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Martin Luther And The Reformation

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Martin Luther and the Reformation

A German Augustinian friar, Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. Luther grew up the son of a miner, but he did not maintain that lifestyle for himself. He lived in a period that had a widespread desire for reformation of the Christian church and a yearning for salvation.

Martin Luther was born at Eisleben in Saxony. Since his father was a miner, it was a great distress on him to send Martin to school and then to the University of Erfurt. There is where he earned his master's degree at the young age of twenty-one. (Erikson, 39) Although his father wished him to study law, Martin, after being terribly frightened in a thunderstorm, vowed to become a friar. In 1505, Luther entered the monastery of the Augustinian friars at Erfurt and was ordained a priest in 1507. (Erikson, 167) He eventually earned a doctorate of theology. From 1512 until his death in 1546, he served as a professor of the Scriptures at the new University of Wittenberg. Because of his Professorship, he had the authority to teach, which he frequently cited as justification for his reforming work. (Erikson, 154)

Even though Luther was a very conscientious friar, things such as his scrupulous observance of the religious routine, frequent confessions, and fasting only gave him temporary relief from anxieties about sin and his ability to meet God's demands. Because of these apprehensions, he began to doubt the value of the monastic life. The fact that the medieval church had long held that monastic life was a sure and certain road to salvation added to Luther's confusion. This led to his study of Saint Paul's letters. Over time, he began to understand the Pauline letters and the Christian doctrine as a whole. Through these studies, Luther came up with a new belief that salvation comes not through external observances and penance but through a simple faith in Christ. Faith is the means by which God sends humanity his grace, and faith is a free gift that cannot be earned. Through this, Martin Luther discovered himself, God's work for him, and the centrality of faith in the Christian life.

Martin Luther is known for bringing about the Reformation. The ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the archdiocese of Magdeburg is where The University of Wittenberg was located. The archbishop of Magdeburg, Albert, was also the administrator of Halberstadt and the archbishop of Mainz. In order to hold all three offices simultaneously required papal dispensation. Because Pope Leo X wanted to complete the building of Saint Peter's Basilica, he did not have the funds for Albert to pay for additional Episcopal benefices. He allowed the Archbishop to borrow money from the bank in order to hire papal dispensation. To repay the debt, Pope Leo X then allowed Albert to sell indulgences. Wittenberg was in the political jurisdiction of Frederick of Saxony, one of the seven electors of the Holy Roman Empire. (Boehmer, 128) Frederick forbade the sale of indulgences within his territory, so the people of Wittenberg, including some of Luther's students, would cross the border from Saxony into Jutenborg in Thuringia to buy these indulgences. According to Catholic theology, individuals who sin alienate themselves from God and his love. In order to be reconciled to God, the sinner must confess his or her sins to a priest and do the penance assigned. To receive the reconciliation, a person had to buy an indulgence. This would allow them to receive their earthly penance, since no one knows what God's ultimate punishment will be. The Catholic faith now has a doctrine to back the three principles of indulgences. (Underwood, 345) First of all, God is merciful, but he is also just. Next, Christ and the saints, through their infinite virtue, established a "treasury of merits" on which the church, through its special relationship with Christ and the saints, can draw. Thirdly, the church has the authority to grant sinners the spiritual benefits of those merits. By the later middle Ages, people widely believed that an indulgence secured total remission of penalties for sin. Archbishop Albert needed someone to sell indulgences for him, so he hired Dominican friar John Tetzel. Tetzel made this into a business and even began to heavily advertise the sale of indulgences. He came up with catchy slogans to lure people into buying them. He even came up with a chart price to persuade people to buy the "best" or most expensive indulgences. Luther did not agree with this because people no longer saw the need for repentance and felt they could buy away their sins. He was greatly troubled that people were buying into these advertising gimmicks. Since, at the time, the church did not have an official doctrine on indulgences, Luther decided this entitled him to discuss the subject critically. In doing so Luther wrote Archbishop Albert a letter on the subject and enclosed in Latin "Ninety-five Theses on the Power of Indulgences." He argued indulgences made people believe repentance was not important, it downplayed the importance of charity in Christian life, and it competed with the preaching of the Gospel. (Boehmer, 198) Once Luther died, his disciple Philipp Melanchthon reported that the theses were also posted on the door of the church at Wittenberg Castle on October 31, 1517, although not all modern scholars are completely convinced this ever took place. (Erikson, 142) By December of 1517, the theses had all been translated to German and were read throughout the empire. (Huizinga, 132) Luther did not believe that good works, such as purchasing indulgences could achieve salvation. A few of his theses challenged the power of the pope to grant indulgences and other criticized papal wealth. There was no biblical basis for indulgences, so Luther used this to as his fundamental argument. To counteract his argument, opponents replied that to deny the legality of indulgences was to deny the authority of the pope who had authorized them. Now people were severely torn as to where the authority laid in the Christian church. From 1518 to 1519, Luther studied the history of the papacy. Then in 1519, Luther, during a large public disputation with Catholic debater John Eck at Leipzig, denied both the authority of the pope and the infallibility of a general council. (Boehmer, 139) The response of the papacy was a letter condemning some of Luther's propositions, ordering that his books be burned, and giving him two months to recant or be excommunicated. To show his feelings on the matter, Luther publicly burned the letter. The excommunication was supposed to take place on January 3, 1521, but now the papacy had yet another problem to deal with. Nine-tenths of Germany was with Luther and the other tenth were only interested



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