Luther's ideas and influence

An overview of luther's teachings and the start of the luther movement


Origins of the movement

1517-21- conflict/schism- establishment of the evangelical reform movement-  Bob Scribner: ‘Fast track’ reform. 31st October 1517- Luther’s ’95 Theses’ against Indulgences- written in Latin- to raise an academic debate. Luther- Professor of Wittenberg University. His interest was in the Bible- he was a part of the Humanist movement. Luther was a man driven by an inner force- he believed in signs and wonders from God. He promised St. Anne he would become a monk at 21 because her prayers protected him from a storm. Luther believed that salvation was a gift from God and could not be gained through the purchases of Indulgences.For Luther Indulgences were ‘a question of life and death.’ Put simply, his conscience could not be quiet. John Tetzel- a Dominican friar, was selling Indulgences near Wittenberg. This was a powerful Indulgence- one passed by Pope Sixtus IV- to secure the release of souls from Purgatory. The people wanted Indulgences- a kind of insurance policy for the soul. Luther’s 95 Theses were aimed at Archbishop Albert of Mainz.  In the 95 Theses Luther appealed to the Archbishop demonstrating: Respect for the authority of the office of the Archbishop. Luther’s theological objections to Indulgences.

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Archbishop Albert was disturbed by this letter from Luther. He needed money to pay the Pope for his acquisition of the Archbishopric (title and lands). He had no theological training but bought his way to become a powerful prince (noble). The sale of Tetzel’s Indulgence was the way to pay back the Pope. Archbishop Albert feared the 95 Theses, especially when it was translated into German 

The reaction to the German translation of the 95 Theses was as follows: It ‘tapped into’ long term resentment at the way that money was being siphoned off to Rome. With the advent of printing a local debate assumed national proportions- the key issues are concerned with politics and religion. At this stage Luther was still concerned with reform- he still appealed to the authority of the Pope  Archbishop Albert appealed to Pope Leo X, 1513-21. April 1518- Luther justified his actions to his religious order- he received their backing. Pope Leo X ordered Luther to Rome, but he was unmoved. The Papal representative, Cardinal Cajetan, was sent to Germany, but again Luther would not retract his views on Indulgences.

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Luther's theological issues


Luther wanted evidence from the Bible.

He was becoming more aware that truth resided in an individual’s encounter with God through personal faith


The Papacy held the keys, given to St. Peter, and they alone interpreted scripture.

The problem for Pope Leo X was that there was no basis in scripture for Indulgences. They had emerged through the tradition of the Church through history.

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events 0f 1519-20

July 1519- an academic debate took place in Leipzig (The Leipzig Deputation). The representative of the Church, Johann Eck- defended the position of the Church, but Luther had his ‘fervent beliefs.’ The issue was the individual V Church: to find truth in the Bible. ‘What had been a suggestion that the Pope was exceeding his powers was now a claim that the Pope had no special powers at all.’ June 1520- Luther received his ‘excommunication Bull’- he publicly burnt it. Luther's motivation: He was concerned with the process of salvation. He was tormented as a young man- his breakthrough was the study of the Bible (a return to the origin source). The Bible was God’s source of revelation not the teachings of the Church. Salvation was secured by what you believed and not what you did- ‘Sola Fide’- by faith alone. The Indulgence affair was the ‘trigger.’ Good works were a sign of faith rather than the cause of it. Real authority now resided in scripture- because the Pope’s claim had no basis in scripture

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Frederick the wise

In Germany there were 7 regional leaders known as Electors. They were responsible for governing their regions and electing a Holy Roman Emperor.

Elector Frederick of Saxony- was sympathetic towards Luther. He was also important to Pope Leo X- who needed finance from the Electors to fight in a crusade against the Turks and to stop Charles from being elected as the new Emperor, following the death of his grandfather, Maximilian I. Leo X, therefore, simply waited for Luther to recant.

Frederick also disliked his neighbouring rival, Archbishop Albert of Mainz- therefore he protected his subject, Martin Luther.

German nationalism- He disliked the way that church appointments and money was directed by Rome. 

Humanist ideals-He believed in the idea that Luther should get a ‘fair hearing.’ He wanted Luther tried on German soil.

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Diet of Worms 1521

Frederick and Pope Leo X wanted the new Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, to hear Luther’s case.In April 1521- Charles V was in Germany. For Luther the event was his opportunity to ‘preach the true gospel.’

Luther’s defence: The ‘human doctrines’ of the Papacy. National appeal- property/money were going to Rome. The recognition of St. Paul: ‘Not I, but Christ in me.’ A recognition of the authority of Charles V. The Church’s case: Appeals to the authority of the office of the Church- the Church interprets scripture not individuals. How could one person untie centuries of tradition? Luther takes away obedience and creates chaos

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Luther was guilty of heresy.

Charles V- offered no compromise- recant or face death.

The Edict of Worms- 

1) No citizen of the Empire was to support Luther.

2) All Luther’s works were to be burnt.

Luther was whisked away under the protection of Elector Frederick. He spent the next few years developing his theological writings in the castle of Wartburg.

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Luther's teachings

Luther’s ideas develop between the years 1517-25.

Serious academic publishing.

