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History Notes > Luther and the German Reformation Notes

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Did the Reformation begin in 1517? (2013)

Introduction

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2 aspects to the beginning of the Reformation
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Coherent theology for new beliefs
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Action based on beliefs / consequences of Luther's ideas

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1517 - famous date of apparent 95 theses

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

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

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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
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Much more aggressive and eager to immediately condemn

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Other prime mover is the pope - defines whether the Reformation as a schism must occur 95 theses Attack on indulgences and mercenary church
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Repentance
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Contrition cannot be bought - indulgences should include ideas of regret

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Some foreshadowing of later radicalism - emphasis on scripture, faith +
repentance
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Christians being misled + 'treasure' of word of God
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Convenient date to provide beginning
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Doubt whether there is an actual date
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Not 1517

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Carlstadt had also had theses Catholic remnants + lack of action

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Theology of 1517 was in no way fully developed

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

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Importance of repentance

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Still hoped for reform

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

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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

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Difficult to date

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1517 - Justification by faith alone - due to grace of God
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The main Christian tenet of faith 1515 lecturing on St Paul's letter to the Romans + the just living by faith alone => meaning?

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Generally dated before 1518 + c. 1517- described later his tower experience
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~ Sat in a tower and gets to Romans 1.17 - 'the righteousness of God is revealed . . . the righteous shall live by faith'
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~ Revealed in the Gospel
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~ Reinterpretation - not behaviour but grace of God
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~ Onus is on God rather than on humanity
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~ Peace to the terrified heart

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It is this which truly refutes indulgences and informed the priesthood of all believers
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Underlying doctrine of all Luther's theology Central importance of faith - how to achieve salvation => formulated by 1518 with justification by faith
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Yet promulgated in the vernacular in 1520 => new religion +
reformation

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

1518 Cajetan + Augsburg 1519

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By 1518, however, Luther was becoming more aggressive
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Large group taken to Augsburg - clerk saw them as aggressive

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1518 Cajetan - Augsburg
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Pope could and did err
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Justification by faith - 'no one can be justified except by faith'
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Uses Spalatin to disseminate certain points to the Elector - letters

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Leipzig 1519 - Eck
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Public statement of beliefs
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Word of God
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Impossible reconciliation with Church

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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

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1520 treatises date the real turning point
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First proper written message of justification by faith - the main tenet
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Vernacular
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Beginnings of schism due to exsurge domine - To the Christian Nobility uses the word 'reformation' a lot more => laying down what must be done
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Acceptance of schism following Exsurge Domine in June 1520
=> martyrdom + schism

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

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Major consolidation of theology => Excommunication Beginnings of Reformation - creation of Cranach's etchings
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Bob Scribner - major importance of images to spreading ideas To The Christian Nobility

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First proper definition of priesthood of all believers
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Sola scriptura
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Intervention of nobility Babylonian captivity
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3 sacraments
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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
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OTBC - 'the breach is irreparable'

1521-2 - radicalising of the Reformation

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Triumphal progress to Worms - already popular by this point
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McGrath and biographers such as Oberman - major importance of this event
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Luther is risking martyrdom
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Yet also first large 'external' event => becoming popular and demand for woodcuts

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

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

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Major importance of hearing him speak
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Duke of Schleswig-Holstein - later King of Denmark
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Larger room on the second day
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Merchants hear him and spread ideas

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

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

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Carlstadt's actions in Wittenberg - removal of images + vernacular mass
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May mark start of Reformation proper

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Dependent on definition of Reformation
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Could be defined as when Carlstadt started to make real changes

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Transition from theology to reality Conclusion

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

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While Luther is the central character and his aggression influences our beliefs - the pope was the major factor
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Excommunication threat in 1520 stimulated major treatises and actual excommunication in 1521 led to Diet of Worms => finalised

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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

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Indulgences - could convert attrition (fear of punishment) into contrition
=> contrition was too hard to achieve
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Absolution would remove guilt + eternal punishment - yet temporal punishment could still occur on earth or in purgatory
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Guilt v. penalty
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Venial v. mortal sins
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Treasury of merits
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Remission of temporal sin + absolution

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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
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Major issue of Tetzel
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Also conflicted with Elector Frederick's relics Luther did not yet deny their validity but questioned their efficacy necessity of sincere repentance
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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
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Written in Latin - for dispute will fellow academics
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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
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Hus had previously written against indulgences University of Wittenberg had been founded in 1502 - very new university
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Luther is not very well respected at this point - theses can only have a limited effect

Purpose of the 95 theses - against Tetzel

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Luther did not intend to be revolutionary - just wanted reform

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

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

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Criticism of Tetzel rather than the Pope
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50. Building the pope's basilica 'with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep'

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Fleshly rather than spiritual

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42. 'the pope does not intend that the buying of indulgences should in any way be compared with works of mercy'
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Believes that the pope is unaware Against deception of the people - believe they are effectively buying salvation

Radicalism

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5 + 6. Pope cannot remit any guilt except that which has been remitted by God
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Questioning the power of the papacy

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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'

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62 - true treasure is the word of God
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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
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Pope - intercession rather than power over keys

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

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Rhetorical questions + interference

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Idea that pope was unknowing - bones of his sheep to make St Paul's
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Rhetorical questions from 'parishioners' 81-88

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Why doesn't pope empty purgatory?
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How conservative is this?
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Yet not actually explicitly criticising the pope

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Issue of translation, reordering and increased radicalism Conservatism

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This was not a manifesto of all Luther's later radical thought
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Did not even mention justification by faith

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

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Still assumes necessity of good works

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Existence of purgatory

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Authority of the Pope - none of later Antichrist rhetoric
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Thesis 38 - Papal remission are not to be disregarded =>
'proclamation of divine remission'

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

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In the style of Erasmus - reform Foreshadows later theology?

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Importance of the word of God => sola scriptura
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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
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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
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Only at the point when Luther is getting more radical
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Not totally condemned at the time => discussion

Conclusion

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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

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

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Luther was not excommunicated until January 1521 Decet Romanum Pontificem

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

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

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

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95 theses only really gained significance later in the Reformation

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