The Reformation was a period that started in the early 16th century during which the
Catholic Church was successfully challenged, new Protestant Churches were started.
These religious differences became the major issue in European affairs for over two
He was a German who lived in Saxony
His father was from a peasant background & had become a successful copper miner
Martin was bright and his father wanted him to become a lawyer
He decided to become an Augustinian friar
He was very conscientious & he worried about sinning; therefore his prior realised that
Luther was under-employed and needed to be kept busy and meet real sinners in the real
He was sent to Wittenberg where Frederick the Wise lived; he was given two jobs;
To be a parish priest
To be a lecturer in bible studies at the new university of Wittenberg
Frederick the Wise was one of the top German princes, being one of the 7 Electors of the
Holy Roman Empire. Both the pope and Charles of Hapsburg needed to keep on the right
side of Frederick due to the forthcoming election of a new Holy Roman Emperor.
In 1517 Luther was teaching that God would forgive your sins if you were truly sorry,
there was no need to pay the Church money to be forgiven your sins. Only a personís
conscience and God would know whether a person was truly sorry and not just saying
Luther, having studied the bible, claimed that indulgences were a fraud and that there
was no mention of purgatory in the bible and that the bible was the only authority
Christians could rely on, the Church was unreliable.
In 1517 a Dominican friar, John Tetzel, was selling indulgences in the Wittenberg area,
Luther could not ignore him so he spoke & wrote against him. Tetzel was selling
indulgences on the direct orders of the pope. Luther listed his complaints about Tetzel &
the Church in 95 Theses (that is 95 points against the Church), Luther nailed the 95
Theses to the church door at Wittenberg.
Tetzel ignored Luther and did not come to a disputation, he continued to sell indulgences;
if things had remained like that Luther would have continued to be ignored and that might
have been the end of the matter, however:
A local printer translated the 95 theses into German and they suddenly had a wide
readership and became a popular best seller. The printer realised that what Luther had
written would appeal to the German public:
1. He was complaining about the corruption & ignorance of the Church
2. He was complaining that German money was being sent south to Italy & was not being
spent in Germany
Some people began to accept Lutherís teaching that purgatory & indulgences were wrong
Local German rulers who resented the power of the Pope began to side with Luther (they
wished to be bosses in their own lands)
Other printers copied the Theses and they were then sold all over Europe
Pope Leo was slow to act because:
1. He needed the support of Frederick the Wise in the forthcoming HRE election
2. Luther had already built up support before the news reached Rome
3. Leo misidentified this as a petty quarrel between the Dominicans & Augustinians
4. Leo was more interested in Italian affairs & hunting than faraway Church matters
∑ Eventually Charles was elected HRE, (1519) so the Pope had failed and in the meantime
Luther found himself as the spokesman for a popular & powerful German movement
against the Church (this was also spreading to other parts of Europe). The Pope was
losing control in Germany and only the new emperor could retrieve the situation.
∑ The Pope sends Luther a Bull of excommunication which Luther burns
∑ The new HRE Charles V summons Luther to the Diet of Worms to explain himself Ėhe
was granted a safe conduct pass. (April 1521)
∑ At the Diet Luther refused to take back anything he had written or said; he was given 21
days before his safe conduct would end and he becomes an imperial & papal outlaw.
∑ On the way home he is kidnapped by Frederick the Wiseís men and hidden in a castle.
Everyone believes him to be dead. He disguises himself as a knight and starts to
translate the bible into German. This was very important for the development of the
∑ After nearly a year at the castle it is clear he can not stay there indefinitely and the
news reaches him that extremists have taken over in the Wittenberg church, he then
returns there to regain control. He did not want his reforms destroyed by extremism, nor
did he want to lose the support of Frederick the Wise & the other German princes
∑ Although Luther successfully regains control from the extremists at Wittenberg a major
peasantsí revolt started, many peasants mistakenly thought that Lutherís reformation was
also a revolt against their rulers & landlords. Luther condemned the rebels & encouraged
the princes to destroy the rebels.
∑ Luther then worked from Wittenberg organising the church in Saxony and giving advice
to other church reformers & princes of how to organise their own churches.
∑ Therefore each separate state had its religion chosen by its ruler: to be faithful to Rome
or to adopt a Luther-type church (ie Protestantism). These ideas spread to the rest of
Europe and Europe split on religious lines. For the next 250 years most wars & disputes
were based on religion. Princes increased their power at the expense of the Roman
The Holy Roman Empire
Normally ruled by an Austrian Hapsburg
Chosen by 7 senior German rulers
As well as Germany/Austria, parts of Italy, France, Czech Republic, Poland, Netherlands
& Belgium were included.
It was an honour to be chosen as emperor although often the emperors had little power
as each of the other rulers within the HRE wanted to keep their own power.
The HRE considered himself the Popeís protector; the Popes always resented & feared the
HRE, especially when a Hapsburg was elected. The Hapsburgs were powerful, especially
when Charles V (king of Spain and ruler of all the Hapsburg lands) was elected.
WHAT DID PROTESTANTISM STAND FOR?
Faith in God is sufficient for the forgiveness of sins, you do not need a special man (a
priest) to get you to heaven.
You can not pay for Godís favour
The priest could not recreate God/Christ in the Mass. The Mass was replaced by the
communion service which was a commemoration of Christís death & sacrifice
Any believer was as good as a priest in Godís eyes
There was no such place as purgatory (not in the Bible)
In Protestant churches the old priest was often called a minister or pastor. His duties
were to administer the Church, to preach & teach. There was an emphasis on scholarship
for the clergy, many schools were built for the ordinary people
Services and the Bible were in peopleís own languages. The Bible became the main
language & moral text-book.
Protestants did not accept the authority of the Pope: each Protestant country set up its
own Church under the direction of its own ruler.
*Protestant beliefs were based solely on the Bible, which was considered to be the Word
Protestants believed that work was not just a means of earning a living, it was a means
of bettering the whole community and of glorifying God. It was oneís duty to make oneís
community a better place & to make the most of oneís opportunities.
Protestants wanted their Churches to be plain & simple. Catholic Churches were
elaborate and heavily decorated so as to boost the special image of the priest and of an
unapproachable & magnificent God who could only be approached by the priest.
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