Early Reformation Sources Notes
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95 Theses Seminar
1517-‐20 developed many of his key insights
! Augustinian disputation at Heidelberg
~ Theology of the cross v. theology of glory
! 1535 -‐ Lectures on Galatians
~ Law v. Gospel
~ Commenting on Paul
Debate with Erasmus over free will => refused to support the Reformation
! 2 engagements over the sacraments
~ Against the Catholic Church -‐ Babylonian Captivity
~ Against the Swiss Reformation
! Luther was already in his 30s
~ Many years in a monastery
Would have lectured on Peter Lombard's Sentences -‐ mostly Augustine
Also lectured on Aristotle -‐ disliked him
Unclear how much of Aquinas he had read
Melanchthon was a better linguist
! Spiritual anxiety -‐ Johannes Staupitz was his confessor
! Disillusioning visit to Rome at a key point
! Wittenberg -‐ very new university
~ Luther arrives in 1513
Lectured on the Psalms => worked out his position on ideas
~ Increasing idea of being sinful
~ Lack of purity of motive -‐ could only admit sin
! 1517 -‐ described later his tower experience
~ Sat in a tower and gets to Romans 1.17 -‐ 'the righteousness of God is revealed . . .
the righteous shall live by faith'
~ Revealed in the Gospel
~ Reinterpretation -‐ not behaviour but grace of God
~ Onus is on God rather than on humanity
~ Peace to the terriﬁed heart
Issue of authority of the
Church if it is wrong on Romans
~ Easy message of sola ﬁde to communicate to lay people
! Penitential practices of the Catholic Church were designed to make people feel closer to
God -‐ mediation of God's grace
~ Indulgences were a major part -‐ can make a start towards becoming a righteous
person before Purgatory
~ Pope would intercede on your behalf with the treasury of Christ's merits
! 1517 -‐ arrival of Tetzel
~ Funded St Peter's and Albrecht of Mainz and Magdeburg to keep 2
95 theses -‐ discussion of the nature of penitence
Horriﬁed by ﬁnancial transaction
Tradition of reform -‐ both accepted and not accepted => Wycliﬀe and Hus
Believes that the pope does not know
Inﬂection changes when he starts talking on behalf of the laity
1. Repentance -‐ how does this relate to penance?
How much is he manipulative/naive?
! Pope => bishops => laity
~ Builds up rhetoric
30. No one is sure of the integrity of contrition -‐ reﬂects his feelings
37. The true Christian participates in all the blessings of Christ
~ Beginning of separation of God from the Church
~ Faith v. good works
Absolution from temporal penalties (44)
Clariﬁcations have to be made -‐ complicated
~ Issues of original, mortal and venial sin
Purgatory may be now -‐ fear of death (15 and 16)
Very interested in psychology
Issue of transmission of theology to the laity => Peasants' War
Always relates issues to the absolute -‐ why not release all from Purgatory
1524 -‐ continued to dress as a monk
! 1518 -‐ Heidelberg Disputation -‐ theology of the cross
~ Annual meeting of the Augustinian Order
~ Staupitz was meant to discipline him -‐ just gave him a chance to speak
~ Glory or suﬀering and defeat?
~ Sub contraria -‐ God works through his opposite => paradoxes
Early Reformation Class
! Use of numbers in addressing points
~ Rhetorical device used in marriage sources
~ Printed copies => discussion
Scholastic organisation and style
! Latin v. German -‐ translations are noticeable
! Irony and sarcasm -‐ teases people
~ More familiar with the reader
~ Yet could also alienate the uneducated -‐ lack of understanding
! Presents himself as an outsider
! Egoistical -‐ contrasts with biographers
! Issue of bringing together theology and his life
! History of the Reformation is the history of Luther
! Oberman is Dutch -‐ made it clear that he was not German
~ Talks about Nazi propaganda on Luther -‐ German historiography
Does not deal so much with Luther's ideas of obedience and anti-‐Semitism
! Bainton -‐ sees Luther as a champion ﬁghting against opposition
~ McCarthyism and ﬁghting for beliefs
~ Post-‐WW2 -‐ stand up for beliefs
~ Idea of there being a good German
! Marius -‐ Catastrophe of Western Civilisation
~ Inspired by Oberman?
