Abuses of power, corruptions, sales of indulgences, the printing press all contributed to the Protestant Reformation.



Protestant Reformation

Inquisition in Session

Unknown woodcut

The Catholic Church developed absolute power during the Middle Ages and was ruthless in defending the faith.  As in most human institutions, absolute power bring corruption.  Hard to defend doctrines and teachings such as  indulgences, purgatory, Original Sin, Heaven and Hell, created untenable positions and necessitated strange and totalitarian practices.
Torture was used frequently during the Inquisition to obtain confessions of heresy. In the 1200s Pope Innocent IV officially sanctioned the practice.   The church has since apologized.    
The requirement of faith, enforced by centuries of enslavement by the church led to a bazaar history and one that would indicate that the Church can not be the true religion of Christ, but simply another institution in the history of man.

Man’s inhumanity to Man can occur in any time.  Religious zeal must be balanced. A nice and helpful question to ask from our own generation is WWJD - What Would Jesus Do?

Martin Luther was a German Augustinian Monk in the 1500's and was largely responsible for starting what is known as the Protestant Reformation.  He had a history of depression and was obsessed with guilt, confession and salvation.  He could find no peace through acts of good works, petition of the saints, confession or penance, the normal methods of the Church for salvation.  He could not do enough to purge his sins.  At the heart of it was his view of God of consuming fire damning souls to Hell and of Christ the Avenger.   
In 1510 Luther made a pilgrimage to Rome and became totally disillusioned by the ignorance, irreverence, frivolity, incompetence and immorality of the Italian clergy. 

Sale of Indulgences in a German Marketplace,

by Jeorg Breu the Elder

about 1530, woodcut.

Indulgences were designed for “release from the temporal punishments one must suffer in this life or in purgatory for the sins a person has committed."  The sale of indulgences developed into big business for the Church and led to major corruption.  The money was used to finance the Crusades, construction of Cathedrals, and “indulgences” of the clergy.  A Dominican friar named Tetzel, an associate of Luther, is credited with composing the popular rhyme for selling indulgences:
            “Remember that you are able to release them, for
              As soon as the coin in the coffer rings,
                  The soul from purgatory springs.” 

All of this outraged Martin Luther.  However, he still could not shake his demons, and the obsessive-compulsive need to confess and inability to “feel saved“.     
Johann von Staupitz was a Vicar of Luther’s Order and his spiritual guide and mentor.  Staupitz was also a mystic and tried to help Luther.  He instructed Luther about preparation and overcoming the ego, and releasing to become one with God.  Luther was partially successful, but the sense of alienation would return - the “dark night of the soul” of the mystics.
Staupitz then told Luther to study for the Doctor’s degree  and be a teacher.  Luther went back to studying the scriptures and discovered his new theology.  He found Christ who suffered with humanity and “came to love the Suffering Redeemer who could rout out the devils and demons”.
 For Luther, it was the mystery of the cross, unmerited Grace,  and faith alone, which are gifts of God; and that one can do nothing to obtain salvation.  Christ reconciled the wrath and mercy of God.  And this appeared to be the theology of St. Paul.     

Luther famously nailed his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany in 1517.  The statement attacked the practices of selling indulgences and the Pope's ability to grant the release of those souls in purgatory.  All of this helped launch the Protestant Reformation.  Luther was sincere, devout and pious and this gave him the courage to go up against the most powerful organization in his world, and would not “recant” the charges of heresy.  This is reflected in the famous injunction that is attributed to Luther: “Here I stand”.  Luther was eventually excommunicated.  

Martin Luther Answering Charges of Heresy Before the Diet at Worms, Germany in 1521

from a book by Carl August Schwerdgeburth, 1853.

Martin Luther had helped smuggle 12 nuns out of a convent and in 1525 he married one of them, Katharina von Bora and they had six children.      

Portrait of Katharina von Bora by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1526.

Cranach was a famous German Renaissance painter and a friend of Martin Luther.

Martin Luther's Bible, translated into German, 1534, with handcolored woodcut illustrations by Lucas Cranach.

The invention of the printing press made a huge impact on the success of the Reformation.  Luther was able to print flyers and went on to translate and print his own Bible in German for the general public.  His friend Lucas Cranach made many beautiful woodcuts for these purposes. 

Luther’s Reformation was against corruption in the Church and a way to find his own salvation. 

The Next Reformation will be about reviewing and changing Church Doctrine in light evolving views of God and spiritual things. 

Grace ~