“Out of love and zeal for truth and the desire to bring it to light…” Martin Luther
As the church as a whole, and in Wittenberg in particular, anticipated the observance of All Saints Day on November 1, 1517, indulgence vendors were in full force.
So on All-Hallows Eve, October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posed his Ninety-Five Thesis to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Martin had no intention of breaking from the church by his actions. Rather, he was hoping to inspire debate within the church and in the community. Posting such a notice on the church door was a common practice. He did not realize that he would unwittingly tap into a growing resentment among the people that the church cared more about money than it did them.
The preamble to the Ninety-Five Thesis says, “Out of love and zeal for truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following theses will be publically discussed at Wittenberg under the chairmanship of the reverend Martin Luther.”
Thesis 1 stressed the importance of repentance and that it was God’s will the believers life be one of repentance. Thesis 32 declared that those who believed that they were saved because of the payment of an indulgence would be eternally damned to hell along with those who taught such heresy. Thesis 79 declared that it was blasphemous to compare the papal coat of arms or a human cross as equal in worth to the cross of Christ. Thesis 82 questioned why the pope did not open all of purgatory and allow the people to enter heaven? The answer was that the pope wanted people to continue to contribute money to the St. Peter’s Basilica’s building program, and selling indulgences was a way to do it.
Luther originally wrote the Ninety-Five Thesis in Latin. However, university students copied the theses and had them translated into German. Copies were then made, thanks to Gutenberg’s printing press, and distributed throughout Germany. Within months, Luther’s objections were the talk, not only of one town, but in many towns.
The church’s leadership were not happy. Pope Leo X said, “Luther is a drunken German. He will feel different when he is sober.” Rather than address Luther’s concerns, the pope dismissed them and this German monk. The fires of the Reformation began to blaze even higher.
Luther found himself in the middle of an ecclesiastical firestorm. It soon blazed beyond anything Martin could have imagined. The controversy Luther created eventually addressed not only the particular subject of indulgences, but ultimately how sinners were justified before God and what by authoritative, objective standard of truth ruled the individual believer along with the church?
While justification by faith may have been the instrumental cause of the Reformation, the foundational issue was the Bible being the sole and ultimate authority binding both Christian and church. The battle continues to this day.
More to come.
Soli deo Gloria!