! Brecht -‐ based on subjective letters
~ Yet ignores others for their subjectivism
! Very short introduction -‐ positive approach to Luther
! Issue of anti-‐Semitism, Turks and attitudes to women -‐ often put in a separate chapter
=> narrative problem
! No middle ground -‐ positive or negative view
! Most writing comes from Church History departments
There is still a lack of developed historiography and social history of Wittenberg
No book on the Reformation in Saxony
Historiography does not address changing gender relations
Luther said people could marry -‐ seen as a good thing
~ Does not address lack of freedom for women -‐ may want to be nuns
~ Issue of masculinity
! Lack of political background
! Oberman does not engage with Wittenberg as a place
! Oberman presupposes a high level of religious belief in all people
~ Lack of sophisticated political history
! Frederick's reliquary -‐ many forces at work here
! Ideas of merit and treasure
! Had been previous attacks on the pope
! Goes back to the Augustinian idea of the church -‐ not within the Thomist tradition of
! Hope that the pope is unaware -‐ wants him to change things
! 2 oﬃces of the Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg
~ Also the issue of Frederick's reliquary
! Issue of money in pot
! 50 -‐ emotive language
~ Fleshly as opposed to spiritual
! 30 -‐ only God can remit punishment
! Theses rather than a pamphlet -‐ can be responded to
~ Expect more radical opinions -‐ can be justiﬁed as just being propositions
! Balanced points on a page -‐ all for discussion rather than merely a conclusion being
important => horizontal form
~ Doubts value of sacrament => who you should trust (God) => meaning of
indulgences => issues with the laity
! Rearrangement in print -‐ not consecutive numbers
~ Did he alter something?
Many diﬀerent ways of printing it
! Brecht -‐ history of the 95 theses
~ Issue of at what point it was printed
~ Leipzig edition rather than Wittenberg
~ Was the document on the church door handwritten?
~ Would need copies
~ Very few errors in diﬀerent versions
! Luther says in a letter that he did not print it -‐ is this true?
! Day before All saints Day -‐ to make an impact when people are visiting relics?
! History of when the 95 theses become the 95 Theses -‐ part of Luther's works
~ When do they take on a great deal of signiﬁcance?
~ Role in the Reformation
95 Theses Presentation
! Indulgences -‐ could convert attrition (fear of punishment) into contrition
! 1510 -‐ beginning of new indulgences for building the new basilica of St Peter
! Purchaser would be granted absolution by a priest -‐ could also buy remission of
penalties for the dead without confession or contrition
! Luther did not yet deny their validity but questioned their eﬃcacy -‐ necessity of sincere
! Thesis 1 -‐ Christian life should be one of repentance
! We do not know if souls in purgatory are assured of salvation -‐ indulgences are only for
! People are deceived by the idea of having every penalty remitted
! Money spent on indulgences => increased greed and avarice (28)
~ Even when the Church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God
~ '32. Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they
have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers'
! If a Christian is truly repentant then he already has a right to remission of penalty and
guilt -‐ better to pray devoutly than to give money
! Better to give to the poor than to buy indulgences -‐ indulgences do not make a man
better but merely free him from penalties (45)
! Men such as Tetzel are building the pope's basilica 'with the skin, ﬂesh and bones of his
! Wrong to displace the Word of God by spending a large amount of time preaching about
! Indulgences are insigniﬁcant compared with the grace and Word of God
! Cites the confusion of the laity -‐ why doesn't the pope empty purgatory if he can?
! Foreshadows later ideas of sola scriptura -‐ much greater grace is given by God's word
than by indulgences
! Also brings in ideas of sola ﬁde -‐ Christian life of repentance
! Yet he remains orthodox in his defence of the pope in the face of those selling
indulgences and he still ascribes some value to indulgences and good works
How radical were they?
Luther Presentation on 95 Theses
-‐ Throughout very supportive of the Pope.
• No. 38: "Papal remission and blessing are by no means to be disregarded, for they are,
as I have said (Thesis 6), the proclamation of the divine remission."
-‐ In letter to Archbishop similarly deferential.
• Calls himself "but a grain of dust".
-‐ Presents theses as though Pope unaware of corruption, informing him of abuses.
• No. 20 "the pope, when he uses the words "plenary remission of all penalties," does not
actually mean "all penalties"
• No. 42: "the pope does not intend that the buying of indulgences should in any way be
compared with works of mercy."
• To Archbishop similarly: "I bewail the gross misunderstanding among the people."
-‐ Does not at this stage deny validity of indulgences, just questions their eﬃcacy.
• No. 68, refers to them as "the most insigniﬁcant graces when compared with the grace
of God and the piety of the cross"
More radical points
-‐ However, are radical ideas already contained within the theses.
• Questioning power of the papacy: no. 5: "The pope neither desires nor is able to remit
any penalties except those imposed by his own authority or that of the canons.
• Hints at importance of Scripture over the pope eg. no. 62: "The true treasure of the
church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God."
• Thinks Christians currently being misled, no. 95, wants them to be: "conﬁdent of
entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security
-‐ With questions at end could query whether these the questions that Luther wants
answered, rather than those posed to him.
• No. 82 claims questions being asked "Such as: "Why does not the pope empty
purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there if he
redeems an inﬁnite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to
build a church? The former reasons would be most just; the latter is most trivial.""
Responses to the Theses
-‐ Responses show that at the time they were considered radical, even if he was not as
aware. However, it did not prompt an irreconcilable split.
• Upset members of the Catholic population, to the extent of which they forged a more
radical set of theses which were viewed by Maximilian.
• Led to the trial with Cajetan, during which Pope either gave power for full reconciliation,
or to excommunicate.
Debates surrounding the 95 Theses on the Power and Eﬃcacy of Indulgences
-‐ Luther was not the ﬁrst to want reform of certain aspects of the church - debates about
what exactly the sacrament of penance meant - that it was not purely a mechanical act, but
a permanent inner attitude, had been argued by others before him.
- Frederick the wise of Saxony had already spoken against the indulgence preached by
Tetzel and had forbidden its sale in his lands.
-‐ Luther - not the ﬁrst to raise debates about indulgences/the power of the pope.
-‐Like Luther, Peter Waldo, a prosperous 12th century merchant from Lyons, had criticized
practices like praying for the dead and indulgences.
-‐ John Wyclif (14th century) advocated translated versions of scripture
-‐ John Hus (early 15th century) also attacked indulgences from his pulpit and celebrated
Mass by giving both bread and wine to all communicants.
-‐Girolamo Savonarola of the 15th century, similarly to Luther's Theses, used the Bible as a
source for arguing for reform.
-‐ Luther was aware of the reformers that had come before him - in 1520 - he claimed that
Hus' criticism of the papacy did not go far enough. - Luther said that Hus and Wyclif had
attacked conduct rather than doctrine and that the two should be distinguished.
-‐ Andreas Karlstadt - in 1516 he wrote his 151 theses - which also used scripture to argue
-‐ there is some debate surrounding when exactly the posting of the theses - Hanz Volz, in
his Martin Luther's Thesenanschlag and dessen Vorgeschichte (Weimar, 1959), argued that
the posting of the Ninety-‐ﬁve Theses took place in November 1, 1517, rather than on
October 31, since Luther subsequently referred to All Saints Day as the date.
-‐ debate about whether the theses were posted on the Church door at all - Catholic
historian Erwin Iserloh, (in 1968) stated that Luther did not post the Theses but only sent
them to the Archbishop Albert of Mainz and Bishop Jerome Schulz of Brandenburg, for
-‐ debates about how radical they were ? (see Amelia's section)- similar ideas had circulated
before now - were the ideas that new?
-‐ debates about why the theses appeared now?- was it actually political/economic? -
Frederick III of Saxony had not allowed the sale of indulgences so his neighbours were
getting richer than him
-‐ or was it in direct response to the preaching of Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar who was
reported to have preached essentially of the mechanical eﬃcacy of the purchase of
indulgences. - the Archibishop of Mainz was his superior
-‐ debates about how early Luther had formulated his later theological positions - whether
the 95 theses should be viewed as the ﬁrst manifesto of a new theology or whether Luther's
ideas about how to achieve salvation, were decided later.
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