Tuesday, 26 September 2017


Some while back, the speakers and facilitators were invited to respond to a questionnaire that aimed to distil from them how their own personal encounter with the Reformation had impacted their life and ministry. Here we share the responses of two of our workshop facilitators at the forthcoming Reformation 500 Conference 2017: (1) Lim Sian Pheng (The Dawn of the Reformation) and (2) Augustin Muthusami (Luther and the Reformation). We trust that what they have to share will be an encouragement to you to seriously take a plunge into understanding the Reformation more fully.


1. When did you first become aware of the Reformation?
I was baptized on Reformation Sunday. The church celebrated Reformation Sunday as it was a Lutheran Church.

2. What was it about the Reformation which caught your attention then?
I have always like history and the Reformation is such momentous historical event. It alters the entire religious and political landscape of Western Europe.

3. Since then, have you read about the Reformation? If so, what books have been most helpful?
Carl Trueman’s Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow is particular helpful in answering the question why do we need to bother with something that happened in the 16th century. I like how he define the Reformation as a move to place God as he has revealed himself in Christ at the centre of the church’s life and thought.

4. How has the Reformation impacted your life and your ministry?
Its God-centred and Christ-centred theology has helped me in my own theologizing. The rediscovery of the gospel by the Reformers has made me more appreciative of God’s amazing grace.

5. One of the joys for the organiser of this conference has been that you, as a speaker or facilitator, so readily agreed to participate in it. Was there a reason for that enthusiasm?
I have always believed that if we don’t know our roots and are not anchored on them, we will drift along aimlessly and dangerously. I think the topics covered in the conference can hopefully excite the people to want to know more about the richness of their heritage and how it can help them to live as Christians.

6. What would you wish participants to take away from the conference?
Please see part of the answer to Question 5.


1. When did you first become aware of the Reformation?
Very young, probably during Catechism class – maybe I was 13 or 14

2. What was it about the Reformation which caught your attention then?
Back then not much. Basically all I knew was that a man called Luther kicked up a fuss over how we are saved (in a nutshell!)

3. Since then, have you read about the Reformation? If so, what books have been most helpful?
As a Lutheran Pastor and as someone who regular teaches on church history (among other topics) to lay people, I have read very widely on the Reformation and the most important aspects of it. It’s hard to say which particular books have been helpful, but I like Luther’s writings, particularly on the reform of the mass, which to me, is the most practical aspect of the Reformation.

4. How has the Reformation impacted your life and your ministry?
In terms of theological thought that has guided me: Grace – both for me and for those around me. To move away from legalistic thinking and embracing grace as a philosophy of life.

5. One of the joys for the organiser of this conference has been that you, as a speaker or facilitator, so readily agreed to participate in it. Was there a reason for that enthusiasm?
I suppose, just to share my thoughts or my take on the whole subject.

6. What would you wish participants to take away from the conference?

How this is actually relevant in a practical way in day to day living.

Thursday, 7 September 2017


All of us know from personal experience the benefit of “hindsight”, i.e. looking back over our own past and coming round to a better (we hope) understanding of situations which we could not understand then as they unfolded before us. “Hindsight” provides us with a bigger picture of these situations and how they fit into this bigger picture.

Thus far in our blog posts on Martin Luther and his 95 Theses, we have looked at his response either immediately (1517) or, at most, a year after (1518) they were made public. In the preface to the 1545 edition of his works, 28 years after he first posted his 95 Theses, Luther reflected upon that incident on “hindsight”. His remarks about his own conviction even then regarding the papacy is most illuminating. It would seem that he revered the Pope so much that he would be ready to murder at the latter’s command. But there is a qualification! He was unlike the others who defended the Pope in hypocrisy. Luther defended the Pope in fidelity to the Pope. Or so he thought when he espoused his 95 Theses! He never expected that the Pope, together with Roman See would actually reject him and his teaching. Did he sincerely think that what he espoused then would be readily received by the Pope? Is this an admission that while he sincerely believed that what he espoused was Scriptural, he was somehow mistaken to suppose that the Pope would have agreed with him?

