Disputation on the Power of Indulgences (Luther’s 95 Theses)

When: OCTOBER 31, 1517

Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. As such he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter.

In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” ( Matthew 4:17 ), he intended the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

2. This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance. In other words, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.

3. Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh.

4. Sin will continue to remain until we enter Heaven.

5. The pope must act in accordance to canon law.

6. The pope cannot forgive sin, except by declaring and showing that it has been forgiven by God; or, to be sure, by remitting guilt in cases reserved to his judgment. God ultimately forgives sin.

7. God forgives no person’s sin unless at the same time he humbles him/herself in all things before the priest.

8. Canon law only applies to the living and not the dead.

9. Therefore the Holy Spirit is the only one than can make exceptions to this when required.

10. Those priests act ignorantly and wickedly who threaten the dying with the penalty of purgatory.

11. Those tares of changing the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory were evidently sown while the bishops slept ( Matthew 13:25 ).

12. In former times, church penalties were imposed before release from guilt to show true repentance. .

13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties, are already dead as far as the canon laws are concerned, and have a right to be released from them. (When you die all your debts to the church are wiped out and those debts are free from being judged.)

14. When someone is dying they might have bad/incorrect thoughts against the church and they will be scared. This fear is enough penalty.

15. This fear or horror is sufficient in itself, to say nothing of other things, to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.

16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ the same as despair, fear, and assurance of salvation.

17. It seems as though for the souls in purgatory fear should necessarily decrease and love increase.

18. Furthermore, it does not seem proved, either by reason or by Scripture, that souls in purgatory are outside the state of merit, that is, unable to grow in love.

19. Nor does it seem proved that souls in purgatory, at least not all of them, are certain and assured of their own salvation, even if we ourselves may be entirely certain of it.

20. Therefore the pope, when he uses the words “plenary remission of all penalties,” does not actually meanall penalties,” but only those imposed by himself.

21. Thus those indulgence preachers are in error who say that a man is absolved from every penalty and saved by papal indulgences.

22. As a matter of fact, a dead soul cannot be saved by an indulgence.

23. If remission of all penalties could be granted to anyone at all, certainly it would be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to very few.

24. For this reason most people are necessarily deceived by that indiscriminate and high-sounding promise of release from penalty (indulgence).

25. That power which the pope has over purgatory is no different to the power which any bishop/curate/priest has.

26. The pope does very well when he grants remission to souls in purgatory, not by the power of the keys – which he does not have – but by intercession for them.

27. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.

28. It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone. (only God can save souls)

29. Who knows whether all souls in purgatory wish to be redeemed – since we have exceptions in St. Severinus and St. Paschal, as has been told in a legend.

30. No one is sure of the integrity of his own contrition, much less of having received plenary remission (complete forgiveness).

31. The man who actually buys indulgences is as rare as he who is really penitent; indeed, he is exceedingly rare.

32. Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.

33. Do not believe those who say that a papal indulgence is a wonderful gift which allows salvation.

34. Indulgences only offer Man something which has been agreed to by Man.

35. We should not teach that those who aim to buy salvation do not need to be contrite.

36. Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters.

37. Any true Christian, whether living or dead, participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted him by God, even without indulgence letters.

38. Nevertheless, papal remission and blessing are by no means to be disregarded, for they are, as I have said (Thesis 6), the proclamation of the divine remission. (Do not despise the pope’s forgiveness but his forgiveness is not the most important.)

39. The most educated theologians cannot preach about indulgences and real repentance at the same time.

40. A Christian who is truly contrite seeks and loves to pay penalties for his sins; the bounty of indulgences, however, relaxes penalties and causes men to hate them — at least it furnishes occasion for hating them.

41. Papal indulgences must be preached with caution, lest people erroneously think that they are preferable to other good works of love.

42. Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend that the buying of indulgences should in any way be compared with works of mercy.

43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences.

44. Because love grows by works of love, man thereby becomes better. Man does not, however, become better by means of indulgences but is merely freed from penalties.

45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a needy man and passes him by, yet gives his money for indulgences, does not buy papal indulgences but God’s wrath.

46. Christians are to be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they must reserve enough for their family needs and by no means squander it on indulgences.

