Halloween 1517

Written by Drew on October 31st, 2005

Four hundred, eighty-eight years ago today, Martin Luther began what is known today as the Protestant Reformation by nailing the 95 Theses to the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany.

Luther was a conscientious monk with a keen intellect and a steely resolve. He is known as one of the fathers of the Reformation Movement, an effort to break free from the traditions of Roman Catholism begun in the early sixteenth century.

Really, the first fires of reformation sparked for Luther in a lonely library during his days as a law student at the University of Erfurt in Germany. One day, while hard at work, he found to his surprise and great delight a copy of the Bible in Latin. He consumed it, having never seen one before. The first passage he read was the story of Hannah and Samuel. When he returned to his room that evening, he wished to himself, “Oh that God would give me such a book for myself!” From that point forward, new truth began to dawn upon his mind. He would later say of his chance discovery, “In that Bible the Reformation lay hid.”

Much later in life, Luther held a position as professor of theology at the University in Wittenburg, Germany. While there, it came to his attention that John Tetzel, a Dominican priest, was selling indulgences to raise funds for Pope Leo X’s construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. “Indulgences” were pieces of paper sealed by the pope himself, which, when bought, were guranteed to grant forgiveness of all sins to the purchaser, present, past, or future. They could also be bought for others, dead or alive.

Tetzel was a persuasive salesman and experienced great success in raising money for the pope. He would say, “Come and I will give you letters, all properly sealed, by which even the sins you inted to commit may be pardoned…There is no sin so great that an indulgence can not remit…But more than this, indulgences avail not only for the living, but for the dead…At the very instant that the money rattles in the bottom of the chest, the soul escapes from purgatory, and flies liberated to heaven” (J.W. Shepherd, The Church, The Falling Away, and the Restoration, 69-121).

Luther was incensed by this complete disregard for God’s redemptive plan and the ensuing callousness toward sin. He denounced in no uncertain terms the work of Tetzel and the sale of indulgences. To make his opposition public, the monk wrote the 95 Theses, a document challenging the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church on the nature of penance, the authority of the pope, and the usefulness of indulgences. He nailed the famous document to the door of the Castle Church on October 31, 1517, the eve of All Saint’s Day. In those days, church doors functioned much in the same way as bulletin boards on college campuses today. Luther’s action attracted much attention. Three out of every five citizens in Germany sympathized with his grievances. His actions started a push away from the traditions of men and back to the Bible.

It is true that Luther was mistaken on many points, but it must be conceded that he lived in a different age than we do today. The Bible was not available to the common man. The Catholic Church had a monopoly on Christianity. Luther’s opposition to the Church was not only frowned upon, it was illegal. At times his life was in danger. We ought to be thankful for his courage and remember his acts. Without them, who knows where the Lord’s church would be today.


2 Comments so far ↓

  1. answer-man says:

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