Pope Leo X enumerated 41 positions that he required Luther to recant from in order to be restored to communion with the Latin Church. Presumably, he wasn't all that excited about some of the other Ninety-Five Theses, but preferred to ignore them:

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?"

Further, it seems that the Roman Church has changed her position on indulgences to the point where, though I disagree with the theology, I can see good purpose in the practice. In fact, I'm tempted to say that Luther's proposed reforms have been implemented in the spirit they were offered if not to the letter.

So which of Luther's theses, if any, still have bite?

  • The way the first para of your body is worded, it gives the sense that the 41 positions have been drawn directly from the 95 theses. In fact, many of them have nothing whatsoever to do with the 95 theses but refer to other issues such as the legitimacy of the Pope's office and powers, the teachings of Hus, excommunication and the burning of heretics etc. Even the ones regarding the issues of indulgences and penance etc. sometimes refer to doctrines that are not explicitly taught in the 95 theses. Overall, it still remains an excellent question however. Oct 11, 2014 at 0:58

3 Answers 3


The 95 These are not 95 points of criticism of Catholic doctrine. That is, Luther was not identitifying 95 different doctrines and/or practices of the Catholic church that he disapproved of. Really there are all about one practice of the Catholic church: the selling of indulgences, i.e. telling people that they could buy a "reduced sentence" in purgatory by giving money to the church.

I don't claim to be any sort of expert on the practices of the Catholic Church today, but to the best of my knowledge they are no longer selling indulgences, directly or indirectly. You might find individual cases where a priest or other representative of the church says or implies that someone can win some favor with God by making a big donation, but these are individual mistakes or abuses and not Catholic policy. Therefore, I think pretty much none of the criticisms in the 95 Theses apply today.

BTW, many of the 95 Theses are not, of themselves, criticisms of the Catholic church. For example #1, "Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance." Or #94, "Christians are to be exhorted that they be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hell;" I haven't counted how many are criticisms of church practice and how many are points Luther is trying to establish along the way.

Also note that Luther carefully worded many to avoid overtly criticizing the Catholic church and especially the pope. For example #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."


Well, it was worth it to finally read those in their entirety and not try to pick apart individual portions. It would seem that you're correct in saying that the church has changed her position on indulgences. However, the church has not changed her position on papal supremacy, only refined it.

Today a plenary indulgence is granted for some prayers, bible reading, and other timely things (like visiting a cemetery during November). The normal requirements must also be met confession, reception of the Eucharist and prayer for the Pope's intentions. One must also have a complete detachment from sin, that's not easy. Luther says there's very few (23), he's probably right.

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    This doesn't seem to answer the question. I'm confused what you are saying in the last sentence.
    – dleyva3
    Apr 26, 2012 at 22:09
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    In the last sentence @PeterTurner is referring to Luther's 23rd thesis, which says very few have a complete detachment from sin. May 4, 2012 at 1:39

The reason indulgences are granted has more to do with the spiritual disciplines in the repentant sinner's relationship with Christ than with any ability of the Church to promise release from purgatory. If a person concerns himself with choosing rightly, prayer, scripture study, participation in the Church and the sacraments, he will become detached from sin and therefore require no further purging at the time of his death. The grace of God is available through spiritual disciplines and right actions and that grace is enough to keep us from sinning if we are continually walking with the Lord. The actions required to receive an indulgence are designed to help one develop habits that dispose the child of God to intimacy with Him. Luther's statementthat few are completely detached from sin is an observation, not an argument. It does not follow that one should not strive for such detachment from sin, and conversely attachment to Christ.

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    Welcome to the site. You didn't really answer the question. I can see that you have much you could add to the site and I hope to stick around. But please be sure to answer the questions as they are written, and when able, use sources to support your answer. I hope to see you post again soon. Here's a plus one in advance.
    – user3961
    Oct 10, 2014 at 23:48

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