Martin Luther's attention in his 95 theses of 1517 focused on the Church's sale of indulgences.Selling full or partial remission of the punishment for sin was a lucrative source of income for the Pope and his administration by the 16th century.
Of the few hundred copies printed, those produced in Nuremberg and Leipzig were issued as posters, those in Basel as pamphlets.
The 95 theses are introduced with the following words: 'Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer therein at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place.
' at the National Library from 19 October to 10 December 2017.
Martin Luther's posting of the 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517, what the Germans call the Thesenanschlang, is one of the most famous events of Western history.
The intention is not to 'debunk', or to belittle Luther's achievement, but rather to invite renewed reflection on how the past speaks to the present - and on how, all too often, the present creates the past in its own image and likeness.
The impetus for this was the controversy over indulgences.It inaugurated the Protestant Reformation, and has for centuries been a powerful and enduring symbol of religious freedom of conscience, and of righteous protest against the abuse of power - but did it actually really happen?In the newly published 1517: Martin Luther and the Invention of the Reformation, Professor Peter Marshall, of the University of Warwick’s Department of History, reviews the available evidence, and concludes that, very probably, it did not.The remaining theses argue that penance is not for the dead, but for the living and that the pope has no power to remit sins of the dead, criticizes the theological foundation of indulgences in the treasury of merits, and rebuts many of the popular ideas indulgence preachers were peddling.But at this stage Luther still supported the practice of indulgences and later in his career stated clearly that he had no intention of attacking the practice of indulgences or the authority of the pope and instead sought to curtail abuses of the practice.It was there that they heard Tetzel’s famous cry, “When the coin in the coffer rings/the soul from purgatory springs,” and brought it back to Luther.While the local sale of indulgences was the impetus for Luther’s writing, his rethinking of certain scholastic assumptions about sin, grace, and free will led the Wittenberg professor to question the penitential theories supporting the sale of indulgences.Once he translated them into German, however, the theses gained widespread popularity.As posters and pamphlets, the theses were printed and distributed across the Holy Roman Empire's territories in northern and central Europe.While criticism of the practice was not unusual, the tumultuous impact of Luther's 95 theses was unexpected.He had written and made them public to start off an academic debate.