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Martin Luthers 95 Theses

Posted in Misc,Written Work by Micronion on the December 9th, 2007

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Martin Luther and his 95 theses generated enormous controversy during the time of the Reformation. His idea of salvation through faith was vastly different from the view of the Catholic Church which started a great deal of dispute which would eventually become the cause of many great turning points in history, including the creation of different denominations of Christianity and the decline of the Roman Catholic Church.

As a young adult, Martin Luther searched for spiritual identity and worried about what would happen after he died.He attended Erfurtwhere he studied philosophy and classical literature.During his studies he narrowly escaped death during a thunder storm as he was traveling from Erfurtto Eisleben as lightning struck a tree near where he was standing. Fearing for his life, he vowed on the spot to become a monk saying, “Help me, dear St. Anna! I will become a monk.[1]“On July 17, 1505 Martin Luther and his closest friends went with him to the Augustinian cloister where he left the world as he knew it to become a monk as he had promised[2].

During his first year at the monastery Martin Luther was taught how to behave like a monk and how to act in the presence of his superiors. He lived by strict rules and was forced to obey whatever was asked of him. Upon the completion of this year he was admitted as a monk where he planned to spend the rest of his life without property.He diligently practiced every ritual and ceremony that existed and was seen by many as a great example of a monk. However, Luther was not satisfied with his spiritual self and finally confesses:

“For so long a time I laboured and tortured myself with fasts, vigils, prayers, etc. that thereby I might attain this assurance. But, for my whole life, my heart could not be assured that God was well pleased with the work I had done, or had certainly heard my prayer… For fifteen years I was just such a pious monk; and yet never advanced so far as to be able to say, ‘Now I am sure that God is gracious to me,'” [3]

Luther was warned by fellow scholars that it was not wise to trust his own judgments and interpretations of scripture. Despite these warnings he continued to study the bible and gave lectures on various books of the bible at the WittenbergUniversityand eventually became a priest.[4] Through his studies, Luther came across a verse in the book of Romans, verse 17 which said “For it is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, the just shall live by faith.”[5] Through studying this verse he came to the conclusion that the Churches interpretation of scripture had strayed from the actual meaning of the bible – that salvation could be achieved through faith alone. Though he believed this, he still believed in the Church and had no intentions of any kind of opposition to the Church.

In 1516 Johann Tetzel, a German Dominican friar, began selling indulgences[6] for the Roman Catholic Church near where Luther was living.[7] Luther began preaching against Tetzel’s indulgences when people stopped coming to confessions and finally, in an attempt to spark intellectual debate, posted his famous 95 theses on the university church door on October 31, 1517.This date became the “birthday” of the Protestant Reformation.[8] The purpose of his theses was simply to address the Pope’s use of indulgences to raise money – an idea that went against Luther’s interpretation of scripture that said “salvation through faith alone.” Thanks to the new technology of the printing press, copies of Luther’s theses had spread across all of Europe within three months.[9] The Catholic Church obviously didn’t like Luther challenging their system of raising money, and Tetzel replied by posting his own set of thesis early the next year.

Luther continued to fight for his ideas and beliefs through many debates and in June of 1520 “[Pope] Leo X issued a bull, or papal order, criticizing Luther and excommunicating him from the church”[10] which Luther “publicly burned” to show that he would not be controlled or censored by the Church. Upon being summoned to court he was ordered by the Pope to recant 41 sentences from his works within 60 days, or he would risk being excommunicated.[11] The sentences included anything that suggested that the Church was not perfect or that people did not need to listen to the Church or Pope. Additionally, the Pope placed a ban on all of Luther’s works, ordering existing copies in print to be burned publicly. Despite this harsh ruling, the Pope did not actually excommunicate Luther himself because he had hoped that Luther would repent and recant his teachings, effectively destroying the threat to the Church posed by Luther’s ideas and followers. Luther never did recant these sentences and he endured a number of trials over many months.

In his final trial atWormsin January of 1521, Luther was asked if he admitted to publishing his books. He asked for a day to consider his reply and came back saying,

“Unless I shall be convinced by the testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear reason … I neither can nor will make any retraction, since it is neither safe nor honorable to act against conscience. Here I stand, I can do no other, God help me, Amen[12]

Luther also spent some time at this trial giving a lengthy explanation of his position. He had thought out his ideas very carefully, choosing specific wording to be sure to avoid any confusion in meaning.