47. Christians are to be taught that they buying of indulgences is a matter of free choice, not commanded.

48. Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting indulgences, needs and thus desires their devout prayer more than their money.

49. Christians are to be taught that papal indulgences are useful only if they do not put their trust in them, but very harmful if they lose their fear of God because of them.

50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the methods of the indulgence preachers, he would rather that the basilica of St. Peter be burned to ashes than built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.

51. Christians are to be taught that the pope would and should wish to give of his own money, even though he had to sell the basilica of St. Peter, to many of those from whom certain hawkers of indulgences have obtained money.

52. It is vain to trust in salvation by indulgence letters, even though the indulgence commissary, or even the pope, were to offer his soul as security.

53. They are the enemies of Christ and the pope who forbid altogether the preaching of the Word of God in some churches in order that indulgences may be preached in others.

54. Injury is done to the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or larger amount of time is devoted to indulgences than to the Word.

55. It is certainly the pope’s sentiment that if indulgences, which are a very insignificant thing, are celebrated with one bell, one procession, and one ceremony, then the gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies. (aka, the Gospel is more important than indulgence)

56. The true treasures of the church, out of which the pope distributes indulgences, are not sufficiently discussed or known among the people of Christ.

57. That indulgences are not temporal treasures is certainly clear, for many indulgence sellers do not distribute them freely but only gather them.

58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the saints, for, even without the pope, the latter always work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outer man.

59. St. Lawrence said that the poor of the church were the treasures of the church, but he spoke according to the usage of the word in his own time.

60. Salvation can be sought for through the church as it has been granted this by Christ.

61. It is clear that the power of the church is adequate, by itself, for the forgiveness of sins.

62. The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.

63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last ( Matthew 20:16 ). (Indulgences make the most evil seem unjustly good.)

64. Therefore evil seems good without penance or forgiveness.

65. Therefore the treasures of the gospel are nets with which one formerly fished for men of wealth.

66. The treasures of indulgences are nets with which one now fishes for the wealth of men.

67. It is wrong that merchants praise indulgences.

68. They are nevertheless in truth the most insignificant graces when compared with the grace of God and the piety of the cross.

69. Bishops and curates are bound to admit the commissaries of papal indulgences with all reverence.

70. But bishops are under a much greater obligation to prevent men preaching their own dreams.

71. Let him who speaks against the truth concerning papal indulgences be anathema and accursed. (People who deny the pardons of the Apostles will be cursed.)

72. But let him who guards against the lust and license of the indulgence preachers be blessed.

73. The pope is angered at those who claim that pardons are meaningless.

74. Much more does he intend to thunder against those who use indulgences as a pretext to contrive harm to holy love and truth.

75. To consider papal indulgences so great that they could absolve a man even if he had done the impossible and had violated the mother of God is madness.

76. We say on the contrary that papal indulgences cannot remove the very least of venial sins as far as guilt is concerned. A papal pardon cannot remove guilt.

77. To say that even St. Peter if he were now pope, could not grant greater graces is blasphemy against St. Peter and the pope. Not even St. Peter could remove guilt.

78. We say on the contrary that even the present pope, or any pope, has greater graces at his disposal. Including: the gospel,spiritual powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written, 1 Corinthians 12:28 ).

79. To say that the cross emblazoned with the papal coat of arms, and set up by the indulgence preachers is equal in worth to the cross of Christ is blasphemy.

80. The bishops, curates, and theologians who permit such talk to be spread among the people will have to answer for this.

81. This unbridled preaching of indulgences makes it difficult even for educated men to rescue the reverence which is due the pope from slander or from the shrewd questions of the laity.

82. Such as: “Why does not the pope empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a church? The former reason would be most just; the latter is most trivial.

83. Again, “Why are funeral and anniversary masses for the dead continued and why does he not return or permit the withdrawal of the endowments founded for them, since it is wrong to pray for the redeemed?”

84. Again, “What is this new piety of God and the pope that for a consideration of money they permit a man who is impious and their enemy to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God and do not rather, because of the need of that pious and beloved soul, free it for pure love’s sake?”

