Martin Luther`s Objections.

The Humanists, such as
Erasmus, and other satirical writers of the day 
variously illustrated, commented upon and ridiculed the excesses of the
Church of Rome. In their way they contributed to the Reformation, bringing
the attention of the people generally to the practices and questioning why
they were used. The challenge to the Church and the exposure of the folly
, even stupidity, of the greater part of the teaching from the pulpit and
University Chairs, informed the people about the superstitions which monks
and friars professed (either through ignorance or for fraudulent purposes)
; and that the indulgences they sold were worthless.  A great
favourite of the time was the lampoon in the form of a discussion between 
peasants  who freely criticise their superiors, and confound with
common sense the learned doctors of law and theology. There was a
downside, however, because it gradually taught a disrespect for any
law and authority and was reflected in the behaviour of the people

Religion generally had become an external matter,
rather than internal of heart and conscience.  The performance of
certain acts, attending services, going on pilgrimages, performance of
penances, veneration of relics etc contributed to an air of paganism. The
services appealed to eye and ear and at times were grossly irreverent.
Pilgrimages became excuses for picnics accompanied by drunkenness and
misbehaviour. Penances were often without reason and could be compounded
by payment to the priests. Relics were sometimes of the most extreme
and even impossible kind – such as straw from the manger in Bethlehem or a
feather from an archangel`s wing. At Wittenberg ( the scene of Martin
Luther`s protest) there were some 5005 relics including : pieces of the
rods of Moses and Aaron, and ashes from the burning bush.  At Halle
there were an incredible 8,933 relics , including alleged wine from the
wedding feast at Cana, and some of the earth from which Adam was made. In
ridicule of these examples Luther advertised ” a piece of the left horn of
Moses, three flames from the burning bush, and a lock of Beezlebub`s

The ignorance of the clergy was
pandemic, and worse, those responsible for correcting errors in teaching
and behaviour – the bishops, cared little about the situation. The bishops seldom made
visitations  and did not know or care what kind of priests were
ministering to the people. In Saxony Luther himself visited several
parishes and found villagers who did not know the Lord`s Prayer – it was
allegedly too long to learn by heart. In one village not one person could
repeat a prayer of any kind. In another an old priest who hardly knew the
Lord`s Prayer but made a good living by `counteracting the spells of
witches`.  Thus a priest might be ignorant and immoral, but he had
been given unseen powers making his blessings worth having for one`s self,
and his curses for confusing one`s enemies. It was a great boon for those
living an immoral or salacious life who could get remission of sins for a
small price. On the other hand, the people questioned why did God insist
on the payment of a few pence to relieve a sinner from the pains of
purgatory ?

Martin Luther was very aware of these
issues and the practices which had arisen, particularly the matter of
Indulgences. As a monk he had been regarded by colleagues as `saintly` and
he was very strict with himself, whilst seeing his friends falling by the
wayside. Until a short visit to Rome  (two weeks ca 1512 ) he had
remained faithful to his Order and orthodox beliefs. It was seeing Rome in
all its degeneracy and  hypocrisy that helped him realise what was
wrong. Luther said of his visit that on three occasions he heard a voice
telling him that “The just shall live by faith”. The third time he heard
the phrase was at the Lateran Church where he had gone to climb the Scala
Sancta , the Holy Stairs, said to be those down which Christ descended
after sentenced by Pontius Pilate. They had been brought from Jerusalem
and installed in the Lateran Church. It was claimed that climbing them on
ones knees gained a fifteen year indulgence for each ascent. It was here
that he realised the folly of an indulgence that lasted  a few years
when God offered a lifetime indulgence for free. From this time he took up
the doctrine of justification by faith alone – in other words salvation by
free grace. He believed that in no other way could the Church return to
truth and liberty.

He made a Declaration which said

“I, Doctor Martin
Luther, unworthy herald of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ confess
this article, that faith alone without works, justifies before God; and I
declare that it shall stand and remain for ever, in despite of the Emperor
of the Romans, the Emperor of the Turks,  the Emperor of the Tartars,
the Emperor of the Persians; in spite of the Pope and all the cardinals,
with the bishops, priests , monks  and nuns; in spite of kings,
princes and nobles; and in spite of all the world, and the the devils
themselves ; and that if they endeavour to fight against this truth they
will draw the fires of hell upon their own heads. This is the true and
Holy Gospel and the declaration of me , Doctor Martin Luther, according to
the teaching of the Holy Ghost. We hold fast to it in the name of God,
Amen. ”

[ quoted J A
Wylie, History of Protestantism vol i p 255]:

