piety, and while there Luther developed an early interest in monastic life.

Did you know? Legend says Martin Luther was inspired to launch the Protestant Reformation while seated comfortably on the chamber pot. That cannot be confirmed, but in 2004 archeologists discovered Luther's lavatory, which was remarkably modern for its day, featuring a heated-floor system and a primitive drain.

Martin Luther Enters the Monastery

But Hans Luther had other plans for young Martin—he wanted him to become a lawyer—so he withdrew him from the school in Magdeburg and sent him to new school in Eisenach. Then, in 1501, Luther enrolled at the University of Erfurt, the premiere university in Germany at the time. There, he studied the typical curriculum of the day: arithmetic, astronomy, geometry and philosophy and he attained a Master’s degree from the school in 1505. In July of that year, Luther got caught in a violent thunderstorm, in which a bolt of lightning nearly struck him down. He considered the incident a sign from God and vowed to become a monk if he survived the storm. The storm subsided, Luther emerged unscathed and, true to his promise, Luther turned his back on his study of the law days later on July 17, 1505. Instead, he entered an Augustinian monastery.

Luther began to live the spartan and rigorous life of a monk but did not abandon his studies. Between 1507 and 1510, Luther studied at the University of Erfurt and at a university in Wittenberg. In 1510–1511, he took a break from his education to serve as a representative in Rome for the German Augustinian monasteries. In 1512, Luther received his doctorate and became a professor of biblical studies. Over the next five years Luther’s continuing theological studies would lead him to insights that would have implications for Christian thought for centuries to come.

Martin Luther Questions the Catholic Church

In early 16th-century Europe, some theologians and scholars were beginning to question the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. It was also around this time that translations of original texts—namely, the Bible and the writings of the early church philosopher Augustine—became more widely available.

Augustine (340–430) had emphasized the primacy of the Bible rather than Church officials as the ultimate religious authority. He also believed that humans could not reach salvation by their own acts, but that only God could bestow salvation by his divine grace. In the Middle Ages the Catholic Church taught that salvation was possible through “good works,” or works of righteousness, that pleased God. Luther came to share Augustine’s two central beliefs, which would later form the basis of Protestantism.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church’s practice of granting “indulgences” to provide absolution to sinners became increasingly corrupt. Indulgence-selling had been banned in Germany, but the practice continued unabated. In 1517, a friar named Johann Tetzel began to sell indulgences in Germany to raise funds to renovate St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The 95 Theses

Committed to the idea that salvation could be reached through faith and by divine grace only, Luther vigorously objected to the corrupt practice of selling indulgences. Acting on this belief, he wrote the “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” also known as “The 95 Theses,” a list of questions and propositions for debate. Popular legend has it that on October 31, 1517 Luther defiantly nailed a copy of his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church. The reality was probably not so dramatic; Luther more likely hung the document on the door of the church matter-of-factly to announce the ensuing academic discussion around it that he was organizing.

The 95 Theses, which would later become the foundation of the Protestant Reformation, were written in a remarkably humble and academic tone, questioning rather than accusing. The overall thrust of the document was nonetheless quite provocative. The first two of the theses contained Luther’s central idea, that God intended believers to seek repentance and that faith alone, and not deeds, would lead to salvation. The other 93 theses, a number of them directly criticizing the practice of indulgences, supported these first two.

In addition to his criticisms of indulgences, Luther also reflected popular sentiment about the “St. Peter’s scandal” in the 95 Theses:

Why does not the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?

The 95 Theses were quickly distributed throughout Germany and then made their way to Rome. In 1518, Luther was summoned to Augsburg, a city in southern Germany, to defend his opinions before an imperial diet (assembly). A debate lasting three days between Luther and Cardinal Thomas Cajetan produced no agreement. Cajetan defended the church’s use of indulgences, but Luther refused to recant and returned to Wittenberg.

Luther the Heretic

On November 9, 1518 the pope condemned Luther’s writings as conflicting with the teachings of the Church. One year later a series of commissions were convened to examine Luther’s teachings. The first papal commission found them to be heretical, but the second merely stated that Luther’s writings were “scandalous and offensive to pious ears.” Finally, in July 1520 Pope Leo X issued a papal bull (public decree) that concluded that Luther’s propositions were heretical and gave Luther 120 days to recant in Rome. Luther refused to recant, and on January 3, 1521 Pope Leo excommunicated Martin Luther from the Catholic Church.

On April 17, 1521 Luther appeared before the Diet of Worms in Germany. Refusing again to recant, Luther concluded his testimony with the defiant statement: “Here I stand. God help me. I can do no other.” On May 25, the Holy Roman emperor Charles V signed an edict against Luther, ordering his writings to be burned. Luther hid in the town of Eisenach for the next year, where he began work on one of his major life projects, the translation of the New Testament into German, which took him 10 months to complete.

