22 pages 44 minutes read

Martin Luther

Ninety-Five Theses

Nonfiction | Essay / Speech | Adult | Published in 1517

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Literary Devices


Antithesis, also known as parenthetical antithesis, is a rhetorical technique. A writer or speaker uses a sentence or brief passage with two contradictory or contrasting ideas to make an impression. Antithesis is common in popular sayings. “Go big or go home” and “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times” are examples of antithesis. Luther quotes John Tetzel: “When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs” (Line 27).

Luther writes, “The differences between hell, purgatory, and heaven are akin to the differences between despair, fear, and the assurance of salvation” (Line 16). The use of antithesis in this passage are Luther’s comparison between the three places in the afterlife and emotional states. A more elaborate example appears in Line 55: “It is certainly the pope’s sentiment that if indulgences, which are a very insignificant thing, are celebrated with one bell, one procession, and one ceremony, then the gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.” The contrast between “one” and a “hundred” and “very insignificant” and “very greatest” draws attention to Luther’s point about indulgences being a minor and unnecessary part of the church’s doctrine.