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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
The Lutheran Revolt
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

 

 

Martin Luther

Martin Luther in by Lucas Cranach 1529

 

Frederik III

Portrait of Frederik III by Albrecht Dürer c.1500

 

 

THE SHAPING OF MODERN EUROPE

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Conflict between Luther and the Church

The reaction of Albert of Mainz to Luther's Ninety Five Theses was one of anger, not because he disagreed with Luther's beliefs but because Luther's public attack was causing people to stop buying indulgences. Tetzel reacted angrily as well because he was a Dominican and Luther was an Augustinian. There had long been rivalry between the two groups of friars. The Dominicans thought that Luther was a heretic. The pope was informed by Albert because of the effect on the income for St. Peter's church but the pope thought that the Ninety Five Theses were trivial.

The Dominicans were more to blame than anyone for escalating the crisis because they said that Luther was a heretic. In order to prove this they had to say that he was attacking papal power. The argument over indulgences was forgotten and the clergy divided into two groups, those who supported Luther and those who supported Tetzel and the Dominicans. The pope was left on the sidelines.

 

The conflict escalates

Luther was supported by his ruler, Frederick of Saxony. The elector was not really interested in the religious debate but was concerned about the political side. He did not want the pope meddling in German affairs. He was also very proud of the University in Wittenberg. The Elector of Brandenburg (the brother of Albert of Mainz) was also Frederick's rival in the region.

Many ordinary people began to see this as a quarrel between one man, Martin Luther, standing up to the mighty and corrupt Church. Also they saw it as a dispute between "Germans" and "Italians". Tetzel was unable to walk down the street in Wittenberg without being attacked. the pope was anxious to calm the dispute because he needed the support of Frederick and the other princes in electing a new Holy Roman Emperor.

 

The conflict becomes religious

The pope appointed a Dominican friar, Cardinal Cajetan, to solve the problem. Bearing in mind what usually happened to heretics (see Page 6), Luther was in a good deal of danger when he was summoned to appear before Cajetan at the Diet of Augsburg in October 1518.

Cajetan (as a Dominican) questioned Luther only about the pope's authority, not about indulgences. He ordered Luther to retract the Ninety Five Theses. If he did not, Cajetan said, he would be defying the pope.

From then on Luther endeavoured to find fault with the pope and to argue against the power of the Papacy.

 

Reformer to revolutionary

Luther wrote an account of his interviews with Cajetan and added an appendix which claimed that the pope was not "divine" or "infallible". A German nobleman, Charles von Miltitz, persuaded Luther to write to the pope but Luther refused to change anything he had said. In the letter he recognised the pope "as in some sense the head of the Church". Luther had found, when he was researching into the history of the pope, that, in fact, the pope was originally appointed by a general council of the Church and therefore was not appointed by God.

At a debate in Leipzig in 1519 Luther was persuaded by John Eck that not only was the pope not "infallible" but that neither was the general council of the Church, and they had been wrong to kill John Huss in 1415.

The period 1518-20 saw Luther change his ideas from opposing indulgences to questioning the right of the Church and the Pope to tell people how to worship. This was revolutionary. In February 1520 he wrote "we are all Hussites without knowing it".

 

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