The Corruption of Christianity

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    In 2009 Marita Noon, executive director of the Citizens Alliance for Responsible Energy, commenting on proposed resumption of uranium mining on Navaho land in New Mexico, said that "God put uranium in New Mexico so that Americans can wean themselves from Middle Eastern oil and Russian uranium." (The Nation, 2009 Jun 29, pg 20). Only the first six words in that statement give us a theologically correct assertion; the rest convert it into an act of sacrilege. In asserting that God put uranium in New Mexico, Ms. Noon stands on solid theological ground (even though scientists would feel less inclined to believe that God did the placing of the uranium directly). But when she claims that she knows Godís intent in putting the uranium in New Mexico she makes a perfectly sacrilegious presumption. "The devising of folly is sin, and the scoffer is an abomination to men." Ė Proverbs 24:09.

    But the degradation of Christianity goes well beyond the "God is my buddy" sacrilege. We have the presumed inerrancy of the Bible as another example of sacrilege. Consider the following:

    "All winged insects that go upon all fours are an abomination to you. Yet among the winged insects that go on all fours you may eat those which have legs above their feet, with which to leap on the earth. Of them you may eat: the locust according to its kind, the bald locust according to its kind, the cricket according to its kind, and the grasshopper according to its kind. But all other winged insects which have four feet are an abomination to you." Ė Leviticus 11:20-23.

    So how many feet do insects have? Most, if not all, biologists count six, though the feet of insects are more like claws at the ends of their legs, of which they also have six. Why, then, does Leviticus talk about insects having four feet? Surely the Creator of All would remember how many feet It gave insects, wouldnít It?

    But we donít have to go as far as Leviticus to find an error in the Bible. We need go no further than the very beginning of the book. In the opening chapters of Genesis we will find at least one statement that necessarily stands false to fact.

    The first chapter of Genesis describes the creation of the world, in part, as the creation of trees and vegetation on the third day, of birds and fish on the fifth day, and of land animals on the sixth day, just before the creation of man and woman, later called Adam and Eve.

    In the second chapter of Genesis God created man and then the trees in Eden, then the animals and the birds, and finally woman.

    Itís certainly true enough that in the fantasy lands that we conceive in our imaginations anything can happen. But in the realm that we call Reality, the world that we actually inhabit with other people, events are constrained by the laws of logic. In particular, event A can occur before event B or occur after event B, but not both.

    In defiance of that logic Genesis tells us that God created trees before and after It created man, created birds and animals before and after creating man, and created woman before and after creating trees, birds, and animals. There we have three contradictions which point to at least three errors in the Bible. Yet some people ignore that fact altogether and claim that the Bible contains no errors whatsoever. They do so for a simple reason Ė to preserve the Doctrine of Original Sin Ė and that fact has led to an unfortunate consequence.

    The Bible itself has become an idol. We often refer to the Bible as the Word of God and therein lies one source of the problem. Too many people take the phrase Word of God to refer to words dictated by God to human scribes, words expressing Godís own thoughts (as in the Qurían, the holy book of Islam). In accordance with that interpretation the Bible becomes a sacred object and thus, to the theologically careless, a thing to be worshiped.

    We have a second way of interpreting the phrase Word of God: it could refer to words written about God by people who believed that they had encountered the being and had learned something worth sharing with others. The Bible then becomes nothing more than a record of those encounters and is just as subject to error as is any other book. It also becomes subject to debate, which keeps theologians employed and happy.

    But the God-talkers have done much worse. They have gone far beyond sacrilege, even beyond blasphemy, all the way to degrading Christianity itself. Like vampire capitalists taking over a business just to suck all the value out of it and leave it to die, these theological parasites have taken a life-affirming faith and left it a dry, rotten husk.

    The above examples give only a faint indication of the pathetic disgrace that Christianity has become in this country. What began as a strong interaction between a system of Hebrew prophecy and Greek philosophy, Semitic wisdom and Aryan logic, Middle-Eastern mysticism and European rationality, has degenerated into an egocentric fairyland of the mind, a clown religion. The main root of Western Civilization has gone from intellectual sumo to mental tiddly-winks. The grand waltz of Hebrew prophecy with Greek philosophy that should guide us to self-transcendence has degenerated into a self-absorbed twist that promotes self-indulgence. How did we get ourselves into such a state?

