It was on this day—494 years ago—a 34-year-old professor and Doctor of Theology nailed ninety-five revolutionary opinions to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.
The Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences (95 Theses) was not, as it has often been portrayed, an act of defiance or challenge to religious authorities. Luther intended his theses to provide an opportunity for academic debate and discussion regarding the issue of the Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences—an issue of unrest for Luther.
Indulgences were promises sold by the church in the form of certificates for a full or partial release from the temporary punishment for absolved sins—whether in this life or in purgatory. Though Prince Frederick III the Wise had forbidden the sale of indulgences in Wittenberg, many of the devout were travelling great distances to purchase them. To Luther’s great frustration and sorrow, many of his congregants were presenting their indulgences to him claiming they no longer had to repent of their sins.
Luther wrote his 95 Theses with the intention of inviting scholars into a discussion on indulgences. The subtitle of his theses read, “Out of love and zeal for truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following theses will be publicly discussed at Wittenberg under the chairmanship of the reverend father Martin Lutther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology and regularly appointed Lecturer on these subjects at that place. He requests that those who cannot be present to debate orally with us will do so by letter. In the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”
These theses were nailed to the door of Castle Church facing Wittenberg’s main thoroughfare. Operating as a bulletin board of sorts, the door of Castle Church was a fairly common place to post important notices. With this posting, Luther also sent out a few handwritten comments to select clergy. It was scarcely two weeks before copies made their way throughout Germany—and they spread throughout Europe in less than two months!
Just as the largest flames are started from the smallest of sparks, the dissemination of these theses is known as the catalyst for the Protestant Reformation. Many churches and communities throughout the world celebrate October 31 as Reformation Day.
Check Out Logos’ Reformation Resources
In recognition of Reformation Day, Logos is offering a guide of featured books and collections relating to the Protestant Reformation.
The Reformation Product Guide has been split into four sections:
- The Reformers—including Luther’s Works (55 vols.)
- The Reformation—including History of the Reformation in Europe in the Time of Calvin (8 vols.)
- The Reformed Tradition (16th–19th Centuries)—including Louis Berkhof Collection (15 vols.)
- The Reformed Tradition (20th–21st Centuries)—including Selected Works of Martyn Lloyd-Jones (10 vols.)
The Reformation Product Guide offers something for anyone who wishes to study the Reformation, including dozens of collections and books by some of the most renowned Reformed theologians as well as detailed histories and biographies about the Reformation and its leaders. Don’t miss out on these great works!
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