Martin Luther's Later Years

Luther returned to Wittenberg in 1521, where the reform movement initiated by his writings had grown beyond his influence. It was no longer a purely theological cause; it had become political. Other leaders stepped up to lead the reform, and concurrently, the rebellion known as the Peasants’ War was making its way across Germany.

Luther had previously written against the Church’s adherence to clerical celibacy, and in 1525 he married Katherine of Bora, a former nun. They had five children. Although Luther’s early writings had sparked the Reformation, he was hardly involved in it during his later years. At the end of his life, Luther turned strident in his views, and pronounced the pope the Antichrist, advocated for the expulsion of Jews from the empire and condoned polygamy based on the practice of the patriarchs in the Old Testament.

Luther died on February 18, 1546.

Significance of Martin Luther’s Work

Martin Luther is one of the most influential figures in Western history. His writings were responsible for fractionalizing the Catholic Church and sparking the Protestant Reformation. His central teachings, that the Bible is the central source of religious authority and that salvation is reached through faith and not deeds, shaped the core of Protestantism. Although Luther was critical of the Catholic Church, he distanced himself from the radical successors who took up his mantle. Luther is remembered as a controversial figure, not only because his writings led to significant religious reform and division, but also because in later life he took on radical positions on other questions, including his pronouncements against Jews, which some have said may have portended German anti-Semitism; others dismiss them as just one man’s vitriol that did not gain a following. Some of Luther’s most significant contributions to theological history, however, such as his insistence that as the sole source of religious authority the Bible be translated and made available to everyone, were truly revolutionary in his day.

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summary of the 95 theses

Martin Luther, a Catholic monk, wrote a document referred to as 95 Theses, that changed Western Christian religion forever. What made a devout monk openly criticize the Church? What was written in the 95 Theses that made it so important? Let's look at the 95 Theses and Martin Luther!   …

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Martin Luther, a Catholic monk, wrote a document referred to as 95 Theses , that changed Western Christian religion forever. What made a devout monk openly criticize the Church? What was written in the 95 Theses that made it so important? Let's look at the 95 Theses and Martin Luther!

95 Theses Definition

On October 31, 1417, in Wittenberg, Germany Martin Luther hung his 95 Theses on the door outside of his church. The first two theses were the issues that Luther had with the Catholic Church and the rest were the arguments that he could have with people about these issues.

Martin Luther and the 95 Theses

Martin Luther intended to be a lawyer until he was stuck in a deadly storm. Luther swore an oath to God that if he lived then he would become a monk. True to his word, Luther became a monk and then completed his doctoral program. Eventually, he had his very own church in Wittenberg, Germany.

95 Theses Martin Luther StudySmarter

95 Theses Summary

Over in Rome in 1515, Pope Leo X wanted to renovate St. Peter's Basilica. The Pope permitted the sale of indulgences to raise money for this construction project. Indulgences challenged Luther's view of Christianity. If a priest sold an indulgence, then the person who received it paid for forgiveness. The forgiveness of their sins did not come from God but the priest.

Luther believed that forgiveness and salvation could only come from God. A person could also buy indulgences on behalf of other people. One could even buy an indulgence for a dead person to shorten their stay in Purgatory. This practice was illegal in Germany but one day Luther's congregation told him that they would no longer need confessionals because their sins had been forgiven through indulgences.

95 Theses Martin Luther Hammer StudySmarter

95 Theses Date

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther went outside of his church and hammered his 95 Theses to the Church wall. This sounds dramatic but historians think it probably wasn't. Luther's theses took off and were soon translated to different languages. It even made its way to Pope Leo X!

The Catholic Church

The Catholic Church was the only Christian church in existence at this time, there were no Baptists, Presbyterians, or Protestants. The Church (meaning the Catholic Church) also provided the only welfare programs. They fed the hungry, gave shelter to the poor, and provided medical care. The only education available was through the Catholic Church. Faith was not the only reason people attended church. At church, they could show off their status and socialize.

The pope was extremely powerful. The Catholic Church owned one-third of the land in Europe. The pope also had power over kings. This is because kings were thought to be appointed by God and the pope was a direct link to God. The pope would advise kings and could heavily influence wars and other political struggles.

When going forward, remember how important and powerful the Catholic Church was. This will offer context to the Protestant Reformation.

The first two theses are about indulgences and why they are immoral. The first thesis refers to God as the only being who can grant forgiveness from sins. Luther was very dedicated to the belief that God could grant forgiveness to anyone who prayed for it.

The second thesis was directly calling out the Catholic Church. Luther reminds the reader that the church does not have the authority to forgive sins so when they sell indulgences, they are selling something they do not have. If God is the only one who can forgive sins and the indulgences weren't bought from God, then they are fake.

  • When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ``Repent'' (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
  • This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.

