When Martin Luther pinned his “95 Theses” to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church (as he is said by some religious historians to have done) in 1517, it was the final manifestation of a protracted and unsuccessful effort at convincing the Catholic Church to reform from within. It represented Luther’s break from the Church, and the genesis of the Protestant Reformation.
Martin Luther had been a devoted disciple of the Catholic Church, a monk and religious scholar who dedicated his life to practicing and teaching the central tenets of Christianity. What drove him away from the Catholic Church, however, was less theological than a matter of integrity or principle. Disgusted by the Church hierarchy’s practice of granting absolution in exchange for compensation – what became known as “the doctrine of indulgences” -- and disillusioned by the eminent fallibility he witnessed among his fellow men of faith, whose daily endeavors appeared increasingly divorced from the word and meaning of the Bible, he began to agitate for changes within the Church, including an end to the practice of selling absolution and an end to the veneration of human representatives of the Church. As Luther asked rhetorically in one of his “95 Theses,” “Why does not the Pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?” Such was the corruption within the Church, that a man of true faith and integrity found it impossible to remain inside it. The Bible, he wrote, was the word of God, not the sounds emanating from the mouths of corrupt clergy. As he declared during his trial before the Diet at Worms, “I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.”
Such was the significance of Luther’s break with the Church and his indictment of its practices that Pope Leo X issued a rebuttal to the “95 Theses” and Emperor Charles V presided over his trial at Worms in 1521. Luther stood steadfast, however, and survived the wrath of the Holy Roman Empire.