    The process began on the day of 1517 Oct 31 when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of his church in Wittenberg (see appendix). He didnít intend to start a revolution, only to stimulate the Churchís hierarchy into reforming some bad practices. But, as in any large organization wielding too much power, the leaders of the Catholic Church had grown cynical and corrupt: they certainly could not give any credence to some lunatic German monk who wanted to end the lucrative swindle that they were perpetrating upon the people of Europe. The Churchís refusal to address Lutherís concerns led to the Protestant Reformation, the second time in history that Christianity split apart (the first was in AD 1054, when the unified Christendom that emerged from the Council of Nikaea in AD 325 split into the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Funny how nobody seems to have associated that schism with the supernova that was visible that year, an exploded star whose remnant we see as the Crab Nebula.).

    No sooner had Protestantism come into being across Northern Europe than it shattered into an ever-growing number of sects, which differed one from another in the ways in which their leaders interpreted the Bible. Because those leaders were intolerant of each other, Europe was wracked by religious wars and their attendant atrocities throughout the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Filled with revulsion at the violence, the philosophes who laid out the doctrines of Rationalism in the Eighteenth Century included freedom of conscience (commonly called freedom of religion) as one of the foundations of a good society. In documents such as the United States Constitution religion was placed firmly in the free marketplace of ideas on the understanding that a coerced belief in no belief at all and that a religion that must be forced onto people is less than worthless.

    When people became free to choose for themselves which church they would attend and churches had to compete with each other for parishioners, then the degradation of Christianity began. That degradation came easily because it was based on a flaw that has existed in the faith from the beginning, a flaw built into Christianity by Paul so that his new faith could compete with the Greek mystery religions, such as the Cult of Mithra. As with Paul, so with the modern churches, easy salvation became the product to be sold from the pulpit, easy salvation based on what theologians call the Doctrine of Original Sin.

    By birth into the human race, according to that doctrine, everyone is a sinner, a participant in the sin that Adam and Eve committed when they ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If we conceive sin as an evil that we commit against ourselves, then how did Adam and Eve diminish themselves? What was the Original Sin itself? Certainly we can accuse Adam and Eve of insubordination in disobeying Godís orders, but thatís not a sin; itís a misdemeanor. In order to discern the Original Sin we must conceive the story in Genesis as an allegory.

    In that strange-colored light we see that the Original Sin gave us all weltschmerz, the sadness that we feel when we discern the difference between the world as it actually is and the world as we wish it would be. The difference between the Garden of Eden and the world into which Adam and Eve were expelled provides a prime example of the source of such existential sorrow. To the extent that we all feel weltschmerz, to that same extent we all participate in the Original Sin: we are, as the theologians claim, inherently sinful, a fact that enables all of the other sins to which we are prey.

    Thatís an intolerable situation. So how can we correct it? How can we eliminate the sin and bring ourselves into a state of grace?

    We find one answer in the first four of Martin Lutherís Ninety-Five Theses Ė a lifelong devotion to repentance. By that answer Luther meant that we must commit ourselves to endless and hard self-discipline. That effort is necessary to overcome the urge to sin and to build ourselves into what God meant for us to be.

    Paul provided a second answer in First Corinthians 15:3 when he wrote, "that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,...." He tacitly refers to the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, especially verse 5: "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed." According to Paul, then, in being tortured and crucified Jesus took upon Himself the penalties of our sins, winning for us the forgiveness of those penalties as the scapegoat for all Humanity.

    Naturally, people prefer the second answer, because it requires little effort from them. So the churches promote the Christ, Our Savior version of Christianity. It has even become fashionable to ridicule those who, like the Puritans, follow the version of Christianity based on the first answer. But the easy salvation version of Christianity doesnít solve the problem of sin; rather, it leads people into an endless repetition of a cycle of sin-and-confess. Worse, people gain the impression that God is a close friend who will grant them special favors, such as putting uranium in New Mexico specifically to benefit Americans. Faith healing (see appendix) provides another example of how the God-is-my-buddy scam has corrupted Christianity.

    The more puritanical version of Christianity isnít much better. The Puritans (and their theological heirs) sought to repress their sinful urges. With no understanding of the human unconscious mind, they could do little else, but what they did was, nonetheless, the wrong thing to do. This is why we associate Puritanism with neurosis.

    There is a third answer to the problem of sin, one that would flabbergast any Creationist, because it comes from modern science. The theory of evolution, which claims that humans evolved from apes, gives us the Doctrine of Original Sin as I described it above. In addition it gives us a good solution of the problem of sin, one that acknowledges the structure and function of the unconscious mind as they were laid out by Sigmund Freud.

