October 31, 1517
Beginning of Protestant Reformation

During the lives of the Apostles of Christ, the early Christian Church entertained principles and practices which compromised the truth of the Gospel. As the Church matured, it relied upon human efforts to secure salvation. Such good efforts began to supplant salvation by faith. In the early part of the sixteenth century, Martin Luther rediscovered what Scripture had taught all along—salvation in dependent upon a living faith. It is the sincere desire of the author that the following pages become a means of maintaining and perpetuating a vital relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ.



In 1516, when the indulgence was issued for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, Johann Tetzel (ca. 1465-1519), a Dominican friar from Leipzig, was made sub-commissary for the regions of Magdeburg and Halberstadt and was under the commission of the Archbishop of Mainz. An indulgence is the remission of temporal penalty by the Church which is believed to be due sin which has been forgiven, and for which penalty, the merits of Christ and the saints may be drawn upon. The origin of the practice may be traced to at least the third century and is built upon three suppositions: first, that Divine justice requires some form of retributive punishment, either on earth or in purgatory, even after the sinner has been reconciled to God through penitence and absolution; second, a “treasury of merit” exists, into which the infinite merits of Christ and the saints of the church have been placed; third, that the Church, has the power to distribute these merits in consideration of the prayers and virtuous acts of the faithful.

Tetzel’s eloquence commended the indulgence widely, but his commercialism and extravagance regarding the possibility of delivering a soul from purgatory caused great scandal. To raise as much money he could, he granted indulgences for past sins and even future sin yet uncommitted. In addition to this, a man could buy indulgences to release dead relatives from purgatory, the presumed place of temporary punishment for the dead.

The indulgence was forbidden in German Saxony, and for this reason, Tetzel could not proclaim it in Wittenberg, but this did not stop him from advocating it in neighboring Juterbog, which lay just outside of Saxony. After hearing Tetzel here, Martin Luther, and Augustinian Monk and instructor at the newly formed University of Wittenberg, was outraged and began a series of steps to guard against the influence of the sale of indulgences. He posted his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Schlosskirche[1] at midday in Wittenberg, on October 31, 1517. Frederick, Elector of Saxony, had collected various sacred relics and was displaying them in Wittenberg in preparation for the Feast of All Saints (All Saints Day), on November 1. In nailing his protest to the church door, Luther was following well-known practice of presenting issues to the public. He had only intended that these ninety-five statements questioning the doctrine and practice of the Roman Catholic church to be debated in the university, but several groups copied his writings and translated them from Latin into German. Soon his name was a household word and the Protestant Reformation was begun.

Luther’s Formative Years (1483-1517)

His Youth (1483-1497)

A. Birth at Eisleben (1483)

Martin Luther was born on Nov. 10, 1483 at Eisleben, a town in Thuringian Mountains of lower Saxony, not far from Wittenberg. Being faithful Catholics, his family took him to their parish church where Martin was baptized the day after his birth. Fifteen years after Luther’s birth, Savonarola was martyred. His father, Hans Luther a “true peasant” (rechter Bauer), was a miner in the village of Moehra. His mother, Margaret Lindemann, was praised by Phillip Melanchthon as a woman of modesty, one who feared God, and one who faithfully cultivated habits of prayer. Both of his parents worked very hard to provide food, clothing, and a good education for their children. Luther later reflected, My father was a poor miner and my mother carried the wood from the forests on her back; they both worked their flesh off their bones in order to bring up their children.

B. Youth at Mansfeld

While Luther was yet a small boy, his family moved to Mansfeld where his father secured work in the mines, became a man of property, and selected town senator. The foundation for his education was laid at home by his mother. Later, in the village school, he received more formal education from abusive instructors. In one morning alone, Luther received no less than fifteen whippings; yet, his parents would not allow him to quit his studies. While in Mansfeld, Martin attended the Latin school there before transferring to Magdeburg in 1497.

His Education (1497-1505)

C. One Year at Magdeburg (1497)

When fourteen, his parents sent him to Magdeburg, about fifty miles from their home. Though the cost of his tuition was paid for by pious individuals, Luther was forced to raise support for personal expenses by singing for wealthy citizens of Magdeburg. After only a year at Magdeburg, he left the city for the School of St. George in Eisenach.

D. Four Years at Eisenach (1498-1501)

For a period of time, Luther begged his bread in the streets before being invited into the home of an affluent couple, Conrad and Ursula Cotta. Here, in their home, Luther remained for nearly four years (from 1498 to 1501).

E. Four Years at Erfurt (1501-1505)

In May of 1501, Luther began his study of the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, when he enrolled at the University of Erfurt, about twenty miles from Eisenach. Here he was influenced by his teacher who followed the nominalism of William Ockham. Ockham had taught that revelation was the only guide in the realm of faith; reason was the guide to truth in philosophy. The University of Erfurt, at this time, was dominated by the via moderna .[2]

In 1502, he received the bachelor of arts degree, and three years latter (1505) he received the master of arts from the University of Erfurt. After nearly nine years of education beyond the lower school in Mansfeld, Luther was far more prepared for the struggles which he was to encounter. His parents had intended for him to prepare for a career as a lawyer; but in this expectation, they were to be disappointed. Though he began his study of law at Erfurt, his efforts were cut short as a result of intense spiritual struggles.

Luther Becomes a Monk (Erfurt, 1505)

Since youth, Luther had been terrified of God, believing that God was angry with him. During his latter years of study at the University of Erfurt, he became preoccupied with the question, “What must I do to be saved?” He was terrified of the prospect of dying and being damned forever in the torment of hell. The Roman Catholic Church, in which Luther had been raised, taught him that salvation was secured by the performance of good works. The church believed that the best way to be assured of going to heaven was to enter a monastery and become a monk. But the idea of becoming a monk did not appeal to him. A monk took vows not to marry, to remain in poverty, and obey the rules of the order to which he belonged. The notion of living away from the rest of the world and following the rules of any monastic order was regarded by Luther as a bleak existence.

As Luther’s mind wrestled with the prospect of monastic life, the city of Erfurt was stricken by a plague. Many residents of the city and university students died, while still others fled the city. In spite of the danger, Luther remained behind in Erfurt, but was unable to concentrate on his study of law. He left the university for a brief period and traveled home to Mansfeld. On July 2, he was returning to the university when he was overtaken by a severe thunderstorm. The thunderings of the storm were so intense that Luther believed the devil himself was pursuing him. He was knocked to the ground by lightening and in terror cried out in prayer, not to God, but to St. Anne for deliverance. Following the custom which began to emerge prior to the Council of Nicea, Luther offered his prayer to a saint rather than God himself, believing that he did not enjoy the privilege to pray directly to God. Luther made a vow that night that would change the course of his life.

Several days after this terrifying experience, he spent the evening with his university friends. At the close of the evening, he announced to them, “Today you see me; after this you will see me no more.” They did everything in their power to dissuade him from fulfilling his vow, but as the night was passing into dawn, on July 17, 1505, he presented himself for admission to the Augustinian order of friars in Erfurt. From this place would issue forth Lutheran Protestantism and the evangelical doctrine of justification by faith.

Cloister Life (1505-1517)

He faithfully adhered to the rules of the order and became an ardent student of Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, and the nominalistic works of William Occam, Pierre D’ Ailly, Gabriel Biel,[3] and John Gerson. But these mental exercises could not satisfy the spiritual wrestlings of his heart. It was John Staupitz, the vicar of his order, who became his most influential guide in spiritual matters. At this point in his studies, the Bible became a primary source of study for him. In it, he began to immerse himself.

