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
Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore 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 Poenitentiam agite,
willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.
2. This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e.,
confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.
3. Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward
repentance which does not outwardly work divers 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 does not intend to remit, and cannot remit any penalties
other than those which he has imposed either by his own authority or by
that of the Canons.
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
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 vicar, the priest.
8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according
to them, nothing should be imposed on the dying.
9. Therefore the Holy Spirit in the pope is kind to us, because in his
decrees he always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity.
10. Ignorant and wicked are the doings of those priests who, in the
case of the dying, reserve canonical penances for 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 health [of soul], that is to say, the imperfect 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 of 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. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ as do despair, almost-despair,
and the assurance of safety.
17. With souls in purgatory it seems necessary that horror should grow
less and love increase.
18. It seems unproved, either by reason or Scripture, that they are
outside the state of merit, that is to say, of increasing love.
19. Again, it seems unproved that they, or at least that all of them,
are certain or assured of their own blessedness, 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 are in error, who say that
by the pope's indulgences a man is freed from every penalty, and saved;
22. Whereas he remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which, according
to the canons, they would have had to pay in this life.
23. If it is at all possible to grant to any one the remission of all
penalties whatsoever, it is certain that this remission can be granted
only to the most perfect, that is, to the very fewest.
24. It must needs be, therefore, that the greater part of the people
are deceived by that indiscriminate and highsounding promise of release
25. The power which the pope has, in a general way, over purgatory,
is just like the power which any bishop or curate has, in a special way,
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
27. They preach man who say 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.
30. No one is sure that his own contrition is sincere; much less that
he has attained full remission.
31. Rare as is the man that is truly penitent, so rare is also the man
who truly buys indulgences, i.e., 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
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
34. For these "graces of pardon" concern only the penalties
of sacramental satisfaction, and these are appointed by man.
35. They preach no Christian doctrine who teach that contrition is not
necessary in those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessionalia.
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 they are, as I have said, the declaration of divine remission.
39. It is most difficult, even for the very keenest theologians, at
one and the same time to commend to the people the abundance of pardons
and [the need of] true contrition.
40. True contrition seeks and loves penalties, but liberal pardons only
relax penalties and cause them to be hated, or at least, furnish an occasion
[for hating them].
41. Apostolic pardons are to be preached with caution, lest the people
may falsely think them preferable to other good works of love.
42. Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend the buying
of pardons to be compared in any way to works of mercy.
43. Christians are to 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 man becomes better; but
by pardons man does not grow better, only more free from penalty.
45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a man in need, and
passes him by, and gives [his money] for pardons, purchases not the indulgences
of the pope, but the indignation of God.
46. Christians are to be taught that unless they have more than they
need, they are bound to keep back what is necessary for their own families,
and by no means to squander it on pardons.
47. Christians are to be taught that the buying of pardons is a matter
of free will, and not of commandment.
48. Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting pardons,
needs, and therefore 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,
if they do not put their trust in them; but altogether harmful, if through
them they lose their fear of God.
50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions
of the pardon-preachers, he would rather that St. Peter's church should
go to ashes, than that it should be built up with the skin, flesh and bones
of his sheep.
51. Christians are to be taught that it would be the pope's wish, as
it is his duty, to give of his own money to very many of those from whom
certain hawkers of pardons cajole money, even though the church of St.
Peter might have to be sold.
52. The assurance of salvation by letters of pardon is vain, even though
the commissary, nay, even though the pope himself, were to stake his soul
53. They are enemies of Christ and of the pope, who bid the Word of
God be altogether silent 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 named or known among the people
57. That they are not temporal treasures is certainly evident, for many
of the vendors do not pour out such treasures so easily, but only gather
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 spoke according to the usage of the word in his own time.
60. Without rashness we say that the keys of the Church, given by Christ's
merit, are that treasure;
61. For it is clear that for the remission of penalties and of reserved
cases, the power of the pope is of itself sufficient.
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
were wont to fish for men of riches.
66. The treasures of the indulgences are nets with which they now fish
for the riches of men.
67. The indulgences which the preachers cry as the "greatest graces"
are known to be truly such, in so far as they promote 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 admit the commissaries of apostolic
pardons, with all reverence.
70. But still more are they bound to strain all their eyes and attend
with all their ears, lest these men preach their own dreams instead of
the commission of the pope.
71 . He who speaks against the truth 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 art, 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. To think the papal pardons so great that they could absolve a man
even if he had committed an impossible sin and violated the Mother of God
-- this is madness.
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; to wit, the Gospel, powers,
gifts of healing, etc., as it is written in I. Corinthians xii.
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 allow such talk to be spread
among the people, will have an account to render.
81. This unbridled preaching of pardons makes it no easy matter, even
for learned men, to rescue the reverence due to the pope from slander,
or even from the shrewd questionings of the laity.
82. To wit: -- "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 redeems 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 are mortuary and anniversary masses for the
dead continued, and why does he not return or permit the withdrawal of
the endowments founded on their behalf, since it is wrong to pray for the
84. Again: -- "What is this new piety of God and the pope, that
for money they allow 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 that pious and beloved soul's own need, free it for pure love's sake?"
85. Again: -- "Why are the penitential canons long since in actual
fact and through disuse abrogated and dead, 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 to-day greater
than the riches of the richest, 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 remits, and what participation
does he grant to those who, by perfect contrition, have a right to full
remission and participation?"
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 once, and
bestow on every believer these remissions and participations?"
89. "Since the pope, by his pardons, seeks the salvation of souls
rather than money, why does he suspend the indulgences and pardons granted
heretofore, 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; nay, 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 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.