    We know that the Doctrine of Original Sin must, in some sense, be correct, because it feels right. We come into this world and quickly gain the impression that something has gone very wrong with it. That impression comes from our intelligence, the thought process that comes between some stimulus and our response to it. Intelligence includes the faculty of judgement, the ability to decide whether something is good or bad (or, in Biblical terms, the knowledge of good and evil). From the operation of our intelligence we get the weltschmerz, the sense of having been expelled from Eden.

    Our chimpanzee and Australopithecus ancestors didnít have that kind of intelligence; their brains were too small. With the advent of genus Homo, expressed in the species Homo erectus, the hominids began to evolve the big brain that we possess today. It took over a million years, but the result was a creature that could think and feel as we do. Those creatures evolved, about 200,000 years ago, into a new species, Homo sapiens.

    The basic relationship between stimulus and response constitutes what we call our animal nature: itís primarily emotional and it corresponds, more or less, to what Freud identified as the id. The intelligence that our ancestors evolved to come between stimulus and response constitutes what we call our human nature: itís primarily rational and corresponds, more or less, to what Freud identified as the ego. As intelligence and its faculty of judgement grew, so too did dissatisfaction with the world, the weltschmerz. Protohumans responded to that dissatisfaction in a number of ways, including developing language, inventing tools, and learning to control fire.

    Even after modern humans invented agriculture and created civilization, the weltschmerz persisted: it just wouldnít go away. However much people improved their world with their inventions and their labors, the results were never satisfactory. Over time certain wise men (and, presumably, wise women) began to understand that the problem did not so much originate in the world around us as it came from within us. If left to themselves, our biological urges, the outward expressions of our animal nature, will bring us pain, misery, and grief.

    Given that fact, we find it easy to form a belief that God (or whatever else created the world) is punishing us for something. Because it is universal, attributed to all humans, it cannot be some crime that we have committed. Therefore, we conclude that we have sinned, that we have in some way diminished ourselves and become less than we ought to be. Basic psychology tells us what that original sin is.

    When we are born we come into this world with a psyche that is all animal nature, all id. Our human nature, the ego, is completely absent and in that fact, compared to what we have the potential to become, we are diminished: thatís the Original Sin in psychological terms. But our human nature comes into being and develops as we grow older and come under the guidance of our elders. Growing an ego that can control the id is hard: self-indulgence is so much easier than self-discipline. As a consequence we need help in growing a human nature that can and will keep our animal nature under control. Part of that help comes from the collective effort that we call religion.

    Thus Christianity, properly understood, demands of us an endless struggle to overcome our animal nature. That demand does not entail suppressing the animal nature, because that would lead to neurosis. We want to develop a human nature that can control our animal nature to the mutual benefit of both, thereby bringing ourselves into something like a state of grace. This plan corresponds to the doctrine that Martin Luther laid out in his Ninety-Five Theses.

    In contrast, the easy-salvation doctrines correspond to the indulgences that aroused Lutherís anger. Theyíre equivalent to a promise that one can develop strong muscles by taking a pill instead of through exercise. Such is the shame that has come over modern Christianity.

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Appendix: Faith Healing as an Example of Secret Blasphemy

1. To assert that God needs to be told of a personís suffering is equivalent to asserting that God is deficient in knowledge. It is blasphemy.

2. To assert that God needs to be asked to do whatís right is equivalent to asserting that God is deficient in goodness. It is blasphemy.

3. To assert that God needs assistance in healing is equivalent to asserting that God is deficient in power. It is blasphemy.

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Appendix: Martin Lutherís 95 Theses

I have included my own commentary in italicized type.

Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther
on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences
by Dr. Martin Luther (1517)

    Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter.

In the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite (pursue penitence), willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.

In accordance with the Doctrine of Original Sin (which we identify with our animal nature), we must struggle constantly to overcome that nature, to repent the sin that we committed in being born.

2. This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.

Thus Luther dismisses the Catholic practice of confession as meaningless to a true Christian.

3. Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers mortifications of the flesh.

Genuine repentance requires actual suffering of distress, either physical or emotional, by which the believer imposes the penalty of sin upon himself.

4. The penalty [of sin], therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

Luther does not mean hatred of self as a self-destructive attitude, but rather more as what we call tough love, a harsh self-discipline meant to make us suitable to enter Godís kingdom.

5. The pope does not intend to remit, and cannot remit any penalties other than those which he has imposed either by his own authority or by that of the Canons.

The pope cannot usurp the authority of God to remove the penalties of sin, but can only remove those which he has himself imposed on his own authority or the authority of Church law.

