Almost two months (Sept. 4, 1517) before posting his famous 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg Castle Church, Luther released a lesser known but even more radical statement called the Disputation against Scholastic Theology.
By “scholastic theology” Luther was referring mainly to the late Medieval nominalism proposed by some Roman Catholic scholars, in particular William Ockham and Gabriel Biel. Nominalism’s motto was Facere quod in se est, or “do the best that lies within you.” In response to doing the best one could (congruent merit), God would grant grace, namely through the sacraments. Through cooperation with this grace, one could perform fully meritorious deeds (condign merit) that could merit/earn salvation. Clearly such teaching is not only unbiblical (i.e., not found in scripture) but even anti-biblical by its complete reworking of the relationship between grace and works (e.g., Rom 4:4-5; 11:16). Nominalism is what Luther had been trained in; and to this errant theology Luther was reacting. It should also be noted that in these statements Luther believed that he was stating “nothing that is not in agreement with the Catholic church and the teachers of the church” (final statement in his Disputations).
So, what did Luther have to say before his famous 95 Theses? He had a lot to say, and in fact, he was probably more extreme here than in his more controversial 95 Theses.