Luther was not a great scholar as such,
and never mastered Greek while his Latin was rough. But he was
immeasurably the most influential of the Reformers. A man of intense
convictions he went from strength to strength, beginning with rather mild,
even genteel, criticism until he spoke out, often with strong and
outspoken words, that raised the hackles of both some local rulers and
Rome. In a letter to a friend in 1530 he wrote:

“My language untrained
in rhetoric, yields a chaos of words, and has constantly  to fight
with monsters. Of that fourfold spirit  of Elijah, I have the wind,
the earthquake and the fire, but to you is allotted the refreshing zephyr.
Yet I comfort myself with the thought that the heavenly Father needs an
occasional servant who can be hard  to the hard and rude to the

Yet had Rome, and the Curia
of the Cardinals listened to the grievances instead of arrogantly
dismissing them as the babblings of a heretic, they could have saved
themselves, their Church, and probably turned the Protestant Reformation itself to
defeat. Pope Leo X referred to the posting of the Theses as the
squabble of envious monks ” It is a tipsy German  that has written
these Theses; he will think differently  when he is sober.”  But
he missed the entire point of the document itself which was to promote
discussion. Luther had, as a Doctor of Theology at the University used his
position, as was custom and practice across Europe, to propose matters for
discussions and asked for nothing else. Sensible discussion then may well
have put an entirely different slant on the subsequent relationship with

In the beginning Luther had
merely protested about the sale of indulgences by disreputable persons,
and did not denounce the whole system of indulgences.  He never
disputed  that the Church of Rome  had power to remit 
penalties it had imposed  in the form of penances. But this drew into
question – where was the authority  for the doctrine to remit
penalties which were in the nature of purgatory in the other world ? 
If so, could the Pope  authorise anyone  to sell such
remissions.?  As time passed so the arguments became more strident
and  the stance of Rome more entrenched. It was only gradually that
Luther reached the position that a man can be saved apart from the Pope.
It was  in March 1521, several years after the nailing of his
to the church door in Wittenberg,
that Luther wrote

” I am persuaded 
that, unless man fight with all his power against the laws of the Pope and
Bishops, he cannot be saved.”

Luther nailing his
to the Schloss-Kirk door,
Wittenberg, 31 October 1517.

The onset of the Peasants War in Germany
seriously impacted the Reformation, Luther had not considered it as a
possibility yet it both hindered reform of religion, yet ironically
emphasised the need for a wholesale Reformation. The oppression of the
German peasantry had been growing for centuries. They had been stripped of
all basic privileges and no longer able to live where they chose or hunt
when food was needed. They were serfs, tied to their native acres, tilling
the fields and spilling their blood for their master. What little earthly
goods they acquired was soaked up by priests and friars threatening
spiritual doom. Matters were further exacerbated by wide differences
between town and country dwellers, and between the semi independent states
that made up Germany at that time. Thus there was a writhing discontent at
all levels which was soon hit upon by Thomas Munzer  who added a
quasi religious aspect to the revolt. The Twelve Articles or demands of
the peasants was presented to the rulers in January 1525. Luther, however,
recognised the issues as largely political and wisely declined to support
the revolt and counselled both lords and peasants to desist from
confrontation. His counsel was rejected and the storm burst with a
terrible ferocity and spilling of blood across the German states.
Inevitably Luther`s enemies were quick to make comparisons and blame him
for stirring up discontent with his attack on the Church of Rome. In the
aftermath of the Peasants` War there was a quite rapid expansion of
support for  the Anabaptists who had formed  themselves into the
first  free church of modern times, at Zolliken , Switzerland, on 25 January 1525.

As Luther  developed his views on
the form and structure of the nascent Lutheran Church, so did his
opposition to all indulgences take a firmer shape. He denounced  abuses
connected with auricular confession, penances and pilgrimages; questioned
Canon Law and the authority of the Pope and Councils, and denied the
necessity of an episcopal ordained ministry. His success was due to
force of character that appealed to the common people, and all the more
remarkable for not having used force of arms. Like the Scots, opportunism
was a potent factor. In Scotland the drive of John Knox in the hiatus
between the death of the Regent Mary of Guise, and the return of Mary
Queen of Scots to reclaim her throne was critical. In Germany there was
widespread discontent and the Peasants War during 1524-5. This was
ruthlessly stamped out before the defining
moment arrived with the Protest by the
Lutheran lords at the Diet of Speyers in 1529. This cast a new dimension
on European politics and relationships. Importantly it meant that Luther
was no longer alone on the religious stage in Germany and gave new heart
to the Reformation generally.