Martin Luther’s 95 theses – the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation


Martin Luther and his wife, Uffizi Gallery. Photo by me

The 31 October 1517 saw the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation thanks to the publication of Martin Luther’s 95 theses, a set of assertions on what Luther believed were the biggest abuses of the Roman Catholic Church. One of the main abuses he wrote on was the sale of indulgences, a method of shortening one’s time in purgatory – although Luther himself was a monk, as well as a professor of theology, he found himself believing more and more that it was faith alone rather than the so-called ‘good works’ of those who followed the Catholic Church that led to God’s Grace, and his beliefs prompted him to write his theses which led to him locking horns with the Catholic Church and the Papacy over his work.

Luther ended up being excommunicated by Pope Leo X after he refused to refute 41 of his 95 theses. He was announced as a heretic and an outlaw with it being made a crime for anyone in Germany to shelter Luther.

In my own work, I have found it particularly interesting that Luther actually drew many of his views from Girolamo Savonarola who was an early Church reformer burned for his ‘heresy’ in 1498 – Luther read Savonarola’s works and declared him a ‘martyr’ as well as a forerunner to his own views.

Reformist ideas may have been around for a time before Luther published his theses, traditionally said to have been nailed to a church door on the fateful 31st October, but it was this document that truly came to shake up the religious world at the time.

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