MARTIN LUTHER REFORMATION IN GERMANY

Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk. He was a professor of Theology at the University of Wittenberg. The Reformation began in Germany on Oct. 31, 1517, when Martin Luther posted 95 theses inviting debate over the legitimacy of the sale of indulgences. The papacy viewed this as a gesture of rebellion and proceeded to take steps against Luther as a heretic. The German humanists supported Luther's cause during the early years. Luther‘s primary concern as a monk was focussed on the assurance of salvation. The traditional church had advocated adherence to Catholic sacraments, and make confession in front of a priest as the chief means of receiving God‘s grace and forgiveness for the sins committed. In 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg and directly challenged the sale of indulgences as means of seeking god‘s forgiveness. His actions immediately attracted the attention of all forgiveness. The printing press facilitated the spread of Luther‘s work with astonishing speed. Luther‘s protest in 1517 was not aimed against the main fabric of the established church and its doctrine, rather against the elaboration of a dogma that was still controversial. It was only a criticism not defiance of certain church practices. Initially, the pope viewed the issue of Luther‘s 95 Theses as an insignificant disagreement between Augustinian and Dominican monks. When the Pope issued a bull of excommunication, Luther publicly burned it. He published a series of pamphlets in which the Pope and his whole organization was openly commended. In 1520, Luther published his theology of reform in three separate works:

 On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church of God – He made a severe attack on the Pope and its system.  An address to the Nobility of German nation – He described the abundant wealth of the Church and motivated German rulers to free themselves from foreign influence.  On the Freedom of Clinstian Man – He mentioned his doctrines of salvation. He propagated that salvation could not be attained through the ways determined by the Church. For it, firm faith in God was necessary. In 1521, the Holy Roman Emperor asked Luther to appear before the Diet at Worms to face trial. Luther refused to recant his position and thus was outlawed by the highest civil authority in Germany. He remained under a sentence of death throughout his life but was shielded and supported by the Electoral of Saxony – Frederick. While in hiding, Luther translated the New Testament. The supporters of his view came to be called the Lutherans or the Protestants. Luther escaped the fate of the previous religious rebels for a number of reasons.  Pope Leo X was busy organising a crusade against the Turks while Emperor Maximilian was preoccupied with his succession issue. The emperor died in 1519 and there was no intensive campaign to elect his successor. By the time the election was over and Charles of Spain became the Holy Roman Emperor, Luther‘s ideas had spread rapidly and the nobility in Germany started accepting his position.  Frederick‘s support to Luther was the key to Luther‘s success. Frederick arrange for Luther to stay in secret in Wartburg castle to protect him against the punitive measures of the Pope and the Emperor.  Humanist Chancellor, George Spalatin also supported Luther at the court. The imperial free cities were the chief centres of printing and humanist activities and these factors contributed to the initial spread of Luther‘s views. These urban centres were already resisting the privileged position of the Church and Luther‘s stress on the equality

of clergy and laity gave an excellent opportunity to establish the supremacy of a secular authority. Luther‘s ideas were also appealing to the middle orders in the towns – the petty burghers, small merchants, tradesmen, and artisans. Thus, the town governments began to secure their own autonomy over the church to gain economic advantages and establish control over social institutions. The church consisted of a ―priesthood of all believers‖; not a hierarchical structure. Christians were not subject to the pope‘s interpretation of the Bible. The Bible contained all that was needed for a person to lead a Christian life. According to Luther, only two sacraments—baptism and communion—were valid. Luther‘s confrontation with the Papal Church inspired the German peasants to have open rebellion in 1525. About 40,000 peasants participated in this and were joined by the town‘s people and low paid miners. Thomas Munzer, who led the movement, organised the struggle against the feudal lords and church exploitation. Their ‗Twelve Articles‘ according to which peasants demanded end of serfdom and tithes, and other practices of feudalism that oppressed the peasantry. Ironically, Luther‘s views on the peasant movement were somewhat conservative. While Luther advocated religious reform, he believed that people should obey their political authorities. He may have sympathized with some of the complaints of the peasants, but he was disgusted with the violence of the peasant movement. 100,000 peasants died during the uprising. Both Catholic and Lutheran forces took part in squashing the revolt. The Lutheran movement brought about a sharp division within the Christian church and destroyed papal supremacy. Several German princes saw in Luther a chance to secure greater freedom from the church and Emperor Charles V.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful