This Day in the Law
October 31

Martin Luther Posts 95 Theses on Church Door (1517)

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther’s 95 Theses cried out against the Catholic Church for its clerical abuses, such as the sale of indulgences in lieu of penance, use of relics to fund church projects, and other issues, and paved the way for the Protestant Reformation.

Martin Luther was born and baptized into the Catholic Church in Eisleben, Germany in 1483. Luther became a Christian theologian and Augustinian monk. However, Luther quickly became discontented with many of the actions carried out by the Catholic Church. For example, Luther argued that the sale of indulgencies was wrong.

An indulgence is where a person pays the Church for absolution from his or her sins in lieu of any other penance (i.e. such as prayer, fasting, service for others, etc.). Luther, and many others, even within the Catholic Church, found the sale of indulgences completely against the original doctrine of the Christ. Luther said the Church needed to return to the original teachings of the Bible and his message began a counter-reformation in the Roman Catholic Church.

On October 31, 1517, Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, of the Holy Roman Empire, where many Christians would be attending mass the next day for All Saints Day. Many scholars state Luther’s action was the customary way of advertising an event or making a statement on a university campus – much like a bulletin board is used today.

Luther’s 95 Theses gained enormous popularity with people of many backgrounds. The first three Theses of Luther stated:

1. When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent", He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

2. The word cannot be properly understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, i.e. confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.

3. Yet its meaning is not restricted to repentance in one's heart; for such repentance is null unless it produces outward signs in various mortifications of the flesh.
Luther’s act of nailing his 95 Theses to the Castle Church acted as the first main step toward the Protestant Reformation. Today, Protestants still believe in many of the same doctrines that Luther posted around 500 years ago.