6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring that it has been remitted by God and by assenting to God's remission; though, to be sure, he may grant remission in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in such cases were despised, the guilt would remain entirely unforgiven.

The pope cannot free any sinner from his guilt, but can only declare that God has so freed the sinner. However, the pope can remit the guilt of anyone who has sinned against his own rules made in accordance with his authority.

7. God remits guilt to no one whom He does not, at the same time, humble in all things and bring into subjection to His vicar, the priest.

Only those who practice humility in all things and subordinate themselves to the priest can be freed from guilt.

8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to them, nothing should be imposed on the dying.

The rules of the Church regarding the penances imposed for various sins can only be imposed on the living.

9. Therefore the Holy Spirit in the pope is kind to us, because in his decrees he always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity.

The Holy Spirit guides the pope in making his decrees declaring the rules of the Church and the penalties for violating them and excepts from those penalties the dead and those who violate the rules out of necessity (e.g. to save a life).

10. Ignorant and wicked are the doings of those priests who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penances for purgatory.

Those who claim that someone who is dying will take the penalties for violating Church rules into purgatory with them are displaying an ignorance of true Christian doctrine and are acting with great cruelty toward the dying person and their family.

11. This changing of the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory is quite evidently one of the tares that were sown while the bishops slept.

The priests who have shifted the penalties for sin into purgatory have, in essence, planted weeds in the garden of the Church.

12. In former times the canonical penalties were imposed not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.

In order to ensure that the sinnerís contrition was genuine, the priest would impose the penalties for sin before absolving the sinner of their guilt.

13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties; they are already dead to canonical rules, and have a right to be released from them.

Death removes all unfulfilled penalties from the dying person. The penalties donít follow the person into the afterlife because the rules of the Church donít apply there.

14. The imperfect health [of soul], that is to say, the imperfect love, of the dying brings with it, of necessity, great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater is the fear.

Luther conflates the health of the soul with love, understood in the purely Christian sense of caring for others. The less a dying person genuinely cares for others, the more they will fear the afterlife and, Luther assures us, with good reason (of necessity).

15. This fear and horror is sufficient of itself alone (to say nothing of other things) to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.

The fear and horror of coming close to the complete and eternal despair of Hell elicits the genuine contrition needed to justify absolving the sinner of the guilt that they brought into Purgatory with them.

16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ as do despair, almost-despair, and the assurance of safety.

Those who go to Hell can feel only despair, for there is no return from that place of horror. Those who enter Heaven do so with the assurance that they will never be denied its blessings. And those who enter Purgatory, facing the possibility of going to Hell, must feel an intense anxiety, close to despair, which motivates them to cleanse away their last sins and make the associated virtues a habit.

17. With souls in purgatory it seems necessary that horror should grow less and love increase.

As the name implies, purgatory is where souls go to be purged of guilt and purified for their entrance into the Kingdom of God.

18. It seems unproved, either by reason or Scripture, that they are outside the state of merit, that is to say, of increasing love.

Neither reason nor the Bible give any indication that any of the souls in purgatory cannot cleanse themselves of guilt and gain the merit that will enable them to enter heaven.

19. Again, it seems unproved that they, or at least that all of them, are certain or assured of their own blessedness, though we may be quite certain of it.

There is neither rational nor Biblical proof that people in Purgatory have any assurance of entering Heaven, but we may be certain of that outcome through faith.

20. Therefore by "full remission of all penalties" the pope means not actually "of all," but only of those imposed by himself.

In the indulgences the statement indicating a "full remission of all penalties" can only apply to those penalties imposed by the pope through his authority as leader of the Church. The penalties imposed by God cannot be remitted by any earthly authority.

21. Therefore those preachers of indulgences are in error, who say that by the pope's indulgences a man is freed from every penalty, and saved;

The promoters of indulgences are very much like the stereotypical used-car salesman: the product that theyíre pushing will not work as advertised.

22. Whereas he remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which, according to the canons, they would have had to pay in this life.

This appears on first impression to conflict with Thesis 13. The pope cannot remit to souls in Purgatory any penalty they would have had to pay in this life, but those penalties are not those imposed by the pope for violations of Church rules; rather, they are penalties imposed in accordance with the will of God as expressed in the Bible and other sources.

23. If it is at all possible to grant to any one the remission of all penalties whatsoever, it is certain that this remission can be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to the very fewest.

