Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther
                  on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences_
                          by Dr. Martin Luther, 1517
                                Published in:
                           _Works of Martin Luther_
     Adolph Spaeth, L.D. Reed, Henry Eyster Jacobs, et Al., Trans. & Eds.
        (Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1915), Vol. 1, pp. 29-38.
        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
        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 entirely
        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
        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
        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
        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
        24. It must needs be, therefore, 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 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 intercession. 
        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
        29. Who knows whether all the souls in purgatory wish to be
        bought out of it, as in the legend of Sts. Severinus and
        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
        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. 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
        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
        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
        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 upon it. 
        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
        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 of Christ. 
        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 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 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
        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 redeemed?" 
        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
        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
        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
        95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven rather
        through many tribulations, than through the assurance of
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