Speaker: Pastor Marty Martin
Even though the original manuscript of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses posted on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg five-hundred years ago this October 31st is no longer available, the interest they generated resulted in editions by a number of printers. By the end of 1517, three editions of his challenge to the system of indulgences had been produced by anonymous printers in Leipzig, Nuremberg, Basel, and other locations. When publishing controversial materials, the printers often hid their identities fearing reprisals. In the case of a theological document such as the theses, a publisher might be prosecuted by the papacy and/or a political ruler for having distributed heretical writings. Published in 1517, the Latin copy of the theses shown in the image to the right is held by the Berlin State Library and its printer has been identified as Hieronymus Höltzel of Nuremberg. There are very few early copies of the theses in existence and the one pictured was discovered by the undoubtedly delighted director of the Berlin Museum of Prints and Drawings in a London bookshop in 1891.
Before reading the theses a definition of “indulgence” would be helpful particularly since the practice is foreign to Protestant thinking. A certificate of indulgence was granted by the papacy to a parishioner to reduce time in purgatory. Purgatory is said by Catholicism to be an intermediate state between earth and heaven in which deceased individuals are cleansed of the penalty of sin in preparation for heaven. In Luther’s day, the living could buy indulgences not only for themselves but also for the deceased that were already in purgatory.