Whatever it is, there can be no doubt that he soon came to the realisation, from the reaction of the Papacy, that what he espoused was actually contrary to what the Pope promoted. Having committed himself to the truthfulness of what he espoused because it was Scriptural, it dawned on him that if the Pope opposed Scripture, then, the Pope must be the vicar of Anti-Christ. There can be no two ways about this. This strong imagery which Luther ascribed to the Pope of his day may seem hard and harsh to our modern ears. But Luther saw the Papacy for what it was. If it is opposed to the Bible then it cannot but be the Anti-Christ.


From the Preface to the Complete Works (1545). Text according to the Berlin Edition of Buchwald and others, Vol. 1.


ABOVE all things I beseech the Christian reader and beg him for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, to read my earliest books very circumspectly and with much pity, knowing that before now I too was a monk, and one of the right frantic and raving papists. When I took up this matter against Indulgences, I was so full and drunken, yea, so besotted in papal doctrine that, out of my great zeal, I would have been ready to do murder — at least, I would have been glad to see and help that murder should be done all who would not be obedient and subject to the pope, even to his smallest word.

Such a Saul was I at that time; and I meant it right earnestly; and there are still many such today. In a word, I was not such a frozen and ice-cold champion of the papacy as Eck and others of his kind have been and still are. They defend the Roman See more for the sake of the shameful belly, which is their god, than because they are really attached to its cause. Indeed I am wholly of the opinion that like latter-day Epicureans, they only laugh at the pope. But I verily espoused this cause in deepest earnest and in all fidelity; the more so because I shrank from the Last Day with great anxiety and fear and terror, and yet from the depths of my heart desired to be saved.

Therefore, Christian reader, thou wilt find in my earliest books and writings how many points of faith I then, with all humility, yielded and conceded to the pope, which since then I have held and condemned for the most horrible blasphemy and abomination, and which I would have to be so held and so condemned forever. Amen.

Thou wilt therefore ascribe this my error, or as my opponents venomously call it, this inconsistency of mine, to the time, and to my ignorance and inexperience. At the beginning I was quite alone and without any helpers, and moreover, to tell the truth, unskilled in all these things, and far too unlearned to discuss such high and weighty matters. For it was without any intention, purpose, or will of mine that I fell, quite unexpectedly, into this wrangling and contention. This I take God, the Searcher of hearts, to witness.

I tell these things to the end that, if thou shalt read my books, thou mayest know and remember that I am one of those who, as St. Augustine says of himself, have grown by writing and by teaching others, and not one of those who, starting with nothing, have in a trice become the most exalted and most learned doctors. We find, alas! many of these self-grown doctors; who in truth are nothing, do nothing and accomplish nothing, are moreover untried and inexperienced, and yet, after a single look at the Scriptures, think themselves able wholly to exhaust its spirit.

Farewell, dear reader, in the Lord. Pray that the Word may be further spread abroad, and may be strong against the miserable devil. For he is mighty and wicked, and just now is raving everywhere and raging cruelly, like one who well knows and feels that his time is short, and that the kingdom of his Vicar, the Antichrist in Rome, is sore beset. But may the God of all grace and mercy strengthen and complete in us the work He has begun, to His honor and to the comfort, of His little flock. Amen.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017


About the same time Luther sent his letter and “Resolutions to the 95 Theses” to Pope Leo X in 1518, he also wrote to John Staupitz. Luther once famously declared, “If it had not been for Dr Staupitz, I should have sunk into hell.” He also wrote, “I was excommunicated three times, first by Staupitz, second by the pope, and third by the emperor.” Who is John Staupitz? Why should he invite both Luther’s admiration and slight aversion? Why did Luther think it was important to send him this letter?

