Which of the 95 does Rome disagree with today?

Martin Luther’s 95 theses were a call to a scholarly debate amongst his Catholic colleagues over the implementation of indulgences.

If each thesis is taken as a proposition upon which the argument builds, at which thesis today would the Roman Catholic church disagree, and why?

The 95 can be found here: bookofconcord.org/95theses.php


The more interesting question would be which of the original 95 thesis would Protestants, or more particularly, Lutherans, still hold to? I doubt that even very few old school Protestants would recognize and agree to many of Luther’s theses or even recognize the ecclesial style of language or the concepts unless they were academics or knowledgeable of history.

As to the Catholic Church the anathemas issued at Trent against the Protestant heresies and errors are eternal and irrevocable. I’d imagine that the only thing that would change today is the strategy for debating these points apologetically and proving them wrong in the context of today’s highly fractured Protestant community and anachronistic ideas that some are trying to back project into the thinking of the Reformers to justify continued separation from the Catholic Church.

Just my opinion…


It might be a more interesting question, but I’m personally interested in understanding which of the theses the church agrees with and does not agree with. I understand the church corrected some who were abusing indulgences but retained the teaching of them… that said, I would expect there are some points of agreement on the abuses Luther described.

My point in asking is not to debate and try to persuade everyone to become Lutheran. I’m not even Lutheran!

Exactly. The teachings of The Church are exactly the same today as they were in Luther’s time.

Protestant teachings, on the other hand, are completely different. I would hazard a guess that there is not one denomination that still adheres to the original teachings of Luther and the others of that period.

I’ll have to do some research to find more contemporary rebuttals of Luther’s 95 thesis. But there is the original rebuttal made on June 15, 1520 by Pope Leo X. This was a papal encyclical entitled Exsurge Domine. This document outlined the Magisterium of the Catholic Church’s findings of where Luther had erred.

In reading over Luther’s list I find my self smiling. It’s mostly strawman arguments and pontificating or posturing on what the Church should teach as a priority and ranting. But I find myself agreeing with a lot of what he ORIGINALLY said since he clearly loved Catholicism and was at one time quite orthodox.

Luther simply saw many opportunities for abuses in indulgences just like many other Catholics of his time did. But that does not mean that these abuses were widespread or what were being taught. Many of his complaints are just pious and well intended opinions that are “ok” and can’t even be really debated in some instances. Luther is actually making in many cases a lot of very positive Orthodox Catholic statements that actual profoundly refute many modern Protestant concept of sola fide. For example Luther advocates the necessity of punishment rather than laxity of purchased indulgences (by coin or by relational favors) so that one may suffer in due sorrow for their sins more sincerely. I tend to personally agree with some of his points of view - they are well intended common sense. The problem is what Luther started out with he later overturned and rapidly changed his theology and bent it in all new ways that eventually get to sola fide and completely away from penance! Luther’s revolution defeats his own original thesis and makes penance not really ever needed as long as one simply believes in Christ sincerely. It’s as if the man had a Dr. Jekyll Mr. Hyde change in teaching from that first day at Wittenberg to when he gets into his stride and later refutes his own initial complaints and teachings with all new ideas never before seen in Christianity.

Here look at this - this is actually quite admirable Catholic pious insight that Luther originally had:

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.

Ignore for the moment the pompous attitude/tone in Luther’s 95 thesis where he comes across as talking down to his fellow clerics and his superior bishops. See that Item 40 is a valid complaint about how there is a danger in permitting purchased indulgences since abuses can short circuit the necessity for conforming to the more traditional Catholic deep penance disciplines. This is very Catholic and I can admire his concerns. But hardly any modern Protestant (except some Calvinists) would agree with this today. Yet it was a straw-man since the Church never taught that one could buy themselves out of doing penance with an “easier indulgence” or special grant by a high ranking bishop. If that was going on it in some cases then it was definately wrong and Luther was right in pointing it out (to his superiors only). But certainly some wealthy laity no doubt imagined they could so exactly what Luther was concerned about - buy themselves into remission of all temporal debts. Luther was simply parroting the popular sentiments of some of the laity he came into contact with (or the complaints of the peasants who could not afford the fast track to penance that they imagined the wealthy were gaining) and was preaching to the choir. The whole Protestant uprising is a tragedy since it’s clear to me that it was more based on misperceptions about what the Church actually taught and on misperceptions of spiritual inequities among the Christian social classes (lords and indentured workers) than against any real Catholic teachings.

