Printed in 1530 by Hans Lufft (1495–1584) in Wittenberg, this text is a “key” text for Martin Luther’s (1483–1546) theology, even in today’s understanding. Luther chose the title in reference to Christ’s statement to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19)
The Catholic Church derives its power to bind and release from this Gospel citation, which it regards as an elementary pillar in its function towards the mediation of salvation. For Luther, however, it means misunderstanding or even abuse to justify claims to power and church legislation from it.
In this context, he formulates his doctrine of grace: man is not saved and redeemed by his own works, but only by the grace of God and the forgiveness of sins associated with it. In the second part, Luther rejects the ecclesiastical ban, indulgences and Catholic sacramental teaching. In the third section, he bitingly settles his scores with papal supremacy.
The numerous transgressions and sins of the clergy are the subject of the fourth section. Finally, in the closing part, Luther explains that the biblically testified “keys” are nothing more than “a ministry, power or command given by God to Christendom to keep and forgive sins through Christ.” (fol. 66)