Dead Guy Friday #4: Martin Luther’s 97 Theses

In a world obsessed with novelty and trends, it’s easy to lose sight of those who have come before and what they had to say about things that matter. Every Friday, I post an excerpt by a deceased author on a currently relevant topic.

Today’s excerpt is from a guy you’ve heard of and work you probably think you’ve heard of but actually haven’t. This year is filled with commemorations of the great German reformer Martin Luther. On October 31, 1517, he posted the 95 theses that marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. However, 5 months earlier in April of 1517, he posted a different set of theses, 97 of them, arguing against the neo-Pelagian scholastic theology of his day and in favor of an Augustinian approach to man’s depravity and bondage of will. These theses were largely ignored, but they provide some good insight into Luther’s theology and where the Reformation would go. The first 12 are included here, and a link to the remainder is at the end.

1. To say that Augustine exaggerates in speaking against heretics is to say that Augustine tells lies almost everywhere. This is contrary to common knowledge.

2. This is the same as permitting Pelagians and all heretics to triumph, indeed, the same as conceding victory to them.

3. It is the same as making sport of the authority of all doctors of theology.

4. It is therefore true that man, being a bad tree, can only will and do evil [Cf. Matt. 7:17–18].

5. It is false to state that man’s inclination is free to choose between either of two opposites. Indeed, the inclination is not free, but captive. This is said in opposition to common opinion.

6. It is false to state that the will can by nature conform to correct precept. This is said in opposition to Scotus and Gabriel.

7. As a matter of fact, without the grace of God the will produces an act that is perverse and evil.

8. It does not, however, follow that the will is by nature evil, that is, essentially evil, as the Manichaeans maintain.

9. It is nevertheless innately and inevitably evil and corrupt.

10. One must concede that the will is not free to strive toward whatever is declared good. This in opposition to Scotus and Gabriel.

11. Nor is it able to will or not to will whatever is prescribed.

12. Nor does one contradict St. Augustine when one says that nothing is so much in the power of the will as the will itself.

Read the remainder at Theology Network  ♦

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