This seems like a joke. Only people of perfect moral development can have all penalties remitted to them, but no penalties are imposed upon the perfect to begin with. And the remission can be granted to the very fewest; that is, zero.

24. It must needs be, therefore, that the greater part of the people are deceived by that indiscriminate and highsounding promise of release from penalty.

Nonetheless, most people are deceived by the false promise of the indulgence, because it sounds so good and it comes from a trusted authority, the Church.

25. The power which the pope has, in a general way, over purgatory, is just like the power which any bishop or curate has, in a special way, within his own diocese or parish.

That is, the pope has the power to acknowledge and declare what God has already done, such as in the ordination of priests. In that example God has already called a man to the priesthood and given him the spiritual tools to fulfill that role: the Church ceremony of ordination merely acknowledges that fact and makes it public.

26. The pope does well when he grants remission to souls [in purgatory], not by the power of the keys (which he does not possess), but by way of intercession.

The pope does not have the authority to remove guilt from souls in Purgatory, but has a special position that allows him to ask God to remove the guilt; he intercedes with God on behalf of the soul.

27. They preach man who say that so soon as the penny jingles into the money-box, the soul flies out [of purgatory].

"As soon as a coin in the money-box rings, the soul from Purgatory springs" was the sales call of Johannes Tetzel, the seller of indulgences who so irritated and enraged Luther.

28. It is certain that when the penny jingles into the money-box, gain and avarice can be increased, but the result of the intercession of the Church is in the power of God alone.

The sale of indulgences promotes the growth of greed, but when the Church intercedes between the believer and God thereís no incentive to be greedy.

29. Who knows whether all the souls in purgatory wish to be bought out of it, as in the legend of Sts. Severinus and Paschal.

Luther appears to refer to Saint Severinus of Noricum (ca. 410-482), a man born into an aristocratic family who gave up his privilege and wealth in order to preach the doctrines of Christianity in Noricum and Bavaria along the Danube, and to Saint Paschal (Pope Paschal I; 817 Jan 25 Ė 824 Feb 11) The legend is that he and Severinus were willing to endure the pains of purgatory for the benefit of the faithful.

30. No one is sure that his own contrition is sincere; much less that he has attained full remission.

In an almost Freudian analysis, Luther claims that people cannot know their innermost feelings. Thus, no one can know for certain that he feels the authentic contrition that God requires of the penitent.

31. Rare as is the man that is truly penitent, so rare is also the man who truly buys indulgences, i.e., such men are most rare.

The man who buys indulgences with a pure heart is as rare as is the man who is truly penitent, which means that he is the rarest of men.

32. They will be condemned eternally, together with their teachers, who believe themselves sure of their salvation because they have letters of pardon.

Those who preach the efficacy of indulgences and those who believe in that efficacy will all go to Hell.

33. Men must be on their guard against those who say that the pope's pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to Him;

Men must reject those who claim that the indulgences reconcile them with God.

34. For these "graces of pardon" concern only the penalties of sacramental satisfaction, and these are appointed by man.

The indulgences can only pardon sins involving the Church rules devised by men.

35. They preach no Christian doctrine who teach that contrition is not necessary in those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessionalia.

To say that contrition is not necessary to gain forgiveness of sin is inconsistent with true Christianity.

36. Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of pardon.

The forgiveness of sin comes from genuine repentance and not from indulgences.

37. Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part in all the blessings of Christ and the Church; and this is granted him by God, even without letters of pardon.

By the Grace of God, every true Christian can receive the blessings of Christ and the Church without any need for indulgences.

38. Nevertheless, the remission and participation [in the blessings of the Church] which are granted by the pope are in no way to be despised, for they are, as I have said, the declaration of divine remission.

When the pope grants the remission of the penalties of sin and grants participation in the spiritual blessings of the Church, he is, as his position requires, simply declaring what God has already done, so we should not despise his pronouncements on these matters.

39. It is most difficult, even for the very keenest theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the abundance of pardons and [the need of] true contrition.

Promoting the buying of indulgences and preaching the need for true contrition are incompatible with each other.

40. True contrition seeks and loves penalties, but liberal pardons only relax penalties and cause them to be hated, or at least, furnish an occasion [for hating them].

Paying the penalties of sin helps to purify the soul, but indulgences, by offering a false promise of the remission of sin, discourage true contrition and thereby encourage people to leave their souls unpurified.

41. Apostolic pardons are to be preached with caution, lest the people may falsely think them preferable to other good works of love.

There is a danger that people will come to prefer the buying of indulgences to carrying out the social work promoted by the Church.

42. Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend the buying of pardons to be compared in any way to works of mercy.

Works of mercy cultivate the humility, compassion, and kindness of the true Christian, whereas the buying of indulgences only cultivates cynicism.

43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better work than buying pardons;

Money spent on indulgences goes to build a gaudy church in Rome, but money given to the poor and the needy makes society better. God prefers the latter over the former, making it the better choice.

44. Because love grows by works of love, and man becomes better; but by pardons man does not grow better, only more free from penalty.

Love here refers to charity, properly understood to mean caring for others. By carrying out acts of charity a man makes charity a habit and thus becomes more virtuous. Such acts are the proper penalties for sin and they cause sin to be replaced by virtue. But the pardons take away the motivation for that moral growth, so that people have little incentive to improve their souls.

45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a man in need, and passes him by, and gives [his money] for pardons, purchases not the indulgences of the pope, but the indignation of God.

Anyone who spends money buying indulgences instead of using it to help the poor can expect no mercy from God.

46. Christians are to be taught that unless they have more than they need, they are bound to keep back what is necessary for their own families, and by no means to squander it on pardons.

If anyone wishes to buy an indulgence, he must do so only with money that exceeds the needs of his family. He is not to make his family suffer any deprivation in order to buy an indulgence.

47. Christians are to be taught that the buying of pardons is a matter of free will, and not of commandment.

There is no Biblical requirement that people buy indulgences. The buying of indulgences is purely optional.

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.

Specifically, they should pray that God give the pope proper guidance in granting pardons.

49. Christians are to be taught that the pope's pardons are useful, if they do not put their trust in them; but altogether harmful, if through them they lose their fear of God.

If people trust the indulgences to get them out of Purgatory effortlessly, then they will lose all incentive to accept the penalties that will cleanse their souls of sin.

50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the pardon-preachers, he would rather that St. Peter's church should go to ashes, than that it should be built up with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep.

Apparently some overzealous pardon-pushers went beyond merely fleecing the sheep. Luther asserts, as if daring anyone to disagree, that if he knew of such depredation, the pope would be so outraged that he would prefer that St. Peterís church not be built at all.

51. Christians are to be taught that it would be the pope's wish, as it is his duty, to give of his own money to very many of those from whom certain hawkers of pardons cajole money, even though the church of St. Peter might have to be sold.

Luther asserts further that the pope would use his own wealth to compensate the poor people from whom the pardon-pushers had wheedled money, even if using that wealth meant that he had to sell St. Peterís church to get the necessary cash.

52. The assurance of salvation by letters of pardon is vain, even though the commissary, nay, even though the pope himself, were to stake his soul upon it.

Even the pope cannot guarantee that God will accept the validity of the indulgences.

53. They are enemies of Christ and of the pope, who bid the Word of God be altogether silent in some Churches, in order that pardons may be preached in others.

Putting it more bluntly, we say that advertising indulgences in church at the expense of preaching the Bible constitutes an act of treason against the Church. Of course, Luther couldnít be that blunt, but he came awfully close.

54. Injury is done the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or a longer time is spent on pardons than on this Word.

Respect for the Bible is injured if most of a sermon is devoted to advertising the sale of indulgences.

55. It must be the intention of the pope that if pardons, which are a very small thing, are celebrated with one bell, with single processions and ceremonies, then the Gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.

In accordance with his calling, the pope must devote one hundred times the attention and effort to promoting the Gospel than he devotes to any earthly concern, such as the selling of indulgences.

56. The "treasures of the Church," out of which the pope grants indulgences, are not sufficiently named or known among the people of Christ.

The indulgences are backed by treasures (as money used to be backed by gold) that are not clearly defined.

57. That they are not temporal treasures is certainly evident, for many of the vendors do not pour out such treasures so easily, but only gather them.

The indulgences are not backed by material wealth, but are used to obtain such wealth from the buyers.

58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the Saints, for even without the pope, these always work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outward man.

The indulgences are not backed by the spiritual gifts that Christ and the Saints have bestowed upon the Church through their sacrifices, for the pope has no authority over them. If anyone mimics the sacrifices of Christ and the Saints, by suffering (the cross, death, and hell for the outward man) in order to benefit others, those gifts automatically bestow the blessings of grace upon that personís soul (the inner man).

59. St. Lawrence said that the treasures of the Church were the Church's poor, but he spoke according to the usage of the word in his own time.

St. Lawrence reasoned that because our treasures are the things that we love most and because Christ loved the poor, the poor must be the treasures of Christís Church.

