Martin Luther: Leader of the Protestant Reformation
American Military University
The Protestant Reformation began in Wittenberg Germany in October of 1517 with Martin Luther who was a German Augustinian Monk. Martin Luther criticized the Roman Catholic Church feeling the church had lost its way and openly accused them of corruption and false teachings by posting a document he authored called the “95 Theses”. Martin Luther was the first to stand up to the Catholic Church and singlehandedly set Protestantism in motion and paved the way for others such as Philipp Melanchthon and John Calvin who also left the Catholic Church in 1530 and also later openly criticized the Catholic church for their corruption as well. The Protestant Reformation was a movement aimed at calling attention to the Roman Catholic Church practices and doctrine at the time. Specifically there were two main ideas: The first idea being that the Bible instead of the Church and its leadership should be the only source of spiritually authority. In other words, that the word written in the bible should be followed rather than the words of the Pope or other church leadership. Second, and more importantly - that the practice of selling of indulgences or paying for sins was a corrupt practice by the Catholic Church ("The Reformation," 2009). At the time the church was allowing people to purchase salvation. Wealthy people could purchase forgiveness for both themselves or friends and family. Also, they could pay ahead and create a bank of good deeds to offset any sin they might commit in the future. This was used by the Catholic Church as a way to raise money. This sale of indulgences was in large part the reason Martin Luther was successful in his challenging the authority of the church (Ekelund, Hébert, & Tollison, 2002). Martin Luther was a highly educated man who had been in Law School prior to becoming a monk and continued his studies even afterwards earning multiple advanced degrees (McKim, 2003). By all accounts he was very devout and dedicated to his monastic life, but in 1516 the Roman Catholic Church began raising money for rebuilding St. Peter’s Basica church in Rome. To raise money they were selling these “indulgences”. This was the final straw and what sparked Martin Luther to pen his document “The Ninety-Five Theses”. His argument came down to this: Only God can grant forgiveness, not the church or the Pope, and that purchasing indulgences would not grant salvation, or save anyone from God’s wrath or punishment. Martin Luther believed that the church knew this, and his document was an open challenge for debate (McKim, 2003). In fact one of the points in the document states "Why does not the Pope, whose wealth is today greater than the riches of the richest, build just this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of poor believers?" (Luther, Jacobs, & Spaeth, 1915). But it wasn’t simply the concept of purchasing the indulgences, the issues were deeper than that. With these sales of indulgences, the Catholic Church used variable prices depending on the wealth or the ability to pay of the “sinner”. Sometimes the church would initially extract a low price for a sin, only to later raise the price of the sin. Worse was that deterrence of sinful activities was not necessarily the goal for the Catholic Church. If the parishioners were to abstain from behavior that required purchase of indulgences, the church would lose revenue, therefore raising or lowering the prices was necessary (Ekelund, Hébert, & Tollison, 2002). In October of 1517 Martin Luther approached the steps of the Catholic Church in Wittenburg Germany and posted his document for all to see. It was later translated and widely disseminated. The Roman Catholic Church saw the document and Martin Luther as a threat and attempted to...
References: Ekelund, J. R., Hébert, R. F., & Tollison, R. D. (2002). An Economic Analysis of the Protestant Reformation. Journal of Political Economy, 110(3), 646-671. doi: 10.1086/339721
H. (2009). The Reformation. Retrieved August 09, 2014, from http://www.history.com/topics/reformation
Luther, M., Jacobs, H. E., & Spaeth, A. (1915). Works of Martin Luther, with introductions and notes (Vol. 1, pp. 29-38). Philadelphia: A.J. Holman Company.
McKim, D. K. (2003). Part I & II Luther 's Life and Context. In The Cambridge companion to Martin Luther (pp. 3-207). Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
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