Martin Luther and the Reformation
Monday 9th October 2017
Geoff Locke on Martin Luther and The Reformation.
As a young law student, Luther sheltered under a tree which was struck by lightning. He feared how he would account for his life had he been killed; so he abandoned law and became a monk.
The church taught that people had to do penances to make themselves righteous before God and in the afterlife they would have to go to Purgatory to complete them. Luther studied theology, engaged in severe self penances, including flagellation and all the other things the church taught, but none of this made him feel right with God. He walked from Germany to Rome and back; there he saw corruption in the Vatican. He became a professor and priest.
When Erasmus published his New Testament in the original Greek in 1516, Luther compared this with the Latin. He discovered that the Latin, used by the church, said that Jesus told people to "Do penance", whereas the Greek version said "Repent"; there were other important differences. Luther rejected the church's teaching, saying that the penalty for sins was paid by Jesus on the cross; we were justified by faith alone.
In 1517 a monk named Tetzel sold indulgences, i.e. time off purgatory, to pay for the building of St. Peter's in Rome. So Luther set out his objections in 95 theses, which he nailed to the church door in Wittenberg. Charged with heresy, there followed many events in which he was opposed by church officials. A papal bull was issued excommunicating him, which Luther burned publicly and he was put on trial at a Diet (court) in the city of Worms. Some friends kidnapped him to prevent his arrest and he hid in a castle where he translated the Bible into German.
He had increasing support and followers, who had already become unhappy with the corruption and power of the church and welcomed being able to read the bible and worship in German. The invention of printing speeded up this change, which spread across Europe. Luther had set out to change the church, but this led to a new Protestant church, protesting against the Pope. Many priests decided to marry, many princes became protestant leaders of their own areas and Luther married a nun.
This talk led to many questions and much discussion in which we learned that Luther was always a very intelligent academic, but emotional and sometimes coarse in expression. He opposed an attempt at violent revolution by peasants and he supported the use of force to put them down. Later in life he issued extremely strong statements against the Jews. The new protestant church became dogmatic, opposing the Catholic dogma. A major element in the new church teaching was the grace of God and the need to live by faith.
(Nigel Jones, 9 Oct'17)