Halloween and Martin Luther’s 95 Theses

Today may officially be Halloween, but on this day 495 years ago, monk and scholar Martin Luther ignited the Protestant Reformation by posting on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, a piece of paper with his 95 revolutionary opinions (protests) objecting to the Roman Catholic Church.

Excesses and corruption of the Roman Catholic Church, especially the collection of payments called “indulgences” to forgive sins, formed the basis for Luther’s condemnations. A fund-raising campaign was being conducted at that time by the Catholic Church for renovation of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome as Prince Frederick III the Wise banned the sale of indulgences in Wittenberg. With many church members traveling to purchase these “indulgences”, they returned showing merely the pardons they had bought to Luther, claiming they no longer had to repent for their sins.

Luther’s frustration with this practice led him to write the 95 Theses, which were quickly snapped up, translated from Latin into German and distributed widely. A copy made its way to Rome, and efforts began to convince Luther to change his tune. He refused to keep silent, however, and in 1521 Pope Leo X formally excommunicated Luther from the Catholic Church. That same year, Luther again refused to recant his writings before the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Germany, who issued the famous Edict of Worms declaring Luther an outlaw and a heretic and giving permission for anyone to kill him without consequence. Protected by Prince Frederick, Luther began working on a German translation of the Bible, a task that took 10 years to complete. The development of the printing press in Gutenberg and the decline of the Roman Empire, helped to sustain the growth of movement.

The term “Protestant” first appeared in 1529, when Charles V revoked a provision that allowed the ruler of each German state to choose whether they would enforce the Edict of Worms. A number of princes and other supporters of Luther issued a protest, declaring that their allegiance to God trumped their allegiance to the emperor. They became known to their opponents as Protestants; gradually this name came to apply to all who believed the Church should be reformed, even those outside Germany. By the time Luther died, of natural causes, in 1546, his revolutionary beliefs had formed the basis for the Protestant Reformation, which would over the next three centuries revolutionize Western civilization.

Sources: Wikipedia, History.com.

Steve D.

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