F. William of Occam (d. ca. 1347)

William of Occam was one of the last of the great scholars of mediaeval scholasticism and was the precursor of John Wycliffe, John Hus, and Martin Luther. The exact date of his birth cannot be determined, but it is believed that it occurred in the last quarter of the thirteenth century. This may be deduced by the fact that he was regius professor of theology in the University of Paris in the early years of the 14th century and died well advanced in age before the century had half expired. His ability as a boy drew the attention of the Cordeliers, who encouraged him to become a Franciscan monk. Subsequently Occam was sent by the Franciscans to Merton College, Oxford.

Under the supervision and influence of Robert Grosseteste, bishop of Lincoln, and the teachings of Frater Agnellus, Adam de Marisco, and Roger Bacon, this great university was brought into renown. About this same time, Duns Scotus, also an alumnus of Merton, and then at the height of his eminent reputation, was attracting to Oxford the thirty thousand students whom he is said to have drawn there.

Occam attended Scotus’ courses, and became Scotus’ favorite pupil. Occam’s own mind, however, was sufficiently independent. He did not hesitate to attack the perceived inconsistencies of his teacher. After receiving his degree he began a course of lectures, and generated almost as much interest as Scotus and winning many students from his teacher.

Duns Scotus was the acknowledged chief of the Realistic School, which had long been dominant, and was then reigning almost without opposition. In opposition to Scotus, Occam revived the doctrine of the Nominalists, which, if not dead, had long been dormant. An intense rivalry arose between the Occamists and the Scotists, which frequently led to physical blows and wounds between the combatants. To the contemporary observer, the interests of the schoolmen may appear trivial and ridiculous, but in the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries, it was a matter of utmost seriousness. But the questions involved had the greatest of implications for the church, state, school, and all society.

The antagonism to the Scotists, however, was only gradually developed. Occam was sent to Paris, and became regius professor of theology in the university. On his return to England he was appointed by the Franciscans one of their professors at Oxford, but because of the furor among the students which followed his teaching, he was forced to surrender it. His bold doctrines and uncompromising polemics occasioned controversies and quarrels among doctors and disciples, especially as the Dominicans and Thomists who were well represented there.

The dates of Occam’s career are extremely obscure and very uncertain. It is possible only through conjecture or synchronism with known historical events to sketch an outline. He is believed to have declined the archdeaconry of Stow in 1300, but two years later to have accepted a prebend at Bedford. In 1305, he was inducted into a living at Stow, and did not resign it until 1319. During much of this period, he was certainly in Paris, not being required to be in resident in his parish to receive its benefices-a practice quite common in that day. In the first years of the fourteenth century, he engaged in the defense of the civil power against the claims of the pope. By advocating the cause of Philip the Fair of France against the arrogant pretensions of Boniface VIII. He gained considerable notoriety and balanced the scales between papal and political authority by claiming the independence of the princes in all temporal affairs, asserting their responsibility to God alone. For his reply to the bull Unam Sanctam, Occam was excommunicated, and forced to leave France about twelve years later, at the death of Philip in 1314.

In 1322, he was elected provincial general of the English Cordeliers. In this capacity he attended the general chapter of the order held at Perugia. In that council was discussed the often-debated question between the Fratricelli and the more worldly brethren of the fraternity in regard: to the degree of poverty imposed upon the order by its founder, and the propriety of ecclesiastical endowments. Occam, in agreement with Michele di Cesena, the general of the order, maintained the obligation of absolute poverty, asserting that this had been the practice of Christ and his apostles, and by this example, their spiritual community was bound to follow. The implications for a greedy pope and to ecclesiastical wealth was immediately recognized by the papal court at Avignon. In response, John imposed silence on the daring Franciscan, condemning Occam’s doctrine of the absolute destitution of Christ and the apostles in his Cum inter, condemned his dogma regarding the absolute destitution of Christ and his apostles. But Occam refused to be silenced by the pope and broadened his attack to include the avarice, wealth, corruption, luxury, worldliness, and arrogance of the pope and that of the church hierarchy. He was sustained by his general, Michele di Cesena, but when they had returned to France, and likely submitted to a summons to appear before the pontifical court, they were thrown into dungeons at Avignon. They made their escape, however, with the assistance of the emperor, Louis of Bavaria, on May 26, 1328, who was himself engaged in conflict with the pope.

With the emperor they found refuge, and were excommunicated for their flight, something which held no terror for Occam. His convictions were unshaken by the wild ravings of Boniface VIII. About this time, he promised the emperor to defend him with his pen, if the emperor would reciprocate by offering protection of the imperial sword. The emperor pledged himself to Occam, and the alliance remained unbroken. Here Occam lived for years under the shelter afforded by his imperial patron, throwing himself courageously and passionately into the thickest of the strife. In so doing, he began a revolution of letter which anticipated a fuller realization. To him may be ascribed the repudiation of papal jurisdiction in Germany, as demonstrated by the electors at Rense, and by the Diet at Frankfort (1338), an early anticipation of Huss and Luther.

Little is known concerning the later years of Occam. The time and place of his death have both been matters of dispute. The most reliable evidence suggests that he died in the monastery of his order at Munich, April 7, 1347, the same year in which his protector, Louis of Bavaria also died.

Occam has consistently been represented as the restorer of nominalism . He once again elevated nominalism as a philosophical power of speculation. As a result, it advanced in general acceptance until it bore the fruit of rationalism. It is a grave error to accuse the great schoolmen of wasting their powers over empty and abstract disputations. Employing the language and forms of Byzantine logic, he antedates Locke in recognizing and demonstrating the close coherence between logic and grammar; he antedates Hobbes in regarding words as nothing more than the counters of thought as voces hypothetice reprcesentive, rather than as voces essentialiter siqnificativae; he antedates Hume in insisting upon the wide difference between impressions and ideas. In these ways, Occam anticipated both the modern habit of mind and skeptical or antidogmatic tendency.[4]

G. Pierre D’ Ailly (1350-1425)

Pierre D’ Ailly was a renowned cardinal and distinguished theologian of the fourteenth century, surnamed the “Hammer of Heretics.” The dispute between nominalism and realism had not yet subsided. D’Ailly threw himself into philosophical study with abandonment. He soon distinguished himself for his skill and subtlety in his advocacy of the nominalist theory and his scholarship in general. When only twenty-five, he gained a brilliant reputation for his lectures in the University of Paris on Peter Lombard’s Sententioe.

In 1380, D’Ailly was made doctor of the Sorbonne. In his inaugural address to the position, he praised the study of Scripture and subsequently lectured on the New Testament and the nature of the Church in which he deviated from church teaching. He declared that the Catholic proof text of Matthew 16:18, “Upon this rock,” etc., was to be regarded in a spiritual sense; the Bible alone was to be regarded as the everlasting rock upon which Christ’s Church was built. In addition, he made a distinction between the universal Church of Christ and the Church of Rome as a particular church and argued the latter had no priority over the former. From this, he argued that another bishop other than that of Rome could be head of the Church.

But D’Ailly did not deviate from Rome at every point. While in the University of Paris, he crossed polemical swords with the Dominicans (especially with John de Montion) in defense of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. He further argued that the right to decide such issues does not belong to the pope alone. Having been sent by the university to argue both questions before the pope, he won favorable decisions on both accounts. To reward D’Ailly, the University of Paris elected him chancellor. D’Ailly also took an active role in seeking to resolve the Great Schism of the West and was subsequently appointed as a leading member of the Council of Pisa in 1409. Appointed a cardinal and papal legate in Germany by John XXIII, Council of Constance. To the discredit of his great name, he voted to condemn John Hus. D’Ailly was one of the most distinguished churchmen of the Middle Ages, distinguishing himself both as a theologian and orator. He is remembered as a predecessor of the liberal party of the Roman church which was subsequently represented by Bossuet and Fenelon. Among his pupils were Gerson and Nicholas de Clemange.[5]

Luther Becomes a Priest (Erfurt, 1507)

In February 1507, Luther was ordained a priest and celebrated his first mass the following May, to which he invited his father. Hans accepted the invitation, bringing some of his friends with him to the mass. Hans, who had been outraged by his sons’ decision to enter a monastery, was by now was more reconciled to his son’s decision.