I would say for example that Luther’s Item 41 is dead on good advice - it speaks of charity as a necessary element in sanctification that should not be circumvented by papal or bishop indults, pardons and the like. But Luther goes on years later to reject charitable works - even calling them evil and a sign of one who is practising demonic doctrines. Go figure… But again - what Catholic would debate the truth of the necessity of charitable works? It’s a strawman and just preaching to the choir again. Luther was clearly at one time a man who had a pretty well formed Catholic conscience and was concerned that indulgences were corrupting the necessity for each soul to repent and do penance. But its also clear in retrospect that these thesis were just tossed up to grandstand and to enter into academic debate so as to elevate Luther beyond his own stature to gain more ear from the Bishop and from Rome. He wanted to teach the teachers what Dr. Luther would want to teach. I think its also fair to say that Luther attempted to force the Church to give up its leadership structure and force the Church to use a democratic process to form its theology. This was the gravest error of Luther’s – and Luther was not even a good theologian (only 2 years of training) and tried to compensate with his talents as an orator and hyperbolist. Everything he did can be seen to be an attempt to dis-empower the clerical authority and give it over to a democratic form of control (e.g. sola scriptura and sola fide). Luther may have started off with good intentions but he quickly got corrupted and completely changed his own theology to keep himself in power through popular appeal at a time when the common man wanted to cast off all authority. Tragic…


What’s that? I’m sorry… I can’t hear you guys over the chest thumping… :smiley: Good gracious.

Seriously, folks, can anyone help me with this?

Let’s just start with the first one:

“Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.”

Does the church agree with this first assertion or does everything all apart right here?

Sorry bona fides, my comments above do not reflect on your last post. It came in when I was typing my above comment. I’ll go read your post now. :slight_smile:

#5-7 seem to contradict the sacramental nature of Confession. Jesus said “what you bind on earth is bound in heaven and what you loose on earth is loosed in heaven” and “whose sins you forgive are forgiven and whose sins you retain are retained.” Our Lord makes no mention of only being loosed or bound if the Lord already has or only forgiveness or retention of that is what the Lord has already done.

#8 seems to contradict our teaching that we can apply our penitential acts and indulgences towards the souls in Purgatory.

In fact a good number of these early numbers seem to deny Purgatory and indulgences.

#30 and following seem to contradict the teaching of the Sacrament of Penance.

The mid numbers seem in a good number of parts to address misconceptions and legitimate abuses in the area of indulgences at the time.

Why not read Exsurge Domine (Arise, O Lord), which was the Vatican’s official response to the Ninety-Five Theses and other writing of Luther. It specifically demanded that Luther retract some 41 specific errors. Some of them were from the Ninety-Five Theses, some were not. It does not, however, break the Ninety-Five Theses down point-by-point.

Here is the document:

At first look this appears to be a very robust and proper Catholic perspective full of zeal for being transformed and made into a new creature. But if one knows a bit of Luther’s psyche and monastic background then one immediately sees that its really “over the top” and excessive; as well as completely contradictory to nearly ALL of Luther’s later statements and teachings. This directly refutes Protestant teachings on Justification as a one time event rather than a life long sanctification process - the latter being Catholic teaching. But its clear to me that this was a posturing document intended to discredit ecclesial authority and divide rather than teach and remain self-rational.

