Full Text for Church History 2- Volume 1 - Background of the 95 Theses (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED TEXT CHURCH HISTORY 02 May 27, 2005 01-CH2 ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ***** >> PAUL: Hello, Professors Robinson and McKenzie. My name is Paul, and I believe I have a question for you. Professor Robinson, during the first portion of the course, one of the items we were to read for today was the 95 Theses. We usually think of these as a spark that started the Reformation. In fact, I've been working to explain to my current confirmands the importance of this document. But they've been asking some tough questions about what led Luther to write the theses. Would you provide me with some more detail? How did Martin Luther come to write the 95 Theses and nail them to that door? >> DR. PAUL ROBINSON: That's a very good question, Paul. I'm glad you asked that because most Lutherans know something about the 95 Theses as what started the Lutheran Reformation. Hardly any Lutherans have ever really read the 95 Theses. And if they did, they'd be disappointed as you probably know because they don't contain a lot of what we think as typical Lutheran theology. There's a reason for that, and it has to do with the course of the Reformation and the fact that although these 95 Theses are the beginning, they are really only the beginning. And as we'll see in future lectures, there's a lot more to the story. There's a lot more that happens after 1517. To get to some specifics of your question, I want to start just by reading the introduction to the 95 Theses, what Luther wrote about what he was trying to do. "Out of love and concern for the truth and with the object of eliciting it, the following heads will be the subject of a public discussion at Wittenberg under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Augustinian, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology and duly appointed lecturer on these subject in that place. He requests that whoever cannot be present personally to debate the matter orally will do so in absence in writing." There are a couple important points there in terms of the text of the Theses. First of all, Luther points out that he is authorized to call for a debate within the church. He's a professor of theology at Wittenberg. And part of what theologians did in those days was to organize disputes, public debates, really public arguments about issues of theology. Now, some of these were more important than others. Some they did just for entertainment. But in this particular case, Luther has a real issue he wants to talk about. And so he does it in this traditional way of writing theses for a debate to be held in Wittenberg. But he also wants people involved really from more than Wittenberg, really throughout the church. And so he also invites comments in writing by those who can't be present. Now, Wittenberg was not really all that important as a university at this time. It was a new university. It had been founded when electoral Saxony moved its capital to Wittenberg. And so, it's really nothing special, and yet, Luther has the authority to do this. He has the right to call for disputation, and so he's careful to point that out in the introduction. Well, that's the authority. That's the method for discussion. Why does Luther want to do this at all? Well, we find the answer to that question if we look, for example, at Thesis 32. Luther writes, "All those who believe themselves certain of their own salvation by means of letters of indulgence will be eternally damned together with their teachers." There, you see just how serious Luther is about this issue. And what had happened is this: People from Wittenberg were going to hear the preaching of John *Tetzel who was selling indulgences. And we'll say a little more about this later, but * Tetzel was telling people that if they bought this piece of paper, their sins were forgiven. And of course, many people believed him. And they came back to Father Luther and said, look, my sins are forgiven. I have an indulgence. Luther didn't want people trusting in these indulgences and these pieces of paper instead of in Christ for their salvation. And so he wrote these theses. He raised the issue for debate. So above all, Luther as pastor is concern for people's salvation. He's concerned that they have the right understanding. So, you know, back to your question, what begins as an almost arcane medieval practice of disputation and a set of these that are very difficult to understand, we see in retrospect as the beginning of the Reformation and also as an expression of Luther's real pastoral concern for people. And that�s a theme that will come up again in these lectures as well.