University Lecturer (Wittenberg, 1508)

About a year and a half after his ordination, Luther was sent as lecturer to the small town of Wittenberg, where, during the winter of 1508, he taught dialectics and physics (patterned after Aristotelianism) at the new university which had been founded in 1502 by Frederick III (1463-1525), the Elector of Saxony. The patron saints of Wittenberg were Paul an Augustine. In 1509, his professorial status was elevated to Baccalaureus ad Biblia; in 1511, to Sententiarius (Sentences of Lombard, first two books) and Formatus (Sentences, last two books); October 4, 1512 to Licentiatus (to teach theology in general); and on October 19, 1512, to Doctor of Theology, at which time, Luther swore to “teach purely and sincerely according to the Scripture.” From this point, his teaching responsibility changed from philosophy to theology.

Visit to Rome (1510-1511)

In October of 1510, he was sent to Rome on foot to receive a decision from the pope concerning a dispute which had arisen among several monasteries over which John Staupitz had charge. As he approached Rome and the city rose before him, he fell to his knees and exclaimed, “Hail, sacred Rome! Thrice hallowed with the blood of martyrs!” At this time, St. Peter’s Cathedral was only half finished.

While in Rome, he visited the chapel Sancta Sanctorum in which was a flight of twenty-eight stairs. These stairs were said to have been taken from Pilate’s judgment hall in Jerusalem where Christ was condemned. In the ninth century, Pope Leo IV had promised forgiveness of sins for nine years for every step a pilgrim climbed on his knees. Eager to sense his sins forgiven, Luther began to climb the steps on his knees, but the higher he climbed, the more deeply he sensed that this was a futile attempt to find peace with God. But to his disappointment, he found the spiritual and moral life of Rome at a low ebb. He came to affirm a current observation about the city and its corruption: “If there is a hell, Rome is built over it.”

Biblical Studies Chair, Wittenberg (1511-1512)

Soon after his return to Wittenberg in 1511, Luther received a doctor of theology and became professor of biblical studies—a post which he held until his death. His appointment to the chair of biblical studies would be the impetus for his rejection of the via moderna. In addition to this position, he also was appointed pastor at the town church and administrator of the Augustinian monasteries throughout Saxony.

Lecture on Psalms (1513-1515)[6]

Beginning in 1513, Luther began his lectures on the Psalms. Throughout his early years as the chair of biblical studies, Luther remained committed to the via moderna which he had learned at Erfurt, which suggested that God established a covenant (pactum) with mankind by which he would justify any one who met a minimum precondition.[7] This study was the first of two which would bring about a radical change in his theology and spirituality.

Lectures on Romans (1515-1516)

By the time Luther had finished his lectures on Romans, several significant contributions had been made to his understanding of justification and the righteousness which is subsequent to it. He now found support for his new position in the writings of Augustine and the anti-Pelagians, as well as the mystics. As early as 1516, he was influenced by the writings of German Dominican mystic, Johann Tauler (ca. 1300-1361), and the Theologia Germanica (German Theology), of which editions were published in 1516 and 1518. The point at which the mystics influenced Luther was their emphasis that one could enjoy a personal relationship with Christ by faith.

At some point between 1513 and 1516, Luther underwent a radical shift in his theology. Though the change was gradual, it culminated into his “tower experience” (Turmerlebnis ) in ca. 1515, in which he rejected a Pelagian (via moderna) understanding of the “righteousness of God” in favor of the Augustinian interpretation. As a result, he came to believe that the initiative for salvation rested with God. McGrath notes, “The general consensus among Lutheran scholars is that his theology of justification underwent a decisive alteration at some point in 1515.”[8] The greatest contribution to this change was his study of Scripture, particularly his lectures.

H. Justification in Augustine

Though the Magisterial Reformers were greatly influenced by Augustine, they did not servilely parrot him at every point. Concerning the matter of justification, there were great differences between the Magisterial Reformers themselves, and those differences were not narrowed between themselves and Augustine.

Augustine believed that sinners were justified before God on the basis of an internal righteousness. This is not to say that Augustine believed that a sinner, through his own efforts, was capable of meriting justification. Augustine advocated that an internal righteousness was graciously implanted by God. He believed that there had to be an internal righteousness within the sinner before God would justify him. Luther, however, rejected the notion of an intermediate gift of grace. The Council of Trent would develop its doctrine of justification based upon the basis of an internal righteousness.[9]

I. Justification in Luther

Before Turmerlebnis Throughout his early life, Luther taught that the “righteousness of God” was a righteousness which punished sin. Prior to his tower experience, Luther believed that righteousness was achieved through works: “We could say that in his earlier phase Luther adopted something like a Pelagian position, which subsequently gave way to more of an Augustinian position.”[10] This position, which was the position of Occam and Biel, was taught to him when he entered the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt in 1505. It taught that and individual, by his own ability, was capable of doing meritorious works prior to God’s infusion of grace.[11] At this point, righteousness for Luther was the formal or active retributive justice of God; God was perceived as being anxious to punish.

Luther’s superior, John Staupitz, was instrumental in helping Luther prior to his Tower Experience. Staupitz counseled Luther that repentance begins with the love of God, which in turn kindles love within the heart of man. This position represented a shift for Luther from Pelagian earned salvation to predestination which was grounded solely in the undeserved mercy and love of God.[12]

After Turmerlebnis After his tower experience, Luther discovered a new meaning to the phrase, “righteousness of God.” He came to believe that it was a righteousness which God gives to the sinner. The question for Luther was how one became righteous:

Yet one thing he did not know proper to the tower experience: “that man is righteous in the sight of God, not because he has become, or started to become righteous, but because Christ has fulfilled the Law for him and because God imputes the ‘good works’ of Christ to him.”[13]

J. “Righteousness of God” Defined

Following his lectures on the Psalms, he developed his lectures on Romans (1515-1516), the second biblical study which was to wield enormous influence over his evolving theology. In both Psalms and Romans, Luther found the idea of the righteousness of God to be very prominent. Initially, he believed that the righteousness of God was a divine attribute, by which individuals are judged by God. It is this righteousness which evaluates the works of every individual to determine whether preconditions for justification are accomplished.

But in late 1514 or early 1515, Luther began to struggle with the notion that individuals may not be capable of meeting certain preconditions. Pelagius and Gabriel Biel had advocated that individuals were capable of meeting those preconditions. Then a radical shift occurred in Luther’s thought, perhaps in a tower of the Augustinian monastery (hence the term Turmerlebnis), but the exact date and place is unknown. Prior to this time, Luther regarded human work as a necessary precondition for justification. After this, he came to regard the righteousness of God as a righteousness which God gives to the sinner.

K. The Nature of Justification

Justification in the Middle Ages By the late Middle Ages, the doctrine of justification was widely regarded as something that an individual had to do in order to be saved. It was a question that was asked repeatedly as the sixteenth century approached. The humanism of the Renaissance had place a premium upon the awareness of the individual, and with this renewed awareness came an increasing concern of how one could be placed in a right relationship with a holy God. Among those who explored this question was Petrarch (1304-74).[14]

Luther’s Early Views Luther’s early views on justification were spawned during his studies at the University of Erfurt (1501-1505) after which he entered the Augustinian monastery of Erfurt (1505). The University of Erfurt was deeply committed to the via moderna. This covenantal view of justification suggested that the sinner was under obligation to initiate the process of justification, but once the individual began this process, God was bound by covenant to dispense grace. Thus, the slightest movement toward God on the part of the sinner was believed to be rewarded by God by a disproportionate measure of divine grace.[15]

Luther’s Augustinian Views In late 1514 or early 1515, Luther came to embrace an Augustinian understanding of justification (though somewhat modified). Pelagius and Gabriel Biel had been optimistic concerning an individual’s ability to move toward God, but what if someone was crippled and incapable of moving toward God? The point at which Luther surrendered his optimism toward human ability is the point at which he realized a greater dependence upon God for justification. His revision of his anthropology was accompanied by a revision of his soteriology which insisted that humans were incapable of meeting any preconditions for salvation. At this point, it appears that Luther came to a new appreciation of Augustine’s doctrine of grace, while affirming the complete inability of humanity.

