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The Protestant Reformation

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The Protestant Reformation

Throughout the Middle Ages the Catholic Church was subject to much criticism and disappointment. The Great Schism brought about a feeling of mistrust and separation. More and more people of Europe were beginning to lose their faith in the church's leadership. One man by the name of Martin Luther ignited a group of people who believed that the Church had fallen away from the teachings of Jesus and their meanings. They also believed that the Church was overly obsessed with money. These believed faults compelled Luther to take action. In 1517, on the eve of All Saint's Day, Luther posted up on the doors of Wittenberg Cathedral, ninety-five problems with the Church. They are more popularly known as the Ninety-five Theses. This action set of a spark for all to catch in the protest against the Church. It began the Protestant Reformation.

Martin Luther was born in the year 1483 AD. He was the son of a miner who lived in Eisleben in Saxony. His father wished for him to grow up and study canon law since Luther showed much intellectual promise. Instead, Luther went on to the University of Erfurt and moved into theology and contemplation. Soon he entered the order of the Austin Friars at Erfurt (1505). Three years later, in 1508, he was named as a professor at the University of Wittenberg.

He was a very religious man who always struggled to find salvation from God. Luther continually sought to be acceptable to God. This was hard for him because what he saw in himself was sin, an inevitable sin that was unavoidable and unforgivable. After reading from St. Paul, St. Augustine, and the gospels, he discovered that God was filled with mercy and compassion. Luther was exceptionally upset now because the Church, at the time, was engaged in the practice of indulgences. This practice was very prevalent and frequent in the Church. Luther, unlike the corrupt leaders of the church, believed that God was the only one great enough to offer such a great gift. More and more Luther was finding faults in the Church's everyday practices. The pope, bishops and priests of the time also thought it was acceptable to sell a person's remittance from purgatory. Where would this stop? How greedy would the church leaders become? Luther hoped no one would find out. He heavily attacked indulgences.

Luther also attacked the lavishness of the papal life. In his Open Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate (1520), Luther addressed several abuses of the Church, one being that "...the vicar of Christ...lives in such worldly splendor...and is more worldly than the world itself." Another abuse was the cardinals who sucked the people dry. Then, when there was no more left, they moved on to a different state. What was more was the extreme amount of useless positions in the Church. All of these "extras" were taking the people's money to keep their positions. The purpose of the Church was to lead and set example for Christians all over the world. It was not established to benefit its administrators.

The recent pioneering of the movable type printing press was the number one advantage that Luther had. Because of this wonderful Renaissance invention, he was able to spread his word and beliefs to people especially his colleagues at the university. These influential people helped increase the number of ears that heard Luther's powerful message. If it had not been for this, the Reformation would not have taken place. Who knows? Could this possibly mean that the only Christian faith today would be Catholicism?

More and more people began to take Luther's side. His chance to ignite the crowd was beginning to present itself. On October 31, 1517, Luther took advantage of his opportunity by posting to the doors of Wittenberg, ninety-five areas for argument against the Catholic Church. These soon came to be called the Ninety-five Theses. Some of the theses included:

"5. The Pope does not wish and cannot remit any penalties save those he has himself imposed.

21. Those indulgence preachers are wrong who say that the pope can remit every penalty.

40. Genuine contrition seeks and loves penalties

27-28. They say, 'As soon as the coin in the coffer rings the soul from purgatory springs.' What springs out is the spirit of avarice.

86. Why doesn't he build the St. Peter Basilica out of his own money seeing that he is richer than Croesus."

Of course this action drew the critical attention of the archbishops and cardinals who argued that Luther was acting heretical. The pope reciprocated Luther's action by issuing a Dominican to reply to Luther. In the statement it was written "...He who does not accept the doctrine of the Roman Church and of the Roman pontiff as the infallible rule of faith from which sacred scripture draws its strength and authority is a heretic." Bickering and arguing continued for a couple of years following. Seeming as the pope and the church would never change or conform to Luther and his people's cries for reform, Luther sought to establish his own practice of religion; one that would follow Jesus' plan for love and humility.

One of the most drastic steps that Luther took toward the breaking away from the Church was revising the seven sacraments. Luther only acknowledged that there were three genuine sacraments: baptism, Eucharist and penance. At that particular time in the Catholic church, the idea of receiving the blood of Christ did not exist. Luther believed that you could not have one without the other and therefore instituted it into his revision. There was now the Eucharist under both species. In baptism, Luther allowed infants to enter the faith, which was contrary to the Church's belief in the age of reason. He believed that the prayers and influence of the sponsors and parents would bring the child into a pure and mature understanding of the faith. He feels that penance, as a sacrament is unnecessary, that anyone who is willing to confess their wrongdoings to anyone in the faith and still be forgiven. As long as someone is truly sorry for what they have done then they may receive the mercy of God.

The reformation was now getting heated! The action of Luther speaking against the sacred sacraments infuriated the pope. He called on God to assist him and the Church of ridding Luther. Pope Leo decreed that Luther was to take back his words and admit to heresy within two months of receiving the decree. Sixty days passed and he answered back



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