Martin Luther was definitely a key part of the German Reformation; his fame had spread rapidly throughout Germany following the posting of his 95 theses at Wittenberg in November 1517. In the 16th century in Germany many people were reading Luther’s New Testament, even at a time when literacy levels were low. Martin Luther clearly had a vital influence on the movement known as the German Reformation. The Roman Catholic Church in Germany was attacked and criticised by a number of reformers, and Luther was just one of them, however he achieved more than anyone else.
Between 1517 and until he died in 1546 Luther challenged Catholic theology and produced his own theological statements. He set up a new church in German states, with new services and ministers. He brought a huge change in the lives of the German peasants, nobleman and churchmen. A catholic preacher called Tetzel, sold indulgences to people guaranteeing them they would get into heaven. Tetzel annoyed Luther because he was selling indulgences, which were, in effect, much sought after passports to heaven. They could also be bought on behalf of someone who was already dead.
People were even prepared to travel to buy indulgences, and Luther watched them go with dismay. Luther’s assault on the selling of indulgences was to develop into an attack on the fundamental doctrines of the Church at that time. Luther believed the only way to get into heaven was through faith alone, he believed in sola fide. He thought there was no point in buying indulgences. He argued that the Pope did not have authority over god to say who went to heaven. On 31 October 1517 in Wittenberg, Luther published his 95 Theses on the subject of indulgences, by nailing them to the Church door.
Luther wondered why the Pope, if he had the power to release souls from Purgatory, did not do so out of charity but instead was charging for it. Martin Luther broke the stranglehold of the Roman Catholic church over the lives of the people of Europe. He did this by showing them there was a different way to heaven; he told the people the Catholics were wrong. Luther thought that heaven could be achieved without all the confession, penance, sacraments and indulgences. Luther challenged the authority of the Roman Catholic church. Luther opposed the selling of indulgences.
After the Diet of Worms in 1521, the Reformation spread to many German cities. The social structure of the cities favoured reform. The bishops and clergy were less involved in city government and artisans formed the majority of the population. Guilds were influential and welcomed reform because the reformed religion encouraged their continued participation. Wealthy people were happy to support reform and peasants living in the cities were interested in the preaching of reformers. A new ethic developed with the people and Luther’s beliefs encouraged it.
The spoken word was powerful at an illiterate age. Also, cartoons and images, plays and carnivals encouraged popular understanding. People had so many negative feelings about the Catholic church they welcomed the Reformation; they disliked the church taxes, church courts and indulgence sellers. Martin Luther was very involved in the Reformation in cities. Many city councils received encouragement from him. The Reformation was clearly more than a change in the religious beliefs of certain individuals. I took place in many cities and influenced the lives of many peasants and artisans.
Lutheran religious beliefs became part of the popular religion and popular culture of 16th century Germany. In the 16th century, ordinary people experienced religion in a very different way. First, it was the setting for the various rites of passage, which marked out the stages of each individual life cycle: birth, marriage, the baptism of a baby, and death. Martin Luther’s reformed religion fitted in better with popular religion and popular culture than the previous Catholic ritual had done. Martin Luther was so influential to people, and it seemed he orchestrated the Reformation all by himself.
However, there were other factors that also contributed to the success of the German Reformation, and without these, Martin Luther may not have been successful in causing the Reformation. The main one was the printing press. The German Reformation was the first propaganda battle in history. The new printing press caused this. The printing press helped to form protestant ideas, and it helped to spread reform ideas. There were 1000 printing shops in Europe, in 1501 35 000 titles, and 20 million copies were published. It was the first viable method of decimating ideas.
The printing press had an enormous impact on European culture in general. However it was limited because there were little or no new ideas. Literacy rates were every low. The technological improvements were spread out over a long time. Many businesses could not make sufficient money out of printing. The printing press could also be used by the opposition, the Catholics. Another factor that aided Luther were the pre-reformation conditions, although religion was the centre of life, the abuses of the church and the indulgences were annoying people. The Pope was more interested in money and having a good life then performing his duties.
Many people were thinking what Luther was thinking; Luther was just the first to speak out. It was easy for people to agree with Luther when the conditions were like this. The Princes aided the Reformation because they accepted Protestantism. At first the princes sat on the fence, but eventually they accepted it. They were very influential but slow to act. However some princes refused to move away from Catholicism. Martin Luther was without a doubt very responsible for the success of the German Reformation. There were other factors that did aid Martin Luther but, he probably would have been successful without these.