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    Martin Luther on Power of Efficacy of Indulgences

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    _Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther
    on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences_
    by Dr. Martin Luther, 1517
    Published in:
    _Works of Martin Luther_
    Adolph Spaeth, L.D. Reed, Henry Eyster Jacobs, et Al., Trans. & Eds.
    (Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1915), Vol. 1, pp. 29-38.


    OCTOBER 31, 1517

    Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light,
    the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg,
    under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther,
    Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in
    Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that
    those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us,
    may do so by letter.

    In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

    1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam
    agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be

    2. This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance,
    i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by
    the priests.

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

    4. The penalty [of sin], therefore, continues so long as
    hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward
    repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom
    of heaven.

    5. The pope does not intend to remit, and cannot remit any
    penalties other than those which he has imposed either by his
    own authority or by that of the Canons.

    6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring that
    it has been remitted by God and by assenting to God's
    remission; though, to be sure, he may grant remission in cases
    reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in
    such cases were despised, the guilt would remain entirely

    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.

    8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and,
    according to them, nothing should be imposed on the dying.

    9. Therefore the Holy Spirit in the pope is kind to us,
    because in his decrees he always makes exception of the
    article of death and of necessity.

    10. Ignorant and wicked are the doings of those priests who,
    in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penances for

    11. This changing of the canonical penalty to the penalty of
    purgatory is quite evidently one of the tares that were sown
    while the bishops slept.

    12. In former times the canonical penalties were imposed not
    after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.

    13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties; they are
    already dead to canonical rules, and have a right to be
    released from them.

    14. The imperfect health [of soul], that is to say, the
    imperfect love, of the dying brings with it, of necessity,
    great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater is the fear.

    15. This fear and horror is sufficient of itself alone (to say
    nothing of other things) to constitute the penalty of
    purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.

    16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ as do despair,
    almost-despair, and the assurance of safety.

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

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

    19. Again, it seems unproved that they, or at least that all
    of them, are certain or assured of their own blessedness,
    though we may be quite certain of it.

    20. Therefore by "full remission of all penalties" the pope
    means not actually "of all," but only of those imposed by

    21. Therefore those preachers of indulgences are in error, who
    say that by the pope's indulgences a man is freed from every
    penalty, and saved;

    22. Whereas he remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which,
    according to the canons, they would have had to pay in this

    23. If it is at all possible to grant to any one the remission
    of all penalties whatsoever, it is certain that this remission
    can be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to the very

    24. It must needs be, therefore, that the greater part of the
    people are deceived by that indiscriminate and highsounding
    promise of release from penalty.

    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.

    26. The pope does well when he grants remission to souls [in
    purgatory], not by the power of the keys (which he does not
    possess), but by way of intercession.

    27. They preach man who say that so soon as the penny jingles
    into the money-box, the soul flies out [of purgatory].

    28. It is certain that when the penny jingles into the
    money-box, gain and avarice can be increased, but the result
    of the intercession of the Church is in the power of God

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

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

    31. Rare as is the man that is truly penitent, so rare is also
    the man who truly buys indulgences, i.e., such men are most

    32. They will be condemned eternally, together with their
    teachers, who believe themselves sure of their salvation
    because they have letters of pardon.

    33. Men must be on their guard against those who say that the
    pope's pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man
    is reconciled to Him;

    34. For these "graces of pardon" concern only the penalties of
    sacramental satisfaction, and these are appointed by man.

    35. They preach no Christian doctrine who teach that
    contrition is not necessary in those who intend to buy souls
    out of purgatory or to buy confessionalia.

    36. Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full
    remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of

    37. Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part in
    all the blessings of Christ and the Church; and this is
    granted him by God, even without letters of pardon.

    38. Nevertheless, the remission and participation [in the
    blessings of the Church] which are granted by the pope are in
    no way to be despised, for they are, as I have said, the
    declaration of divine remission.

    39. It is most difficult, even for the very keenest
    theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people
    the abundance of pardons and [the need of] true contrition.

    40. True contrition seeks and loves penalties, but liberal
    pardons only relax penalties and cause them to be hated, or at
    least, furnish an occasion [for hating them].

    41. Apostolic pardons are to be preached with caution, lest
    the people may falsely think them preferable to other good
    works of love.

    42. Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend
    the buying of pardons to be compared in any way to works of

    43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor
    or lends to the needy does a better work than buying pardons;

    44. Because love grows by works of love, and man becomes
    better; but by pardons man does not grow better, only more
    free from penalty.

    45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a man in
    need, and passes him by, and gives [his money] for pardons,
    purchases not the indulgences of the pope, but the indignation
    of God.

    46. Christians are to be taught that unless they have more
    than they need, they are bound to keep back what is necessary
    for their own families, and by no means to squander it on

    47. Christians are to be taught that the buying of pardons is
    a matter of free will, and not of commandment.

    48. Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting
    pardons, needs, and therefore desires, their devout prayer for
    him more than the money they bring.

    49. Christians are to be taught that the pope's pardons are
    useful, if they do not put their trust in them; but altogether
    harmful, if through them they lose their fear of God.

    50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the
    exactions of the pardon-preachers, he would rather that St.
    Peter's church should go to ashes, than that it should be
    built up with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep.

    51. Christians are to be taught that it would be the pope's
    wish, as it is his duty, to give of his own money to very many
    of those from whom certain hawkers of pardons cajole money,
    even though the church of St. Peter might have to be sold.