The rest of the theses are providing evidence of Luther's first two claims. These are written as arguing points. Luther opens the door that if anyone found fought in any of his points then they could write him and they would debate. The point of the theses was not to destroy the Catholic church but to reform it. The 95 Theses were translated from Latin to German and were read by people all over the country!

95 Theses Luther 95 Theses StudySmarter

Luther wrote the theses in a conversational tone. While it was written in Latin, this would not be for the clergy alone. This would also be for the Catholics who, in Luther's eyes, wasted their money on indulgences. Luther proposed a reform of the Catholic Church. He was not trying to strike out and create a new form of Christianity.

Martin Luther no longer believed that priests could forgive people of their sins on behalf of God. He had a completely radical idea that people could confess in prayer on their own and God would forgive them. Luther also believed that the bible should be translated into German so that everyone could read it. At this point, it was written in Latin and only the clergy could read it.

The Gutenberg Printing Press and the Protestant Reformation

Martin Luther was not the first educated person to go up against the Catholic Church but he is the first to start a reformation. What made him different? In 1440, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. This made information spread quicker than it had previously. While historians are still researching the effect of the printing press on the Protestant Reformation , most agree that the Reformation would not have happened without it.

95 Theses Effect on Europe

Luther was excommunicated from the church while the 95 Theses sparked the Protestant Reformation. This was also a political reform. It eventually took away the majority of the pope's power removing his role as a political leader and leaving him as a spiritual leader. The nobility began to break from the Catholic Church because they could then dissolve the church's landholdings and keep the profits. Nobles who were monks could leave the Catholics and get married then produce heirs.

Through the Protestant Reformation people were able to get a German translation of the bible. Anyone who was literate could read the bible for themselves. No longer did they have to rely so heavily on the priests. This created different denominations of Christianity that did not follow the same rules as the Catholic Church or each other's. This also sparked the German Peasant Revolt which was the largest peasant revolt at that time.

95 Theses - Key takeaways

  • The 95 Theses was originally a response to the sale of Indulgences
  • The Catholic Church was a social, political, and spiritual world power
  • The 95 Theses sparked the Protestant Reformation which eventually drastically diminished the power of the Catholic Church

Frequently Asked Questions about 95 Theses

--> what were the 95 theses .

The 95 Theses was a document posted by Martin Luther. It was written so the Catholic Church would reform.

--> When did Martin Luther post the 95 Theses? 

The 95 Theses was posted on October 31st, 1517 in Wittenberg, Germany.

--> Why did Martin Luther write the 95 Theses? 

Martin Luther wrote the 95 Theses so that the Catholic Church would reform and stop selling indulgences. 

--> Who wrote the 95 Theses? 

Martin Luther wrote the 95 Theses.

--> What did the 95 theses say? 

The first two theses were against the sale of indulgences the rest of the theses backed up that claim. 

Final 95 Theses Quiz

95 theses quiz - teste dein wissen.

Who wrote the 95 Theses?

Show answer

Show question

When were the 95 Theses written? 

October 31, 1517

Where was the 95 Theses posted?

Wittenberg, Germany 

When someone is removed from the Catholic church because of their actions it is called ________.


What were tokens that could be purchased by anyone that meant the buyer's sins had been forgiven?


Why did Pope Leo X allow Catholics to start back selling indulgences?

To Fund the restoration of St. Peter's Basilica

What was the first thesis about?

Only God can forgive people of their sins

What was the second thesis about?

The Catholic Church did not have the authority to forgive people of their sins

What were the third through ninety-nine theses about?

They were points that backed up the first two theses. 

What invention helped the spread of the Protestant Reformation?

What reformation was sparked by the Ninety-Five Theses?

Protestant Reformation 

Nobles broke from the Catholic Church then dissolved the Church's holdings so that they could keep the revenue.


Before the Protestant Reformation, there were plenty of denominations of Christians.

Which book did Luther translate into German that greatly influenced the Protestant Reformation?

Who did Martin Luther think that people needed to forgive their sins?

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Ninety-Five Theses

22 pages • 44 minutes read

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Summary and Study Guide

Summary: “ninety-five theses”.

Martin Luther wrote the “Ninety-Five Theses: A Disputation to Clarify the Power of Indulgences” in 1517. These statements were called “theses” because they were meant to provide a basis for later arguments, much like the statements that students base academic papers on today. This guide refers to The Ninety-Five Theses and Other Writings , translated by William R. Russell, published in 2017 by Penguin Books.

Martin Luther sent a copy of the theses along with a letter to Archbishop Albrecht von Brandenburg on October 31, 1517. Luther may have placed a copy of the theses on the door of All Saints’ Church in the northern German town of Wittenberg. Although the image of Luther posting his theses to the church door has become famous in art, historians debate whether he actually did so. It was customary to use church doors to show announcements and writings to the community. If Luther did post the theses, it was a routine act of presenting one’s writings to the public, not an act of defiance.