A phrase with which Luther struggled was “the righteousness of God.” He initially believed that this expression reflected an attribute of God which demanded punishment of sin. But a revolution in his thinking occurred which led him to believe that God himself gives divine righteousness to the believer as a gift; it was not something which humans had to initiate or earn.

Three points summarize Luther’s understanding of the nature of justifying faith. First, faith is personal; it is not merely mental ascent to an historical person. Second, faith is trust in the promises of God as extended to mankind in Scripture. Third, faith unites the believer to Christ.[16]

L. Forensic Justification

Luther brought to the discussion of justification a new twist. Augustine believed that the righteousness which was brought to a believer in justification was internal. But for Luther, righteousness remains outside the believer; the believer does not become righteous within. In his lectures on Romans (1515-1516), Luther developed the idea of “alien righteousness of Christ”-imputed righteousness, but not imparted.

Luther’s seminal ideas were advanced by Philip Melanchthon which resulted in the doctrine now generally known as “forensic justification.” Augustine believed that a sinner enjoyed imparted righteousness and was actually righteous through Christ, while Luther and Melanchthon taught that a sinner was only counted or regarded as being righteous-he enjoyed imputed, but not imparted righteousness. Using a legal approach, Melanchthon insisted that the sinner was pronounced righteous in the heavenly court (in foro divino). In Lutheran theology, the believer is regarded at the same time as righteous and a sinner (simul iustus et peccator).

M. Justification and Works

Luther managed to convey the idea that once a sinner was justified there was no requirement to fulfill a moral law. But in fact, Luther held that good works were an appropriate response to God’s grace, provided that were not regarded as meriting salvation in any way.

Also in 1515, Luther was made vicar of his order which entailed the oversight of eleven Augustinian monasteries. From this point on, his teaching diverged from the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church.

Subsequent Lectures (1516-1521)

Following his lectures on Psalms and Romans, Luther lectured on Galatians (1516-1517) and Hebrews (1517-1518) before returning to the book of Psalms (1519-1521).

The Reformation Begins (1517)

In 1516, when the indulgence was issued for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, Johann Tetzel (ca. 1465-1519), a Dominican friar from Leipzig, was made sub commissary for the regions of Magdeburg and Halberstadt and was under the commission of the Archbishop of Mainz. An indulgence is the remission of temporal penalty by the Church which is believed to be due sin which has been forgiven, and for which penalty, the merits of Christ and the saints may be drawn upon. The origin of the practice may be traced to at least the third century. The practice is built upon three suppositions: first, that Divine justice requires some form of retributive punishment, either on earth or in purgatory, even after the sinner has been reconciled to God through penitence and absolution; second, a “treasury of merit” exists, into which the infinite merits of Christ and the saints of the church have been placed; third, that the Church, has the power to distribute these merits in consideration of the prayers and virtuous acts of the faithful.

Tetzel’s eloquence commended the indulgence widely, but his commercialism and extravagance regarding the possibility of delivering a soul from purgatory caused great scandal. To raise as much money he could, he granted indulgences for past sins and even future sin yet uncommitted. In addition to this, a man could buy indulgences to release dead relatives from purgatory, the presumed place of temporary punishment for the dead.

The indulgence was forbidden in Saxony, and for this reason, Tetzel could not proclaim it in Wittenberg, but this did not stop him from advocating it in neighboring Juterbog, which lay just outside of Saxony. After hearing Tetzel here, Luther was outraged and began a series of steps to guard against the influence of the sale of indulgences. First, he posted his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Schlosskirche[17] at midday in Wittenberg, on October 31, 1517. Frederick, Elector of Saxony, had collected various sacred relics and was displaying them in Wittenberg in preparation for the Feast of All Saints (All Saints Day), on November 1. The day prior to All Saints Day, Luther, at noon, had walked to the Wittenberg castle church where he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses. In doing so, Luther was following well-known practice of presenting issues to the public. He had only intended that these ninety-five statements questioning the doctrine and practice of the Roman Catholic church to be debated in the university, but several groups copied his writings and translated them from Latin into German. Soon his name was a household word. Within fourteen days after the posting of the ninety-five theses, they were published across Germany, winning Luther enormous popular support, for many were opposed to the indulgences. Within four weeks, news of his protest had reached Pope Leo X at Rome. Luther then proceeded to warn his people of the abuse of indulgences from the confessional and the pulpit. Next, he voiced his opposition to the sale of indulgences in Letters to the Magnates of the Church, which were also sent at least to the Bishop of Brandenburg and the Archbishop of Mains. Accompanying his letter to the Archbishop was his Ninety-five Theses. Luther’s initial objection to the indulgences did not go unanswered. Several responded to Luther in defense of the church’s sale of indulgences. The four most notable defenders of the church were Tetzel himself, the Ingolstadt chancellor Johann Eck (1486-1543), and Hoogstraten. Luther responded to all four adversaries in tracts.

During the course of conflict over the indulgences, two other issues stepped into the arena of conflict. The first was whether the sacraments were efficacious when not accompanied by faith on the part of the participant. The second questioned the pope’s authority, Luther denying the supreme authority of the pope.

The focus of the Protestant reformation was summarized in three expressions. Luther maintained that sola fide, justification by faith, and sola scriptura, Scripture alone, must be the foundation for true Christian faith. Luther acknowledged that these two important truths rested upon a third: sola gratia, salvation was by grace alone.

The Doctrine of Scripture (ca. 1517)

N. Scholasticism

Scholasticism was dominant in Christian circles from ca. 1200 to ca.1500. Two major schools of thought emerged from the movement: realism and nominalism.

1. Plato and Realism

Realism affirmed the reality of universal concepts beyond their individual manifestation. This stream of scholasticism thrived from ca. 1200 to ca. 1350. Thomism and Scotism dominated the school of realism.

2. Aristotle and Nominalism

Nominalism denied the existence of universal concepts in favor of individual manifestations, emerging about 1350 and continuing until the end of the fifteenth century and beginning of the sixteenth century. The nominalist school was further divided into two schools of thought.

The via moderna

The via moderna was championed by such figures as William of Ockham, Pierre D’Ailly, Robert Holcot and Gabriel Biel, making inroads into many northern European universities such as Paris, Heidelberg, and Erfurt. The via moderna was Pelagian in its understanding of salvation, and as may be anticipated, in its doctrine of authority. Rationalism was emphasized, suggesting that an individual was capable of understanding and doing what was necessary to enter into a relationship with God.

The schola Augustiniana moderna

The schola Augustiniana moderna was Augustinian in its understanding of salvation and authority. Rationalism tended to be discounted by the schola Augustiniana moderna, placing instead emphasis upon the revelation of God in Christ. Because of the fallen-ness of human nature, it was not possible to correctly apprehend the character of God to order correctly the plan of salvation.

O. Scripture in the Middle Ages

By the end of the Middle Ages, two concepts of “tradition” had emerged which affected the interpretation of Scripture.

1. Single-source theory of tradition

The single-source theory of tradition suggests, as did Irenaeus of Lyons, that doctrine is based upon Scripture, the interpretation of which is consistent with those teachings which may be traced back to the apostolic age.