Attacks on the Papacy- see Bob Scribner: ‘For the Sake of Simple Folk’- propaganda images aimed at the Pope.

Between 1517-20- 300,000 copies of Luther’s works were published- they were popular in cities and towns.

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On the Babylonish captivity of the church 1520

Academic audience.

The Papacy have ‘enslaved’ the people of God- they are a human invention.

2 sacraments- Baptism and the Eucharist only.

Luther denied Penance and Ordination-’this destroys the validity and power of the Church.'

The forgiveness of sins was a ‘private matter’- destroys the sacramental role of the priest.

The denial of Ordination tied in with Luther’s belief in the Pauline notion of the ‘priesthood of all believers.’

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The Address to the German nobility- 1520

Written in German- directed to the Princes. It was their responsibility (not the Pope) to correct the abuses in the Church.

The issues were the teachings of Christ, which in Luther’s view were not the Pope’s possession, but the preserve of the local community.

Luther called for ‘spiritual equality’. He called for a reversal of the traditional relationship of the Church and State. Luther invited the lay rulers to assume control of religious affairs within their territories.

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On the Liberty of the christian man- 1520

A clarification of Luther’s theological ideas on ‘good works.’

Faith leads to good works- look at source 3 on your handout.

In parts of this tract Luther showed liberal tendencies, unlike Calvin, Luther believed that singing and dancing could be  an integral part of the service.

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Religious practices

Luther’s only concern was with ‘Justification of faith.’ He was fairly lax on paintings, images and vestments in churches. He allowed local autonomy on these matters, but wanted the religious orders closed and their incomes distributed to the poor. Some nuns lost their economic independence. Marriage was now viewed as a higher status, as opposed to a celibate calling in the Catholic Church. Luther married a former nun, Katherine Von Bora. Luther, however, had traditional views on a woman’s role in society. Luther’s main aim was to bring the New Testament to the masses. Traditionally people ‘viewed’ the Mass- the Bible was of little importance. Lay people were told what to believe. Luther believed that the role of the priest was to help the people read the Bible in their own language. 1522- under Elector Frederick’s protection, Luther translated the New Testament into ‘earthy’ German, with additional woodcuts for the masses. 1534- German translation of the Old Testament.

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Luther’s sermons- many were printed and used for instruction. 1529- Catechism- there was a need for a clear statement of central beliefs as the Lutheran movement developed. The Catechism was to be used at church and in the home. Luther cared about education and the need for correct scripture. Luther and the Eurcharisr: Traditional view- ‘Transubstantiation’ (literal presence of Christ in the Mass). The Mass had the power to provide grace for dead family members in Purgatory. Luther viewed the Mass as important- it had its basis in scripture and he had had experienced his deepest spiritual encounters with God in this sacrament. 1526- German version of the Mass was published. The introduction of communion of both kinds (bread and wine to the laity). Many Lutheran churches kept up with the old elaborate ceremonies, although it was now referred to as ‘Holy Communion’ or the ‘Lord’s Supper.’

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Luther on politics and society

Luther’s main interest- theology. In matters of politics and society Luther was an ‘instinctive conservative.’

He had a deep respect for authority in secular affairs (See Romans Ch.13).

According to Luther, secular rulers who ‘abused’ their ‘God-given’ powers were answerable to God- Christians should obey the laws and rules of secular society.

Luther believed in spiritual equality not social equality.

By the 16th century the Imperial Knights' role as the policemen of Germany had been taken over by the Princes. They desired an Empire with strong central control without any foreign influence. Luther was viewed as a potential ally.The Knights offered a safe haven to other reformers.However, despite their offers of support for Luther, he already had Elector Frederick. The Princes were also united in wishing to break the power of the Knights

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The Peasants' Revolt 1525

1525- long term opposition to the Feudal System- the increased financial demands of the Church and Landowners coincided with the spread of Luther’s ideas calling for ‘spiritual equality’. The peasants believed that these financial dues were unjustified.

The Peasants’ Revolt was organised by a supporter of Luther, a former Catholic priest called Thomas Munster. He believed that Luther was preaching a message of social equality and encouraged the peasants to revolt. They were easily defeated; Munster was killed, and 100,000 peasants were killed.  In response he wrote ‘Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants’. This was a political tract which stated that the peasants were disobedient to God’s representatives on earth; they were rebellious and needed to be punished.Luther could have lost vital support from the Princes (he needed them to administer the church). His attack on the peasants was in the same vein as his attacks on the Papacy.Post 1525- a conservative ‘slow track’ reformation emerged, applied and managed by the German Princes- a ‘top-down’ reform process

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Luther's view of social hierachy

A local ruler (prince) might be tempted to go over to the Lutheran Reformation for the following reasons: a) freedom from Papal interference. b) gain control of the church in his territories.

The ruler was viewed as the ‘Head of his church’ in his territories- for protection, church regulation, the raising of taxes and administration. 

A system of patriarchy- the Prince was the Head of the state. The father was viewed as the Head of the family. How did Luther react to the bigamy of Phillip of Hesse? The Lutheran Prince, Phillip of Hesse lied about the fact that he was still married when he married again. Luther ignored this sin; when questioned about it, he failed to intervene. Luther’s reputation was tarnished by this affair!

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