October 31, 2008

The Friday Record - Martin Luther and the 95 Theses

This is a day that changed history, because it brought about a fraction within the Roman Catholic Church, which resulted in the formation of several other religions over the years. Though this schism would undoubtedly happen sooner or later, October 31, 1517 is the day history changed forever. Up until this time, Christianity was the Roman Catholic Church and while I won’t get into a debate over religion, let’s just say that the saying ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’ holds true here.

As the title suggests, Luther had 95 main gripes against the Roman Catholic Church. His biggest was the selling of indulgences, a relief from sin, if only you pay the church for that relief. While this did not forgive a person from sin, it allowed them relief from Purgatory – 100 days for each relic a person donated to the church. So, if you were rich enough, you could indulge in as much sin as you wished, then pay the church for relief from Purgatory. Luther’s stance was that Christian’s don’t have to pay for forgiveness, as it’s free in the form of God’s Grace through the death of Jesus Christ. All a Christian has to do is be repetitive and ask for forgiveness himself. He doesn’t need to go through the Church for that forgiveness, much less pay for it.

An interesting factor in all this has to be the Gutenberg Printing Press. Why, you say? Luther nailed his Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, which held one of Europe's largest collections of religious artifacts, or holy relics…the view of which, and donation for that view, bought indulgences. Castle Church was also well-known for being a bulletin board for the university, a place to announce events, etc. That’s where the 95 Theses may have stayed, but for the Gutenberg Press.

So, a little background. In 1424, Cambridge University’s library had a whopping 122 books, each worth a small fortune. But a rise in literacy among the middle-class brought about a demand for more, less expensive books. Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg (yeah, say that 3 times fast), invented the moveable printing press in 1439. So, by the time Luther posted his theses on Castle Church’s door, the press had been around for half a century. Someone took the 95 Theses off the door (or copied it down), took it to a printing press and printed it out. It was then distributed throughout The Holy Roman Empire and the Reform Movement took hold.

Splits along certain doctrinal lines resulted in the emergence of rival Protestant churches. The most important denominations to emerge directly from the Reformation were the Lutherans and the Reformed/Calvinists/Presbyterians. In England, the Movement gave rise to the Anglican Church and it did accelerate the Catholic or Counter Reformation within the Roman Catholic Church.

So, October 31st just isn’t a day to honor the spirits, it is a day that may have very well resulted in the religion you call your own.

Works Cited


~Anna Kathryn


Renee said...

I think Luther had guts. At the same time, I look at the fallout and all the horrific persecution that happened in the years that followed.

Great blog!


Christie Craig said...

Very Interesting, Anna!!


TJ Bennett said...

This is too cool, Anna. Of course, my book THE LEGACY uses all of this as a backdrop. My hero is also a printer. In doing my research for the book, I went to the International Printing Museum in Carson, CA and was able to crank the handle on a real live Gutenberg press. I printed a page and also had my name poured in lead type. So much fun. And yet, you are correct in saying how important this event was in changing the world.

As we all know, religious persecution wasn't invented by the Catholics or the Protestants, by any means. Humans have been persecuting each other for eons, for religious and other reasons, and that continues to this day. But the legacy of what happened in those climatic times has affected most of the western world in ways too numerous to count.

Thanks for such a great post!


Debra St. John said...

He was a brilliant man. Even his enemies couldn't discount his intelligence. He literally changed the world.

Linda LaRoque said...

I didn't realize it was this early in history. For some reason I thought it was later.

Interesting post.


Anonymous said...

Anna, my brother is in seminary and we get together for lunch frequently to discuss his studies. Just this week he talked at length about Luther. Factoid: did you know that Luther married a nun? A group on nuns in a convent who heard about his 95 Theses, wrote to him and said, "We agree! Could you get us out of here?"

After a made-for-Hollywood rescue, Luther started getting the nuns married off so they would be provided for. One nun refused the offers made for her...she wanted Luther. So he married her to, in his words, "have mercy upon her."

By all accounts it ended up being a deep love match.

Great blog, thanks.


Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Thanks for all the great posts.

TJ, yes, I was thinking I needed to post about the fact that this was not the beginning of religious persecutions, that had been going on, as you say, eons. It did lead to a very dark period in Christian history, but with or without Luther, I think it would have come about sooner or later. It's called FREE WILL and we each have it. Dissent had been going on already in the Church and it just happened to be Luther's words that started the revolution, but his weren't the first nor the last.

Christine, I did know he married, but in what I read, it didn't mention she was a nun, how interesting.

It truly was a history making event and as I said in my post, shaped many of the mainstream religions of today.


TJ Bennett said...

Okay, so, not to belabor the point, but THE LEGACY was inspired by the story of how Martin Luther met his wife, the runaway nun. It was fascinating, and I started thinking about what may have happened to the other eleven nuns Martin helped who had escaped with his soon-to-be wife. So I fictionalized the account of one nun who escaped with Katherine von Bora and she's the heroine of my novel. I used the historical backdrop of the Reformation throughout the book. If you're interested, the book is available now. :-)

Just saying. LOL!