It is also important to recognize that Luther, a priest and a monk, was raising these issues as an insider.
He noted in Thesis 81 that the “unbridled preaching of indulgences makes it difficult for even learned men to rescue the reverence which is due the pope from slander or from the shrewd questions of the laity.” Did Luther post on the church door in Wittenberg?
Scholars have been debating this issue for the last four decades. Those who question it point out that the earliest reference to him doing so was written approximately thirty years later, by his colleague Philip Melanchthon (1495–1560), who was not present in 1517.
Other scholars argue that posting notices to debate at a University was such a normal thing to do that it would not have been considered noteworthy at the time.
Luther’s concern with the late medieval church was less that it had made salvation too hard (by endless works rather than simple faith) and more that it had made salvation too easy (by thoughtless outward works or transactions rather than heartfelt repentance, being crucified with Christ).
The real gospel of Christ, charged Luther, was both much more serious, more frightening, and more liberating than the spiritual economy the popes had created to fill their own coffers. Bradford Littlejohn is the President of the Davenant Institute and teaches philosophy at Moody Bible Institute.What we do know is that the were printed and circulated around Europe within a period of two months.We also know that Luther sent a copy to Albrecht of Mainz, who now held the most important ecclesiastical position in the empire.The theology and practice of indulgences had been around for centuries, although it had gotten increasingly out of hand in the decades leading up to 1517.At its root lay a long medieval distinction between guilt and punishment: although true repentance of sins and confession to a priest could give the believer absolution from and therefore from hellfire, sin still demanded some kind of temporal punishment.Such exploitation of the poor infuriated Luther, and in thesis 45, he decries those who, instead of helping the needy, as Christ commanded for the truly penitent, spent all their spare money on indulgences.More fundamentally, though, Luther worried that indulgences were a form of cheap grace, a way for people to purchase false security for their souls without truly facing the depth of their sin and repenting from the heart.On the other hand, it is easy to downplay too much the significance of the .Luther was not, after all, just a random and inconsequential monk, as the Pope and his advisors were to try and dismiss him; he was at this time one of the highest-ranking leaders of the Augustinian Order in Germany and an increasingly renowned professor at one of its leading universities.Luther here is not so much interested in overthrowing the whole penitential system of the Catholic Church as he is in purifying it from obvious abuses, and he continues to accept many of the Pope’s claims of authority.Indeed, in Theses 80-90 he says that one of his chief concerns is to defend the honor of the Pope against the easy attacks to which the careless teaching of the indulgence preachers had exposed him.