Ninety-five Theses

   The Protestant Reformation is traditionally traced to Martin Luther's Ninety-five Theses, or debating points, which he is said to have posted on the door of the parish church at Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. The theses were Luther's first public expression of his developing theology; they were put forth in reaction to a church campaign to sell indulgences throughout Germany The action attributed to Luther of nailing them to the church door appears to be apocryphal.
   According to accepted Roman Catholic teachings, average Christians would at the moment of death pass into purgatory. Here, they would make restitution for past sins through pain and suffering, so that they could finally enter heaven. However, the church could grant indulgences to any believer as a reward for acts of devotion; the indulgence would reduce or eliminate the term in purgatory, for the believer or a loved one. A representative of Rome, monk Johann Tetzel (1465-1519), was distributing indulgences in exchange for donations to finance the construction of St. Peter's in Rome. Tet-zel's tactics enraged Luther, who challenged him, and through him Catholic theologians, to debate the issue.
   The majority of the theses dealt with indulgences, but in so doing they raised many questions and doubts about purgatory, the authority of the pope, the sacrament of penance, and the nature of Christian holiness. The theses struck a chord among Germans, many of whom resented the transfer of money from Germany to Rome. As the controversy raged, Tetzel's sales dropped significantly Tetzel responded with a set of coun-tertheses defending his actions and papal authority, arguing that those who sow doubt should be considered heretics.
   The church called upon one of its prominent theologians, John Eck (1486-1543), to debate Luther. They met at Leipzig in 1519. Luther was forced into asserting his belief that the Bible overrode papal authority and that both popes and councils had made errors in the past. For these statements, Eck branded him a heretic and schismatic. The next year, Luther was excommunicated, and the Reformation went into full swing.
   Further reading:
   ■ Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1950)
   ■ Eric W. Gritsch, Martin, God's Court Jester: Luther in Retrospect (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983)
   ■ James M. Kit-telson, Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and His Career (Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg, 1986)
   ■ Theodore Tappert, ed. Selected Writings of Martin Luther; 4 vols. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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