60. Without rashness we say that the keys of the Church, given by Christ's merit, are that treasure;

This refers to the keys given to Saint Peter by Christ.

61. For it is clear that for the remission of penalties and of reserved cases, the power of the pope is of itself sufficient.

Thus the indulgences are backed by the power inherent in St. Peterís keys; specifically, the power to remit any penalties that the pope has imposed through that power.

62. The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God.

The teachings of proper Christianity.

63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last.

Those teachings require of the Christian a self-abnegating humility, which our animal nature strives to shun.

64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first.

The indulgences appeal to peopleís vanity.

65. Therefore the treasures of the Gospel are nets with which they formerly were wont to fish for men of riches.

This obliquely refers to the story in Matthew 19:16-24, in which story Jesus tells his disciples that "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

66. The treasures of the indulgences are nets with which they now fish for the riches of men.

This is a reference to Christís call to his disciples to become fishers of men.

67. The indulgences which the preachers cry as the "greatest graces" are known to be truly such, in so far as they promote gain.

Luther seems to be indulging in a little sarcasm. The sellers of indulgences would promote their wares as the "greatest graces". And Luther agreed that they were, indeed, the greatest graces if one only understood grace as something nurturing greed.

68. Yet they are in truth the very smallest graces compared with the grace of God and the piety of the Cross.

One might as well compare the twinkle of the faintest star to the glare of the Sun as to compare the grace of the indulgences with the graces of true Christianity.

69. Bishops and curates are bound to admit the commissaries of apostolic pardons, with all reverence.

Bishops and curates are required by the Church to allow the sellers of indulgences to ply their trade and to do so with the reverence due to anything coming from the pope.

70. But still more are they bound to strain all their eyes and attend with all their ears, lest these men preach their own dreams instead of the commission of the pope.

The bishops and curates are required to supervise the sellers of apostolic pardons (indulgences), lest those sellers seek to exploit the popeís authority to promote their own gain.

71. He who speaks against the truth of apostolic pardons, let him be anathema and accursed!

Because the indulgences are endorsed by the authority of the pope, no one may legitimately question their validity. To do so is the same as questioning papal authority itself.

72. But he who guards against the lust and license of the pardon-preachers, let him be blessed!

Nonetheless, we are well advised to question the motives of the pardon-pushers and to exert our efforts to keep them honest in their dealings.

73. The pope justly thunders against those who, by any art, contrive the injury of the traffic in pardons.

Because the indulgence salesmen have been sent out on the popeís authority, the pope is justified in condemning anyone who tries to interfere with the sales of indulgences, even though, as Luther has claimed, the indulgences are theologically worthless.

74. But much more does he intend to thunder against those who use the pretext of pardons to contrive the injury of holy love and truth.

The pope should condemn with even greater force those salesmen whose unscrupulous tactics bring the Church into disrepute.

75. To think the papal pardons so great that they could absolve a man even if he had committed an impossible sin and violated the Mother of God -- this is madness.

Only a madman would believe that the papal pardons, the indulgences, are so great in their power that they can absolve the guilty of any conceivable sin.

76. We say, on the contrary, that the papal pardons are not able to remove the very least of venial sins, so far as its guilt is concerned.

In fact, according to Luther, the indulgences are spiritually impotent to absolve the guilt associated with even the smallest sins.

77. It is said that even St. Peter, if he were now Pope, could not bestow greater graces; this is blasphemy against St. Peter and against the pope.

Some pardon-pushers apparently were claiming that St. Peter, the first pope, could not have offered graces greater than those of the indulgences. That claim diminishes the dignity of Peter, thereby calling into question Godís judgement in making him the Bishop of Rome. And that is blasphemy.

78. We say, on the contrary, that even the present pope, and any pope at all, has greater graces at his disposal; to wit, the Gospel, powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written in I. Corinthians xii.

In the twelfth chapter of his first letter to the Corinthian Christian church St. Paul discusses spiritual gifts, laying out an explicit description of them in verses 4 through 11: "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit who apportions to each one individually as he wills."

79. To say that the cross, emblazoned with the papal arms, which is set up [by the preachers of indulgences], is of equal worth with the Cross of Christ, is blasphemy.

Anyone who claims that the emblem of the papacy has anything near the theological value of the Crucifixion diminishes the image of God.

80. The bishops, curates and theologians who allow such talk to be spread among the people, will have an account to render.

And that rendering will not be pleasant.

81. This unbridled preaching of pardons makes it no easy matter, even for learned men, to rescue the reverence due to the pope from slander, or even from the shrewd questionings of the laity.