2. Dual-source theory of tradition

In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, a second position developed which came to be known as dual-source theory of tradition . This theory suggested that doctrine is based upon both Scripture and unwritten tradition. A belief which is not found in Scripture may be justified upon the basis of unwritten tradition. Tradition was believed to be a separate and distinct source of authority. It was this dual-source theory which the Reformers rejected. But advocated by the Council of Trent.[18]

3. No-source theory of tradition

A third theory developed, known as the no-source theory of tradition. Held by the radical reformers, it denied any place to tradition in the development of theology.[19]

P. Catholics vs Protestants

With regard to the interpretation of Scripture the Catholics and Protestants varied widely. The Catholics came to argue that Scripture was difficult to interpret and should therefore be left to the Roman Catholic Church. This ecclesiastical centralization was in harmony with the Roman understanding of the Church as the dispenser of God’s grace. For them, the work of the Holy Spirit was regulated through the ministry and sacraments of the Church. Personal interpretation of Scripture tended to violate the unique role which the Roman Church had carved out for itself. The radical reformers rejected the Catholic position outright. They insisted that every believer has the right to interpret Scripture according to what seems right, with little interest paid to objective standards. This approach toward the interpretation of Scripture undoubtedly led to the lawlessness which resulted among some of the Radicals.

The magisterial reformers mediated between the Catholics and radical reforms by conceding that Scripture was obscure at points and required deeper, more enlightened interpretation, and for that interpretation, the way in which it was interpreted throughout the history of the Church was instructive.[20]

Q. Luther’s Knowledge of God

For Luther, knowledge of God is divided into two spheres: general knowledge and that knowledge of God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. It should be noted that Luther does not believe that the two are conjoined, but are disjunct.

1. General Knowledge

Luther argued in his Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians that all individuals enjoy a general knowledge of God, but not a particular knowledge of Him. He writes, “Men naturally know that there is a God, but what His will is, or what is not His will, they do not know.”[21] As the source of religious consciousness, this level of revelation is useful. Not only does this level of knowledge mediate an awareness of the existence of God, but it also leads them to believe that God is the Creator of heaven and earth and that he is Sovereign over what he has created, ruling in justice.[22]

But natural or general knowledge of God was insufficient as far as Luther was concerned. He argued that knowledge of God is derived from things that are made and are subjected to rational analysis so that a knowledge of God’s existence and attributes might be attained. Luther believed that this amounted to man’s attempt to ascend to God by means of reason and speculation-something which he rejected.

Luther’s rejection of nominalism began as early as 1515 but intensified so that in September 1517 he attacked scholasticism by attacking Aristotle. However, reason did enjoy a place in Luther’s theology: “For Luther, in the realm of true theology reason functioned only ex post facto, that is, as an ordering principle by which the biblical revelation was clearly set forth.”[23]

2. Christological Knowledge

Luther believed that “theologians of glory” (theologia gloriae) were vain sophists because they set their minds upon God’s infinite power, wisdom, and justice, avoiding the suffering of God in Christ.

Faith was necessary to enter into a deeper awareness of God-a “theology of the cross” (theologia crucis). God made himself known through Christ and was the true way in which God may be known. He believed that whoever did not “receive God in Christ, shall at no time and in no place have or find God outside of Christ.”[24]

The knowledge of God revealed in Christ was believed to be twofold. First, Christ demonstrated the magnitude of the spiritual or moral sense of the law and clarifies God’s demands. Second, Christ reveals the love of God as shown through God’s willingness to forgive sin on the basis of faith. Luther believed that Christ’s proper office was to declare God’s grace through forgiveness.

3. Evaluation

When considering Luther’s understanding of authority, a couple of important issues arise. Each issue is significant when comparing and contrasting Lutheran theology with Wesleyan-Arminian theology.

First, Luther disconnects natural revelation and special revelation which culminates in Christ. In so doing, he rejects the rationalism of Scholasticism, but fails to recognize that natural revelation is the foundation of special revelation as the giving of the Law was the foundation for the coming of Christ. One important fact is overlooked when natural and special revelation become disjunct: God’s character is laid open to the charge of being unjust. The question which arises is, “How can God punish someone who languished without a knowledge of God?”

Second, in disconnecting natural revelation from special revelation Luther fails to see the unity with which God revealed himself under each era. When speaking of God’s revelation in Christ, Luther identifies two ways in which God revealed himself: to clarify the law and declare God’s grace. It is lamentable that Luther does not see these two aspects (justice and grace) under natural revelation. If he did, he would see that at the judgment God’s character will not be charged, for God did indeed reveal his justice and grace through natural revelation.

The Break With Rome (1518-1521)

I. Movement Away from Scholasticism

In March of 1518, Luther and the dean of the faculty of theology at Wittenberg, Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstad, succeeded in eliminating all courses relating to scholasticism from the university curriculum. This fact further illustrates his transition from scholasticism to humanism (the study of Scripture and Augustine).

Heidelberg and Augsburg (1518)

In 1518, Luther was ordered to debate the problem at a chapter, or convention, of the Augustinian Order in Heidelberg. Fearing for his life, his friends counseled not to go, but faithful to the vow of his order, went, on foot, to the chapter. While in Heidelberg, he debated subjects on theology and philosophy; on free-will and the fall; grace, faith, justification, and good works. Here he also took issue with Aristotle. A large audience of students, citizens, and courtiers attended the disputation, including the Dominican Martin Bucer (1491-1551), Johann Brentius (Brenz; 1499-1570),[25] and others who would come to play an important part in the Reformation. But little came from the debate except the spreading of his ideas; however, at this chapter of the order, Luther also won over Martin Bucer, a Dominican.

In 1518, Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560) came to Wittenberg as professor of Greek. Melanchthon became the great theologian while Luther himself became the prophetic voice of the Reformation. From 1518 onward, Melanchthon faithfully stood in support of Luther.

As early as February 1518, the general of the Augustinian Order, Gabriel Venetus, had been ordered by the pope to silence Luther. But this effort failed, and Luther was called to appear in Rome for trial. But Frederick the Elector interceded by asking that the pope allow Luther to be examined at a hearing before Cardinal Thomas de Vio Cajetan (1469-1534) at Augsburg. Cajetan had urged reform at the Lateran Council of 1512. Frederick’s request was granted by the pope and the hearing was held at Augsburg.

Cajetan attempted to force Luther into submission in October 1518, but without success, saying, “I don’t wish to talk more with this beast; he has a deep eye, and marvelous speculations in his head.” Luther’s friend and spiritual counselor, Staupitz, head of the Augustinians, was also called upon to try to persuade Luther to recant his beliefs, but when he failed, Staupitz absolved Luther of the vow of obedience to the order. Fearing for Luther’s safety, Staupitz furnished Luther with a horse and an old guide to assist him in his escape from Augsburg. In the night of October 20, Luther, disguised in a long mantle, barefoot, and unarmed, made his escape, riding until the following day, and when he dismounted, could not stand, but fell helplessly on the straw.

In November, a papal bull was issued against Luther. On November 25, Luther responded by setting forth an appeal for the convening of a general council to discuss the matters. Pope Leo, fearing a schism in the German church, dispatched his papal chamberlain and legate, Carl von Miltitz (ca. 1480-1529). The first meeting between Luther and Miltitz occurred January 4-6, 1519 at Altenburg, at which time Luther promised to cease from advocating his doctrines until the matter could be laid before a German bishop. Miltitz also induced Luther to write a letter to the pope, expressing his courtesy and humility, and promising silence if it were also imposed upon his adversaries. Miltitz then proceeded to Leipzig where, hoping to restrain the movement which had begun to coalesce around Luther, he denounced Johann Tetzel. After two further meetings with Luther, at Liebenwerda (Oct. 5, 1519) and Lichtenberg, near Wittenberg (Oct. 12, 1519), Miltitz realized he would not be able to evoke further concessions from the reformer.

