Ninety-Five Theses

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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.

Cur Canones penitentiales re ipsa et non usu iam diu in semet abrogati et mortui adhuc tamen pecuniis redimuntur per concessionem indulgentiarum tanquam vivacissimi?

Cur Papa, cuius opes hodie sunt opulentissimis Crassis crassiores, non de suis pecuniis magis quam pauperum fidelium struit unam tantummodo Basilicam sancti Petri?

The document itself, however, is an unlikely candidate for the role of revolutionary text or Protestant manifesto: composed chiefly for an academic disputation on a practice now long-forgotten and scarce understood, the theses are a bit bewildering to the modern reader looking for familiar Reformation slogans.

Indeed, neither of Luther’s two great principles—justification by faith alone and the authority of Scripture alone—are to be found in these pages, even though the former had already begun to influence Luther’s thinking and underlies several of his concerns in the are fairly conservative, and Luther hardly expected them to unleash a full-scale reconception of Christian theology and division of the church.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., the ringing denunciation of the corruptions of the late medieval church that was to spark the Protestant Reformation.Luther may or may not have posted them on the church door in Wittenberg (he almost certainly did not nail them, in any case, as later legend would have it), but his dissemination of them on October 31, 1517 marked a turning point not only in Luther’s life but in the life of the whole Christian church.Some of this punishment could be handled by taking penitential actions prescribed by the priest, but much of it would remain to be exacted after death.Accordingly, the medieval church came to increasingly teach the doctrine of purgatory, a place where the faithful must undergo a term (perhaps even hundreds of thousands of years) of purifying torment before they could enter heaven. By doing certain holy acts, like participating in or helping pay for a Crusade, Christians could receive an “indulgence” from the Pope, shortening their time in purgatory or perhaps even skipping it altogether. Dicere, Crucem armis papalibus insigniter erectam cruci Christi equivalere, blasphemia est. Rationem reddent Episcopi, Curati et Theologi, Qui tales sermones in populum licere sinunt. Facit hec licentiosa veniarum predicatio, ut nec reverentiam Pape facile sit etiam doctis viris redimere a calumniis aut certe argutis questionibus laicorm. Cur Papa non evacuat purgatorium propter sanctissimam charitatem et summam animarum necessitatem ut causam omnium iustissimam, Si infinitas animas redimit propter pecuniam funestissimam ad structuram Basilice ut causam levissimam? Amore et studio elucidande veritatis hec subscripta disputabuntur Wittenberge, Presidente R. Dominus et magister noster Iesus Christus dicendo `Penitentiam agite &c.' omnem vitam fidelium penitentiam esse voluit. Quod verbum de penitentia sacramentali (id est confessionis et satisfactionis, que sacerdotum ministerio celebratur) non potest intelligi. Non tamen solam intendit interiorem, immo interior nulla est, nisi foris operetur varias carnis mortificationes. Manet itaque pena, donec manet odium sui (id est penitentia vera intus), scilicet usque ad introitum regni celorum. Papa non vult nec potest ullas penas remittere preter eas, quas arbitrio vel suo vel canonum imposuit. Papa non potest remittere ullam culpam nisi declarando, et approbando remissam a deo Aut certe remittendo casus reservatos sibi, quibus contemptis culpa prorsus remaneret. Nulli prorus remittit deus culpam, quin simul eum subiiciat humiliatum in omnibus sacerdoti suo vicario. Canones penitentiales solum viventibus sunt impositi nihilque morituris secundum eosdem debet imponi. Inde bene nobis facit spiritussanctus in papa excipiendo in suis decretis semper articulum mortis et necessitatis. Indocte et male faciunt sacerdotes ii, qui morituris penitentias canonicas in purgatorium reservant. Zizania illa de mutanda pena Canonica in penam purgatorii videntur certe dormientibus episcopis seminata. Olim pene canonice non post, sed ante absolutionem imponebantur tanquam tentamenta vere contritionis. Morituri per mortem omnia solvunt et legibus canonum mortui iam sunt, habentes iure earum relaxationem. Imperfecta sanitas seu charitas morituri necessario secum fert magnum timorem, tantoque maiorem, quanto minor fuerit ipsa. Hic timor et horror satis est se solo (ut alia taceam) facere penam purgatorii, cum sit proximus desperationis horrori. Videntur infernus, purgaturium, celum differre, sicut desperatio, prope desperatio, securitas differunt. Necessarium videtur animabus in purgatorio sicut minni horrorem ita augeri charitatem. Nec probatum videtur ullis aut rationibus aut scripturis, quod sint extra statum meriti seu augende charitatis. Nec hoc probatum esse videtur, quod sint de sua beatitudine certe et secure, saltem omnes, licet nos certissimi simus. Igitur papa per remissionem plenariam omnium penarum non simpliciter omnium intelligit, sed a seipso tantummodo impositarum. Errant itaque indulgentiarum predicatores ii, qui dicunt per pape indulgentias hominem ab omni pena solvi et salvari. Quin nullam remittit animabus in purgatorio, quam in hac vita debuissent secundum Canones solvere. Si remissio ulla omnium omnino penarum potest alicui dari, certum est eam non nisi perfectissimis, i.e.

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