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That fact combined with the intended audience and largely academic tone of the writing indicates Luther didn’t write the document for mass consumption. Regardless, it was translated into the common Germanic language of Saxony and was reportedly posted on the door of the Schlosskirche (the Castle Church of Wittenberg) on October 31, 1517.Luther’s Ninety-five Theses focuses on three main issues: selling forgiveness (via indulgences) to build a cathedral, the pope’s claimed power to distribute forgiveness, and the damage indulgences caused to grieving sinners.The Roman Catholic Church claimed it had been placed in charge of a “treasury of merits” of all of the good deeds that saints had done (not to mention the deeds of Christ, who made the treasury infinitely deep). This much needs to be understood to make sense of Luther’s Ninety-five Theses: the selling of indulgences for full remission of sins intersected perfectly with the long, intense struggle Luther himself had experienced over the issues of salvation and assurance.
Luther was calling the pope and those in power to repent—on no authority but the convictions he’d gained from Scripture—and urged the leaders of the indulgences movement to direct their gaze to Christ, the only one able to pay the penalty due for sin.
Of all the portions of the document, Luther’s closing is perhaps the most memorable for its exhortation to look to Christ rather than to the church’s power: 93.
Additionally, we need to fully trust in God to save us from our sins, rather than relying partly on our own self-improvement.
These teachings were radical departures from the Catholic orthodoxy of Luther’s day.
However, Luther phrased his criticism to suggest that the pope might be ignorant of the abuses and at any rate should be given the benefit of the doubt.
It provided Leo a graceful exit from the indulgences campaign if he wished to take it. Luther’s Ninety-five Theses hit a nerve in the depths of the authority structure of the medieval church.
Although the Ninety-five Theses doesn’t explicitly lay out a Protestant theology or agenda, it contains the seeds of the most important beliefs of the movement, especially the priority of grasping and applying the gospel.
Luther developed his critique of the Roman Catholic Church out of his struggle with doubt and guilt as well as his pastoral concern for his parishioners.
Hail, hail to all those prophets who say to Christ’s people, “The cross, the cross,” where there is no cross. Christians should be exhorted to be zealous to follow Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hells. And let them thus be more confident of entering heaven through many tribulations rather than through a false assurance of peace.
In the years following his initial posting of the theses, Luther became emboldened in his resolve and strengthened his arguments with Scripture.