Was Luther a revolutionary?
Martin Luther, a German monk started a revolution which he called a ‘Reformation’ in 1517 when he pinned ‘The Ninety-Five Theses’ which mainly criticized the selling of indulgences and making confessions of sins to a priest, on the door of the Wittenberg Castle church. The ideas which were against the Church were later written and that consisted the concept of justification, salvation, the teaching of the Bible and others which will be explained in details afterward. The word ‘Revolution’ in this essay means Luther reforming what the Church believed in like gospel, indulgences, salvation and other religious beliefs. In this essay, I will be arguing why Luther was a revolutionary due to his actions, consequences such that he was officially excluded by the pope Leo X after the ‘Edict of Worms’, the cause of the peasants’ war and his followers eventually forming a ‘breakaway Christian movement known as ‘Protestantism’ (Coram 2018, p.5).
The Catholic Church believed that buying indulgences which Tetzel’s profit preaching called ‘tickets to heaven’ (Appold 2011, p.47) would help erase the sins and would shorten the time spend in purgatory (Anderson 2011, p.30). They also believed that it worked for both the living and the dead (Appold 2011, p.46). However, Luther believe that the indulgences were just a mercy for bad deeds that could be brought as he wrote ‘As the penny in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs’ (Green 1998, p.17). He also stated that the pope could not save the people in the purgatory or make their time spend there to be shorter but pray (Appold 2011, p.48). He even asked why did the pope who was extremely wealthy would build St Peter’s basilica at Rome with the money of the poor instead of his (Boniface Unam Sanctam ex.). The reason was that half of the money received from indulgences were paid to the creditors of Archbishop Albert of Mainz and the other half to the pope (Anderson 2011, p.3) meaning that the money was used for the church’s needs rather than using in what it intended to be. He believed that ‘a Christian improves more by doing works of love than buying indulgences’ (Appold 2011, p.48). Luther concluded that there must be faults with the whole structure of authority and the theology unless the Church and pope reform the indulgences incident (Marshall 2009, p.24).
The next matter Luther went against was people’s confession of sins to priests. The Catholic Church stated that everyone was born sinful and confessing sins to priests who were called an earthly figure of Jesus Christ (Appold 2011, p.43) was the way to get to heaven (Coram 2018, p.5) and there was no forgiveness of sins nor salvation apart from the church (Boniface Unam Sanctam ex.). Notwithstanding the church said, Luther argued that ‘The pope cannot remove any penalties’ or ‘any guilt’ (Luther 95 theses ex.5&6) and forgiveness sins did not need a priest to get involved as it was only between a person and God (Coram 2018, p.5). Also, he said that the existence of popes was just a separation from the ordinary Christians to raise their standard as ‘every baptized Christian is a priest already’ (Luther Address ex.2). Luther ended up saying that salvation was how a person behaved, worked than what it is believed to be and not serving the God with works and faith (Green 1998, p.15).
Another incident that has become a drastic change in history was the peasants war which was influenced by Luther. Long ago, it was forbidden for peasants to hunt food or take care of themselves as they belonged to their landowners as a property. Everything was in control of their landowners such that they were not even allowed to get married without the consent of their owners and without paying tax for the right to get married (Anderson 2011, p.7). In 1525, however, things started to change when the peasants took part in the mutiny inspired by Luther’s declarations. They were influenced by the disobedience of Luther towards the Catholic Church which gave them courage and saw him as a role model (Jensen 1981, p.57). Another matter that encouraged them to overthrow what the landowners have done to them was a ‘revolt of uprising expectations’ which put them under pressure due to slow improvement mainly in the countryside (Jensen 1981, p.57) and what Luther did was the start of the wildfire. They began writing the ‘Twelve Articles of the Swabian peasants’ which asked for their rights to hunt food, to make new laws and strong criticisms of the landowners who used force on everything. Then, violence broke out as the political and economic protests became connected to what the villagers wanted like the right to choose who they want to be as a priest who would not get the privileges and advantages for himself (Anderson 2011, p.8). The Luther’s influence has created a violent protest and camps like the ‘Christian Brotherhood’ which was reformed by the peasants. Although it has been said that Luther did not support which the peasants did and told that it was terrible and they ‘deserved death many times over’ (Luther Murdering hordes ex.6), it was him who started the chaos hence a revolution.
After the changes in political area has been explained, it is continued to the social and cultural change. Luther wrote that both boys and girls should be reading the Bible at schools and the Gospels for the younger ones as some church leaders by that time did not know them (Luther Address ex.12). As a result, there was an education reform in Germany. Latin grammar was taught which was the language the Bible was written in (Jensen 1981, p.63). He also wanted the priests to get married, encouraged them and he himself got married with a former nun (Jensen 1981, p.62). The invention of the printing press played a part in Luther’s revolutionary as it was really useful for Luther to print pamplets of his ideas which spreaded widely in the countrysides as it was difficult for the central authority to stop them from scattering (Marshall 2009, p.45).
Luther stood for himself before any of his followers did. It was on the 16th of April when he was given his own writings and asked him to admit his errors and thoughts by the Catholic church at the Edict of Worms (Linder 2008, p.25). It was ordered that interpreting the Holy Scriptures and spreading pamplets must be stopped unless the clerk of the city agreed to do so (Edict ex.14). Luther responded that the Church wanted the sole authority to do everything and wanted to be the masters of the Scriptures (Luther Address ex.11) and defended his beliefs unless they were proven by the Scripture and a valid reason (Linder 2008, p.25). The Church stated that the Scripture was hard to interpret and the Catholic Church was what the God has provided as a reliable interpreter (McGrath 2012, p.108) and that it could not be marked as the only source of facts (McGrath 2012, p.112). Luther argued that everyone has the right to interpret in any method which seemed valid to him (McGrath 2012, p.108) and called the Scriptures the ‘Word of God’ (McGrath 2012, p.106). He was then excommunicated by the Pope.
Due to Luther’s reformation, people, especially the protestants, began to accept that the priest was between the believer and the God. He also added baptism and Holy Communion in the Seven Sacraments of the Medival Church (Linder 2008, p.30). As a big change cannot be done by one, the revolution had occurred due to the supports Luther gained. Even while he was facing the Diet of Worms, it was said that nine-tenth of Germany supported Luther (Green 1998, p.24). His teachings were spreaded and followed by the Germany, France, Scandinavia, Denmark and Sweden (Green 1998, p.32).
Luther’s courage to challenge the dominant Catholic Church who have an authority and in control of anything was something that led him to go down in history. Although he did not intend to form a revolution but to reform (Linder 2008, p.27), protestants and the gain in followers caused him to change. However, there were also major changes due to him such as the peasants war the spread of his teachings of ideas. Therefore, Martin Luther could be called a revolutionary from many aspects.