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Luther Essay Plans Notes

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Did the Reformation begin in 1517? (2013)


2 aspects to the beginning of the Reformation

Coherent theology for new beliefs

Action based on beliefs / consequences of Luther's ideas

1517 - famous date of apparent 95 theses

Definition of Reformation - internal development of theology v. external reforms

Issue of having convenient date of 31 October or 1 November 1517 - can the 'Reformation' merely begin at a certain place and a certain time?

More nuanced view of spreading ideas of reform and coalescing around certain dates

Further importance of the notion of schism - claimed that he did not want it => yet becomes acceptant of the idea and this can be said to determine later relations

Much more aggressive and eager to immediately condemn

Other prime mover is the pope - defines whether the Reformation as a schism must occur 95 theses Attack on indulgences and mercenary church


Contrition cannot be bought - indulgences should include ideas of regret

Some foreshadowing of later radicalism - emphasis on scripture, faith +

Christians being misled + 'treasure' of word of God

Convenient date to provide beginning

Doubt whether there is an actual date

Not 1517

Carlstadt had also had theses Catholic remnants + lack of action

Theology of 1517 was in no way fully developed

Still accepted purgatory and indulgences - did not question sacrament of penance and very notion of good works

Importance of repentance

Still hoped for reform

Issue of schism - wishes to get reform => hoped that pope was unaware of abuses

Radical ideas led to Diet of Augsburg + Leipzig Debate (1519) Justification by faith alone - 1517 => defends at Augsburg 1518 The more important potential 'event' of 1517 - tower moment

Difficult to date

1517 - Justification by faith alone - due to grace of God

The main Christian tenet of faith 1515 lecturing on St Paul's letter to the Romans + the just living by faith alone => meaning?

Generally dated before 1518 + c. 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

It is this which truly refutes indulgences and informed the priesthood of all believers

Underlying doctrine of all Luther's theology Central importance of faith - how to achieve salvation => formulated by 1518 with justification by faith

Yet promulgated in the vernacular in 1520 => new religion +

It was particularly this which informed his aggression in 1518-19

1518 Cajetan + Augsburg 1519

By 1518, however, Luther was becoming more aggressive

Large group taken to Augsburg - clerk saw them as aggressive

1518 Cajetan - Augsburg

Pope could and did err

Justification by faith - 'no one can be justified except by faith'

Uses Spalatin to disseminate certain points to the Elector - letters

Leipzig 1519 - Eck

Public statement of beliefs

Word of God

Impossible reconciliation with Church

Critical of Eck's envy It was only after this - 3 years later - that pope issued exsurge domine, 41/95 theses were heretical 1520 + Excommunication

1520 treatises date the real turning point

First proper written message of justification by faith - the main tenet


Beginnings of schism due to exsurge domine - To the Christian Nobility uses the word 'reformation' a lot more => laying down what must be done

Acceptance of schism following Exsurge Domine in June 1520
=> martyrdom + schism

Time when the 1517 theses became the 'Ninety Five Theses'

Major consolidation of theology => Excommunication Beginnings of Reformation - creation of Cranach's etchings

Bob Scribner - major importance of images to spreading ideas To The Christian Nobility

First proper definition of priesthood of all believers

Sola scriptura

Intervention of nobility Babylonian captivity

3 sacraments

Lord's Supper Freedom of a Christian First and third were written in German - transition to a vernacular reformer
=> turning point Turning point from reform in tradition of Erasmus - this is what constituted the Reformation

OTBC - 'the breach is irreparable'

1521-2 - radicalising of the Reformation

Triumphal progress to Worms - already popular by this point

McGrath and biographers such as Oberman - major importance of this event

Luther is risking martyrdom

Yet also first large 'external' event => becoming popular and demand for woodcuts

Yet dangerous - made comparison to Christ travelling to crucifixion => in favour of truth

Hus had had safe conduct - yet had still been burnt - precedent

Major importance of hearing him speak

Duke of Schleswig-Holstein - later King of Denmark

Larger room on the second day

Merchants hear him and spread ideas

Also importance of letters - Luther creates semi-public documents and expects them to be preached (Lyndal Roper) 1522 => action based on 1520 treatises

McGrath - Reformation started when Luther returned from the Wartburg to Wittenberg

Carlstadt's actions in Wittenberg - removal of images + vernacular mass

May mark start of Reformation proper

Dependent on definition of Reformation

Could be defined as when Carlstadt started to make real changes

Transition from theology to reality Conclusion

Reformation was a continuous process - despite major importance of 1517, it was only a preliminary => only in Latin, aim for reform and reconciliation without desire for schism

More important theological developments in 1517 => yet had to wait until 1520 for these to be disseminated widely