85. Again, “Why are the penitential canons, long since abrogated and dead in actual fact and through disuse, now satisfied by the granting of indulgences as though they were still alive and in force?”

86. Again, “Why does not the pope, whose wealth is today greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build this one basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?”

87. Again, “What does the pope remit or grant to those who by perfect contrition already have a right to full remission and blessings?” (Why does the pope forgive those who serve against him?)

88. Again, “What greater blessing could come to the church than if the pope were to bestow these remissions and blessings on every believer a hundred times a day, as he now does but once?”

89. Why are indulgences only issued when the pope sees fit to issue them?

90. To repress these very sharp arguments of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies and to make Christians unhappy.

91. If, therefore, indulgences were preached according to the spirit and intention of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved. Indeed, they would not exist.

92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace! ( Jeremiah 6:14 ) (All those who say there is no problem must go. Problems must be tackled.)

93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Cross, cross,” and there is no cross! (Those in the church who claim there is no problem must go.)

94. Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell.

95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace ( Acts 14:22 ).

 

Adapted from: https://www.biblestudytools.com/history/creeds-confessions/luther-95-theses.html

http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/the-reformation/the-95-theses-a-modern-translation/

Reformation Sunday

Traditionally, Reformation Sunday is observed on the Sunday at the end of October. This year that was October 29th. It is observed as a day to remember the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther’s 95 theses, as well as a day to express appreciation to pastors and elders who guide the flock at our churches.

Traditions surrounding the remembrance of the Protestant Reformation vary today and have grown increasingly diverse. Even so, there are still elements that are common and stretch back into time.

Typically, there are special sermons/messages given at this time of year much like there typically are at Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter. Many of the topics already addressed in this blog are the subject of such messages. In the US, the churches that most regularly observe this would be Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Reformed Baptist. I have observed a spattering of independent bodies and member churches of other denominations that observe it as well. My church would be described as independent but also very much in the “Reformed Baptist” category and this year we had a message on each of the 5 Solas.

A large portion of churches in the US, and elsewhere, owe their existence to the Protestant Reformation and thereby could be considered “reformed”; however, there are those that do no follow in the footsteps of the reformers any longer and, despite their roots, do not remember the Protestant Reformation nor could be truly considered in the same theological vein. As a result, the term “reformed” to describe a particular church body has become a bit squishy I’d have to say. Nevertheless, outside of titles it isn’t that hard to tell the difference.

Today

Nowadays we continue the same special message patterns of the past but have come to include both cultural and unique aspects of celebrating the Protestant Reformation.

With the invention of TV, messages could now be recorded along with image content to enhance said message. Not only does this include sermons but there have been many a documentary created not just on Martin Luther but on each of the people we would call among the reformers.

Various people right blogs – something made possible by the internet allowing people to take the message element to a wider audience while also being easily accessible across the world. (like this blog I’m writing now)

I’ve seen churches that have countdowns counting to the day of Martin’s famed posting of the theses at which point there’d be special gatherings.

One church I used to attend in Ohio always made an evening of the celebration on Reformation Sunday. In it, there’d be special remembrance, prayer, fellowship time, the viewing of a documentary/movie, food, and some frivolities. One such “frivolity” that had become a bit of a tradition at this church was a competition of themed desserts all reflecting the Protestant Reformation. Examples would include: chocolate cake with “Diet of Worms” spelled out on it and perhaps some gummy worms added for comedic effect; sheet cake with a reformer’s image on it; traditional German desserts, etc.

There is a group I meet with every Tuesday and we have gotten into the pattern of doing similarly as already described as we come together for fellowship, food, and the watching of a video on the reformation. I like to add to it and come dressed in a Museum Replica‘s monk robe that I bought in college (at a lower price than it is currently) that’s made of cotton but designed to look like burlap. As I said, I do it to add to the event as I remember some of the reformers, like Martin, who were originally monks.

I encourage people to celebrate the Protestant Reformation and to even add their own traditions to this holiday observed by those in the reformed. I believe it is a good thing to remember our roots and why we believe what we do. I think it is also good that we use this as a great time to teach, spread God’s truth, and spend time in fellowship!

Sola

The 5 solas of the Protestant Reformation are originally written in Latin and each indicate an aspect in the Christian faith with the world “alone” attached, or “sola”.