Staupitz was born near Leisnig, Germany. His date of birth remains uncertain. He received his early education in Leipzig and Cologne. Soon after he earned his master of arts in 1489, he took monastic orders with the Hermits of St Augustine in Munich. In 1497, he left to continue his studies at Tubingen, earning his doctorate by 1500. In 1502, he was called to serve as professor of Bible and dean of the theology faculty at the newly founded university in Wittenberg. In 1503, he was appointed the vicar-general of the Reformed Congregation of the Hermits of St Augustine in Germany. Luther joined the University of Wittenberg as a student in 1508. Being an Augustinian, Luther thus came under the supervision of Staupitz, his superior.

Their friendship blossomed sufficiently for Staupitz to entrust Luther as a representative to the papal bull of 1510. He later suggested that Luther earn his doctorate in theology with a view that Luther would succeed him as professor of the Bible. Luther received his doctorate in October 1512 and two days later replaced Staupitz as professor of Bible at the university. Throughout those years and subsequently, Staupitz served as Luther’s confessor and spiritual advisor, thus resulting in Luther calling him his “most beloved father in Christ.”

It should be noted that criticism of indulgences begun long before Luther’s 95 Theses. Staupitz, together with Luther and Wenceslaus Linck, had spoken up publicly against it. They, in fact, composed a text called Treatise on Indulgences which Luther “edited”. When Luther was summoned to an interview with Cardinal Cajetan in October 1518 over the 95 Theses, Staupitz accompanied Luther. When Luther would not submit to the authority issued by Cajetan, Staupitz absolved Luther of his monastic vows, thus freeing him from the Augustinian order. The letter below would have been definitely written either concurrently or soon after Luther’s letter to Pope Leo X but before his being absolved from the Augustinian order.

Staupitz distanced himself somewhat from Luther in subsequent years, due in part to what he saw was the dangerous direction of the Reformation and its adherents. He resigned from the Augustinian order in 1521 and joined the Benedictines in Salzburg.  He died on 28 December 1524. Though he never left the Roman Catholic Church, his writings raised enough suspicion during the Counter Reformation that they were placed on the Index of Prohibited Books in 1559.

Despite the eventual “fall-out” between them before Staupitz’s death, Luther’s indebtedness to and respect for Staupitz are clear from the letter below. It reminds us that even though Luther had inadvertently taken on the world without his intention to do so, he was not alone. He would not have withstood the onslaught of his enemies if not for comrades like Staupitz. It is revealing how Staupitz had influenced him and moved him closer to a clearer understanding of the meaning of true penitence – not by indulgences, but true repentance. As in his letter to Pope Leo X, he draws attention to the fact that all he wanted was for a “disputation” on the 95 Theses and disavows his intention to usurp the authority of the Pope.



To his Reverend and Dear Father JOHN STAUPITZ, Professor of Sacred Theology, Vicar of the Augustinian Order, Brother Martin Luther, his pupil, sendeth greeting.

I remember, dear Father, that once, among those pleasant and wholesome talks of thine, with which the Lord Jesus ofttimes gives me wondrous consolation, the word poenitentia was mentioned, We were moved with pity for many consciences, and for those tormentors who teach, with rules innumerable and unbearable, what they call a modus confitendi. Then we heard thee say as with a voice from heaven, that there is no true penitence which does not begin with love of righteousness and of God, and that this love, which others think to be the end and the completion of penitence, is rather its beginning.

This word of thine stuck in me like a sharp arrow of the mighty, and from that time forth I began to compare it with the texts of Scripture which teach penitence. Lo, there began a joyous game! The words frollicked with me everywhere! They laughed and gamboled around this saying. Before that there was scarcely a word in all the Scriptures more bitter to me than “penitence,” though I was busy making pretences to God and trying to produce a forced, feigned love; but now there is no word which has for me a sweeter or more pleasing sound than “penitence.” For God’s commands are sweet, when we find that they are to be read not in books alone, but: in the wounds of our sweet Savior.

After this it came about that, by the grace of the learned men who dutifully teach us Greek and Hebrew, I learned that this word is in Greek metanoia and is derived from meta and noun, i.e., post and mentem, so that poenitentia or metanoia is a “coming to one’s senses,” and is a knowledge of one’s own evil, gained after punishment has been accepted and error acknowledged; and this cannot possibly happen without a change in our heart and our love. All this answers so aptly to the theology of Paul, that nothing, at least in my judgment, can so aptly illustrate St. Paul.

