The Issue of the Sale of Indulgences
An indulgence is a remission of sin by the Pope
The indulgence will get you out of Purgatory sooner than you would otherwise have been released.
Purgatory is part of Catholic theology developed during the Middle Ages. It is an intermediate stage between Hell and Heaven. Mortal sins will get you into Hell and there is no escape from Hell. As Dante wrote in the Divine Comedy "ye who enter here, give up all hope." Purgatory is for lesser sins and you will ultimately get out to make your way into Heaven.
The Pope and the Catholic Church have the power to grant indulgences based on the theory of excess merit built up by Jesus and the Saints.
During Luther's day, indulgences were sold as
a money making device. No contrition was required. Catholic Council
of Trent condemned sale of indulgences but upheld theological basis for
The Issue of Authority
After criticizing the Church on the issue of indulgences, Luther faced the question as to the basis of his authority. What right did he, Luther, have to challenge the Catholic Church? His answer, which all Protestants have adopted, was that the Bible, and particularly the New Testament, were the sole source of authority for Christians. Unless the New Testament established the practice explicitly, it was not valid.
Luther and the Protestants rejected most Church traditions and the authority of the Popes. Only the Bible provides authoritative guidance for Protestant Christians.
Many practices of Medieval Christianity were
rejected by the Protestants.
What was rejected by the Protestants?
The Bible does not mention Purgatory, only Heaven and Hell. Hence Purgatory is rejected. Without the doctrine of Purgatory, there are no indulgences.
Papal authority was rejected. While the Doctrine of Petrine Succession has a Biblical basis (upon this rock [Peter], I will build my Church), it is not explicit enough to satisfy Protestants.
The Bible mentions only two sacraments--Baptism and Eucharist--not seven as developed by the Medieval Church.
The theological position of the Virgin Mary--the mother of Jesus--is profoundly different in Protestantism as compared to Catholicism.
Veneration of saints, holy relics, and pilgrimages were rejected.
The monastic life was rejected. Monasteries were closed and their land confiscated.
The distinctions between the regular clergy (monks and nuns) and the secular clergy (priests and bishops) was rejected.
The distinction between clergy and laity was
rejected or at least blurred. A Protestant minister does not have the same
theological function as a Catholic priest.
The issue of Free Will and Determinism (Predestination)
By the time of Luther, the theology of Thomas Aquinas had become dominant within the Catholic Church. This does not mean that the theology of Augustine had been rejected. Luther was an Augustinian monk, it should be remembered. But Augustinianism had been modified, one might say leavened, through Thomistic theology.
Thomas Aquinas was a scholastic medieval philosopher and theologian, who was influenced heavily by Aristotle. His most powerful argument was that faith and reason do not contradict each other. Revelation and human rationality were both given to mankind by God and God is not contradictory. Right reason and faith are complementary ways in which God communicates with us.
Aquinas would agree with Aristotle that human rationality or reason is the most important human attribute, which lifts us above the animals and links us to the Divine. It is this reason, which allows us to choose between right and wrong, good and evil. Without understanding, we could not make moral choices. And without choice, you can not be held responsible for what you do.
A degree of free will is essential for any doctrine holding human beings morally responsible for their behavior. A lion who kills a gazelle, or a man, is not morally responsible for the death he has caused. But a man, even a soldier in an army fighting an enemy, is morally responsible for what he does.
Without free will, if all of our behavior is determined whether by the physical laws of nature or God's predetermination, there can be no moral responsibility or guilt or sin.