In my previous post, I addressed the topics of indulgence and salvation as it relates to the Catholic church and the Protestant Reformation. If you have not yet read that, check it out.

In that post, I did a quick run through of these alones and I will expound on them more now.

Sola Scriptura – scripture alone, or “by scripture alone”.

I start with scripture alone as it is by turning to the Scriptures, God’s recorded word to us, that we find the other four alones. Before the reformation, those who would follow Christ could not read the Bible in their own language. Everything about the faith had to be mediated through the priests. Much of the church liturgy (practice) was in Latin which the typical church attender did not understand. As a result, they were left with whatever they were told.

When you compare this time to the early days of Christianity, it becomes clear just how closed biblical information was. In the days of the apostles, the letters that make up much of the new testament were read aloud for the people to hear word-for-word. They were then copied and spread around. Fast forward to rule under the Catholic church and this just didn’t happen beyond the occasional verse or short passage reading. Even much of the schooling people were given didn’t have them interact with the Scriptures.

The Protestant Reformation changed this as you see a sort of “back to the Bible” approach as leading individuals read the Scriptures and then translated the Scriptures so that others could read. These acts were a major stab at the power base of the Roman Catholic church and it proved to be just the first domino in the unraveling of that power.

Sola Gratia – grace alone, or “by grace alone”.

Each of the sola can have their own book on it alone. Sola gratia is no exception. Upon digging into the Scriptures, it became apparent to the reformers that grace is at the root of our salvation. Grace was not something the Catholic church at the time denied but they did, and do, emphasized grace + works in salvation. In this way, the Catholic church could acknowledge God’s involvement but still claim their mediator role as they administered means of additional grace through works (sacraments, observances, etc.) and the benefits of good works.

In grace alone, we see that it is God’s grace extended to use that regenerates our hearts to turn to Him. No power of any church can do this. It is a work of God alone. One can even begin to talk about this grace’s irresistible quality but that is a topic for another time (I did say you can write entire books on this).

This sola may not sound like such a big deal; however, the Scriptures put grace as something given through God. Yes, observing biblical sacraments like communion can also impart grace but this still ultimately comes from God. While the church is a tool of sort in the dispersement of His grace, it is never the source. This sets the stage for the next.

Sola Fide – faith alone, or “by faith alone”.

Ephesians 2:8 directly connects grace and faith to one another. God’s grace extended to us is what allows us to then have faith in Him. God’s grace is what takes root and changes us such that we are able to respond to Him in faith. Notice once again, there’s no authoritarian church involved here. All that is necessary is the hearing of God’s Word (Scripture alone) and the working of God’s grace (Grace alone) in us such that we can respond in faith (Faith alone) and receive salvation.

Not only was the Roman Catholic church trying to keep a monopoly on people’s souls but they had to take it further and bring in purgatory in order to reinforce the sort of good works they wanted. You already had to go to a priest to even have a chance of hearing God’s gospel. Time had definitely turned spiritually dark which is why the Protestant Reformation occurred in the first place. God wasn’t going to let such an order stand which is why you see people like Martin Luther, Zwingli, and John Calvin (among others) come along to change things. The conflicts that came were the result of the disruption brought to the power order that could have been avoided if the Roman Catholic church truly sought to seek God’s truth rather than its own position of power.

Solus Christus – Christ alone, or “through Christ alone”.

As if the previous alones weren’t enough, we see that Scripture speaks of all of this being possible through Jesus Christ alone. He alone paid the price for our sin making it possible for us to be marked clean before a just God. There is nothing we can add to this saint-hood we now claim if we believe in Him.

Scripture is clear that the one work of Jesus Christ is what has freed us to go out and do good things in God’s name. We have no need to lash ourselves or do any sort of other torment to ourselves to be considered saints in the Lord’s eyes, unlike what Catholicism would have you believe. There is nothing more we can add to Christ’s comprehensive work on the cross.

Soli Deo Gloria – God’s glory alone, or “glory to God alone”.

I get the idea that this one is often overlooked and I can remember it not being a big point in my early Christian education as a kid.

