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_Letter to the Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz_

by Dr. Martin Luther,

October 31, 1517

Published in:

_Works of Martin Luther_

Adolph Spaeth, L.D. Reed, Henry Eyster Jacobs, et Al., Trans. & Eds.

(Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1915),

Volume 1, pp. 25-28



OCTOBER 31, 1517

To the Most Reverend Father in Christ and Most Illustrious

Lord, Albrecht of Magdeburg and Mainz, Archbishop and Primate

of the Church, Margrave of Brandenburg, etc., his own lord and

pastor in Christ, worthy of reverence and fear, and most



The grace of God be with you in all its fulness and power!

Spare me, Most Reverend Father in Christ and Most Illustrious

Prince, that I, the dregs of humanity, have so much boldness

that I have dared to think of a letter to the height of your

Sublimity. The Lord Jesus is my witness that, conscious of my

smallness and baseness, I have long deferred what I am now

shameless enough to do, -- moved thereto most of all by the

duty of fidelity which I acknowledge that I owe to your most

Reverend Fatherhood in Christ. Meanwhile, therefore, may your

Highness deign to cast an eye upon one speck of dust, and for

the sake of your pontifical clemency to heed my prayer.

Papal indulgences for the building of St. Peter's are

circulating under your most distinguished name, and as regards

them, I do not bring accusation against the outcries of the

preachers, which I have not heard, so much as I grieve over

the wholly false impressions which the people have conceived

from them; to wit, -- the unhappy souls believe that if they

have purchased letters of indulgence they are sure of their

salvation; again, that so soon as they cast their

contributions into the money-box, souls fly out of purgatory;

furthermore, that these graces [i.e., the graces conferred in

the indulgences] are so great that there is no sin too great

to be absolved, even, as they say -- though the thing is

impossible -- if one had violated the Mother of God; again,

that a man is free, through these indulgences, from all

penalty and guilt.

O God, most good! Thus souls committed to your care, good

Father, are taught to their death, and the strict account,

which you must render for all such, grows and increases. For

this reason I have no longer been able to keep quiet about

this matter, for it is by no gift of a bishop that man becomes

sure of salvation, since he gains this certainty not even by

the "inpoured grace" of God, but the Apostle bids us always

"work out our own salvation in fear and trembling," and Peter

says, "the righteous scarcely shall be saved." Finally, so

narrow is the way that leads to life, that the Lord, through

the prophets Amos and Zechariah, calls those who shall be

saved "brands plucked from the burning," and everywhere

declares the difficulty of salvation.

Why, then, do the preachers of pardons, by these false fables

and promises, make the people careless and fearless? Whereas

indulgences confer on us no good gift, either for salvation or

for sanctity, but only take away the external penalty, which

it was formerly the custom to impose according to the canons.

Finally, works of piety and love are infinitely better than

indulgences, and yet these are not preached with such ceremony

or such zeal; nay, for the sake of preaching the indulgences

they are kept quiet, though it is the first and the sole duty

of all bishops that the people should learn the Gospel and the

love of Christ, for Christ never taught that indulgences

should be preached. How great then is the horror, how great

the peril of a bishop, if he permits the Gospel to be kept

quiet, and nothing but the noise of indulgences to be spread

among his people! Will not Christ say to them, "straining at a

gnat and swallowing a camel"?

In addition to this, Most Reverend Father in the Lord, it is

said in the Instruction to the Commissaries which is issued

under your name, Most Reverend Father (doubtless without your

knowledge and consent), that one of the chief graces of

indulgence is that inestimable gift of God by which man is

reconciled to God, and all the penalties of purgatory are

destroyed. Again, it is said that contrition is not necessary

in those who purchase souls [out of purgatory] or buy


But what can I do, good Primate and Most Illustrious Prince,

except pray your Most Reverend Fatherhood by the Lord Jesus

Christ that you would deign to look [on this matter] with the

eye of fatherly care, and do away entirely with that treatise

and impose upon the preachers of pardons another form of

preaching; lest, perchance, one may some time arise, who will

publish writings in which he will confute both them and that

treatise, to the shame of your Most Illustrious Sublimity. I

shrink very much from thinking that this will be done, and yet

I fear that it will come to pass, unless there is some speedy


These faithful offices of my insignificance I beg that your

Most Illustrious Grace may deign to accept in the spirit of a

Prince and a Bishop, i.e., with the greatest clemency, as I

offer them out of a faithful heart, altogether devoted to you,

Most Reverend Father, since I too am a part of your flock.

May the Lord Jesus have your Most Reverend Fatherhood

eternally in His keeping. Amen.

From Wittenberg on the Vigil of All Saints, MDXVII.

If it please the Most Reverend Father he may see these my

Disputations, and learn how doubtful a thing is the opinion of

indulgences which those men spread as though it were most


To the Most Reverend Father,