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Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther
on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences
by Dr. Martin Luther, 1517
Published in:
Works of Martin Luther
Adolph Spaeth, L.D. Reed, Henry Eyster Jacobs, et Al., Trans. & Eds.
(Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1915), Vol. 1, pp. 29-38.

DISPUTATION OF DOCTOR MARTIN LUTHER 
ON THE POWER AND EFFICACY OF 
INDULGENCES 

OCTOBER 31, 1517 

Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, 
the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, 
under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, 
Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in 
Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that 
those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, 
may do so by letter.  

In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.  

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

2. This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, 
i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by 
the priests.  

3. Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no 
inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers 
mortifications of the flesh.  

4. The penalty [of sin], therefore, continues so long as 
hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward 
repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom 
of heaven. 

5. The pope does not intend to remit, and cannot remit any 
penalties other than those which he has imposed either by his 
own authority or by that of the Canons. 

6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring that 
it has been remitted by God and by assenting to God's 
remission; though, to be sure, he may grant remission in cases 
reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in 
such cases were despised, the guilt would remain entirely 
unforgiven.  

7. God remits guilt to no one whom He does not, at the same 
time, humble in all things and bring into subjection to His 
vicar, the priest.  
8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, 
according to them, nothing should be imposed on the dying.  

9. Therefore the Holy Spirit in the pope is kind to us, 
because in his decrees he always makes exception of the 
article of death and of necessity. 

10. Ignorant and wicked are the doings of those priests who, 
in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penances for 
purgatory.  

11. This changing of the canonical penalty to the penalty of 
purgatory is quite evidently one of the tares that were sown 
while the bishops slept.  

12. In former times the canonical penalties were imposed not 
after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.  

13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties; they are 
already dead to canonical rules, and have a right to be 
released from them. 

14. The imperfect health [of soul], that is to say, the 
imperfect love, of the dying brings with it, of necessity, 
great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater is the fear.  

15. This fear and horror is sufficient of itself alone (to say 
nothing of other things) to constitute the penalty of 
purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.  

16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ as do despair, 
almost-despair, and the assurance of safety.  

17. With souls in purgatory it seems necessary that horror 
should grow less and love increase.  

18. It seems unproved, either by reason or Scripture, that 
they are outside the state of merit, that is to say, of 
increasing love.  

19. Again, it seems unproved that they, or at least that all 
of them, are certain or assured of their own blessedness, 
though we may be quite certain of it.  

20. Therefore by "full remission of all penalties" the pope 
means not actually "of all," but only of those imposed by 
himself.  

21. Therefore those preachers of indulgences are in error, who 
say that by the pope's indulgences a man is freed from every 
penalty, and saved;  

22. Whereas he remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which, 
according to the canons, they would have had to pay in this 
life.  

23. If it is at all possible to grant to any one the remission 
of all penalties whatsoever, it is certain that this remission 
can be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to the very 
fewest.  

24. It must needs be, therefore, that the greater part of the 
people are deceived by that indiscriminate and highsounding 
promise of release from penalty.  

25. The power which the pope has, in a general way, over 
purgatory, is just like the power which any bishop or curate 
has, in a special way, within his own diocese or parish.  

26. The pope does well when he grants remission to souls [in 
purgatory], not by the power of the keys (which he does not 
possess), but by way of intercession.  

27. They preach man who say that so soon as the penny jingles 
into the money-box, the soul flies out [of purgatory]. 

28. It is certain that when the penny jingles into the 
money-box, gain and avarice can be increased, but the result 
of the intercession of the Church is in the power of God 
alone.  

29. Who knows whether all the souls in purgatory wish to be 
bought out of it, as in the legend of Sts. Severinus and 
Paschal.  

30. No one is sure that his own contrition is sincere; much 
less that he has attained full remission.  

31. Rare as is the man that is truly penitent, so rare is also 
the man who truly buys indulgences, i.e., such men are most 
rare.  

32. They will be condemned eternally, together with their 
teachers, who believe themselves sure of their salvation 
because they have letters of pardon. 

33. Men must be on their guard against those who say that the 
pope's pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man 
is reconciled to Him;  

34. For these "graces of pardon" concern only the penalties of 
sacramental satisfaction, and these are appointed by man. 

35. They preach no Christian doctrine who teach that 
contrition is not necessary in those who intend to buy souls 
out of purgatory or to buy confessionalia.  

36. Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full 
remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of 
pardon.  

37. Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part in 
all the blessings of Christ and the Church; and this is 
granted him by God, even without letters of pardon.  

38. Nevertheless, the remission and participation [in the 
blessings of the Church] which are granted by the pope are in 
no way to be despised, for they are, as I have said, the 
declaration of divine remission.  

39. It is most difficult, even for the very keenest 
theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people 
the abundance of pardons and [the need of] true contrition.  

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.  

42. Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend 
the buying of pardons to be compared in any way to works of 
mercy.  

43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor 
or lends to the needy does a better work than buying pardons;  

44. Because love grows by works of love, and man becomes 
better; but by pardons man does not grow better, only more 
free from penalty.  

45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a man in 
need, and passes him by, and gives [his money] for pardons, 
purchases not the indulgences of the pope, but the indignation 
of God.  

46. Christians are to be taught that unless they have more 
than they need, they are bound to keep back what is necessary 
for their own families, and by no means to squander it on 
pardons.  

47. Christians are to be taught that the buying of pardons is 
a matter of free will, and not of commandment.  

48. Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting 
pardons, needs, and therefore desires, their devout prayer for 
him more than the money they bring.  

49. Christians are to be taught that the pope's pardons are 
useful, if they do not put their trust in them; but altogether 
harmful, if through them they lose their fear of God. 

