Here are the 95 Theses Martin Luther nailed on the church
door at Wittenburg.
1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent”
(Matthew 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one
2. This word cannot be understood as referring to the
sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction,
as administered by the clergy.
3. Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such
inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various
outward mortification of the flesh.
4. The penalty of sin remains as long as the hatred of
self (that is, true inner repentance), namely till our
entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
5. The pope neither desires nor is able to remit any
penalties except those imposed by his own authority or that
of the canons.
6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring
and showing that it has been remitted by God; or, to be
sure, by remitting guilt in cases reserved to his judgment.
If his right to grant remission in these cases were
disregarded, the guilt would certainly remain unforgiven.
7. God remits guilt to no one unless at the same time he
humbles him in all things and makes him submissive to the
vicar, the priest.
8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living,
and, according to the canons themselves, nothing should be
imposed on the dying.
9. Therefore the Holy Spirit through the pope is kind to
us insofar as the pope in his decrees always makes
exception of the article of death and of necessity.
10. Those priests act ignorantly and wickedly who, in the
case of the dying, reserve canonical penalties for
11. Those tares of changing the canonical penalty to the
penalty of purgatory were evidently sown while the bishops
slept (Matthew 13:25).
12. In former times canonical penalties were imposed, not
after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.
13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties, are
already dead as far as the canon laws are concerned, and
have a right to be released from them.
14. Imperfect piety or love on the part of the dying
person necessarily brings with it great fear; and the
smaller the love, the greater the fear.
15. This fear or horror is sufficient in itself, 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 the same as
despair, fear, and assurance of salvation.
17. It seems as though for the souls in purgatory fear
should necessarily decrease and love increase.
18. Furthermore, it does not seem proved, either by reason
or by Scripture, that souls in purgatory are outside the
state of merit, that is, unable to grow in love.
19. Nor does it seem proved that souls in purgatory, at
least not all of them, are certain and assured of their own
salvation, even if we ourselves may be entirely certain of
20. Therefore the pope, when he uses the words “plenary
remission of all penalties,” does not actually mean “all
penalties,” but only those imposed by himself.
21. Thus those indulgence preachers are in error who say
that a man is absolved from every penalty and saved by
22. As a matter of fact, the pope remits to souls in
purgatory no penalty which, according to canon law, they
should have paid in this life.
23. If remission of all penalties whatsoever could be
granted to anyone at all, certainly it would be granted
only to the most perfect, that is, to very few.
24. For this reason most people are necessarily deceived
by that indiscriminate and high-sounding promise of release
25. That power which the pope has in general over
purgatory corresponds to the power which any bishop or
curate has in a particular way in his own diocese and
26. The pope does very well when he grants remission to
souls in purgatory, not by the power of the keys, which he
does not have, but by way of intercession for them.
27. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon
as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies
out of purgatory.
28. It is certain that when money clinks in the money
chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the
church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.
29. Who knows whether all souls in purgatory wish to be
redeemed, since we have exceptions in St. Severinus and St.
Paschal, as related in a legend.
30. No one is sure of the integrity of his own contrition,
much less of having received plenary remission.
31. The man who actually buys indulgences is as rare as he
who is really penitent; indeed, he is exceedingly rare.
32. Those who believe that they can be certain of their
salvation because they have indulgence letters will be
eternally damned, together with their teachers.
33. Men must especially be on 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 the graces of indulgences are concerned only with
the penalties of sacramental satisfaction established by
35. They who teach that contrition is not necessary on the
part of those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or
to buy confessional privileges preach unchristian doctrine.
36. Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full
remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence
37. Any true Christian, whether living or dead,
participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church;
and this is granted him by God, even without indulgence
38. Nevertheless, papal remission and blessing are by no
means to be disregarded, for they are, as I have said
(Thesis 6), the proclamation of the divine remission.
39. It is very difficult, even for the most learned
theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the
people the bounty of indulgences and the need of true
40. A Christian who is truly contrite seeks and loves to
pay penalties for his sins; the bounty of indulgences,
however, relaxes penalties and causes men to hate them —
at least it furnishes occasion for hating them.
41. Papal indulgences must be preached with caution, lest
people erroneously think that they are preferable to other
good works of love.
42. Christians are to be taught that the pope does not
intend that the buying of indulgences should in any way be
compared with works of mercy.
43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the
poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who
44. Because love grows by works of love, man thereby
becomes better. Man does not, however, become better by
means of indulgences but is merely freed from penalties.
45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a needy
man and passes him by, yet gives his money for indulgences,
does not buy papal indulgences but God’s wrath.
46. Christians are to be taught that, unless they have
more than they need, they must reserve enough for their
family needs and by no means squander it on indulgences.
47. Christians are to be taught that they buying of
indulgences is a matter of free choice, not commanded.
48. Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting
indulgences, needs and thus desires their devout prayer
more than their money.
