Martin Luther and the Founding of the Lutherans

Martin Luther was the son of a copper miner who went on to become a wealthy mine owner. Hans Luther insisted that his son become and educated man, so Martin Luther studied law and theology before receiving the call to leave the secular world and to become a Hermitic Monk. Later, he was transferred to Wittenberg, where he became a professor of philosophy. In 1512, his dissatisfaction with the catholic church became so overwhelming that he wrote a comprehensive plan for the reform of the church, the Ninety-Five Theses, and nailed them to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenburg.

The ninety five thesis, or statements, all dealt with the granting of indulgences. The indulgences relieved the sinner from a need to go through Purgatory before ascending to Heaven…for a price. One particular case of indulgence selling involved an agent of the church and a Dominican Friar named Johann Tetzl, who was selling the indulgences in order to finance the building of a new church.

In the earlier sense, indulgences tapped into a perceived “surplus of grace” that accumulated during the many lives of Jesus Christ, the saints, and the martyrs. The purchase of an indulgence freed the buyer from the penance for the sin, but not the sin, itself, by giving access to the entity: grace. Johann Tetzl was taking it too far by first, promising that the sin, itself, as well as the penance were cleared up for the low low price of a few coins. Secondly, Tetzl actually allowed people to buy indulgences for relatives, so that the relative could receive the benefits without even being present.

Luther went further in attacking the Church for bringing up the idea of indulgences, and in backing their extensive use in the first place. Luther believed that faith alone, with no need for good works, was sufficient for salvation. The Church had been far too involved in monetary, corrupt, and secular activities for far too long.

As the 95 thesis were translated into German, were printed and distributed throughout the land, more and more Germans began to understand that it was time to demand reform, and sweeping reform at that.

Luther was the first in a centuries long line of reformers to energize and to be followed by a major part of the German and Scandinavian population, and his actions quickly resulted in a major exodus from the Catholic Church that followed Luther, resulting in the Lutheran movement that spread through Germany and Scandinavia. His movement gained the critical support of several German Princes who were also dissatisfied with the secular activities of the Catholic Church and it’s center in Rome.

John Calvin, a contemporary who used the momentum created by Martin Luther to start his very different Calvinist movement that spread through the other parts of Europe. So, Calvinism commenced during the times of Lutheranism, but only because of the success of Martin Luther.



European History Suite