“Indulgences are neither commanded nor approved of God. They excite no one to sanctification. They work nothing toward salvation.
“That indulgences have virtue to deliver souls from Purgatory I do not believe, nor can it be proven by them that teach it; the Church says nothing to that effect.
“What I preach to you is based on the certainty of the Holy Scriptures, which no one ought to doubt.”
So Luther preached, and his word went out to the ends of the earth. It was no jest, like Ulric von Huetten’s Epistles of Obscure Men, or like the ridicule which Reuchlin and Erasmus heaped upon the stupid monks. It raised no laugh, but penetrated, like a rifle-shot, into the very heart of things.
Those who listened were deeply affected by the serious boldness of the preacher. The audience was with him in conviction, but many trembled for the result. “Dear doctor, you have been very rash; what trouble may come of this!” said a venerable father as he pulled the sleeve of Luther’s gown and shook his head with misgivings. “If this is not rightly done in God’s name,” said Luther, “it will come to nothing; if it is, let come what will.”
It was honest duty to God, truth, and the salvation of men that moved him. Cowardly policy or timid expediency in such a matter was totally foreign to his soul.
In a few days, the substance of the sermon was in print. Tetzel raved over it. Melanchthon says he burnt it in the market-place of Jueterbock. In the name of God and the pope he bade defiance to its author, and challenged him by fire and water. Luther laughed at him for braying so loud at a distance, yet declining to come to Wittenberg to argue out the matter in close lists.
APPEAL TO THE BISHOPS.
Anxious to vindicate the Church from what he believed to be an unwarranted liberty in the use of her name, Luther wrote to the bishop of Brandenburg and the archbishop of Mayence. He made his points, and appealed to these his superiors to put down the scandalous falsities advanced by Tetzel. They failed to answer in any decisive way. The one timidly advised silence, and the other had too much pecuniary interest in the business to notice the letter.
Thus, as a pastor, Luther had taken his ground before his parishioners in the confessional. As a preacher he had uttered himself in earnest admonition from the pulpit. As a loyal son he had made his presentation and appeal to those in authority over him. Was he right? or was he wrong? No commanding answer came, and there remained one other way of testing the question. As a doctor of divinity he could lawfully, as custom had been, demand an open and fair discussion of the matter with teachers and theologians. And upon this he now resolved.
THE NINETY-FIVE THESES.
He framed a list of propositions on the points in question. They were in Latin, for his appeal was to theologians, and not yet to the common heart and mind of Germany. To make them public, he took advantage of a great festival at Wittenberg, when the town was full of visitors and strangers, and nailed them to the door of the new castle church, October 31, 1517.