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Nonetheless, Luther’s theses made a splash. October 31, the day he chose to send his theses to Archbishop Albrecht, was All Saints’ Day, an important holy day on the Catholic Church’s calendar. Later generations would remember October 31 as the day the Protestant Revolution started. Today, it is still observed as Reformation Day in parts of Europe and South America. Once Luther’s ideas evolved and spread, and Protestantism emerged as a new branch of Christianity, the “Ninety-Five Theses” would become one of the most important documents in world history.

Still, it is important to keep in mind that Luther did not intend to start a revolution. Instead, the 95 theses were meant to start an academic debate. Luther’s main concern in the “Ninety-Five Theses” is indulgences , as the document’s subtitle, “A Disputation to Clarify the Power of Indulgences,” explains. Indulgences are grants that reduced the penance required by a living or dead Christian to make up for their sins, sold by the Catholic Church. Although Luther and his supporters would have a large impact on the history of Christianity, in the “Ninety-Five Theses” Luther is not arguing to change Christianity or get rid of the pope.

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Luther explains that he is a professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg and that he is offering up the theses for a debate. Luther’s theses argue that when Jesus Christ called for his followers to repent (Matthew 4:17), he meant “the entire life of believers be a life of repentance” (Line 1). In the next few theses, Luther clarifies that in this biblical passage Jesus is referring to the sacrament of penance. Luther argues that Jesus did not just mean “internal” repentance, meaning repenting one’s actions. Instead, Jesus was also asking for “external” repentance, which would mean resolving to exercise more “external self-control” in the future (Line 3). Luther concludes that “true internal repentance” would entail guilt or “hatred of self,” which would not end until after one entered heaven (Line 4).

In the next theses, Luther addresses the question of the pope’s authority over forgiveness and penance. Because Luther sees penance as a matter of guilt, he argues that the pope cannot reduce the amount of anyone’s required penance any more than he can reduce a person’s guilt. Nor can the pope reduce the penalties the dead suffer in purgatory for their sins in life. Instead, the dead are released from any canonical penalties the church can impose. Priests who argue otherwise “act ignorantly and wickedly” (Line 10). By using indulgences to offer people absolution from their sins first and requiring them to perform penance later, priests are reversing the older procedure of the church, in which absolution was only offered after acts of penance.

Luther discusses purgatory. He views the afterlife in terms of emotions: “The differences between hell, purgatory, and heaven are akin to the differences between despair, fear, and the assurance of salvation” (Line 16). Luther sees purgatory as a place where souls can lose their fear of damnation and gain God’s love. In short, Luther is arguing that souls in purgatory do not need penance from the church.

Next, Luther argues that the pope can only reduce or absolve penalties that the church itself imposes, referring to the penance the church orders for people seeking absolution. Even if the pope could grant such remissions, it would be reserved for only a few. According to Luther, the only way the pope can help souls in purgatory is by praying for them. Otherwise, he has no direct influence over the amount of penance they must pay in purgatory. The claim that the pope can help souls enter heaven is “simply a human doctrine” spread by deceptive priests (Line 27). The church can only pray to God on someone’s behalf, while God alone determines when a soul gets to heaven.

Luther adds that we cannot know if all souls in purgatory even wish for salvation. Nor can anyone know if they have repented of their sins or have received plenary (total) forgiveness. Luther concludes that the person who buys an indulgence and is genuinely remorseful is “exceedingly rare” (Line 31). Indulgences are only good for receiving penance according to church doctrine. However, certain priests lead people into believing that receiving indulgences absolves them of their sins. This causes people to believe that an indulgence makes true contrition for one’s sins unnecessary.

Luther still insists that indulgences can do some good. However, he argues people should understand it is better to spend one’s money in charity toward the poor or on their own families. If not properly understood, indulgences could cause Christians to “lose their fear of God” (Line 49). Also, Luther thinks the pope himself would be horrified at the actions of the “indulgence-hawkers” (Line 51). He goes on to denounce priests who discuss indulgences as much or more than the actual tenets of the church.

Luther concludes that “the church’s true treasure is the most holy gospel of God’s glory and grace” (Line 62). This treasure is the most ignored. Rather than valuing the church’s message of God’s love for the poor and downtrodden, certain priests are valuing indulgences for profit.

Luther says that the abuse of indulgences has hurt the pope’s reputation. Specifically, it raises questions such as why the pope does not just free every soul in purgatory, why endowments to pray for the dead are continued if the pope can absolve the sins of all souls, and why impious people are allowed to buy their way out of purgatory. Luther concludes that it is the responsibility of priests and theologians to remind Christians to “be confident of entering heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace” (Line 95). To put it another way, Luther finishes by asserting that indulgences offer a deceptively easy path to salvation.

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