Then I went on and saw that metanoia can be derived, though not without violence, not only from post and mentem, but also from trans and mentem, so that metanoia signifies a changing of the mind and heart, because it seemed to indicate not only a change of the heart, but also a manner of changing it, i.e., the grace of God. For that “passing over of the mind, which is true repentance, is of very frequent mention in the Scriptures. Christ has displayed the true significance of that old word “Passover”; and long before the Passover, Abraham was a type of it, when he was called a “pilgrim,” i.e., a “Hebrew,” that is to say, one, who “passed over” into Mesopotamia, as the Doctor of Bourgos learnedly explains. With this accords, too, the title of the Psalm in which Jeduthun, i.e., “the pilgrim,” is introduced as the singer.

Depending on these things, I ventured to think those men false teachers who ascribed so much to works of penitence that they left us scarcely anything of penitence itself except trivial satisfactions and laborious confession, because, forsooth, they had derived their idea from the Latin words poenitentiam agere, which indicate an action, rather than a change of heart, and are in no way an equivalent for the Greek metanoia. While this thought was boiling in my mind, suddenly new trumpets of indulgences and bugles of remissions began to peal and to bray all about us; but they were not intended to arouse us to keen eagerness for battle. In a word, the doctrine of true penitence was passed by, and they presumed to praise not even that poorest part of penitence which is called “satisfaction,” but the remission of that poorest part of penitence; and they praised it so highly that such praise was never heard before. Then, too, they taught impious and false and heretical doctrines with such authority (I wished to say “with such assurance”) that he who even muttered anything to the contrary under his breath, would straightway be consigned to the flames as a heretic, and condemned to eternal malediction.

Unable to meet their rage half-way, I determined to enter a modest dissent, and to call their teaching into question, relying on the opinion of all the doctors and of the whole Church, that to render satisfaction is better than to secure the remission of satisfaction, i.e., to buy indulgences. Nor is there anybody who ever taught otherwise. Therefore, I published my Disputation; in other words, I brought upon my head all the curses, high, middle and low, which these lovers of money (I should say “of souls”) are able to send or to have sent upon me. For these most courteous men, armed, as they are, with very dense acumen, since they cannot deny what I have said, now pretend that in my Disputation I have spoken against the power of the Supreme Pontiff.

That is the reason, Reverend Father, why I now regretfully come out in public. For I have ever been a lover of my corner, and prefer to look upon the beauteous passing show of the great minds of our age, rather than to be looked upon and laughed at. But I see that the bean must appear among the cabbages, and the black must be put with the white, for the sake of seemliness and loveliness.

I ask, therefore, that thou wilt take this foolish work of mine and forward it, if possible, to the most Excellent Pontiff, Leo X, where it may plead my cause against the designs of those who hate me. Not that I wish thee to share my danger! Nay, I wish this to be done at my peril only. Christ will see whether what I have said is His or my own; and without His permission there is not a word in the Supreme Pontiff’s tongue, nor is the heart of the king in his own hand. He is the Judge whose verdict I await from the Roman See.

As for those threatening friends of mine, I have no answer for them but that word of Reuchlin’s — “He who is poor fears nothing; he has nothing to lose.” Fortune I neither have nor desire; if I have had reputation and honor, he who destroys them is always at work; there remains only one poor body, weak and wearied with constant hardships, and if by force or wile they do away with that (as a service to God), they will but make me poorer by perhaps an hour or two of life. Enough for me is the most sweet Savior and Redeemer, my Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom I shall always sing my song; if any one is unwilling to sing with me, what is that to me? Let him howl, if he likes, by himself.

The Lord Jesus keep thee eternally, my gracious Father!

Wittenberg, Day of the Holy Trinity, MDXVIII.

