Often cited as the trial that created the modern world, on this day in 1521 the trial of Martin Luther concluded.
Martin Luther was a German theologist, professor and at the fore of the Protestant Reformation. Luther challenged the indulgences of the Catholic Church and Holy See which taught that redemption from sins could be sought through payment. He believed that the embellishment of the Bible was decadent and detracted from it’s meaning. Catholicism was the leading branch of Christianity in the world and had been since the 4th century. More than that however, Catholicism dominated Middle Ages European society in a way which has never been replicated since by any group. The Church was involved in everything in daily life, from christenings, marriage, education and last rites; in fact the Church owned around 1/3 of all the land in Europe. Society struggled to progress because only one person in most villages could read – the Parish Priest, who could read the Bible which was only in Latin – and the Church dominated every aspect of life, with the Pope claimed authority over all of the Monarchs in Europe as the successor of the Roman Emperor.
This all changed because of Luther.
On a journey around Rome in 1505, Luther was disgusted by the way that Priests behaved and the nature of society. He focused on his readings and found a line by Paul The Apostle which read; “the just shall live by faith”. This had a profound impact upon Luther who realised that the embellishments of the Catholic world were a distraction from salvation and one’s focus must be on faith (sola fide).
When a representative of the Church came to Wittenberg where Luther was studying and began requesting indulgences (payments to the Church for the repenting of sins) Luther grew angry at the extortion and nailed his ninety-five theses to the Church door, denouncing the practise. He grew more radical culminating in claims that the Pope was not infallible – a serious enough allegation – and that in fact, the Church and its officers of it did not have any spiritual powers.
Luther posed a more serious threat to the Church than previous reformists because of the advent of the printing press, enabling him to mass produce his arguments and although many couldn’t read, enough could that Luther presented the Church with a problem.
His refusal to renounce all of his writings at the demand of Pope Leo X in 1520 was shocking and in April 1521 he was requested for trial by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms in 1521. Ending on April 18th, the judgement resulted in his excommunication by the Pope and condemnation as an outlaw by the Emperor.
Luther would go on nevertheless and publish the Bible into the spoken German of the era, allowing non-Latin speakers to, for the first time, read the Bible privately. This led to the denunciation by many of the Catholic Church and the founding of different Christian branches including Lutheranism, Anglicanism, Puritan, Quakers, Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists and was revolutionary for world history.
Serfdom was created by men and has no basis in scripture”
When peasants rose up against their oppressors inspired by Luther’s highlighting of the inequities, the elite Luther quickly attempted to backtrack and clarify that spiritual freedoms did not equate to social equality. He watched as an army of 300,000 German peasants were brutally repressed with over 100,000 deaths.
However, the influence of his work stretched far beyond German borders and impacted the world as we know it today immeasurably. Luther’s work was responsible for the loosening of the Catholic Church’s restraints and led to a better educated society capable of progress. Indeed, the effects are still seen in more contemporary history, with individuals like Martin Luther King Jr. being named after Luther and abiding his ideas of protest(ant) and reform(ation).