49. Christians are to be taught that papal indulgences are
useful only if they do not put their trust in them, but
very harmful if they lose their fear of God because of
50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the
exactions of the indulgence preachers, he would rather that
the basilica of St. Peter were burned to ashes than built
up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.
51. Christians are to be taught that the pope would and
should wish to give of his own money, even though he had to
sell the basilica of St. Peter, to many of those from whom
certain hawkers of indulgences cajole money.
52. It is vain to trust in salvation by indulgence
letters, even though the indulgence commissary, or even the
pope, were to offer his soul as security.
53. They are the enemies of Christ and the pope who forbid
altogether the preaching of the Word of God in some
churches in order that indulgences may be preached in
54. Injury is done to the Word of God when, in the same
sermon, an equal or larger amount of time is devoted to
indulgences than to the Word.
55. It is certainly the pope’s sentiment that if
indulgences, which are a very insignificant thing, are
celebrated with one bell, one procession, and one ceremony,
then the gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should
be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a
56. The true treasures of the church, out of which the
pope distributes indulgences, are not sufficiently
discussed or known among the people of Christ.
57. That indulgences are not temporal treasures is
certainly clear, for many indulgence sellers do not
distribute them freely but only gather them.
58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the saints, for,
even without the pope, the latter always work grace for the
inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outer
59. St. Lawrence said that the poor of the church were the
treasures of the church, but he spoke according to the
usage of the word in his own time.
60. Without want of consideration we say that the keys of
the church, given by the merits of Christ, are that
61. For it is clear that the pope’s power is of itself
sufficient for the remission of penalties and cases
reserved by himself.
62. The true treasure of the church is the most holy
gospel of the glory and grace of God.
63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it
makes the first to be last (Matthew 20:16).
64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is
naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be
65. Therefore the treasures of the gospel are nets with
which one formerly fished for men of wealth.
66. The treasures of indulgences are nets with which one
now fishes for the wealth of men.
67. The indulgences which the demagogues acclaim as the
greatest graces are actually understood to be such only
insofar as they promote gain.
68. They are nevertheless in truth the most insignificant
graces when compared with the grace of God and the piety of
69. Bishops and curates are bound to admit the
commissaries of papal indulgences with all reverence.
70. But they are much more bound to strain their eyes and
ears lest these men preach their own dreams instead of what
the pope has commissioned.
71. Let him who speaks against the truth concerning papal
indulgences be anathema and accursed.
72. But let him who guards against the lust and license of
the indulgence preachers be blessed.
73. Just as the pope justly thunders against those who by
any means whatever contrive harm to the sale of
74. Much more does he intend to thunder against those who
use indulgences as a pretext to contrive harm to holy love
75. To consider papal indulgences so great that they could
absolve a man even if he had done the impossible and had
violated the mother of God is madness.
76. We say on the contrary that papal indulgences cannot
remove the very least of venial sins as far as guilt is
77. To say that even St. Peter if he were now pope, could
not grant greater graces is blasphemy against St. Peter and
78. We say on the contrary that even the present pope, or
any pope whatsoever, has greater graces at his disposal,
that is, the gospel,spiritual powers, gifts of healing,
etc., as it is written, 1 Corinthians 12:28).
79. To say that the cross emblazoned with the papal coat
of arms, and set up by the indulgence preachers is equal in
worth to the cross of Christ is blasphemy.
80. The bishops, curates, and theologians who permit such
talk to be spread among the people will have to answer for
81. This unbridled preaching of indulgences makes it
difficult even for learned men to rescue the reverence
which is due the pope from slander or from the shrewd
questions of the laity.
82. Such as: “Why does not the pope empty purgatory for
the sake of holy love and 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 reason would be most just; the latter is most
83. Again, “Why are funeral and anniversary masses for the
dead continued and why does he not return or permit the
withdrawal of the endowments founded for them, since it is
wrong to pray for the redeemed?”
84. Again, “What is this new piety of God and the pope
that for a consideration of money they permit 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 the
need of that pious and beloved soul, free it for pure
85. Again, “Why are the penitential canons, long since
abrogated and dead in actual fact and through disuse, 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 today
greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build this
one basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than
with the money of poor believers?”
87. Again, “What does the pope remit or grant to those who
by perfect contrition already have a right to full
remission and blessings?”
88. Again, “What greater blessing could come to the church
than if the pope were to bestow these remissions and
blessings on every believer a hundred times a day, as he
now does but once?”
89. “Since the pope seeks the salvation of souls rather
than money by his indulgences, why does he suspend the
indulgences and pardons previously granted when they have
90. To repress these very sharp arguments 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, indulgences were preached according to
the spirit and intention of the pope, all these doubts
would be readily resolved. Indeed, 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 should be exhorted to be diligent in
following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and
95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven through
many tribulations rather than through the false security of