Monday, 14 August 2017


In our previous post we have noted that Luther had sent a copy of the 95 Theses with an accompanying letter to Albert of Mainz on the same day he purportedly posted the same Theses on the doors of Castle Church. He had not expected that his action would cause such a furore across Christendom – but it did! So much so, he was not only taken by surprise, but taken aback by the increasing backlash to himself.

This backlash is partly described in a letter he wrote to Pope Leo X, some time in 1518, less than a year after he posted the 95 Theses. In the letter, together with which he attached his 95 Theses, Luther seeks not so much to defend himself as to inform the Pope of his original intention in posting the 95 Theses and to clarify that intention. This was made necessary because (1) his enemies had accused him as a heretic, (2) others have wanted to know his intention; and (3) he was seeking the Pope’s understanding and protection.

So why did he post the 95 Theses? It was for the purpose of “disputation” – a debate among scholars within the university (“at our University and for our University only”). Or as Luther put it, “inviting only the more learned to dispute with me”. It was never his intention to make the Theses public largely because Luther was not seeking to undermine the Pope nor the Church. Though a “servant of Christ”, Luther also saw himself as a servant of the Pope and of the Church. For that reason, he was willing to cast himself, in this matter, at the mercy of the Pope to “quicken, kill, call, recall, approve, reprove, as you will.” If the Pope felt Luther was deserving of death, Luther declared, “I shall not refuse to die.”

Not to be overlooked is Luther’s clarification that the 95 Theses were “not doctrines or dogmas”. Rather they were “a set of theses”, crafted for the purpose of debate among scholars. Thus the “obscure and enigmatic” language! This clarification was crucial as Luther did not wish to undermine the sole authority of the Pope or the Church to formulate doctrines and dogmas for the Church. He didn’t think in any way that he was in a position to do so “especially since I am unlearned, dull of brain, empty of scholarship.”

Thus this letter, as with his earlier letter to Albert of Mainz, helps to further confirm Luther’s original intention in posting the 95 Theses. It also explains to an extent why Luther was himself surprised by the furore they caused, and how he continued to view himself as a member of the Catholic Church despite it. It was never his intention to usurp the authority of the Pope or the Church, or to overthrow them. The last thing he wanted was to “split” the Church.

You may read this letter below.

[Adolph Spaeth, L.D. Reed, Henry Eyster Jacobs, et Al., Trans. & Eds., Works of Martin Luther, (Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1915), Volume 1, pp 44-48]


To the
Most Blessed Father,
Martin Luther,
Augustinian Friar,
wisheth everlasting welfare.

I have heard evil reports about myself, most blessed Father, by which I know that certain friends have put my name in very bad odor with you and yours, saying that I have attempted to belittle the power of the keys and of the Supreme Pontiff. Therefore I am accused of heresy, apostasy, and perfidy, and am called by six hundred other names of ignominy. My ears shudder and my eyes are astounded. But the one thing in which I put my confidence remains unshaken -- my clear and quiet conscience. Moreover, what I hear is nothing new. With such like decorations I have been adorned in my own country by those same honorable and truthful men, i.e., by the men whose own conscience convicts them of wrongdoing, and who are trying to put their own monstrous doings off on me, and to glorify their own shame by bringing shame to me. But you will deign, blessed Father, to hear the true case from me, though I am but an uncouth child.

It is not long ago that the preaching of the Jubilee indulgences was begun in our country, and matters went so far that the preachers of indulgences, thinking that the protection of your name made anything permissible, ventured openly to teach the most impious and heretical doctrines, which threatened to make the power of the Church a scandal and a laughing-stock, as if the decretals De abusionibus quaestorum did not apply to them.

Not content with spreading this poison of theirs by word of mouth, they published tracts and scattered them among the people. In these books -- to say nothing of the insatiable and unheard of avarice of which almost every letter in them vilely smells -- they laid down those same impious and heretical doctrines, and laid them down in such wise that confessors were bound by their oath to be faithful and insistent in urging them upon the people. I speak the truth, and none of them can hide himself from the heat thereof. The tracts are extant and they cannot disown them. These teachings were so successfully carried on, and the people, with their false hopes, were sucked so dry that, as the Prophet says, “they plucked their flesh from off their bones”; but they themselves meanwhile were fed most pleasantly on the fat of the land.

