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Introduction to the Reformation
17th Century Europe
THE SHAPING OF MODERN EUROPE
The Church reacts to Luther
Just as people today write controversial ideas in books so that their books will sell and make them famous, so it was in the 16th century. From 1520 onwards Luther wrote pamphlets in German, as well as in Latin, expressing his ideas. The printing press made sure that these were widely read. The purpose of his writings was to reform Christendom.
His most famous works of this period were, "To the Christian Nobility of the German People" (in German), "The Babylonish Captivity of the Church" and "Of the Liberty of the Christian Man". In these books he attacked the Pope and the structure of the Church but, more importantly, he called on the German princes to reform the Church. He wanted the kings and princes to destroy the power of the Pope in the German states. Not only the power of the Pope but also the Pardons, taxes and the wealth of the Cardinals and Bishops should all be destroyed. What Luther was writing about was a return to "the basics". The Bible was the word of God and people did not need the Church to worship God. Extravagances should be restrained.
In these writings Luther had moved a long way; from questioning indulgences to calling for the princes to destroy the Church. This was even more revolutionary than the period 1518-20.
The Church reacts to Luther
Luther burning the Papal Bull
In June 1520 the Pope reacted to these heretical and revolutionary ideas by issuing a Bull - the Exsurge Domine. This was an appeal, or even a command, to the faithful to burn Luther's books. It was also designed to make Luther recant or be excommunicated. Forty one of his ideas were announced as heretical.
From words to action
Luther's reaction to the Papal Bull was quite simple and, by this stage, unsurprising - he publicly burnt it in December 1520. The crowd which had gathered joined in and burnt more Church books. Naturally enough, the Pope had to excommunicate Luther, which he did in January 1921.
Between them Luther, Tetzel, the Electors and the Pope had caused a minor issue to be transformed into a revolution against the Roman Catholic Church and the authority of the Pope. Who was most to blame for this?
A Papal legate (diplomat) wrote in 1521, "All Germany is in revolution. Nine tenths shout "Luther!" as their war cry. The other tenth cares nothing about Luther and cries "Death to the Court of Rome!"
The Diet of Worms
Portrait of Charles V by Titian
In April 1521 Charles summoned his first Diet (a council gathering) at Worms. The main issue was Martin Luther so he summoned him to appear to recant or to be banished from the Empire.
Luther expected to have to deal with a theological debate but instead was asked if he had written books attacking the Pope, if he recanted - to which the answers were yes and no - and lastly told that he was outlawed.
Luther as an Outlaw
After the Diet of Worms Luther disappeared for his own safety, but he continued to write and to spread his ideas.
Far from silencing the opposition of Luther and his followers, outlawing him created far greater problems for the Church. Few people knew what had happened to him so that gossip and rumour spread, making him more famous. Also, he was a restrained and conservative person at heart but his public replacement as leader of the opponents of Tetzel and indulgences was more extreme. His name Andrew Carstadt.
Carstadt was opposed to the mass and to celibacy (he quickly found himself a wife). His followers were often described as "religious maniacs".
Luther came out of hiding to restore order to the Reformation. He still wanted a united Church but had not changed his attitudes towards indulgences and the pope. However, despite this, Lutheran followers gradually split from the Catholic Church by worshipping in new buildings and having different devices.
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