While Luther is the central character and his aggression influences our beliefs - the pope was the major factor

Excommunication threat in 1520 stimulated major treatises and actual excommunication in 1521 led to Diet of Worms => finalised

schism - yet also due to Luther's intractable belief in justification by faith alone Reformation only becomes external due to growing interest and vernacular Luther becomes more radical and comes to accept potential martyrdom following Exsurge Domine

How revolutionary were the 95 Theses? (2012) Are the 95 Theses essentially conservative? (2010) Background - academic discourse

Indulgences - could convert attrition (fear of punishment) into contrition
=> contrition was too hard to achieve

Absolution would remove guilt + eternal punishment - yet temporal punishment could still occur on earth or in purgatory

Guilt v. penalty

Venial v. mortal sins

Treasury of merits

Remission of temporal sin + absolution

1510 - beginning of new indulgences for building the new basilica of St Peter and to fund Archbishop Albrecht's two archdioceses Purchaser would be granted absolution by a priest - could also buy remission of penalties for the dead without confession or contrition

Major issue of Tetzel

Also conflicted with Elector Frederick's relics Luther did not yet deny their validity but questioned their efficacy necessity of sincere repentance

Penance is an internal attitude 1517 - apparently pinned 95 theses to the Church Door in Wittenberg (yet this is from Melancthon's memoirs) => yet this was a university noticeboard

Written in Latin - for dispute will fellow academics

Debate over whether they were printed - several copies sent in letters Part of academic discourse of reform which many had called for e.g. Erasmus Carlstadt wrote 151 theses in 1516 => little effect

Hus had previously written against indulgences University of Wittenberg had been founded in 1502 - very new university

Luther is not very well respected at this point - theses can only have a limited effect

Purpose of the 95 theses - against Tetzel

Luther did not intend to be revolutionary - just wanted reform

Sent a copy to Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz and Magdeburg - wanted him to stop selling indulgences => one aim, not revolutionary

Not even so interested in basic theology - just against present situation of indulgence selling

Criticism of Tetzel rather than the Pope

50. Building the pope's basilica 'with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep'

Fleshly rather than spiritual

42. 'the pope does not intend that the buying of indulgences should in any way be compared with works of mercy'

Believes that the pope is unaware Against deception of the people - believe they are effectively buying salvation


5 + 6. Pope cannot remit any guilt except that which has been remitted by God

Questioning the power of the papacy

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'

62 - true treasure is the word of God

Use of word 'treasure' - implies the treasury of merits given by Christ => given to entire church - writes on these 'keys' in To the Christian Nobility

Pope - intercession rather than power over keys

45 - Better to give to the poor than to buy indulgences - indulgences do not make a man better but merely free him from penalties

95 - false security of peace => need 'tribulations' Yet much of this was not actually against indulgences - just against wrong approach whereby people did not need to be contrite Christians are currently being misled - should be confident of entering heaven

Rhetorical questions + interference

Idea that pope was unknowing - bones of his sheep to make St Paul's

Rhetorical questions from 'parishioners' 81-88

Why doesn't pope empty purgatory?

How conservative is this?

Yet not actually explicitly criticising the pope

Issue of translation, reordering and increased radicalism Conservatism

This was not a manifesto of all Luther's later radical thought

Did not even mention justification by faith

Not rejecting the sacrament of penance - is in fact supporting it

Still assumes necessity of good works

Existence of purgatory

Authority of the Pope - none of later Antichrist rhetoric

Thesis 38 - Papal remission are not to be disregarded =>
'proclamation of divine remission'

Importance of theses rather than a pamphlet - can be responded to =>
can be justified as just being propositions

In the style of Erasmus - reform Foreshadows later theology?

Importance of the word of God => sola scriptura

Gospel should be preached 100 x as much Thesis 68 - Indulgences are insignificant compared with the grace and Word of God Emphasis on Christian life of repentance - sola fide Yet he does not currently mention justification by faith

Ideas on salvation, the basis of religion, may have been formulated later Only officially condemned by the Pope in Exsurge Domine in June 1520 41/95 are heretical

Only at the point when Luther is getting more radical

Not totally condemned at the time => discussion


McGrath - significant moment is 1520 when he switched from being an academic to a popular reformer => wrote 2 of the 3 major treatises in 1520 in the vernacular

1517 - still part of the Church => gradual process until revolutionary treatises

Luther was not excommunicated until January 1521 Decet Romanum Pontificem

Were important in foreshadowing ideas yet the term 'revolutionary' requires a wider dissemination and impact than they had

More important for Luther as they led to his meeting with Cajetan - yet not revolutionary overall

Augsburg 1518 - still said he would recant anything that proved to be erroneous and appealed to the authority of the pope

95 theses only really gained significance later in the Reformation

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