There was just one means which they used to quiet opposition, to wit, the protection of your name, the threat of burning at the stake, and the disgrace of the name “heretic”. It is incredible how ready they are to threaten, even, at times, when they perceive that it is only their own mere silly opinions which are contradicted. As though this were to quiet opposition, and not rather to arouse schisms and seditions by sheer tyranny!

None the less, however, stories about the avarice of the priests were bruited in the taverns, and evil was spoken of the power of the keys and of the Supreme Pontiff, and as evidence of this, I could cite the common talk of this whole land. I truly confess that I was on fire with zeal for Christ, as I thought, or with the heat of youth, if you prefer to have it so; and yet I saw that it was not in place for me to make any decrees or to do anything in these matters. Therefore I privately admonished some of the prelates of the Church. By some of them I was kindly received, to others I seemed ridiculous, to still others something worse; for the terror of your name and the threat of Church censures prevailed. At last, since I could do nothing else, it seemed good that I should offer at least a gentle resistance to them, i.e., question and discuss their teachings. Therefore I published a set of theses, inviting only the more learned to dispute with me if they wished; as should be evident, even to my adversaries, from the Preface to the Disputation.

Lo, this is the fire with which they complain that all the world is now ablaze! Perhaps it is because they are indignant that I, who by your own apostolic authority am a Master of Theology, have the right to conduct public disputations, according to the custom of all the Universities and of the whole Church, not only about indulgences, but also about God's power and remission and mercy, which are incomparably greater subjects. I am not much moved, however, by the fact that they envy me the privilege granted me by the power of your Holiness, since I am unwillingly compelled to yield to them in things of far greater moment, viz., when they mix the dreams of Aristotle with theological matters, and conduct nonsensical disputations about the majesty of God, beyond and against the privilege granted them.

It is a miracle to me by what fate it has come about that this single Disputation of mine should, more than any other, of mine or of any of the teachers, have gone out into very nearly the whole land. It was made public at our University and for our University only, and it was made public in such wise that I cannot believe it has become known to all men. For it is a set of theses, not doctrines or dogmas, and they are put, according to custom, in an obscure and enigmatic way. Otherwise, if I had been able to foresee what was coming, I should have taken care, for my part, that they would be easier to understand.

Now what shall I do? I cannot recant them; and yet I see that marvelous enmity is inflamed against me because of their dissemination. It is unwillingly that I incur the public and perilous and various judgment of men, especially since I am unlearned, dull of brain, empty of scholarship; and that too in this brilliant age of ours, which by its achievements in letters and learning can force even Cicero into the corner, though he was no base follower of the public light. But necessity compels me to be the goose that squawks among the swans.

And so, to soften my enemies and to fulfil the desires of many, I herewith send forth these trifling explanations of my Disputation; I send them forth in order, too, that I may be more safe under the defense of your name and the shadow of your protection. In them all may see, who will, how purely and simply I have sought after and cherished the power of the Church and reverence for the keys; and, at the same time, how unjustly and falsely my adversaries have befouled me with so many names. For if I had been such a one as they wish to make me out, and if I had not, on the contrary, done everything correctly, according to my academic privilege, the Most Illustrious Prince Frederick, Duke of Saxony, Imperial Elector, etc., would never have tolerated such a pest in his University, for he most dearly loves the Catholic and Apostolic truth, nor could I have been tolerated by the keen and learned men of our University. But what has been done, I do because those most courteous men do not fear openly to involve both the Prince and the University in the same disgrace with myself.

Wherefore, most blessed Father, I cast myself at the feet of your Holiness, with all that I have and all that I am. Quicken, kill, call, recall, approve, reprove, as you will. In your voice I shall recognize the voice of Christ directing you and speaking in you. If I have deserved death, I shall not refuse to die. For the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof. He is blessed forever. Amen.

