Martin Luther’s Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, otherwise known as his 95 Theses, was driven overwhelmingly by the scale of moral and political corruption that he perceived as having subsumed the Catholic Church. Luther was a reformer and, in a sense, a revolutionary, and would be subjected to judicial proceedings, the consequences of which could have been fatal. His defiance of the Church, however, was a product of the perversion of religious practices that were undermining the integrity of an institution presumably dedicated to a much higher order than that occupied by mere mortals. It was those mortals, however, that Luther sought to hold accountable by the drafting of the 95 Theses. The Theses are a logical and progressive series of statements on the nature and practice of Christianity. At their core, as noted, is Luther’s concern about corruption, especially the practice of selling indulgences by clergy. To Luther, one could not buy his way into Heaven. As he wrote in #37,
Any true Christian, whether living or dead, participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted him by God, even without indulgence letters.
For Luther, entrance to Heaven was a product of one’s observance and fealty to the higher cause and not a product of financial transactions involving members of the Church or even subservience to any human. Where one ended up after death, he believed, was determined by one’s actions and thoughts:
Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell.
The power of the Catholic Church in the age in which Martin Luther was alive should not be underestimated. By confronting the Church through production of his 95 Theses, Luther was risking his life. If he was true to his words, that was a risk worth taking because he was firm in his belief that his was the righteous path.