On this day in 1517, Martin Luther presented his letter, which would become known as the Ninety-Five Theses, to Bishop Albrecht of Brandenburg in what is often identified as the start of the Reformation. According to one account, Luther nailed his Theses to the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, and while this has become a symbolic event in Protestant Christianity, it may not actually have taken place. Whether it took place or not, it does not detract from the importance of the event to world history.
Luther's letter protested the pope’s sale of reprieves from penance, or indulgences, insisting that the Pope had no authority over purgatory and that the Catholic doctrine of the merits of the saints had no foundation in the Bible. Although it is argued that he had hoped to spur renewal from within the church, he was met by hostility from its hierarchy. Albrecht did not reply to Luther's letter but instead had the theses checked for heresy and in December 1517 forwarded them to Rome. It was unlikely to have ever been well received, for the Bishop needed the revenue from indulgences to pay off a papal dispensation for his tenure of more than one bishopric. As Luther later noted, "the pope had a finger in the pie as well, because one half was to go to the building of St Peter's Church in Rome". in 1521, Luther was summoned before the Diet of Worms and excommunicated.
Protection was provided by Friedrich III, Elector of Saxony and so began the organisation of a new church. The key ideas of the Reformation, central to which was the belief that the Bible, not tradition, offered the sole source of spiritual authority, were not themselves new or novel. However, Luther and the other reformers, including John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli, were able to skillfully use the power of the printing press to give their ideas a wider audience.
The Catholic Church responded with a Counter-Reformation initiated by the Council of Trent. However by 1545, when the Council was first convened, the Reformation's ideas had gained wide support. In general, Northern Europe came under the influence of Protestantism, with Henry VIII's establishment of the nascent Church of England being a notable event. Southern Europe remained Catholic, while Central Europe would be the theater for fierce conflict, culminating in the devastating Thirty Years' War, which saw the major powers clash in what has been argued to be Europe's last religious war.
This scene was built by James Pegrum to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
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