So I was initially going to say point #1 “is fine”. But given that I know a bit about Luther and his style of rhetoric I know that he is trying to bait in Catholics by appealing to Catholic strictness and conservatism to win an audience and draw attention to himself as a plausible teacher. If you look at all his 95 thesis as a set then one sees that its a daisy-chain of arguments each building on the other. He thus uses an incremental approach to bait then switch his readers toward his own preconceived objective end and abuses his power as a writer to lead his audience step by step down a progressively sliding steep path of error. Its really diabolical if he did this with deliberate forethought and if he was not in fact demonically possessed (which some of us think may have been the case) or consumed in pride and hubris. The problem with analyzing Luther’s 95 thesis is that one can’t really look at each one point by point because he presents them as a complete set and telescopes the context in an ever expanding net of entrapment using a series of small fibs and errors that seem plausible in isolation but devastatingly devious in the whole. To defeat the entire work all one has to do is take out one chain in the link and the whole house that Luther built on this 95 thesis topples down and collapses into a rubbage pile.

So I have to admit that in isolation this first foundational statement seems OK but stepping back to see where its wants to springboard to I can say with confidence that Luther is attempting to use Catholic proclivity for robust and rigorous discipline as a means to entrap Catholic theology in a direction he wants to bend it.

The error is that under Luther’s assertion we can never evangelize or teach the good news since we are in a constant labor of repentance that immobilizes us and countermands our Lord’s promise that his ‘followers would have a more abundent life’. Luther makes repentance our life’s work yet he goes on later to reject works to mock this entire thesis and inverts it to an “easy believism” where works become evil and contradicts himself in a profound display of irrationality. This latter irrational essence is Luther’s overarching error and is perhaps his only excuse (perhaps escaping personal guilt through demonstrable insanity but ruining millions of souls who fall head long into his defective & corrupted telescoping logic and incrementalism).


Other Protestants would not be held to Luther because they came out of other Reformation era movements. One would not expect the decendants of anabaptists, for example, to be held to Luther. Other reformation era movements developed on their own, and are not splinters of Lutheranism.

Lutherans are not, and never have been held to Luther. We are held to scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. That Luther played a significant role in the development of the confessions is, of course, true. But there are things that he said that we are not held to, and some things that we outright reject. He was, after all, just a man.

It is worthy of note that the 95 Theses are not part of the confessions, because they were debating points, and not intended to be a confessional statement.


And this is why, precisely, that I researched Catholicism and converted last year. Converting from Lutheranism was easy once I researched what Luther was stating, and comparing that to the Lutheran Church teachings of today. It is far-flung from what Luther proposed.

Which Lutheran synod?


Would it not be more useful to explore what Lutherans believe today?

We are held to scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. That Luther played a significant role in the development of the confessions is, of course, true. But there are things that he said that we are not held to, and some things that we outright reject. He was, after all, just a man.

As Sacred Scripture was assembled, declared and guaranteed as the Word of God only by Christ’s Catholic Church, Luther’s ideas as “only a man” – with some accepted and others rejected by mere men also to become “Lutheran Confessions” – thus have far less value as a matter of faith and morals against Christ’s Catholic Church founded by Him and with whom Christ declared He would be present until the end of time.

Thus the really important question is how can everyone come to know what Christ has taught and requires through His Catholic Church – the Church about which the authorised Scriptures are so clear?

I imagine there’d be quite a bit that modern Catholics would agree with. The 95 Theses aren’t even Lutheran. Not really, anyway. Todd Wilken had a great blog post about it a while back, but I can’t seem to find it.

If one of the more modern Popes were to undertake the task, I think it would become a lot more clear, as there have been several documents released that, at least in a general sense, acknowledge that there were indeed issues on both sides that lead to the Reformation. Asking on a general Catholic forum probably won’t get you far, simply for the fact that most hesitate to speak for the RCC in such a specific way. Having said that, I think it is a great question.

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