On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses to the door of the Roman Catholic Church and started the Reformation… well, according to legend. There’s a lot more to this story I did not know until recently, while taking a Church History class.
Often when we look to historical events, we tend to give credit to one person, when in reality, there were several people who were involved. So goes the story of Martin Luther and the Reformation. I thought it would be appropriate today, to look at those who surround this infamous story.
First, I’d like to talk about a man named John Wycliffe. There isn’t a lot we know about this guy, even his exact birth and death aren’t fully set in stone by Church historians.
Wycliffe, yes, the guy that shows us what Steve Buscemi would look like with white hair and in religious garb… in case anyone was curious about that…
In the fourteenth century, the only Bible available was in Latin, and Wycliffe studied it! Some of Wycliffe’s theology included: Christ is the head of the Church and not the Pope, a priest was not to be a mediator between God and man but rather a spiritual leader who preaches and teaches the Word of God, the Church system is not what is important but rather one’s relationship with God, and God’s grace is through Christ’s work on the cross and was not of mankind’s good works.
Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “Hey, I’ve heard of the Wycliffe Bible! Does that have anything to do with this dude?” And my response is, “Yes. Exactly!” Wycliffe felt it was necessary to have The Bible translated into people’s own languages so that people could read it for themselves. This was actually quite rebellious. Why? Because previously, the Pope could say, “Well according to God…” and people would blindly follow because most people didn’t know Hebrew, Greek, or Latin. So, basically, Wycliffe took power away from the Catholic Church, however, he was not martyred for it until after his death. He actually died naturally, according to legend, during a worship service. Now, that had to be quite the worship service people witnessed that day.
Next, we have someone named Jan Hus. Now, Jan Hus was a man, which could be misleading by thinking he’s a woman cause “Jan” seems like a woman’s name. But don’t be silly! Although, there are a lot of women who contributed to Church History, we can’t talk about them, because well… because that might lead women today to get this silly notion that they have something to contribute to the Church, and that would be emasculating to some men. (Kind of like when a man vacuum’s my floor, I totally think, “He just took my femininity right away from me! That masculine jerk!” )
So, anyways, back to the point, Jan Hus…
…during the early 1400s popularizes Wycliffe’s theology and continues the belief that The Bible should be translated to people’s native tongue! He was adamant about teaching against the Roman Catholic Church traditions that were NOT found in The Bible. As a result, Hus ends up getting burned alive at the stake, which actually makes sense when you’re trying to threaten someone. What doesn’t make sense, is that next, the Catholic Church dug up Wycliffe’s bones and burned them. I guess the reason is that nothing shows a guy he’s wrong like burning him at the stake AFTER he’s dead??
…Don’t ask, it perplexes me too…
Then along comes this guy named Johann Tetzel…
Now, there were these things called Indulgences in the Catholic Church. Indulgences were payments made to a Catholic person to free a spirit from earth and/or purgatory. More or less, you had to pay your soul into Heaven, all the while, the Catholic Church is getting extremely wealthy. In fact Tetzel had this little jingle he wrote, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”
This makes Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk who studied Wycliffe and Hus, a hot mess! (Although, in all fairness, Luther was a hot mess whether or not he studied Wycliffe or Hus, but we’ll save that story for another time.)
So, Luther does this…
He nails the 95 Theses (many of them he popularized from Wycliffe’s and Hus’ theology) to the door of the Church. However, contrary to popular belief, Luther did this for two or three years straight, and no one gave a hoot. There is actually no response whatsoever from anyone, and Luther does not gain the attention he wants.
Then Johannes Gutenberg’s greatest invention came into play–the printing press! Luther starts mass producing the 95 Theses and distributes them for people to read. Now, the Roman Catholic Church gets angry and calls for Luther’s presence at a meeting known as the Diet of Worms in 1521. It was there they force Luther to eat a diet of worms for his penance, instead of saying Hail Mary’s.
There really was an event called The Diet of Worms though, which was a meeting in a town called Worms, where Luther was sent to recant his books, writings, and beliefs.
Luther asked for 24 hours to think over his answer. Mainly, because he knew what happened to Wycliffe’s dead bones and Hus’ living bones when they disagreed with the Roman Catholic Church. And I’m sure he was more threatened by Hus’ persecution than Wycliffe’s… Just sayin… Anyways, after 24 hours, Luther returned and refused to recant his beliefs, by saying, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, for going against conscience is neither safe nor right. I can do no other, here I stand, God help me.”
Luther was free for 21 days after refusing to recant his beliefs. Then they captured him to kill him, but his good buddies (under the direction of a prince) kidnap him. Luther spends the rest of his days translating the Latin Bible into German.
And there you have it folks, the starting of the Reformation…
Now, why is this important? First of all, thanks to the Reformation, we start to see The Bible translated into various languages for the common people, and The Bible starts to become the rule of faith and practice, instead of the tradition of the Church. Secondly, we start to see justification by faith through grace become the center of salvation, instead of Indulgences and good works.
Here’s some unimportant yet fun facts:
+Martin Luther did not like the beginning of the Protestant Church being referred to as “The Reformation”, rather, he wanted to reserve that title for the New Heaven and the New Earth when Christ returns.
+Martin Luther was a hot tempered mess of a man! Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!
+Martin Luther also got married to a nun, and thus changed the course of history by stating that marriage and family is just as valid as celibacy and singleness in the service of the Church.
+The word ‘theses’ rhymes with ‘feces’.
+ Here’s a “Reformation Polka” for anyone looking for special music for your next Church Service. Just take note, Luther never spoke against Transubstantiation, nor did he ever nail the Theses to a wall, or liked the word “reformation” to describe the beginning of the Protestant Church. So don’t sing the chorus of this song, and you’ll actually be accurate to Luther’s story.
+Check out these women and read their amazing contributions to Church History! Remember men, this is not emasculating, so feel free to vacuum my floors anytime!