May He have you too forever in His keeping. Amen.


Friday, 21 July 2017


While most of us would have heard or know something about Luther’s 95 Theses, not many would be aware that he actually addressed a copy of the same Theses to Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz on the same day he purported posted them on the doors of Castle Church on October 31, 1517. Why did he send the Theses to Albrecht or “Albert”. Perhaps a brief background might help us understand why.

Albert of Brandenburg, Cardinal and Elector of the Holy Roman Empire was born on June, 1490 and died on 24 September, 1545. As early as 1509, when he was a mere 19 years old, he was made Prebendary in the Cathedral of Mainz. From 1513 he was Archbishop of Magdeburg and Administrator of Halberstadt.

In 1514, Albert of Mainz became the Archbishop. Being the Archbishop of Mainz made him a member of the prestigious Electoral College: a group of seven members, three ecclesiastical rulers (the Archbishops of Mainz, Trier, and Cologne) and four secular rulers (the king of Bohemia, the Margrave of Brandenburg, the Count Palantine of the Rhine, and the Duke of Saxony) whose responsibility it was to elect emperors. Obtaining such a position did not come without expense, and in order to finance becoming the Archbishop, Albert borrowed 21,000 ducats from a famously rich banker. In order to pay off his debt, Albert obtained permission from Pope Leo X to collect alms in return for indulgences, provided that half of the money collected would be forwarded to the papacy in order to help finance the building of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. In 1517, Pope Leo X commissioned John Tetzel as the Commissioner of Indulgences for all of Germany.

Tetzel came to Wittenberg Germany in 1517, generating money to pay off Albert’s debt, and to build up Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. But when Tetzel began to sell these indulgences to the uneducated German on masses, it struck a nerve. Tetzel had created a chart itemizing prices for various sins, and sloganeering with such crass slogans as “As soon as the gold in the casket rings - the rescued soul to heaven springs” and even claiming that the indulgences he sold could save a soul who violated the Virgin Mary. Albert himself employed Tetzel for the actual preaching of the Indulgence and furnished him a book of instructions: Instructio summaria ad Subcommissarios P nitentiarum et Confessores. It was partly against this promotion of indulgences coupled with the conduct of Tetzel, and Albert’s book of instructions that Luther sought to address both in his 95 Theses and his letter to Albert. That Albert’s book did leave much to be desired is evidenced by Pope Leo X’s message of admonition to Albert for permitting so many books which are hostile to Faith to be published under the latter’s eye.

Luther’s letter to Albert is significant. First of all, it was written on the same day the 95 Theses were first made public. As such the letter informs us of the reasons Luther had written his Theses and why he had made them public. Secondly, we do not need to second-guess what Luther’s original reasons were and what his original intention was. Scholars have debated over why he did what he did. There is no need for speculation. In this letter, Luther clearly spells out his intention. Thirdly, there can be no doubt that Luther understood his place in the society of his day. He viewed himself as but a servant of the state and the Church. Revolution was furthest from his mind when he first published the Theses. They were meant for a “disputation”, a debate. Little did he expect that his Theses would be so revolutionary! As we will discover in subsequent posts, the revolutionary character of his Theses actually caught him by surprise!

 You may read Luther’s letter to Albert for yourself below. 
TO the Most Reverend Father in Christ and Most Illustrious Lord, Albrecht of Magdeburg and Mainz, Archbishop and Primate of the Church, Margrave of Brandenburg, etc., his own lord and pastor in Christ, worthy of reverence and fear, and most gracious JESUS. The grace of God be with you in all its fullness and power!

Spare me, Most Reverend Father in Christ and Most Illustrious Prince, that I, the dregs of humanity, have so much boldness that I have dared to think of a letter to the height of your Sublimity. The Lord Jesus is my witness that, conscious of my smallness and baseness, I have long deferred what I am now shameless enough to do moved thereto most of all by the duty of fidelity which I acknowledge that I owe to your most Reverend Fatherhood in Christ. Meanwhile, therefore, may your Highness deign to cast an eye upon one speck of dust, and for the sake of your pontifical clemency to heed my prayer.

