95 thesis in history

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This Day In History : October 31

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95 thesis in history

Martin Luther posts 95 theses

On October 31, 1517, legend has it that the priest and scholar Martin Luther approaches the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, and nails a piece of paper to it containing the 95 revolutionary opinions that would begin the Protestant Reformation .

In his theses, Luther condemned the excesses and corruption of the Roman Catholic Church, especially the papal practice of asking payment—called “indulgences”—for the forgiveness of sins. At the time, a Dominican priest named Johann Tetzel, commissioned by the Archbishop of Mainz and Pope Leo X, was in the midst of a major fundraising campaign in Germany to finance the renovation of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Though Prince Frederick III the Wise had banned the sale of indulgences in Wittenberg, many church members traveled to purchase them. When they returned, they showed the pardons they had bought to Luther, claiming they no longer had to repent for their sins.

Luther’s frustration with this practice led him to write the 95 Theses, which were quickly snapped up, translated from Latin into German and distributed widely. A copy made its way to Rome, and efforts began to convince Luther to change his tune. He refused to keep silent, however, and in 1521 Pope Leo X formally excommunicated Luther from the Catholic Church. That same year, Luther again refused to recant his writings before the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Germany, who issued the famous Edict of Worms declaring Luther an outlaw and a heretic and giving permission for anyone to kill him without consequence. Protected by Prince Frederick, Luther began working on a German translation of the Bible, a task that took 10 years to complete.

The term “Protestant” first appeared in 1529, when Charles V revoked a provision that allowed the ruler of each German state to choose whether they would enforce the Edict of Worms. A number of princes and other supporters of Luther issued a protest, declaring that their allegiance to God trumped their allegiance to the emperor. They became known to their opponents as Protestants; gradually this name came to apply to all who believed the Church should be reformed, even those outside Germany. By the time Luther died, of natural causes, in 1546, his revolutionary beliefs had formed the basis for the Protestant Reformation, which would over the next three centuries revolutionize Western civilization.

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95 thesis in history

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  1. Martin Luther's 95 Theses

    95 thesis in history

  2. 95 theses

    95 thesis in history

  3. THE 95 THESES

    95 thesis in history

  4. Martin Luther's 95 Theses

    95 thesis in history

  5. 95 Theses Printable

    95 thesis in history

  6. The 95 Theses: A reader's guide

    95 thesis in history


  1. Martin Luther and the 95 Theses

    His “95 Theses,” which propounded two central beliefs—that the Bible is the central religious authority and that humans may reach salvation only by their faith and not by their deeds—was to...

  2. Ninety-five Theses

    Ninety-five Theses, propositions for debate concerned with the question of indulgences, written (in Latin) and possibly posted by Martin Luther on the door of the Schlosskirche (Castle Church), Wittenberg, on October 31, 1517. This event came to be considered the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. ( See Researcher’s Note .)

  3. Martin Luther's 95 Theses

    Martin Luther 's 95 Theses of 31 October 1517, although they have since come to represent the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, were not written to challenge the authority of the Roman Catholic Church but were simply an invitation to clergy to debate any or all of the propositions listed.

  4. Ninety-five Theses

    The Ninety-five Theses ( 95 Theses) or Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences [a] is a list of propositions for an academic disputation written in 1517 by Martin Luther, then a professor of moral theology at the University of Wittenberg, Germany.

  5. Martin Luther posts 95 theses

    On October 31, 1517, legend has it that the priest and scholar Martin Luther approaches the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, and nails a piece of paper to it containing the 95...