DISPUTATION OF DOCTOR MARTIN LUTHER ON THE POWER AND EFFICACY OF INDULGENCES
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 duly appointed Lecturer on these subjects at that place. 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 “Repent”, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.
2. This word cannot be understood to mean the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.
3. Yet it does not mean inward repentance only; for there is no inward repentance that does not produce outwardly various 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 has neither the will nor the power to remit any penalties other than those which he has imposed either by his own authority or by that of canon law.
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 unforgiven.
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 representative, the priest.
8. The penitential canons apply only to the living, and, according to them, none applies to the dead.
9. Therefore the Holy Spirit acting in the person of the pope manifests grace to us, because in his [the pope’s] decrees he always excludes the dead and cases of hardship.
10. Ignorant and wicked are the actions of those priests who impose canonical penances on the dead in purgatory.
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 piety and 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 in 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. There seems to be the same difference between hell, purgatory, and heaven as there are between despair, almost-despair, and the assurance of safety.
17. The horror of souls in purgatory should grow less and love ought to increase.
18. It seems unproven, either by reason or Scripture, that they are outside the state of merit, that is to say, of increasing love.
19. Again, it seems unproven that they, or at least that all of them, are certain or assured of their own salvation, 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 himself.
21. Therefore those preachers of indulgences who say that by the pope’s indulgences a man is freed from every penalty and saved are in error;
22. Indeed he cannot pass on to souls in purgatory any penalty which canon law declares should be paid in this life.
23. If it is at all possible to grant to anyone the remission of all penalties whatsoever, it is certain that this remission could be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to very few.
24. Therefore it must be the case 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 general, over purgatory, is just like the power which any bishop or curate has, in particular, 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. There is no divine authority for preaching 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 alone.
29. Who knows whether all the souls in purgatory wish to be bought out of it, as in the legend of Sts. Severinus and Paschal.*
[*This legend tells of two saints who were willing to remain in torment in purgatory to suffer for others.]
30. No one is sure that his own contrition is sincere; much less that he has attained full remission.
31. The man who sincerely buys indulgences is as rare as the man that is truly penitent; that is, such men are most rare.
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. It is not according to Christian doctrine to preach and teach that contrition is not necessary for those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessional licenses.
36. Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of pardon.
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 as I have said, they are the declaration of divine remission.
39. It is most difficult, even for the very best theologians, to commend to the people the abundance of pardons while at the same time encouraging true contrition.
40. True contrition seeks and loves penalties, but generous pardons only relax penalties and cause them to be hated, or at least, furnish an occasion [for hating them].
41. Papal pardons should be preached with caution, lest people falsely think they are preferable to other good works of love.
42. Christians should be taught that the pope does not intend the purchase of pardons to be compared in any way to works of mercy.
43. Christians should 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 a man becomes a better man; but by pardons he does not grow better, only escapes penalty.
45. Christians should be taught that he who sees a person in need, and passes him by, and then purchases pardons, purchases not the indulgences of the pope, but the indignation of God.
46. Christians should be taught that unless they have more than they need, they are bound to keep what is necessary for their own families, and should by no means squander it on pardons.
47. Christians are to be taught that the buying of pardons is a voluntary matter, and not a legal requirement.
48. Christians should be taught that in granting pardons the pope needs and 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 only if they do not put their trust in them; but altogether harmful, if they lose their fear of God because of them.
50. Christians should be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the pardon-preachers, he would rather that St. Peter’s church be reduced to ashes than be built up with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep.
51. Christians should be taught that it would be the pope’s wish, as it is his duty, to give of his own money, even though the church of St. Peter might have to be sold, to many of those from whom certain hawkers of pardons cajole money.
52. The assurance of salvation by letters of pardon is useless, even though the commissary, or indeed even though the pope himself, were to stake his soul upon it.
53. They are enemies of Christ and of the pope, who forbid the Word of God to be preached at all 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 word.
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 spoken of or known among the people of Christ.
57. That they are not temporal treasures is certainly evident, for many of the vendors do not grant such treasures freely, but only collect 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 used the term in accordance with the custom of his own time.
60. Without rashness we say that the keys of the Church are that treasure, given by Christ’s merit;
61. For it is clear that the power of the pope is of itself sufficient for the remission of penalties and of reserved cases,
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 desired to fish for men of wealth.
66. Now, the treasures of the indulgences are nets with which they fish for the wealth of men.
67. The indulgences which the preachers cry as the “greatest graces” are in fact truly such only when they promote financial gain.
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 receive the commissaries of papal pardons, with all reverence.
70. But they are under greater obligation to watch closely and listen carefully lest these men preach their own imaginings instead of the commission of the pope.
71. He who speaks against the validity 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 means, 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. It is folly to think that the papal pardons are so powerful that they could absolve a man even if he had committed an impossible sin and violated the Mother of God.
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; specifically, the Gospel, powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written in 1 Corinthians 12.
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 permit such assertions to be spread among the people will be held accountable for it.
81. This unbridled preaching of pardons makes it difficult even for learned men to defend the respect due the pope from false accusations, or even from the astute criticisms of the laity;
82. For example: — “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 can redeem 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 do funeral and anniversary masses for the dead continue to be said? Why does the pope not return or permit the repayment of the endowments founded on their behalf, since it is wrong to pray for those now redeemed?”
84. Again: — “What is this new piety of God and the pope, that for money they allow an impious man who is their enemy to buy out of purgatory the devout soul of a friend of God, when they do not allow that pious and beloved soul to be redeemed without payment for pure love’s sake or because of its need of redemption?”
85. Again: — “Why are the penitential canon laws long, which in actual fact and practice are long obsolete and dead, now satisfied by the granting of indulgences, as though they were still alive and in effect?”
86. Again: — “Why does not the pope, whose wealth is today greater than the wealthiest of the wealthy, 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 dispenses to people, and what participation does he grant, to those who have a right to full remission and participation because of their perfect repentance?”
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 only once, and bestow on every believer these remissions and participations?”
89. “Since the pope seeks the salvation of souls rather than money by his pardons, why does he suspend the indulgences and pardons granted before now, since these have equal efficacy?”
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; indeed, they would cease to exist.
92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Peace, peace,” where there is no peace!
93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “the cross, the cross,” where there is no cross!
94. Christians are to be exhorted that they be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hell;
95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven rather through many tribulations, than through the assurance of peace.