An extremely rare document, this is a copy of the first printing of Martin Luther’s 95 theses as a pamphlet. 'Disputatio … pro declaratione virtutis indugentiarum', by Martin Luther (Basel, 1517).
Martin Luther's attention in his 95 theses of 1517 focused on the Church's sale of indulgences.
Selling full or partial remission of the punishment for sin was a lucrative source of income for the Pope and his administration by the 16th century.
While criticism of the practice was not unusual, the tumultuous impact of Luther's 95 theses was unexpected.
He had written and made them public to start off an academic debate. Once he translated them into German, however, the theses gained widespread popularity.
Distributed across Europe
As posters and pamphlets, the theses were printed and distributed across the Holy Roman Empire's territories in northern and central Europe.
Of the few hundred copies printed, those produced in Nuremberg and Leipzig were issued as posters, those in Basel as pamphlets.
The 95 theses are introduced with the following words:
'Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer therein at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place.
The academic disputation never took place, but Luther's theses sparked the Reformation.
A copy of the first edition of Luther's 95 theses is one of the highlights of the display 'The Reformation: What was it all about?' at the National Library from 19 October to 10 December 2017.