Religious Upheavals in the Developing Atlantic World

MARTIN LUTHER

Martin Luther (Figure) was a German Catholic monk who took issue with the Catholic Church’s practice of selling indulgences, documents that absolved sinners of their errant behavior. He also objected to the Catholic Church’s taxation of ordinary Germans and the delivery of Mass in Latin, arguing that it failed to instruct German Catholics, who did not understand the language.

A painting depicts Martin Luther.
Martin Luther, a German Catholic monk and leader of the Protestant Reformation, was a close friend of the German painter Lucas Cranach the Elder. Cranach painted this and several other portraits of Luther.

Many Europeans had called for reforms of the Catholic Church before Martin Luther did, but his protest had the unintended consequence of splitting European Christianity. Luther compiled a list of what he viewed as needed Church reforms, a document that came to be known as The Ninety-Five Theses, and nailed it to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1517. He called for the publication of the Bible in everyday language, took issue with the Church’s policy of imposing tithes (a required payment to the Church that appeared to enrich the clergy), and denounced the buying and selling of indulgences. Although he had hoped to reform the Catholic Church while remaining a part of it, Luther’s action instead triggered a movement called the Protestant Reformation that divided the Church in two. The Catholic Church condemned him as a heretic, but a doctrine based on his reforms, called Lutheranism, spread through northern Germany and Scandinavia.

Visit Fordham University’s Internet Medieval Sourcebook for access to many primary sources relating to the Protestant Reformation.

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