I was recently asked by Dr. Tom Woods, instructor of my on-line Western Civilization course, to consider: “What were the 95 Theses about? What was the basic message of Luther’s complaint?
Here are my thoughts.
Martin Luther, who is sometimes referred to as the ‘father’ of the Protestant Reformation, wanted to reform the Catholic church. In a sense, he wanted to reboot the whole system. If possible, his goal was to replace all the Catholic beliefs with new ones. And, naturally, preferably with his. As one can imagine, this did not go over well with the Catholic leadership or even normal, everyday parishioners so he ended up forming his own sect of religion instead. What he is most known for was the bold way he and ‘hand-delivered’ his complaints, nailing 95 statements against the selling of indulgences.
An indulgence was a slip of paper that, when purchased, declared you forgiven of your sins. Along with a few required actions, like saying a prayer, all you really had to do was purchase one every time you needed to do some repenting. For instance, Theses No. 27 chides, “They [Catholic bishops and other authorities] preach man that as soon as the penny jingles in the money box, the souls fly out of purgatory.” I am curious to know if the Catholic bishops back then actually believed that divine forgiveness required money more than a change of heart, but either way it is easy to understand how this could get out of hand. For the poor, what was it like if they had to choose between buying food or indulgences?
Another one of Luther’s arguments that kills the practice at its core, and one that I particularly liked, is No. 36: “Every truly penitent Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt without letters of pardon.” He is saying that not just some Christians have the chance to be saved, but all of them!