Martin Luther and the Reformation or Protestant Movement

The next major break from the Roman Catholic Church came, primarily, with Martin Luther in the year 1517.

Dr. Luther had been a Catholic Monk, a Priest and a Professor of Theology at Wittenberg University but became outraged when he found that members of his “flock” were going to another city and paying the Church there for absolution under methods generally found acceptable to the Church known as “buying indulgences.”

As a result of this outrage for the Church allowing people to “buy” their way out of the sins, he wrote a thesis of 95 points in support against this practise. It is said (and has been disputed by some Catholic and other historians) that he nailed his “95 Theses” to the Door of the Castle Church, which was a place where opinions and issues were often posted. It is clear that he formally sent this doctrine to leaders of the Church, some of whom were receptive to some of his views, other of whom notified the Pope in Rome of his actions. These views were eventually published and distributed widely and a Priest named Tetzel threatened to have Luther burned at the stake for being a Heretic.

Originally Dr. Luther only wanted the concept of “buying” out your indulgences re-examined by the Church and in 1518 he wrote Rome and clarified his position, but an Inquisition into his actions was made by Rome to determine if he and his believers were, indeed, Heretics.

As a result of this initial action Luther wrote three additional papers that defined his emerging ideology and these works (“Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation", "The Babylonian Captivity" and "The Freedom of the Christian Man") sealed his fate with Rome, which issued a Papal Bull ordering him to recant his teachings. Luther had a violent reaction to this communiqué and promptly burned his Church books, which in turn outraged Rome and the Pope Excommunicated him on January 3, 1521.

Many of the Princes in Germany saw Luther, his teaching and converts, as a means to help weaken the influence of the Roman Church on Germany.

As we had previously noted the Pope and Catholic Church had been playing in political circles building power for centuries, wielding power almost as strong – if not more strong at times – as Kings and Emperors. In some instances the Roman Catholic Church almost ruled the "state" and its people! This is one of the reasons behind the separation of church and state in the United States, to prevent any one religion or any conclave of religious leaders to teach grade school kids about "god" as they see fit and to mandate "prayers" as they see fit in the schools, public institutions and government, least a Catholic, Hebrew, Islamic, Lutheran, Methodist or Scientologist tell everyone in the United States what god to beleive in and how they should worship, or else!

The German Emperor summoned Luther to a negotiation session in the city of Worms. This meeting is historically known as the Imperial Diet of Worms. During his trek to the city Luther was greeted by many people who were enthusiastic about his views and concepts. At Worms he appeared before the Emperor twice and was asked to recant his teachings, both times he refused citing logic from the scriptures to help support his position.

The Emperor declared Luther an outlaw and allowed anyone to kill him without recourse. Fredrich the Wise, one of the nobles of the land, conspired with Luther to fake an abduction where Luther was carted off to the city of Wartburg and kept in such seclusion that his demise had even been rumored by some people! During this “cooling off” underground period of time, the Reformation started by the teachings of Luther began to take hold in Germany.

During his exile Luther translated the Bible from Greek into German.

At this point we need to understand the basic tenants of the Church to this point. The Catholic Church teaches the bible and scriptures indirectly through the Priests and lay practitioners or elders. The followers do not, as a rule, own, keep or read the Bible. They get their teachings and godly inspirations only from the Pope, Bishops and Priest through official doctrines and at Church gatherings (the Mass). One of the key ingredients to Luther and the Reformation (the word Protestant means reformation in English) movement is that the individual person is encouraged and responsible for doing their own independent studies of the Bible to learn from the Bible directly. In order to accomplish this, the Bible must be available to the people at large and in a language they can read. Greek and Latin are fine for Catholic theologians, but even the highly educated German nobles, who may know some Greek or Latin, would be hard pressed to read a book like the Bible in the original tongue!

The Roman Catholic Church also believed that views of God, Jesus and the teachings begin with the Pope and filter down from their into the individual Priests who follow the Papal edicts and teachings. The Pope is considered to be "infallable" or in short can do no wrong in the interpretation of what the Bible means and how we should go about our lives.

Luther’s break with the Church was, intially, that only the belief that paying for absolution could be used as a replacement for confession of sins to the Priest and assignment of Penance or duties to perform. In short, instead of having to do court ordered community service for a period of time (pennace) you simply paid a fee for driving too fast (the buying of indulgences) or not stopping fully at a stop sign, as we do today with traffic tickets or littering the streets. This "easy way out" offended Luther's sensiblities and religious beliefs. Luther, at least originally, had not intended to start a radically different Chrisitian religious belief, but the edicts of Rome left him no real choice but to either go back on his beliefs and accept the offical Papal views or to write a new chapter in the history of relgion.

Had the Church not taken such a hard line view on these payments and Luther’s outrage at the process, the so-called “Reformation” would probably have been limited to the Church of England and the Eastern Orthodox movements, although there were some other people in that time frame who were quite dissatisfied with the status quo of the Christian (Catholic) Church.

When Luther came out of exile he promptly reformed the Reformation movement, which he viewed as being too liberal. Dr. Luther basically wanted a decentralized Church in which no one person was leader and each Priest we free to lead their own flocks (within reason, of course, Luther had strong views of humility and was very conservative by nature) as they saw fit, without hard and fast rules or edicts. Luther also wanted (or expected) we, the people, to behave in a rather humble and pious manner on a "relgious" basis. Such pious behaviour negated the need for confessions of sins to a Priest, since people were expected not to sin at all! He did not mean to have everyone "re-write" the Chrisitian religion to a major extent.

The Lutheran approach did away with Bishops, Archbishops, Cardinals and Popes. There are simply individual Priests who are trained according to the tenants of the Lutherans and then take over a "flock" of people in a given area by making an application to the local Church (as opposed to being assigned a Church by Roman edict). The local Priest gets no memos from the "head Lutheran" telling them what they should be doing this week, because there is no head Lutheran, although the local priest may see a book or article written by Martin Luther and others and may take what they have to say into consideration.

The basic foundation of his work, which evolved into what we now call the Lutheran Church, helped to give birth to the formal concept of the Protestant (or reformist) religious movement, which we'll cover further next time...

Editors note: The author was schooled for many years at the Golgatha Lutheran School, in Chicago, Il.

Our look at the history and origin of religion, its effect upon goverment and people continues with these offerings...

Islam, the religion | The Origin of Religion | Pesach (Passover) | 40 Days of Lent | Easter Recipes
Passover Foods | Crisis in Jerusalem | Holiday Special 2001 | Holiday Special 2002
Holiday Special 2003 | Holiday Special 2004 | Diwali or Deepavali, India's Festival of Lights
The Catholic Church | The Crusades | Orthodox Chrisitianity and the Reformation
Pope John-Paul II Biography, plus the Papal Election Process
Martin Luther and the Reformation (or Protestant) Movement


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