Martin Luther and the Reformation

By the sixteenth century, the Catholic Church had endured amid controversy, schisms and corruption with little competition throughout much of Western Europe.  All that was about to change, however, with the reformer Martin Luther and his controversial (and heretical) opposition to Church doctrine and practices.

Martin Luther’s primary disagreement with the church originated with the concept of selling indulgences – or essentially purchasing forgiveness of sins.[1]  Luther argued that those convinced to buy indulgences were deceived, and that no indulgence without true repentance of the spirit could release the soul from penalty for sin.[2]

By the sixteenth century, salvation was often considered synonymous with membership within the Catholic Church, rather than salvation through the grace of God himself or the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.[3] Luther, in contrast saw salvation through justification as a gift from God that could not be bought, sold or bargained for.  Salvation through Jesus Christ could only be obtained by true repentance.[4]

In addition to disagreements over salvation, justification and punishment for sin, Luther also began to think differently about the authority of the Pope, and whether any man had the power to truly forgive sin, or whether the power of the Pope was simply through intercession on behalf of the people he served.[5]

Going along with Luther’s views on indulgences and the ability to buy or sell

forgiveness from sins, Martin Luther disagreed with the doctrine of the church about forgiveness altogether. Forgiveness, for Luther, was a free gift from God and not something that could be bought or earned.[6]

Lastly, Luther vehemently disagreed with the application of indulgences or earthly penalties to the souls of those already dead who resided in purgatory, working towards purification.[7]  For Luther, those who had died had been liberated from earthly penalties that may be imposed upon them by the clergy, and that no punishments should be imposed on the dying or those who have already passed away.[8]  Furthermore, Luther insisted that death freed souls from all penalties and that the fear and despair within purgatory was punishment enough.[9]

Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses rocked the world of the Renaissance – a world that was already full of conflict and division between territories, class distinctions and the Church hierarchy and others.  While Luther may never have intended to spark a movement that ran in opposition to and in competition with the Catholic Church, he inspired others to voice their concerns and disagreements that had previously gone unspoken.







Bishop, Paul A. “Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation.” Hillsborough Community College. Accessed March 7, 2016.  Https://


Luther, Dr. Martin. “Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” Internet Christian Library. Published 1994-2015, accessed March 7, 2016.

[1] Paul A. Bishop, “Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation,” Hillsborough community College, accessed March 7, 2016,

[2] Dr. Martin Luther, “Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” Internet Christian Library, published 1994-2015, accessed March 7, 2016,

[3] Paul A. Bishop.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Dr. Martin Luther.

[6] Paul A. Bishop, “Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation,” Hillsborough community College, accessed March 7, 2016,

[7] Ibid.

[8] Dr. Martin Luther, “Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” Internet Christian Library, published 1994-2015, accessed March 7, 2016,

[9] Ibid.

In reading about the initial steps of the Reformation this module, two things struck me as interesting and important.  Firstly, I found it interesting to note that Martin Luther was not originally intending by any means to break from the Catholic Church– he was interested in instituting changes in its doctrines and policies.[1]  Its only after his theses were ignored and pushed aside did the true rebellion against the Church itself begin.  In addition to that, I recognized before this class that the Protestant Reformation divided the church, despite repeated efforts, the Protestant Reformation was never technically a united front in and of itself[2].

Germany at the dawn of the Reformation was primed by a number of factors that contributed to Protestantism flourishing within it.  Firstly, it’s where Martin Luther was.  Secondly, Johan Tetzel was appointed in Germany as the commissioner for the sale of indulgences in order to attempt to gain monetary assets to be used to build St. Peter’s basilica in Rome.[3]  Lastly, when the Church initially ignored Martin Luther’s theses, they were widely distributed first in Germany but quickly throughout Europe, allowing discontentment and disagreement with the church that others had been wrestling with to be given a voice and a figure to make those complaints public.[4]  All of those factors combined into what would become the Reformation in Germany, which gained support from those in power who were able to protect Luther and other Protestants from the retribution of the church – at least in their own territories.[5]

Luther’s primary objection against the Catholic Church was the sale of indulgences – or the idea that salvation could somehow be bought rather than freely given under the grace of God himself.[6]  In addition, he challenged the Pope’s authority, and the doctrine that espoused that salvation could be obtained by membership in the Catholic Church and not through the sacrifice of Christ through grace and mercy.[7]  The growth of the Reformation movement can be attributed to the fact that the Catholic Church had long been guilty of vice and greed in the eyes of the general population as was explored in our first learning module with the schisms and the poor behavior of several members of the clergy.  While many people protested inwardly about the church, most were afraid to speak out about it because to do so could be seen as heresy and with the history of the inquisitions throughout Europe, speaking out against the church could be a very dangerous proposal.  Martin Luther, although excommunicated and accused of heresy was willing to speak out, and his boldness allowed others throughout Europe to follow his lead.[8]  His work translating the Bible into German also enabled others who did not speak or read Latin to read the Bible in the vernacular, allowing them to question (much like Luther had) the differences between what they had been taught and what the Bible actually said.[9]

[1] Paul A. Bishop, “Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation,” Hillsborough Community College, accessed March 7, 2016,

[2][2] Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, Early Modern Europe 1450-1789, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 169.

[3] Paul A. Bishop.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

One thought on “Martin Luther and the Reformation

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