With two days until October 31st, I thought I would use this week’s time line Tuesday to cover the anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation.
The 95 Theses
On October 31, 1517, an Augustinian monk by the name of Martin Luther posted a list of what amounted to 95 points on which he disagreed with things that were going on in the Catholic Church. He did it before All Saint’s Day, as he knew that the next day was a day of Holy Obligation, which meant that absolutely everyone would be at the Church the next day for Mass.
This was a common practice back in the day, and it wasn't usually intended to cause dissension but as a starting point for a discussion. However, when the Church investigated what Martin Luther had written, they declared that the statements were heretical and began proceedings against him. Johann Eck, a prominent theologian of the day, studied the theses and outlined 18 of them which were identical in nature to the tenets of the Hussite heresy. Luther received wind of this declaration and was indignant.
After reviewing the 95 theses, the papal court sent a summons to Luther that he was to go to Rome within 60 days. He obtained a waiver based on ill health which allowed him to remain in Germany and to be tried there. The papal legate, Cajetan, and Luther met face-to-face on the 11th of October in 1518. Cajetan was considered one of the foremost theologians and philosophers of the time, well trained in both sciences and humanitarian studies.
The confrontation between the two did not go well. Cajetan was shocked at the “rude, discourteous, bawling tone of the friar” and left warning Martin Luther to cease teaching and to not call on the pope again until such time as he was willing to recant.
Promises Made, Soon Broken
A papal nuncio (ambassador) was sent to Luther in an effort to secure a recanting of the 95 theses. Martin Luther did promise the following:
- to observe silence if his assailants did the same;
- complete submission to the pope;
- to publish a plain statement to the public advocating loyalty to the Church;
- to place the whole vexatious case in the hands of a delegated bishop.
Luther then promptly broke that promise as soon as the nuncio had gone.
The Fruits of the Theses
If, as Christ has said, we may know the nature of a thing by the fruit that it produces, it can assuredly be said that though Martin Luther may not have originally had this as his intention, Christianity has seen nothing but misery and woe arise out of his acts of rebellion.
Instead of humbling himself and submitting himself to the authority of the Church, he ignored it and continued to lead others astray by his teaching and preaching of heresy. His concern, clearly, was not for the souls of those he led but for his own glory and his own vindication.