The entire debate between Luther and the Catholic Church is a perfect example of corrupt authority being confronted with the truth, only to fight back with power. Upon being attacked, the Church made every attempt to silence Luther because he was teaching something that would very negatively impact the Church and possibly jeopardize their very role in society. One historian, Mark Edwards, writes, “Luther was willing to enter debate on the basis of Scripture; his opponents refused… [and] resorted to force, condemning him with an unjust ban and burning his books.”[13]Luther, in preparation for his trials, said “I am not afraid, for God’s Will will (sic) be done, and I rejoice to suffer in so noble a cause”[14] which further supports the idea that Luther was open to discussing his ideas though the Church would not listen. Many people began to see how strongly Martin Luther felt about what he believed and his ideas started to catch on, creating a turning point in history all because one person had the courage to stand up against corrupt authority.

Upon returning home in March of 1522, nearly half of Germanywas convinced that Luther’s ideas were correct. “Many called themselves ‘Lutherans’ (only later did the reformers come to be known as Protestants).”[15] Luther continued to hold true to his beliefs as he made efforts to calm down his “followers” through reason, encouraging people to read the bible for themselves. In 1530 one of Luther’s followers by the name of Philip Melanchthon, with help from Luther, tried to unify the Lutherans and the Catholic Church through a written “statement of faith” known as the Augsburg Confession which later “became the basis for the doctrine of Lutheran churches.”[16] These efforts were, unfortunately, rejected by the Catholic Church, keeping the two groups of believers divided. In modern Europe and even all over the world today there are still many denominations and divisions of Christianity as a result of this. Luther died on February 18, 1546. Less than an hour before his death two pastors had, in light of Luther’s state of health, asked him, “Reverend Father, do you die in the faith of your Lord Jesus Christ, and in the doctrine which you preached in His Name?” to which he replied very strongly with the word “Yes.”[17]

Luther, thinking outside of the box, came up with a revolutionary idea of salvation through faith and refused to step down from his beliefs under even the most threatening accusations. What had started as intellectual debate had transformed into an entire reformation which altered society and eventually led to the decline of the Roman Catholic Church. His works caused a major turning point in history and brought civilization away from tradition. Had Luther not put his beliefs into practiceEuropecould quite conceivably still be living under the rule of the Roman Catholic Church, purchasing indulgences on a daily basis to save our souls from purgatory.


[1] Jacobs, Henry Eyster. Martin Luther: The Hero of the Reformation.New York: The Knickerbocker Press, 1898. (20)

[2] Martin Luther: Hero of the Reformation (21)

[3] Martin Luther: Hero of the Reformation (28)

[4] Saari, Peggy. Renaissance & Reformation Primary Sources.Farmington Hills: The Gale Group, 2002. (120)

[5] Renaissance & Reformation Primary Sources (120)

[6] Indulgences were advertised using the slogan, “As soon as the gold in the casket rings, the rescued soul to heaven springs!”

[7] www.nndb.com & www.britannica.com

[8] Martin Luther: Hero of the Reformation (59)

[9] www.pbs.org

[10] Renaissance & Reformation Primary Sources (126)

[11] Atkinson, James. The Trail of Luther.New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1971. (89)

[12] www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/encyc07/Page_72.html

[13] Edwards, Mark U. Printing, Propaganda, and Martin Luther.Los Angeles:University ofCalifornia Press, 1994. (97)

[14] www.pbs.org/empires/martinluther/

[15] Renaissance & Reformation Primary Sources (128)

[16] Renaissance & Reformation Primary Sources (128)

[17] Martin Luther: Hero of the Reformation (406)

References

Jacobs, Henry Eyster. Martin Luther: The Hero of the Reformation.New York: The Knickerbocker Press, 1898.

Atkinson, James. The Trail of Luther.New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1971.

Edwards, Mark U. Printing, Propaganda, and Martin Luther.Los Angeles:University ofCalifornia Press, 1994.

Perry, Marvin. Western Civilization, A Brief History.New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.

Saari, Peggy. Renaissance & Reformation Primary Sources.Farmington Hills: The Gale Group, 2002.

About Martin Luther. Published by PBS. 17 September 2007.<http://www.pbs.org/empires/martinluther>

Johann Tetzel. Published by the NNDB. 3 October 2007. <http://www.nndb.com/people/102/000098805>

Johann Tetzel. Published by Encyclopedia Britannica. 3 October 2007. <http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9071865/Johann-Tetzel>

Luther, The Reformer. 3 October 2007. <http://www.susanlynnpeterson.com/luther/reform.html>

New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Published by Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 22 October 2007. < http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/encyc07/Page_72.html>

95 Thesis. Webpage cites: Works of Martin Luther:

Adolph Spaeth, L.D. Reed, Henry Eyster Jacobs, et Al., Trans. & Eds.

(Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1915), Vol.1, pp. 29-38. 17 September 2007. <http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/luther/web/ninetyfive.html>

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