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95 Theses

The Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, known as the 95 Theses, challenged the teachings of the Church on the nature of penance, the authority of the pope and the usefulness of indulgences. They sparked a theological debate that would result in the birth of the Lutheran, Reformed and Anabaptist traditions within Christianity.

Luther's action was in great part a response to the selling of indulgences by Johann Tetzel, a Dominican priest, commissioned by the Archbishop of Mainz and pope. The purpose of this fundraising campaign was to finance the building of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Even though Luther's prince, Frederick the Wise, and the prince of the neighboring territory, Duke George of Saxony, forbid the sale in their lands, Luther's parishoners traveled to purchase them. When these people came to confession, they presented the indulgence, claiming they no longer had to repent of their sins, since the document forgave all their sins.

Traditionally, Luther posted the 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. Some scholars have questioned the accuracy of this account, noting that no contemporary evidence exists for it. Others have countered that no such evidence is necessary, since this action was the customary way of advertising an event on a university campus of Luther's day. Church doors functioned very much the way bulletin boards function on a twenty-first century college campus. Still other suggest the posting may well have happened sometime of November 1517. Most agree that, at the very least, Luther mailed the theses to the Archbishop of Mainz, the pope, friends and other universities on that date.

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