Catholicism would have you aim to build a resume of pious deeds that make you seem like a Godly person and that would bring the church glory. By extension, this would bring God glory, but in reality it amounts to little more than falling back to the errors of the pharisees. Why? Because in Catholicism, it ultimately becomes “look at how good I am for the Lord” when it should be “I am nothing compared to the surpassing glory of Christ my God”.

In Solus Christus, the one work of Christ has freed us from our previous bondage to sin. We are now empowered to do what please Him. This brings Him glory. What’s more, God gets even more glory by the works we do in His name as it points people back to Him.

Now, I know some will say – that’s all well and good, but what do I have to gain by bringing God glory? While I’ll admit I believe there to be a bit of selfishness underlying such a question, it isn’t bad to answer it. The answer is fairly simple – we find our greatest fulfillment in our lives when we bring God glory.

 

I think I’ll leave it there. Please feel free to use the resources below to read and learn further. Also, the affiliated Awaken ministry now has a Facebook page. This will be the first post that will also update on the page. Until next time!

Sources & Further Reading:

http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/the-five-solas-of-the-protestant-reformation.html

http://www.theopedia.com/five-solas

http://www.fivesolas.com/5solas.htm

https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/qna/fivesolas.html

http://www.faithbaptistorlando.com/resources/sermon/2017-10-22/the-five-solas-of-the-reformation-solus-christus

Key Reformation Disputes

There are a number of items the reformers diverged on from the Roman Catholic Church. Two of the key points made by not just Martin Luther would be the topics of indulgences and salvation.

Indulgences

For those who do not know: indulgences are grants made by the pope that people can then buy in order to reduce their time to spend in purgatory – a time decided by the weight of the individual’s sin.

Now, there’s a few problems with this. One of those being the many abuses of indulgences in the times before and during Martin Luther’s time. It was effectively used for whatever the Catholic Church wanted which even they will admit today was abused in those times. Interestingly though, the Catholic church still defends the use of indulgences as they see it producing a beneficial effect when not abused.

Another point of contention is found in what it depends on – this idea of purgatory and that the pope has power enough over it to grant these pieces of paper known as indulgences.

The pope has always claimed to be the “vicar of Christ” and thereby said to claim such spiritual authority. The issue: the arguments for this claim are shaky at best. We’ll touch on this more under the Salvation dispute next.

Purgatory, which is this place in between this life and the next involving excruciating waiting times before one day reaching heaven, quite simply has no biblical support. In fact, this is just one reason for why the Roman Catholic church declared the books known as the Apocrypha as part of the bible later – to attempt to have “scriptural” basis to argue for purgatory. Even with this move, I personally (as well as many others) question the argument to be made for purgatory as even the apocryphal literature is vague at best on even the idea – and this is coming from a person who’s actually read the Apocrypha.

So in summation: purgatory doesn’t even exist so the pope’s claims in regards to it go nowhere. I do not provide Scriptural references here because they simply do not exist that would truly support the idea of purgatory.

Salvation

To be more specific, I am talking about salvation in relation to the Church.

Now, indulgences were a point of corruption that the Catholic church earned a lot of ire about from numerous people, not just Martin Luther and major reformers like him. Even with that in mind, it was the claims about salvation that truly began to draw a line in the sand.

Keep in mind that reformers like Martin Luther never had the original intent to separate from the Roman Catholic church. In fact, they were trying to point out abuses and doctrinal errors in order to have them debated and corrected. The Catholic church though was a world power that effectively had positioned itself as the controlling element in your soul’s existence after death.

So how did this change?

In Martin’s 95 theses, he laid out the case made in Romans about justification by grace alone. In other words, we are not declared righteous by any means of the Catholic church before God but by God’s grace first transforming us alone. This is often referred to as God’s regeneration in us to a state that we can respond to him in faith and it was all brought about by God’s grace – Sola Gratia (one of the 5 Solas of the Protestant Reformation).

What’s more is that all of this was discovered by simply reading and studying the Scriptures, something the Catholic church discouraged by limiting translations and putting the pope as the top interpreter. With the authority of Scripture put back at the center of the faith by reformers and the realization of the work of God’s grace, the other 3 solas of the Protestant Reformation naturally came and dismantled the Roman Catholic’s authority over one’s standing before God – I’m talking about salvation.

