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The Shaping of Modern Europe Index

Introduction to the Reformation
The Church before the Reformation I : Indulgences, Relics and Pilgrimages
The Church before the Reformation II : The Wealth and Political Power of the Church
The Church before the Reformation III : The Clergy
The Church before the Reformation IV : Inside a Church
Conflict between Luther and the Church
The Church reacts to Luther
The Catholic and the Lutheran Church
Huldreick Zwingli
John Calvin
The English Reformation

17th Century Europe

Europe in the 1600s
17th Century Europe

History Chapters Main Index

 

 

The people involved in the "Lutheran Revolt" were:

  • Albert - Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg

  • Frederick the Wise - Elector of Saxony

  • The Elector of Brandenberg - brother of Albert

  • Johann Tetzel - a Dominican friar appointed to preach and collect indulgences

  • Martin Luther - Professor of Theology at the University of Wittenberg and an Augustinian friar

  • Pope Leo X

    Pope Leo X

    Portrait of Pope Leo X by Raphael

  • Charles V - King of Spain, Emperor of Austria and the Holy Roman Empire

 

 

THE SHAPING OF MODERN EUROPE

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The Lutheran Revolt

Origins

Since the 14th century the pope had been spending more than he had been earning. This was due to several factors:

 

  • St. Peter's church being built.

  • Corruption in the tax collecting process.

  • Wars to retain control of Italy and, indeed, Christendom.

  • Criminals forging indulgences and Papal bulls.

 

As an example of his problems, in 1484 Pope Innocent VIII had to pawn his tiara for 100,000 ducats (his annual income was 500,000 ducats). By 1513 the pope owed at least 125,000 ducats.

The pope allowed the sale of indulgences to raise money. A problem arose in the German states because one of the archbishops, Albert of Mainz, had got into debt by borrowing too much money from the Fugger bank. He, therefore, kept some of the money from the indulgence account and gave the rest to the pope. This was theft.

The Reformation can be said to have started when, on 31st October 1517, Martin Luther fastened his "Ninety Five Theses upon Indulgences" on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg.

These "Ninety Five Theses" were not designed to be read or even understood by everyday people. They were for theologians to discuss. They were not even an attack on the pope but rather an attack on the idea that someone who bought an indulgence would be helped through purgatory, without a need for penitence or repentance. Luther thought that if the pope realised the corruption of indulgences he would prevent them from being sold.

What in Luther's background would make him launch such an attack on the Church? He was the son of a copper miner and therefore from a peasant background. He led an austere and poor life. He was very religious and God-fearing so he went to school and then university to study theology. His beliefs developed towards a return to "simple truth" based on the Bible. In the Bible he found, in Saint Paul's Epistle to the Romans, one particular line which summed up Christianity: "The just shall live by faith".

In May 1517 he wrote to a friend: " I am quite sure that the Church will never be reformed unless we remove ..... scholastic theology, philosophy and logic as they are studied today, and put something else in their place."

 

Which do you agree with?

 

Extract from Luther's 95 Theses

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

 

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.

 

..... those who preach indulgences are in error when they say that a man is ... saved from every penalty by the pope's indulgences.

 

Christians should be taught that to give to the poor or to lend to the needy is a better work than the purchase of pardons.

 

Extract from Tetzel's Sermon on Indulgences

You may obtain letters of safe conduct from the vicar of our Lord Jesus Christ (the pope), by means of which you are able to liberate your soul from the hands of the enemy, and convey (take it) by means of contrition and confession, safe and secure from all pains of purgatory, into the happy kingdom (heaven) ..... for each and every mortal sin it is necessary to indulge seven years of penitence after confession and contrition, either in this life or in purgatory.

But with these confessional letters (indulgences) you will be able at any time in life to obtain full indulgence for all penalties imposed upon you.....

Do you not know that when it is necessary for anyone to ..... undertake a dangerous journey, he takes his money to a broker and gives a certain per cent - 5 or 6 or 10 - in order that he may receive again his funds intact ...? Are you not willing, then, for ¼ florin to obtain these letters, by virtue of which you may bring .... your divine and immortal soul safe and sound into the land of paradise?

 

 

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