This is the essay for the 1st week of the Tom Woods Homeschool Western Civilization 2 course. In this blog post, I will be discussing only one thing:
What were the Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses about and what was their complaint?
This blog post is shorter than usual because I have already covered one of the questions for this week before. It is the question: What was the condition of the Catholic Church on the eve of the Protestant Reformation? If are interested you can read that blog post here.
Even though the Protestant Reformation is called a reformation, it isn’t one. This is because reform is changing and improving already existing structures and methods. The Catholic Church did eventually have its own reform to train the priests, to eliminate absenteeism in bishops, and the greediness of Cardinals. This is not what Martin Luther wanted, he wanted to remove the structures and methods altogether.
Martin Luther was born in 1483 and lived until 1546. He started his reformation when he disagreed with the Church on indulgences, but he had many other disagreements relating to structures and methods with the Catholic Church. The indulgences were merely the ones that started his reformation. By the time Luther was teaching at the University of Wittenberg, he had racked up a few sins. The way that indulgences worked was that they could lower or completely remove your temporal punishment. These punishments aren’t nearly as serious as eternal punishment. If the only punishment you had leftover when you died was temporal, then you would have to stay in purgatory until they had been resolved. There were several ways you could receive an indulgence. These always included confession if you hadn’t already, after which you prayed and then you did something else. During Luther’s time, one of the other things you could do was donate to the Church for the rebuilding of the St. Peter’s Basilica. Indulgences would only work to their fullest extent and release you of all temporal punishments if you were committed to not sinning again, but some preachers in Wittenberg said that this wasn’t necessary.
All of these things combined pushed Luther to post his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg church in 1517. His 95 Theses was a series of propositions on indulgences that somebody could debate against. But nobody debated them and due to the invention of the printing press, they spread rapidly. This was not extraordinary as it was common for theologians to do such a thing and it was likely that they didn’t believe in all the propositions that they wrote down. At first, some people believed that Luther was a reformer that merely wanted to stop the abuse of indulgences and have them explained clearer. This was not the case, and his more extreme beliefs would soon be seen. His extreme beliefs were first shown when he said that not only the pope could make religious errors, but also a Church council.