Why Were Martin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses So Important?

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Martin Luther (1483–1546) is credited with starting the Protestant Reformation (a revolution against the Roman Catholic Church) when he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of Castle Church at Wittenberg in Saxony, Germany, on October 31, 1517. The Ninety-Five Theses are important because they directly challenged the authority of the pope (the head of the Roman Catholic Church) and questioned the practices of the Catholic Church. A German monk and professor of theology (study of religion), Luther used the theses (arguments or assertions) to condemn the corruption of the church, especially the sale of indulgences (pardons that were granted by the church) by priests and bishops. Luther had already been preaching that Christians are saved from sin by having faith in God and not simply by doing good works. In 1518 he continued to defend his beliefs in direct opposition to the church. The next year he further angered the church by not acknowledging the supreme authority of the pope.

In 1521, Pope Leo (1475–1521) charged Luther with heresy (violation of church teachings) and excommunicated (expelled) him from the church. Ordered to appear before the Diet of Worms (an imperial council that met at Worms, Germany) in April 1521, Luther refused to retract his statements. Instead, he announced: "Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason . . . I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God." The political crisis caused by Luther's defiance led the Holy Roman emperor Charles V (1500–1558) to issue the Edict of Worms, calling Luther an outlaw and authorizing his death. But the Prince of Saxony, known as Frederick the Wise (1463–1525), protected Luther, whom he had appointed a faculty member at the University of Wittenberg (founded by Frederick the Wise in 1502). There Luther had two tasks: first, he undertook a translation of the New Testament into German; second, he turned his attention to translating the entire Bible. Luther founded the Lutheran church, the first Protestant denomination (religious group), and he led the Protestant movement until his death in 1546.

Further Information: Bainton, Richard Herbert. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1990; Flowers, Sarah. The Reformation. San Diego: Lucent Books, 1995; Martin Luther and the Reformation. [Online] Available http://mars.acnet.wnec.edu/~grempel/courses/wc2/lectures/luther.html, October 20, 2000; The Protestant Reformation: Major Documents. St. Louis, Mo.: Concordia Publishing House, 1997; Stepanek, Sally. Martin Luther. New York: Chelsea House, 1986.