Papal indulgences for the building of St. Peter’s are circulating under your most distinguished name, and as regards them, I do not bring accusation against the outcries of the preachers, which I have not heard, so much as I grieve over the wholly false impressions which the people have conceived front them; to wit, — the unhappy souls believe that if they have purchased letters of indulgence they are sure of their salvation; again, that so soon as they cast their contributions into the money-box, souls fly out of purgatory; furthermore, that these graces [i.e., the graces conferred in the indulgences] are so great that there is no sin too great to be absolved, even, as they say — though the thing is impossible—if one had violated the Mother of God; again, that a man is free, through these indulgences, from all penalty and guilt.

O God, most good! Thus souls committed to your care, good Father, are taught to their death, and the strict account, which you must render for all such, grows and increases. For this reason I have no longer been able to keep quiet about this matter, for it is by no gift of a bishop that man becomes sure of salvation, since he gains this certainty not even by the “inpoured grace” of God, but the Apostle bids us always “work out our own salvation in fear and trembling,” and Peter says, “the righteous scarcely shall be saved.” Finally, so narrow is the way that leads to life, that the Lord, through the prophets Amos and Zechariah, calls those who shall be saved “brands plucked from the burning,” and everywhere declares the difficulty of salvation.

Why, then, do the preachers of pardons, by these false fables and promises, make the people careless and fearless? Whereas indulgences confer on us no good gift, either for salvation or for sanctity, but only take away the external penalty, which it was formerly the custom to impose according to the canons.

Finally, works of piety and love are infinitely better than indulgences, and yet these are not preached with such ceremony or such zeal; nay, for the sake of preaching the indulgences they are kept quiet, though it is the first and the sole duty of all bishops that the people should learn the Gospel and the love of Christ, for Christ never taught that indulgences should be preached. How great then is the horror, how great the peril of a bishop, if he permits the Gospel to be kept quiet, and nothing but the noise of indulgences to be spread among his people! Will not Christ say to them, “straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel?”

In addition to this, Most Reverend Father in the Lord, it is said in the Instruction to the Commissaries which is issued under your name, Most Reverend Father (doubtless without your knowledge and consent), that one of the chief graces of indulgence is that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to God, and all the penalties of purgatory are destroyed. Again, it is said that contrition is not necessary in those who purchase souls [out of purgatory] or buy confessionalia.

But what can I do, good Primate and Most Illustrious Prince, except pray your Most Reverend Fatherhood by the Lord Jesus Christ that you would deign to look [on this matter] with the eye of fatherly care, and do away entirely with that treatise and impose upon the preachers of pardons another form of preaching; lest, perchance, one may some time arise, who will publish writings in which he will confute both them and that treatise, to the shame of your Most Illustrious Sublimity. I shrink very much from thinking that this will be done, and yet I fear that it will come to pass, unless there is some speedy remedy.

These faithful offices of my insignificance I beg that your Most Illustrious Grace may deign to accept in the spirit of a Prince and a Bishop, i.e., with the greatest clemency, as I offer them out of a faithful heart, altogether devoted to you, Most Reverend Father, since I too am a part of your flock.

May the Lord Jesus have your Most Reverend Fatherhood eternally in His keeping. Amen.

From Wittenberg on the Vigil of All Saints, MDXVII.

If it please the Most Reverend Father he may see these my Disputations, and learn how doubtful a thing is the opinion of indulgences which those men spread as though it were most certain.

To the Most Reverend Father,


Tuesday, 23 May 2017


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Friday, 19 May 2017


We wish you to know that we have made some corrections to the Reformation 500 Brochure which can now be downloaded from the link on the right-hand menu. We have also updated further details for payment of registration fee by cheque (see the address of STM on the right-hand menu under "Registration"). And finally, we have designed a Reformation 500 Church Flyer (also on the right-hand menu) which you can print and post on your Church notice board. Thank you to those who kindly provided useful feedback on this blog.