God’s grace (by grace alone) is what regenerates you to faith (by faith alone). This faith is not whimsical but is in an actual person who was dead, buried, and raised to life thereby conquering death (through Christ alone). We see this in God’s word, the Bible (by Scripture alone). Ultimately, it all brings glory to God and His awesomeness (glory to God alone).

We are effectively saved by God and His power and no others. We do not need the Catholic church to be saved.

With all this in mind, it is no wonder at all that the balance of power in Europe became forever changed. Not even the rulers of the day had to any longer grovel before the pope for their eternal life but only had to turn to God Himself. Granted, there were plenty of leaders who abused this change to their own ends and the conflicts of the time are the result. Even so, Christianity has never been the same since!

I praise God for the Protestant Reformation brought through the reformers He raised up so that we may know the truth of His Word!

 

For additional reading:

http://www.christian-history.org/indulgences.html

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/luther

http://www.theopedia.com/five-solas

 


Hope you guys enjoyed the article. I apologize as it was delayed from my originally intended post of Sunday/Monday but I ran into some serious car trouble. Thankfully, it is resolving itself now. I enjoy writing these posts and look forward to the posts to come. The 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation is still on the way!

Along Martin Luther and Beyond

Now we go to some of Martin Luther’s counterparts and those who came after.

They are:

Desiderus Erasmus (~1467 to 1536), born in Rotterdam (Netherlands), Christian Humanist

John Calvin (1509 to 1564), born in France – didn’t stay there, considered Martin’s successor by many

Huldrych (Ulrich) Zwingli (1484 to 1530), Swiss Reformer

As you can see, all three of these mean were technically contemporaries of Martin Luther though John Calvin was certainly one that came in the later.

All three were writers and influential in their own right. What’s more, they were not in isolation as there are more men that could be listed from these times but I am only focusing on these.

Desiderus Erasmus was primarily an influence through his writings and there is evidence his work influenced Zwingli who had interactions with Luther.

Martin Luther and Zwingli’s most notable interaction involved mass. Zwingli advocated the removal of the Catholic mass and replaced it with a simply communion as well as changed a few other liturgical traditions. However, this wasn’t the key point of their interaction. Luther and Zwingli sparred over their interpretation of the elements in the Eucharist (communion). You can find more details on this particular debate here in the section titled “Relations with Luther”.

Despite a disagreement, Ulrich Zwingli and Martin Luther agreed quite a bit in the focus of the Protestant Reformation  – Scripture has the highest authority. A few things of note from Zwingli that we see in much of Protestantism today include the simple communion, the removal of images in the church & other liturgical changes, put forth some theses of his own, as well as completed some influential writings of his own.

In order to have them for comparison later, here is a summation of Zwingli’s main theses:

  1. The Church is born of the Word of God. Also, Christ is the only head of the Church.
  2. Church “laws” are only binding so long as they agree with Scripture.
  3. Christ alone is man’s righteousness.
  4. Mass is a gross offense to the sacrifice and death of Christ.
  5. There is no biblical argument for mediation for the dead involving purgatory. This would include the use of images in this.
  6. That marriage is lawful for all.

With the above theses, you can imagine then the church changes he then sought to bring about in Switzerland. These are changes still widely observed in churches today across the world that stand in the Protestant tradition.

What about John Calvin?

Ok. We’re getting to him now.

John Calvin came into all this with the other men and their influence as the backdrop. As can be seen at the start by the time-frames of each of their lives, John was a young man when the others began to pass away.

Born in France, John would later end up in Geneva, Switzerland where he would later die. John started his career as a law student – much as Martin was supposed to have become originally – and during his studies he was influenced by the humanist Desiderus Erasmus as well as others. Key components from this drove John to seek to understand the Scriptures in their original languages (something continued to this very day). As such, he went on to study Greek, Hebrew, and Latin.

Among Calvin’s first essays there was an emphasis on salvation by grace alone (one of the 5 Solas) rather than to focus on works and ceremonies.

