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The Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther
February 23, 2022
I apologize once again for the long delay in newsletters from Christian-history.org. I want to cover the Protestant Reformation for you, but even to cover it briefly will require three newsletters. I will cover Martin Luther today.
The Protestant Reformation is most known for the "five solas":
1. Solus Christus (Christ alone) 2. Sola scriptura (Scripture alone) 3. Sola fide (Faith alone) 4. Sola gratia (Grace alone) 5. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone)
At their heart, these "five solas" rejected the Roman Catholic Church's authority, attributed authority instead to Christ and the Scriptures, and argued that salvation is based on faith and grace and given by God rather than the Catholic Church.
Other features of the Reformation will be revealed in the brief biographies of the primary Reformers below. You can read longer biographies of Martin Luther and John Calvin by searching their names at https://www.christian-history.org. There you can also find longer articles on John Tetzel, indulgences, the 95 Theses, and the Diet (assembly, not meal) of Worms.
MARTIN LUTHER (1483-1546)
Luther was an Augustinian monk, already learning the doctrine of salvation by faith from his mentor, Johann von Stauptiz, when he became aware of Johann Tetzel hawking indulgences in Germany. An indulgence, per the Catholic Answers web site, is a release from "temporal punishment" (rather than "eternal" punishment) which the Roman Catholic Church believes it has authority to grant when a sin has already been confessed and forgiven. Tetzel was raising money for St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, and he was promising that relatives could be instantly released from purgatory in return for donations.
Luther was horrified that German peasants were being bilked out of what little money they had. In the famous "95 Theses," he argued that release from the penalties of sin came from repentance and prayer, not donations (https://www.christian-history.org/explain-95-theses.html). These theses, or arguments, were published all over Germany and began Luther's conflict with the Roman Church.
The conflict came to a head at the Diet of Worms in 1521. A "diet" (dee'- et) is a formal, deliberative assembly (Wikipedia), and Worms is a city in Germany, where Catholic theologian Johann von Eck got Martin Luther to publicly deny the authority of church councils. This led to his excommunication by the pope, but Luther was supported by German lords. It is often supposed that the real cause for supporting Luther was relief of taxes to Rome, but whatever the reason, Luther's excommunication did not silence him, but led to the formation of the Lutheran Church.
You can read more (much more) on Martin Luther, the Diet of Worms, and the Protestant Reformation by searching each term at https://www.christian-history.org.
The next two newsletters will cover John Calvin, then Ulrich Zwingli and the Anabaptists.
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