THE FIRST SET OF THESES
Luther’s transition from Catholic monk to reformer did not happen overnight or with any one moment of enlightenment. His theological discovery and subsequent conversion had both come about in the natural course of his personal study and amidst his duties as an instructor at the university at Wittenberg. He had no initial desire to confront or detach himself from the Roman Catholic Church or the Pope to whom he was affectionately devoted.
Over time, however, as Luther’s theology took shape and as he came to see the discrepancies between the Church’s teaching and the Bible, such a confrontation was inevitable. Luther came to understand that the “work-righteousness in the church’s traditional teaching” was in stark contradiction to the biblical gospel that the righteousness of God is imputed by grace alone through faith alone. “For Luther, any talk of ‘merit’ in the matter of justification was blasphemous and heretical.”
To respond to these discrepancies, Luther composed a set of 97 theses for the purpose of academic debate. Gonzales contends that Luther also sought an opportunity to unveil his newfound theology which he had already been teaching faithfully at the university. Such an opportunity, however, would not be found, as his 97 theses caused little commotion in the academy.
A month later, however, another occasion presented itself. A triad of evil consisting of Pope Leo X, Archbishop Albert of Brandenburg and agent John Tetzel conspired to advance personal projects through the sale of indulgences, the promise of “temporal” forgiveness for one’s sins or those of relatives in purgatory. A common refrain echoed, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” Luther was incensed, and his response would provide the catalyst for a movement that lives on to this very day.
** Sources: The History of the Christian Church by Justo Gonzales, A History of Christianity in the World by Clyde L. Manschreck, Christianity Through the Centuries by Earle E. Cairns, Theopedia.com, & A HistoryOf the Christian Church by Willison Walker et. al.