Leipzig Disputation with Eck (1519)

Luther’s opponents were too eager to secure his condemnation to allow the peace to last. The previous year, 1518, John Eck challenged Luther’s Wittenberg colleague, Carlstadt, to a disputation to be held at Leipzig, in the Pleissenberg Castle. From the beginning, however, it was evident that Luther was the real object of Eck’s interest. Carlstadt was no match for Eck. Luther, having accompanied Carlstadt to Leipzig, Luther debated Eck from June 27 to July 16, 1519. Luther denied the divine right of the pope, insisting that the power of the keys was not given to any one individual, but to all believers. Further, he denied the infallibility of general councils and insisted that some of Hus’ positions which were denounced by the Council of Constance were genuinely evangelical. When Luther declared that some of Johann Hus’ articles were completely Christian and evangelical, his breach with Rome was sealed.

Papal Bull Issued against Luther (1520)

Luther’s reputation had grown considerably since first publishing his Ninety-five Theses. Students flocked to Wittenberg, he corresponded and disputed with the Utraquists of Bohemia and Italy, and corresponded with Reuchlin and Erasmus. Furthermore, the Humanists demonstrated their sympathy for his cause, as princes such as Franz of Sickingen and Silvester of Schauenberg extended offers of protection to him in their castles.

Luther seized his wave of popular support to urge the laymen to take up the task of ecclesiastical reform given the fact that the pope was unwilling to do it. Three very important works were written to achieve this end. These are regarded as the three most important works for the progress of the Reformation: Address to the German Nobility (August 1520) was an attack on the hierarchy of the church; Babylonian Captivity (October 6, 1520) challenged the sacramental system of Rome; The Freedom of the Christian Man attacked the theology of the church by asserting the priesthood of all believers.

On June 15, 1520, Pope Leo X issued a bull Luther. John Eck appeared with the bull in Meissen on September 21. The bull gave Luther sixty days to repent of his teachings, but he was resolved to hold to what he believed was the truth. Forty-one of Luther’s propositions were deduced from his works and were branded as heretical. His works were ordered to be burned wherever they were found, and Luther, on pain of excommunication, was given sixty days to repent of his errors and throw himself upon the mercy of the pope.

Luther responded in kind to the pope’s bull and the order to burn Luther’s works. On December 10, 1520, before the gate which opened toward the river Elster at Wittenberg and in the presence of a vast multitude, Luther burned the papal bull, the decree, the decretals, the Clementines, the Extravagants, and entire code of Roman canon law as the root of all evil. Luther then justified his actions in two works, Warum des Papstes und seiner Junger Bucher verbrannt sind (Why the Books of the Pope and His Disciples Were Burned) and Assertio omnium articulorum.

Luther’s Theology of the Sacraments

The Mass of the medieval church was said according to a set form of words in Latin known as liturgy. But the magisterial reformers objected to the use of the liturgy in Latin for at least two reasons. First, the people, most of who could not understand Latin, were unable to respond intelligently to what the priest was saying. Second, the Mass advocated doctrines contrary to the principles of the Reformation. For this reason, the magisterial reformers set out to revise the liturgy to make it comply with the evangelical doctrines of the Reformation.

Because of the theological connotations associated with the term “Mass,” the magisterial reformer were not able to achieve a consensus as to what to call the service at which bread and wine are consecrated and consumed by believers. Luther retained the term “Mass,” but others used such expressions as “the bread,” “communion,” “the memorial,” “the Lord’s Supper,” or “Eucharist.”[26]

A. Tests of a Sacrament

The medieval church had established the number of sacraments at seven. But Luther objected. In his Babylonian Captivity, he launched an attack against the Roman Church with regard to its understanding of the sacraments. Initially, Luther insisted that there were three sacraments:

I deny that there are seven sacraments, and for the present maintain that there are only three: baptism, penance, and the bread. All three have been subjected to a miserable captivity by the Roman authorities, and the church has been robbed of all her freedom.

But by the end of the work, the number of sacraments had been further reduced to two. The reason being that he had come to regard a sacrament as containing two elements. First, a sacrament must express a promise of God. Second, that promise must be expressed in a physical sign. Those sacraments of the Roman Church which lacked one of these elements was rejected by Luther. In the end, he saw only two sacraments which contained both of the elements necessary to contain in his definition of a sacrament, penance finally being rejected.

Yet it has seemed right to restrict the name of sacrament to those promises of God which have signs attached to them. The remainder, not being connected to signs, are merely promises. Hence, strictly speaking, there are only two sacraments in the church of God—baptism and the bread [Eucharist]. For only in these two do we find the divinely instituted sign and the promise of the forgiveness of sins.

B. The Efficacy of the Sacraments

A tension arose in North Africa as a result of the Diocletian persecution (ca. 303-11). Felix, who had betrayed the church during the Diocletian persecution, had consecrated Caecilian to the office of bishop of Carthage. A churchman by the name of Donatus insisted that Caecilian had no right to his office because he had been consecrated by Felix, who had betrayed the church. As a result, Donatus and his followers elected Majorinus as bishop and when Majorinus died, Donatus succeeded him. Constantine did not distribute any money to the Carthage church because of their position on succession. A synod which had met in Rome determined that the validity of the sacraments was not determined by the validity of the one administering the sacraments. Again in 314 the Donatists were decided against in a council of the Western bishops held at Arles. Two views with regard to the efficacy of the sacraments arose as a result of the Donatist controversy.

1. ex opere operantis

The first position was advocated by the Donatists. It suggested that the efficacy of the sacraments are dependent upon the personal and moral life of the priest who is performing the sacrament. This position is known as ex opere operantis (literally, “through the work of the one who works”). It suggests that a believer is only benefitted by the grace associated with the sacrament if it is administered by a faithful priest.

2. ex opere operato

The second position, taken by Augustine and the Roman Church, suggested that the efficacy of the sacraments are dependent upon the inherent qualities of the sacrament itself. The sacrament works ex opere operato (literally, “through the work that is worked”). In this position, the efficacy is not dependent upon the personal character of the priest, but upon the sacrament, the ground of which is the person of Christ, who in turn, is communicated to the believer through the sacrament. The validity of the sacraments rests not in the moral character of the one performing the sacrament, but in the sacrament itself.[27] This latter position was the position of Luther and the magisterial reformers in general.

C. The Eucharist

Though Luther did not believe the efficacy of the sacraments depended upon the moral character of the priest, he did believe that the Roman Church has successfully captured the Eucharist in particular. Luther labored to liberate the Eucharist in three ways:

1. Laicization of the Chalice

Until the twelfth century, it was the common practice to allow all at the celebration of the Eucharist to consume both the consecrated bread and wine. But during the eleventh century, as the theology of transubstantiation gained ascendancy and the laity spilled what was seen as the literal blood of Christ, the cup was withheld. By the thirteenth century, the laity were not permitted to receive the wine.

In response, Luther insisted upon giving the laity access to the chalice. This feature became a distinguishing trait in the life of Lutheranism.

2. Transubstantiation Denied

The doctrine that the consecrated elements of the Eucharist became the literal body and blood of Christ, as taught by the Roman Church, was rejected by Luther. Though he could not completely understand how Christ was present in the Eucharist, it seemed absurd to Luther that Christ was present physically, as taught by the doctrine of transubstantiation. The fact of Christ’s presence in the elements was what was important to Luther, not how he was. In time, Luther’s position became known as consubstantiation .

3. Sacerdotalism Rejected

The third point which Luther rejected of the Roman Church was the idea that a priest was capable of making an atonement by conducting the mass. The Eucharist, for Luther, was a sign of the promise of forgiveness of sin. He denied the commonly held belief that the priest re-sacrificed Christ each time the Eucharist was celebrated.

4. Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist

In 1517, Luther rejected Aristotelian theology in his Disputation against Scholastic Theology. The impact of his rejection of Aristotelianism ultimately led to his rejection of transubstantiation. The Fourth Lateran Council (1215), which has defined the doctrine of transubstantiation, rested its rationale upon Aristotle’s distinction between “substance” and “accidents.” The former, as in the Christological controversies, pertained to the essential nature of the Eucharistic elements; the latter referred the outward appearance, such as the taste, shape, smell, and so forth.

Luther did not reject the concept that the elements did become the body and blood of Christ. He insisted that, against Zwingli, Christ meant that the elements became his body and blood when he said, “this is my body” (Matt. 26:26). For Luther, the real presence of Christ was to be celebrated in the Eucharist.

D. Baptism

Luther’s views on baptism were repeatedly asserted from 1519 to 1538. In his treatise, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520), Luther delivered his most devastating polemic against the sacraments of Rome.

1. Mode of baptism

In his early career as a reformer, Luther stressed immersion as a spiritual ideal; he never, however, appears to have practiced it. As tension arose with the Anabaptists, his stress upon the spiritual ideal of immersion receded.

2. Baptism and Original Sin

Luther maintained that baptism cleansed the one being baptized from original sin and giving him and indelible character for life.

3. Baptism Necessary for Salvation

Luther believed that baptism was necessary for salvation, and, therefore, infants were to be baptized. He denied, however, that baptism was efficacious for justification; faith is the only effective component in baptism. Faith must be present or conferred in baptism. Though Luther possessed a high view of baptism and the necessity to observe it, he did believe it was possible to be saved without it.

Luther believed that the one baptized need only to remember his baptism when he has enter into sin to receive justification. He also believed that the guilt of sin in the believer’s life was not imputed to him because his baptism acted to shield him from the sin’s guilt. After baptism, sin is no longer imputed to the believer, but rather God winks at it.

4. Infant Baptism

Luther accepted the practice of infant baptism from the medieval Church. For Luther, faith was conferred to infants by those who presented them for baptism. He believed that since the Word of God was effective in changing the heart of a hardened sinner, it was even more capable of effecting the life of an infant. He writes, “So through the prayer of the believing church which presents it, a prayer to which all things are possible (Mark 9:23), the infant is changed, cleansed, and renewed by in-poured faith.” Luther rejected the medieval view that the soul of an unbaptized baby entered limbo, the upper level of hell which, though not a place of severe torment, was their eternal home.

5. Administor of Baptism

A priest was to administer the sacrament, but in the event of an emergency, a layman could perform the act. The moral character of the one performing the act of baptism in no way was believed to impair the effect of baptism upon the one being baptized.

6. Baptism as Death and Resurrection

The “immersion” in water signified death, to Luther, while drawing the one being baptized out of the water signifies life. Baptism also symbolized the resurrection of the body in the Day of the Lord.

Diet of Worms and Wartburg Retirement (1521)

On January 3, 1521, the pope issued a final bull of excommunication against him and all who followed him. As a result, Luther was considered an outlaw by Rome.

In March of 1521, the new emperor, Charles V who was only twenty years of age, summoned an imperial diet at Worms, at which Luther was to appear to answer for his views. Emperor Charles did not feel as if he could execute the bull against Luther yet, and therefore resorted to one more measure, and so Luther was ordered to appear before the princes of the empire to give an account of himself.

On April 17, the diet began. Present were Charles V, the archduke Ferdinand, six electors, twenty-four dukes, eight margraves, thirty bishops, and other princes and prelates of the realm. Only one question was presented to Luther. He was asked if he was willing to recant his positions. Having the same day examined the books which were laid before him, he acknowledged them to be his own. Luther responded by requesting that time be given for reflection. The following day, after a two-hour defense spoken in German, he repeated his defense in Latin for the sake of the emperor and other. After which, he was again plied with the question whether he would recant his positions. To which he replied in Latin: “Unless I shall be convinced by the testimonies of the Scriptures or by evident reason, for I believe neither pope nor councils alone, since it is manifest they have often erred and contradicted themselves, I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is held captive by the word of God; and as it is neither safe nor right to act against conscience, I cannot and will not retract anything,” adding in German, “ Here I stand; I cannot otherwise; God help me. Amen.” (Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders; Gott helf mir, Amen!)

More than a month after the diet (on May 15), the member ruled against Luther, allowing the most severe form of the papal ban to be imposed against him. With the decision of the diet, Luther was branded as an outlaw.

But before Luther could be apprehended, he was safely concealed by Frederick. Luther’s enemies were more than willing to violate his safe passage, citing the withdrawal of safe-passage to Johann Hus at the Council of Constance. The emperor, however, replied that if honor was banished from every home in the empire, it ought to find refuge in the heart of the emperor.

The day after he took his stand before the diet, Luther left the city of Worms. Making good on his pledge of safe conduct to Luther, the emperor allowed Luther to leave the city, with the imperial herald accompanying him to the border of Hesse. The only companion Luther had with him at this point was Nicholas von Amsdorf (1483-1565). Together the two men turned toward Mohra to visit Luther’s grandmother, when at Altenstein on May 4, in the Thuringian Forest, he was seized by masked horsemen, acting under the instruction of Frederick the Elector, and taken to Wartburg castle near Eisenach for his own protection. Here at Wartburg, Luther was known as “Jungker George.” Frederick believed that Luther’s abduction was necessary to keep the reformer from implications of the ban.

Wartburg marked the second period of Luther’s reformation efforts. While in seclusion at Wartburg, Luther wrote several tracks attacking the Catholic Church, but his greatest accomplishment was the translation of the New Testament into the German language. As his German Bible was published and distributed, it helped to standardize the German language (printed in September 1522). For ten months, he remained at Wartburg in seclusion, but while there, his ideas quickly spread throughout Germany.

Years of Separation (1522-1530)

I. Return to Wittenberg (March 1522)

On March 6, 1522, Luther returned to Wittenberg from Wartburg because of the irregularities that were occurring in his absence. The Augustinian monks had set aside the mass, and Karlstad had meddled in the affairs which were occurring between the Augustinian monks, the university and the elector. Karlstad had attempted to introduce what he believed were the implications of Luther’s theology. The sacrificial elements of the mass and confession were set aside, as were a great number of ceremonies, and the marriage of priests was introduced. The appearance of three Zwickau prophets at Wittenberg, who advocated unusual eschatological doctrines and special revelations, served to fan the passionate violence of Karlstad into a flame which manifested itself in the destruction of all alters, images, and crucifixes. From this point on, the relationship between the two men suffered greatly, though they did not meet in public conflict until 1525.

Predestination: Bondage of the Will (1524)

A. Predestination Prior to Luther

Prior to the time of Augustine, the Church Fathers unanimously endorsed the idea that the divine decrees of God concerning a person’s salvation were conditioned upon that person’s faith and obedience. Augustine’s controversy with Pelagius changed the way in which a portion of the Church regarded the divine decrees from that point forward as being completely dependent upon the bare will of God. Augustine taught the unconditional salvation of those whom God had chosen (single predestination), but he did not advocate unconditional reprobation (double predestination).

It was heterodox theologian Gottschalk (ca. 804-ca. 869) who first advocated the unconditional salvation of the elect and the unconditional condemnation of the reprobate. Gottschalk was first condemned by the Synod of Mainz (848) and then by the Synod of Quiercy (849) after which he was deprived of his monastic orders and sentenced to imprisonment.

B. Luther on Predestination (1524)

Lutheranism’s stand on predestination is not without confusion. Luther himself initially embraced unconditional election, but then appears to have had a change of heart.

In 1524, Erasmus had defended the notion that education was instrumental in reforming corrupt, sinful humanity. In 1524, Luther violently responded to Erasmus in his De servo arbitrio, “On the Bondage of the Will,” in which he emphasized the total sovereignty of God in the matter of predestination.[28] Like Calvin, Luther suggested that God sovereignly elected certain individuals unto salvation. Luther never formally retracted this position, but evidence demonstrates he eventually rejected it by allowing his sentiments to fall in line with Melanchthon’s. In his later editions of his Loci Communes, Melanchthon removed those expressions which favored unconditional election.

