8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to the canons themselves, nothing should be imposed on the dying.
Here Martin Luther shows that he is not trying to go away from the church, but rather he is pointing out that many in the church had gone away from the rules of the church. Besides the Bible the Roman Catholic Church had the “Book of Tradition” to guide them in their life in the church. This book was a record of rules or “canons” that previous leaders, popes and saints, in the Church had left for the faithful to follow. If a priest was in doubt as to how he was to respond to situations in the church he could go to the Book to find the canons that applied to his situation.
What Luther was objecting too in this Theses was the misuse of some of these “canons” in the local churches. There were “penitential canons” rules that guided the use of penance in Confession and Absolution. We spoke before of penance and as we said these were the things that people were asked to do by the priest before they were forgiven to show their sorrow over their sins. However, it had become the practice in the church that the priest would give out the penance after absolution as a penalty for sins committed. Then they went even further and handed out these penances on people that were confessing as they were dying. Therefore the penance would have to be done after death, in purgatory in order to finally make their way into heaven. Luther pointed out that this was directly against the canons themselves.
The danger of thinking that we have to “do something” in order to be forgiven leaves us in a quandary as we face death, not knowing if we have done enough! The result of that is that we are never “sure” of our salvation.
Dear Jesus forgive me not because of what I have done, but because of what You have done. May I always rest in Your forgiving grace, Your undeserved love and mercy. Help me to trust in You alone for my salvation and not on my own merits. Because of Christ I pray, Amen.