50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the 
exactions of the pardon-preachers, he would rather that St. 
Peter's church should go to ashes, than that it should be 
built up with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep.  

51. Christians are to be taught that it would be the pope's 
wish, as it is his duty, to give of his own money to very many 
of those from whom certain hawkers of pardons cajole money, 
even though the church of St. Peter might have to be sold.  

52. The assurance of salvation by letters of pardon is vain, 
even though the commissary, nay, even though the pope himself, 
were to stake his soul upon it.  

53. They are enemies of Christ and of the pope, who bid the 
Word of God be altogether silent in some Churches, in order 
that pardons may be preached in others.  

54. Injury is done the Word of God when, in the same sermon, 
an equal or a longer time is spent on pardons than on this 
Word. 

55. It must be the intention of the pope that if pardons, 
which are a very small thing, are celebrated with one bell, 
with single processions and ceremonies, then the Gospel, which 
is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred 
bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies. 

56. The "treasures of the Church," out of which the pope. 
grants indulgences, are not sufficiently named or known among 
the people of Christ.  

57. That they are not temporal treasures is certainly evident, 
for many of the vendors do not pour out such treasures so 
easily, but only gather them.  

58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the Saints, for even 
without the pope, these always work grace for the inner man, 
and the cross, death, and hell for the outward man. 

59. St. Lawrence said that the treasures of the Church were 
the Church's poor, but he spoke according to the usage of the 
word in his own time.  

60. Without rashness we say that the keys of the Church, given 
by Christ's merit, are that treasure;  

61. For it is clear that for the remission of penalties and of 
reserved cases, the power of the pope is of itself sufficient.  

62. The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of 
the glory and the grace of God.  

63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes 
the first to be last.  

64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is 
naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first.  

65. Therefore the treasures of the Gospel are nets with which 
they formerly were wont to fish for men of riches.  

66. The treasures of the indulgences are nets with which they 
now fish for the riches of men.  

67. The indulgences which the preachers cry as the "greatest 
graces" are known to be truly such, in so far as they promote 
gain. 

68. Yet they are in truth the very smallest graces compared 
with the grace of God and the piety of the Cross.  

69. Bishops and curates are bound to admit the commissaries of 
apostolic pardons, with all reverence.  

70. But still more are they bound to strain all their eyes and 
attend with all their ears, lest these men preach their own 
dreams instead of the commission of the pope.  

71 . He who speaks against the truth of apostolic pardons, let 
him be anathema and accursed!  

72. But he who guards against the lust and license of the 
pardon-preachers, let him be blessed! 

73. The pope justly thunders against those who, by any art, 
contrive the injury of the traffic in pardons.  

74. But much more does he intend to thunder against those who 
use the pretext of pardons to contrive the injury of holy love 
and truth.  

75. To think the papal pardons so great that they could 
absolve a man even if he had committed an impossible sin and 
violated the Mother of God -- this is madness. 

76. We say, on the contrary, that the papal pardons are not 
able to remove the very least of venial sins, so far as its 
guilt is concerned. 

77. It is said that even St. Peter, if he were now Pope, could 
not bestow greater graces; this is blasphemy against St. Peter 
and against the pope.  

78. We say, on the contrary, that even the present pope, and 
any pope at all, has greater graces at his disposal; to wit, 
the Gospel, powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written 
in I. Corinthians xii.  

79. To say that the cross, emblazoned with the papal arms, 
which is set up [by the preachers of indulgences], is of equal 
worth with the Cross of Christ, is blasphemy.  

80. The bishops, curates and theologians who allow such talk 
to be spread among the people, will have an account to render.  

81. This unbridled preaching of pardons makes it no easy 
matter, even for learned men, to rescue the reverence due to 
the pope from slander, or even from the shrewd questionings of 
the laity.  

82. To wit: -- "Why does not the pope empty purgatory, for the 
sake of holy love and of the dire need of the souls that are 
there, if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake 
of miserable money with which to build a Church? The former 
reasons would be most just; the latter is most trivial."  

83. Again: -- "Why are mortuary and anniversary masses for the 
dead continued, and why does he not return or permit the 
withdrawal of the endowments founded on their behalf, since it 
is wrong to pray for the redeemed?"  

84. Again: -- "What is this new piety of God and the pope, 
that for money they allow a man who is impious and their enemy 
to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God, and 
do not rather, because of that pious and beloved soul's own 
need, free it for pure love's sake?"  

85. Again: -- "Why are the penitential canons long since in 
actual fact and through disuse abrogated and dead, now 
satisfied by the granting of indulgences, as though they were 
still alive and in force?"  

86. Again: -- "Why does not the pope, whose wealth is to-day 
greater than the riches of the richest, build just this one 
church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the 
money of poor believers?"  

87. Again: -- "What is it that the pope remits, and what 
participation does he grant to those who, by perfect 
contrition, have a right to full remission and participation?" 

88. Again: -- "What greater blessing could come to the Church 
than if the pope were to do a hundred times a day what he now 
does once, and bestow on every believer these remissions and 
participations?"  

89. "Since the pope, by his pardons, seeks the salvation of 
souls rather than money, why does he suspend the indulgences 
and pardons granted heretofore, since these have equal 
efficacy?" 

90. To repress these arguments and scruples of the laity by 
force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to 
expose the Church and the pope to the ridicule of their 
enemies, and to make Christians unhappy.  

91. If, therefore, pardons were preached according to the 
spirit and mind of the pope, all these doubts would be readily 
resolved; nay, they would not exist.  

92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people 
of Christ, "Peace, peace," and there is no peace!  

93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of 
Christ, "Cross, cross," and there is no cross! 

94. Christians are to be exhorted that they be diligent in 
following Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and 
hell;  

95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven rather 
through many tribulations, than through the assurance of 
peace. 

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