After Luther, the movement which bore his name disregarded it’s founder’s un-retracted sentiments on the subject and followed Melanchthon. Late sixteen-century Lutheranism tended to regard “election” as a human decision to love God rather than God’s sovereign choice.[29]

Practical Reforms (1524ff)

Though he was anxious for reform, Luther did not discard the habit of the Augustinian order until 1524. Such reforms began to occur with greater frequency following his return to Wittenberg from Wartburg.

In 1525, Luther married escaped nun, Katherine von Bora. By 1525, Erasmus appears to have broken with Luther when he saw his teachings would result in a schism with Rome. He also disagreed with his doctrine that man’s will was bound and that the initiative for salvation must come from God. In his Essay on Free Will (ca. 1524), Erasmus defended the Catholic position that salvation was obtained through faith and works.

Thomas Müntzer (1489-1525), a one-time supporter of Luther, inflamed the peasants against their lords and caused the Peasant Revolt. Müntzer believed the Second Coming of Christ would be accelerated if the wicked were destroyed. his preaching encouraged the peasants to attack their masters as enemies of God.

In 1526, Luther drew up the German Mass and Order of Service and in May of the previous year (1525), the first evangelical ordination occurred in Wittenberg. The discipline and duties of the new church were complete by 1526.

At the Diet of Speier in 1526, Emperor Charles V determined that each ruler should choose the religion of his state. However, this ruling was rescinded at a second Diet at Speier in 1529, making Catholicism the only legal faith. Six princes who followed Luther, and representatives of fourteen free cities read a Protestation to the decision. Thereafter, Luther and the Reformers were known as Protestants.

Marburg (1529)

At the urging of Philip of Hesse, Luther met with Zwingli and Ecolampadius, Oct.. 1-3, 1529, at Marburg to consider ways in which they could work together more closely in reform efforts. However, their disagreement over the nature of Christ in relation to the elements of the sacraments could not be bridged. Luther parted with them refusing them the right hand of fellowship.

Luther developed his Short Catechism (1529) in an attempt to present the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and other matter of theology and liturgy in a concise form.

Diet of Augsburg (1530)

In 1530, the princes of the empire met to consider the state of affairs at the Diet of Augsburg. This conference was to finally determine the attitude of the empire toward Protestantism. Negotiations between the Protestants and Catholics broke down following the Diet of Augsburg in 1530.

Luther, left behind by his elector, watched the proceedings from Coburg. Under the watchful eye of Luther, Melanchthon developed the Augsburg Confession and presented it to the Diet of Augsburg for approval that same year. This affirmation of faith became the official creed of the Lutheran Church, the first of many creeds which developed among Protestants.

German Religious Wars (1531-1555)

I. Protestant Schmalkaldic League (1531)

In an effort to establish a mutual defense, Protestant princes organized the Schmalkaldic League (1531).

Lutheran Ordinations Begin (1535)

In 1535, the Wittenberg faculty began to examine and ordain ministerial candidates for service in churches which were sympathetic to Lutheran reforms. This represented a clear ecclesiastical break with Rome.

Luther Dies (1546)

On January 23, 1546, Luther went by invitation to the town in which he was born, Eisleben, as an arbitrator in a dispute between some courts. He succeeded in his mission, but on Feb. 17 felt some pressure in his chest. He was surrounded by friends, he repeated Psalm 31:5, and died peacefully. His remains were taken from Eisleben to Wittenberg where he was interred in the Schlosskirche. The leadership of Lutheranism was in this way placed upon the shoulders of Melanchthon.

Schmalkaldic Wars (1546-1552)

Because the emperor was preoccupied with wars against the French and Turks from 1532 to 1542, the Protestants were unmolested by the pope’s defenders. However, the Protestant princes were forced to defend their beliefs with their blood in the Schmalkaldic Wars from 1546 to 1552.

The Peace of Augsburg (1555)

The Schmalkaldic Wars were brought to a formal conclusion with the signing of the Peace of Augsburg. The Peace of Augsburg allowed the prince to determine the religion of his territory, and any dissenters from the prince’s religion were given the right to emigrate. It further required that if a Catholic prince decided to become a Protestant, he must surrender his lands to Catholic control.

The Growth of Lutheranism (1555-1580)

I. Lutheranism in Scandinavia

The Reformation became most firmly entrenched in Germany and the Scandinavian countries.

A. Lutheranism in Denmark (1526)

In 1526, Frederick I, ruler of Denmark, openly embraced Protestant reform efforts as advanced by Hans Tausen (1494-1561). From 1539 onward, Lutheranism was the state religion of Denmark.

B. Lutheranism in Sweden (1526)

The people of Sweden were able to compare the teaching of the Catholic church with that of Scripture, when in 1526 they received a translation of the New Testament in their language. Under the reign of Gustavus Vasa from 1523 to 1560, the doctrines of the Reformation became firmly entrenched in Sweden.

C. Lutheranism in Iceland (1533)

Iceland was introduced to Lutheranism in 1533 when Gissur Einarsen returned to his homeland after studying at the University of Wittenberg. By royal decree, Lutheranism became the official religion of Iceland in 1554.

D. Lutheranism in Norway (1539)

Norway, dominated by Denmark until 1814, also accepted Lutheranism. Like Denmark, Lutheranism became the state religion in 1539.

Selected Works of Luther




Exposition of the Seven Penitential Psalms

Introduction to German Theology


Ninety-five Theses


Our Father


Sermons on the Decalogue

Resolutiones disputationum de indulgentiarum virtute, his most important tract on the use of indulgences


Lectures on Galatians

Operationes in Psalmos, a work on the Psalms


Address to the German Nobility

Babylonian Captivity

The Freedom of the Christian Man


German Bible


The Bondage of the Will


Deutsche Messe (The German Mass)

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[1] Castle church.

[2] McGrath, Reformation Thought, 91.

[3] Gabriel Biel (d. 1495), a native of Spires, is commonly regarded as “the last of the schoolmen.” He was professor of philosophy and theology in the University of Tubingen and is remembered for his work on Peter Lombard, Collector,.

[4] McClintock and Strong, Cyclopedia (Ages Software), “Occam”.

[5] McClintock and Strong, Cyclopedia (Ages Software), “Ailly”.

[6] Luther returned to lecturing on the Psalms again from 1519-1521.

[7] McGrath, Reformation Thought, 92.

[8] McGrath, Reformation Thought, 97.

[9] McGrath, Reformation Thought, 115.

[10] McGrath, Reformation Thought, 96.

[11] Heick, Christian Thought, 1:321.

[12] Heick, Christian Thought, 1:321-22.

[13] Quoting Saarnivaara, Luther Discovers the Gospel in Heick, Christian Thought, 324.

[14] McGrath, Reformation Thought, 90-91.

[15] McGrath, Reformation Thought, 91-93.

[16] Cf. McGrath, Reformation Thought, 97-101.

[17] Castle church.

[18] McGrath, Reformation Thought, 135-36.

[19] McGrath, Reformation Thought, 144.

[20] McGrath, Reformation Thought, 152.

[21] Trans. By Philip S. Watson, quoted by Heick, Christian Thought, 1:329.

[22] Heick, Christian Thought, 1:329-30.

[23] George, Reformers, 58.

[24] Heick, Christian Thought, 1:332.

[25] Reformer of Wurttemberg.

[26] McGrath, Reformation Thought, 160-61.

[27] McGrath, Reformation Thought, 166.

[28] For a Wesleyan-Arminian challenge to Luther’s understanding of predestination, see R. S. Foster, Objections to Calvinism, 7.

[29] McGrath, Reformation Thought, 131.