In the beginning…
The Reformation began in Germany where
Renaissance ideals of the secular and
individual helped weaken the authority of the
church. Northern European rulers also
resented the pope’s authority. However,
because Germany was divided into many
smaller competing states, it was difficult for
the pope or emperor to impose control.
Moreover, the church had
become corrupt with its
leaders more interested in
worldly affairs than spiritual
duties. Popes spent money
patronizing the arts, on
personal luxuries and fighting
wars. Many priests and
monks could barely read and
were unable to teach their
congregations. Others broke
vows by marrying, gambling
or drinking in excess.
Martin Luther was the eldest son of
a copper miner. His father pushed
him to become a lawyer but Martin
was more interested in philosophy
and religion than the law. On a trip
back to school from home, Martin
had a life changing experience.
Traveling in a thunderstorm,
lightening struck nearby. Feeling
scared and helpless, he prayed to
St. Anne for safety and pledged to
become a monk. His deliverance
from the storm led to his withdraw
from law school and admittance to
an Augustinian monastery.
Luther witnessed the corruption of
the church first hand and was
particularly upset with the selling of
indulgences or pardons for sins.
Johanna Tetzel sold these in an effort
to raise money to rebuild St. Peter’s
Cathedral in Rome. Tetzel and his
priests gave people the impression
that by buying indulgences, they
could buy their way into heaven.
In response, Martin Luther wrote a set of formal
statements called his 95 Theses which he posted to the
door of the castle church in Wittenberg on October 31,
1517. This document was copied and reprinted all over
Germany. Luther’s actions are seen to begin the
Reformation or a movement for religious reform.
Luther’s 3 main ideas:
People win salvation only by faith in God’s gift
of forgiveness. The Church taught that faith
and “good works” were needed for salvation.
All Church teachings should be clearly based
on the words of the Bible. The pope and
church traditions were false authorities.
All people with faith were equal. Therefore,
people did not need priests to interpret the
Bible for them.
Pope Leo X issued a decree in
1520 threatening to
excommunicate Luther if he
did not take back his
statements. In response,
Luther and some of his
students gathered around a
bonfire in Wittenberg where
he threw the decree in the
flames. The pope later
1521-The Holy Roman Emperor,
Charles V (only 20 yrs old)
summoned Luther to Worms to
stand trial for his offences against
the church and was ordered to
take back his statements. Luther
refused and issued an imperial
order, the Edict of Worms which
declared Luther an outlaw and a
heretic. The edict stated that no
one in the empire was to give
Luther food or shelter and all of
his books were to be burned.
Prince Frederick the Wise of
Saxony went against the edict by
giving Luther shelter in one of his
1522- Luther returned to
Wittenberg to find that many of his
teachings had been put into
practice by the local clergy.
Sermons in German and married
“ministers” made Luther and his
followers a separate religious group
called the Lutherans.
1529- Many German princes supported
Luther and factions supporting each side
began hostilities. Princes who supported
Luther signed a protest against the Catholic
princes. These protesting princes came to
be known as Protestants. Eventually, the
term Protestant was applied to Christians
who belonged to non-Catholic churches.
Charles V goes to war against these
Protestant princes and defeated them in