The preaching and offering of pardons through indulgences leads the common people to lose their reverence for the pope and to question the validity of the doctrines of the Church.

82. To wit: -- "Why does not the pope empty purgatory, for the sake of holy love and of the dire need of the souls that are there, if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a Church? The former reasons would be most just; the latter is most trivial."

Among the questions that people ask we find this: If the pope has the power to release souls from Purgatory, then why does he not release all of the souls out of pure Christian love, rather than use that powerís promise to extort money from people who do feel such holy love for those suffering souls?

83. Again: -- "Why are mortuary and anniversary masses for the dead continued, and why does he not return or permit the withdrawal of the endowments founded on their behalf, since it is wrong to pray for the redeemed?"

And this: It is wrong to pray for those who do not need our prayers, so why does the Church still celebrate mortuary masses and anniversary masses for the dead if the souls of those dead have been redeemed through indulgences? And why is the money that was given to the Church to support those masses not returned to the families of the redeemed dead?

84. Again: -- "What is this new piety of God and the pope, that for money they allow a man who is impious and their enemy to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God, and do not rather, because of that pious and beloved soul's own need, free it for pure love's sake?"

And this: How is it that God and the pope have devised a new kind of piety, in which they allow an evil man to bail the soul of a good man out of Purgatory rather than releasing the good manís soul out of pure Christian love? Why for the gain of money do they allow a bad man to show greater piety than the pope does?

85. Again: -- "Why are the penitential canons long since in actual fact and through disuse abrogated and dead, now satisfied by the granting of indulgences, as though they were still alive and in force?"

And this: Why is it that indulgences can remit penalties that were never imposed upon a person because the Church rules mandating such penalties have not been in force for a long time? This is the theological equivalent of walking up to a black American today and telling that person that they are no longer a slave. You paid someone to deliver that message?!

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?"

And this: Why doesnít the richest man in Europe, the pope, pay for the construction of St. Peterís church out of his own purse rather than wheedling money from those who can ill-afford the loss?

87. Again: -- "What is it that the pope remits, and what participation does he grant to those who, by perfect contrition, have a right to full remission and participation?"

And this: People in Purgatory working through their penalties in perfect contrition have a right to a full remission of those penalties, absolution of the guilt associated with them, and full participation in the blessings of the Church, so what does the papal pardon remit and what participation does it grant? The situation resembles that of a man newly freed from jail being given a "Get out of jail free" card. Somebody actually paid for that card?!

88. Again: -- "What greater blessing could come to the Church than if the pope were to do a hundred times a day what he now does once, and bestow on every believer these remissions and participations?"

And this: Why doesnít the pope, as an act of pure Christian charity, bestow those remissions and participations upon all sincere believers? Certainly that act would bring upon the Church a greater blessing than will the construction of a church for St. Peter.

89. "Since the pope, by his pardons, seeks the salvation of souls rather than money, why does he suspend the indulgences and pardons granted heretofore, since these have equal efficacy?"

And this: The pope has put something equivalent to an expiration date on some indulgences and pardons, presumably so that people will have to buy new ones. Given that the popeís job obliges him to seek the salvation of souls above all other concerns, such as the accumulation of money, we may well ask why does he do that? Are we justified in suspecting that the spiritual disease of avarice has infected the papacy?

90. To repress these arguments and scruples of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the Church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies, and to make Christians unhappy.

Here Luther gives an excellent argument against the Inquisition. He was right: the Inquisition is, to this day, one of the Churchís biggest disgraces.

91. If, therefore, pardons were preached according to the spirit and mind of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved; nay, they would not exist.

If the indulgences and pardons were advertised honestly, in full accordance with the proper doctrine of Christianity, which Luther assumes is the popeís desire, then people would not ask such disturbing question.

92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, "Peace, peace," and there is no peace!

Luther refers to the peace of mind that people gained from the indulgences and then to the fact that those people will not gain the peace of soul that comes from entry into Heaven.

93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, "Cross, cross," and there is no cross!

Luther is using the cross as a metaphor for all of the misery that people suffer in this world. He calls for a blessing upon those Church leaders who preach the necessity of a person enduring the misery in the spirit of Christ so that all misery will end for that person when they die.

94. Christians are to be exhorted that they be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hell;

The devout Christian must follow the example of Christ and suffer whatever trials this life brings him.

95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven rather through many tribulations, than through the assurance of peace.

There is no easy road into the Kingdom of God.

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