I don’t intend to get into every detail here as there are great resources for further reading in the links below. Even so, key contributions made by Calvin were in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, commentaries, and influence that gave direction to Protestants elsewhere in Europe including those who would later go to America and start the Presbyterian and Congregationalist churches. There are many churches today that would consider John Calvin to be their founding father.

Hope this proved informative to you! I challenge you to read more on each of these influential men of the Protestant Reformation period and would suggest the links below are a great place to start.

 

Resources for further reading:

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Huldrych-Zwingli

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/erasmus/

https://www.biography.com/people/john-calvin-9235788?_escaped_fragment_=

https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Calvin

 

Martin Luther

Martin Luther is often the central figure to the Protestant Reformation. We saw last week that there were in fact pre-reformers as well who, in their own way, laid some groundwork for what was to come in Martin Luther’s time.

Like Wycliffe, Martin Luther found some friends in higher places that became key in his later survival – but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Martin lived from 1483 to 1546. He early on was given an education in Latin as well as memorized common things at the time like the 10 Commandments. When it was time for graduate studies he had the choice between law, medicine, and theology. Such a well-known theologian in the later Reformation must have chosen theology, right? Not correct. In fact, his father directed him into law, so Martin followed his father’s direction.

What changed Martin’s mind later, much to his father’s dismay was a storm. The storm was so bad that Martin was terrified he’d be killed by it and promised God he would change his path & instead become a monk in service to Him if he be spared him from death. Obviously, he was spared, because Martin stayed true to his word and entered a monastery.

What followed was a time of torment for Martin as he threw himself into the monastic life. The more he reached out to God, there more he saw his own sin and misery.

It was in 1508 in Wittenberg where he began his studies of theology and became exposed to the Scriptures themselves. After a trip to Rome and his continued studies, it wasn’t long before he began to see conflict between the faith as it is described scripturally and what the Catholic Church was putting forth.

Indulgences

A key trigger was the Pope’s endorsement and pushing of the doctrine of indulgences. Luther saw in them clear contradiction to the Bible. His response to them was the famed 95 Theses which famously were nailed to the doors of the church he had preached at. There is some debate whether this aspect truly happened, but he nevertheless did send a copy to Archbishop Albert of Mainz and some friends of his. This was made all the more possible by the invention of the printing press which would later prove invaluable in the spreading of Luther’s writings.

Martin Luther’s point in his actions was to spark a debate. He wanted things brought to light and have the church deal with them head-on, making reformations where necessary to get/keep the church properly on track. Martin had no intention of creating upheaval or rebelling. Even so, the controversy that ensued served to change Christendom as well as strengthen Martin’s faith as it proved to solidify him in the Bible being the final authority for the Christian faith.

I don’t want to get bogged down here into every minutia that came about next but suffice it to say that things escalated. (I will give it a deeper look in another article)

Eventually, the Pope declared Martin a heretic in 1521 with papal bull (Decree from the Pope) Decet Romanum Pontificem (translates: It pleases the Roman Pontiff). Martin Luther took the bull sent to him and burned it.

Now, here is where some of Martin Luther’s connections come in – albeit, not from any special ability of his own necessarily.

  1. German citizens were granted the right to a proper hearing before condemnation. (as such the papal bull did not immediately require an authority to apprehend Martin as it normally would)
  2. Frederick III stood by him and sought to protect him from Rome.

Diet of Worms

The “Diet of Worms” was effectively a meeting in Worms, Germany. Here, it was decided Martin would receive his hearing. Rome demanded Martin recant his works. In the end, he only admitted to speaking too harshly at points & apologized for this but ultimately & absolutely refused to recant his works.

At this point, Charles V (emperor) & Rome were after him which is where Martin Luther goes into hiding – again with help. When he eventually comes out again, he has added even more to his list of works – including a translation of the Bible into German.

The world is never the same again. Martin Luther’s works spread and new “mini” reformations are sparked in other countries. In time, the Protestant Reformation comes to impact all of Europe and then spills over into the New World (where the theologies impact the later formation of the USA).

 

There are far more details than what I’ve written here. This is just a primer of sorts. Many of Martin Luther’s works can be found online at no cost but you can still buy physical copies to this day of what he wrote.

Next week, I will continue on with key figures who’s lives overlapped with Martin’s or were just after him but continued the developments from the Reformation.