    52. The assurance of salvation by letters of pardon is vain,
    even though the commissary, nay, even though the pope himself,
    were to stake his soul upon it.

    53. They are enemies of Christ and of the pope, who bid the
    Word of God be altogether silent in some Churches, in order
    that pardons may be preached in others.

    54. Injury is done the Word of God when, in the same sermon,
    an equal or a longer time is spent on pardons than on this

    55. It must be the intention of the pope that if pardons,
    which are a very small thing, are celebrated with one bell,
    with single processions and ceremonies, then the Gospel, which
    is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred
    bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.

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

    57. That they are not temporal treasures is certainly evident,
    for many of the vendors do not pour out such treasures so
    easily, but only gather them.

    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.

    59. St. Lawrence said that the treasures of the Church were
    the Church's poor, but he spoke according to the usage of the
    word in his own time.

    60. Without rashness we say that the keys of the Church, given
    by Christ's merit, are that treasure;

    61. For it is clear that for the remission of penalties and of
    reserved cases, the power of the pope is of itself sufficient.

    62. The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of
    the glory and the grace of God.

    63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes
    the first to be last.

    64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is
    naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first.

    65. Therefore the treasures of the Gospel are nets with which
    they formerly were wont to fish for men of riches.

    66. The treasures of the indulgences are nets with which they
    now fish for the riches of men.

    67. The indulgences which the preachers cry as the "greatest
    graces" are known to be truly such, in so far as they promote

    68. Yet they are in truth the very smallest graces compared
    with the grace of God and the piety of the Cross.

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

    70. But still more are they bound to strain all their eyes and
    attend with all their ears, lest these men preach their own
    dreams instead of the commission of the pope.

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

    72. But he who guards against the lust and license of the
    pardon-preachers, let him be blessed!

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

    74. But much more does he intend to thunder against those who
    use the pretext of pardons to contrive the injury of holy love
    and truth.

    75. To think the papal pardons so great that they could
    absolve a man even if he had committed an impossible sin and
    violated the Mother of God -- this is madness.

    76. 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.

    77. It is said that even St. Peter, if he were now Pope, could
    not bestow greater graces; this is blasphemy against St. Peter
    and against the pope.

    78. We say, on the contrary, that even the present pope, and
    any pope at all, has greater graces at his disposal; to wit,
    the Gospel, powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written
    in I. Corinthians xii.

    79. To say that the cross, emblazoned with the papal arms,
    which is set up [by the preachers of indulgences], is of equal
    worth with the Cross of Christ, is blasphemy.

    80. The bishops, curates and theologians who allow such talk
    to be spread among the people, will have an account to render.

    81. This unbridled preaching of pardons makes it no easy
    matter, even for learned men, to rescue the reverence due to
    the pope from slander, or even from the shrewd questionings of
    the laity.

    82. To wit: -- "Why does not the pope empty purgatory, for the
    sake of holy love and of the dire need of the souls that are
    there, if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake
    of miserable money with which to build a Church? The former
    reasons would be most just; the latter is most trivial."

    83. Again: -- "Why are mortuary and anniversary masses for the
    dead continued, and why does he not return or permit the
    withdrawal of the endowments founded on their behalf, since it
    is wrong to pray for the redeemed?"

    84. Again: -- "What is this new piety of God and the pope,
    that for money they allow a man who is impious and their enemy
    to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God, and
    do not rather, because of that pious and beloved soul's own
    need, free it for pure love's sake?"

    85. Again: -- "Why are the penitential canons long since in
    actual fact and through disuse abrogated and dead, now
    satisfied by the granting of indulgences, as though they were
    still alive and in force?"

    86. Again: -- "Why does not the pope, whose wealth is to-day
    greater than the riches of the richest, build just this one
    church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the
    money of poor believers?"

    87. Again: -- "What is it that the pope remits, and what
    participation does he grant to those who, by perfect
    contrition, have a right to full remission and participation?"

    88. Again: -- "What greater blessing could come to the Church
    than if the pope were to do a hundred times a day what he now
    does once, and bestow on every believer these remissions and

    89. "Since the pope, by his pardons, seeks the salvation of
    souls rather than money, why does he suspend the indulgences
    and pardons granted heretofore, since these have equal

    90. To repress these arguments and scruples of the laity by
    force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to
    expose the Church and the pope to the ridicule of their
    enemies, and to make Christians unhappy.

    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.

    92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people
    of Christ, "Peace, peace," and there is no peace!

    93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of
    Christ, "Cross, cross," and there is no cross!

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

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


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    Hello and welcome to Brain Mass today. You logged in and asked for help with the following:

    I have an essay to write and would like information/feedback on Martin Luther's propositions (see attachment) and how the issues he presents for debate illustrate the problems in the Church of his day? What were his major disagreements with the Roman Catholic Church.

    To begin, it has to be understood that the Catholic Church of this time was very corrupt and very power. They literally controlled everything and everyone from royalty to pheasants, and people were terrified that if they did something against the wishes of the Church, they would suffer eternity in Hell and Purgatory. Many great theologians (years before Luther) were disguised by the Church and were silenced or killed when they tried to speak against it. So this corruption continued for many centuries until Martin Luther successfully did something about it.

    Martin Luther was a monk (priest) and professor of theology and, like the others, was growing more and more angry at the corruption that the church. One particular incident, however, is accredited for his actions of writing the ...

    Solution Summary

    The expert examines Martin Luther on the power of efficacy of indulgences.