Luther Overview

Archbishop Albert of Mainz borrowed money from the Fuggers of Augsburg; the security was to preach an indulgence, part proceeds to the bank, the rest for the building of St. Peter's. The Dominican, Tetzel, preaching the Indulgence, famously said: "When a coin hits the bottom of the chest a soul flies to heaven". On 31st October, 1517, Martin Luther (1483-1546), a Professor of Scripture at Wittenberg University, posted 95 theses on the door of the castle church of Wittenberg. These were largely conservative and while they might hint at German anti Italian sentiment they contained no new doctrine. Between 1513-18 he had moved from Augustine to Paul and in Romans 3.21-26: "The Just man lives by faith" he had found a theology of grace that rescued him from depression; thus, he found the indulgence's externalising of grace repugnant. Proceeds of the indulgence fell short; Albert was disturbed; the Dominicans said Luther had questioned the authority of the Pope and was a heretic; the theology of indulgences was swiftly left behind.

Luther was reluctant to act but his support grew headed by his Prince, the Elector Frederick of Saxony, arrival of Albert but the Pope was reluctant to move in the run-up to an Imperial election. The Dominican Papal Legate, Cajetan, came to the Diet of Augsburg in 1518 to question Luther but he would not retract. In 1519 Luther's studies led him to believe that a General Council, not the Pope, was supreme in the church but Eck (1486-1543), manoeuvred Luther into identifying with the Hussites, denying the Council in favour of the Bible. Cornered as a 'heretic' Luther, citing 1 Peter 2.9, called on the Princes. In 1520 Pope Leo X issued a Bull of excommunication and Luther publicly burned it. Newly elected Emperor Charles V A German with a power base in Spain, political enemy of the Pope but a devout reformer, summoned Luther to a Diet at Worms in 1521. He refused to retract, was outlawed and, after a fake kidnapping was given refuge by Frederick. Meanwhile, in Wittenberg acceptance of communion in both kinds, a simplified liturgy and clerical marriage descended into riot which only Luther could quell but a heady amalgam of religious and social discontent sparked revolts in 1524-5. Luther passionately sided with the princes; Germany was split. Instead of reforming the Church, Luther had become head of a party. In 1529 the pro reform Princes met at Speyer to protest against the Emperor (the origin of the word Protestant) and religious reform became entangled with anti imperialism. Meanwhile, the Emperor was fighting France and its Papal ally, Clement VII and in 1527 his unpaid, undisciplined army sacked Rome. The 'Catholic' French, who had, on occasion, unscrupulously allied with the 'Infidel' Turks, favoured a divided Germany and guaranteed the Reformation, while the Turks pressed on, tying the hands of German Catholic Princes; imperial policy on Protestantism altered in line with the Turkish threat.

The depressing summary is that the spark for the Reformation was Papal near bankruptcy, its underpinning was greed (W.H. Allen famously wrote that : "Church lands made stout Protestants") and its growth relied upon secular political intrigue.

Partly taken from:

KC x/06

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