If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:11:15

Introduction to the Protestant Reformation: Martin Luther

Video transcript

so in the first video we established that Martin Luther ah--this professor of theology in Wittenberg this Augustinian monk had posted his 95 theses on the door of the castle Church in Wittenberg at least this is how the tradition tells the story that took issue with the way in which the Catholic Church thought about salvation and specifically took issue with the selling of indulgences Luther was arguing against the sale of indulgences and that kind of monetary transaction for getting into heaven Tetzel who was selling indulgences we quoted in the first video but here's another quote won't you part with even a farthing to buy this letter it won't bring you money but rather a divine and immortal soul whole and secure in the kingdom of heaven we have to understand that this exists within this larger scheme and the church thought that the ultimate aim was a good one but he sounds like a used-car salesman so Luther in one section of the 95 theses says you know people are going to ask questions that we can't really answer about what we're doing with these indulgences 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 buy a church the former reason would be most just the latter is most trivial so he what is he saying is if the Pope has the authority of the Treasury of Merit of all of the Saints that he can distribute why is he telling them to build the church why doesn't he just redeem the souls that are in purgatory and send them up to heaven if he has the power to do that and there was a perception that the church at times was a rather corrupt institution that seemed to be more concerned with power and political issues and worldly issues and not so concerned with the salvation of souls well the previous pope julius ii certainly had that kind of reputation right this is a hard thing for us to realize i think that this time the popes claimed not only spiritual power like they do today but also political power and god earned these very significant lands known as the papal States and so in some ways the Pope functioned as the princes of territories in Italy right pope julius ii led armies into battle against other christians to reclaim territories that were historically part of the papal States so this notion of a kind of corruption in rome is infusing this entire discussion this entire argument so there had been other reformers before luther who were not successful for example we could look to john wycliffe in the 14th century so in the 1300s this englishman has said about to translate the Bible into the vernacular into the common language into English he organized the translation of the Bible into English he translated much of it himself especially much of the New Testament it was important to him that the Bible be available to people in their common language that people could read it if it's in Latin essentially only the priests could read it this is important for us because this idea of enabling the reading of the Bible was critical for Luther and we'll get to that okay so let's just step back for a moment and just remember that in Western Europe at this time the vast majority of the population was illiterate but those that could read would be reading in the vernacular not Latin and by vernacular I mean their common languages whether it was English or German or French or Italian it wasn't Latin and this was a means that the church could control the Word of God well it meant that you heard the Word of God through the priest you weren't able to read it yourself Wycliffe also attacked the abuses of the church the worldliness of the church after he died he was declared a heretic his body was exhumed it was burned his books were burned he was punished after the fact another early reformer was John HUS now he was from Bohemia and he was ultimately burned at the stake in 1415 so this is just a little bit more than a hundred years before Luther now those ninety-five theses were posted in Latin but people translated it without his authorization to German and then used the new technology of the printing press and distributed it widely the printing press had been invented in the mid 15th century incredibly important invention for the spread of Protestant ideas well think about what's happening here instead of the distribution network of the church you have people acting on their own outside of that structure in their own language so Luther posts the 95 theses in 1517 word gets to the Pope he's accused of heresy but he's gaining support widely and in 1521 he's called to a large council so this event we call the diet of worms and it was under the auspices of the Holy Roman Emperor so this is an unfortunate name that's a diet of worms nobody's eating worms but a diet is gathering a council and worms or verbs is a city in Germany so the new Holy Roman Emperor who's by the way only a teenager at this time has summoned Luther he's given him an authorization of safe passage that is he won't be arrested him on his way and he is to testify at this council so Luther is asked if he authored the books he's presented with his own books Luther says yes I did and then he's asked do you stand by the ideas in these books and Luther says give me a day to think about that and that request is granted he comes back the next day and by all accounts gives an eloquent defense of the ideas in the books and does not renounce any of the ideas it's pretty clear that the lines are drawn and Luther leaves verbs he's declared an unrepentant heretic it's clear he's going to be arrested possession of his writings is forbidden and he leaves the city of worms remember he's been granted safe passage so he's allowed to leave worms now here's the crucial moment will he end up like hosts that is burned at the stake arrested will that be the end of his efforts or will something else happen well something else does happen and that's because of political issues the new emperor of the Holy Roman Empire had gotten that job because of the vote of men in Germany princes who are called electors and one of those electors the elector of Saxony secretly kidnaps Luther as he leaves the city of worms and hides him away in a castle where by the way Luther immediately gets down to work writing and translating the New Testament and by the time Luther emerges and returns to public life the Holy Roman Emperor is involved in other issues and doesn't pursue his rest so Luther is able to do something that hustle that Wycliffe was not able to do which is to continue his campaign in a way the whole Reformation happens because of issues like this that local rulers whether they're monarchs or princes are tired of ceding so much authority and political power to the Pope and use the opportunity of the Reformation to wrest back some control of their own lands of their own people if you think about the power structure in Europe at this time especially in what will become Germany you have the local princes you have the authority of the Pope in Rome on the other side of the Alps but you also have the Holy Roman Emperor so it was very complicated and everybody was trying to enlarge their own stake so Martin Luther is at the diet of worms he's been confronted with his own writings he's in a really dangerous situation Luther was going against one of the central doctrines of the church and that was that you were justified that is that you got to heaven in two ways according to the church one through God's forgiveness through God's grace the other through things that you could do yourself choices that you could make as a human being through what the church called good works so by good works we mean for instance helping to build st. Peter's Basilica exactly we're donating money to the church or helping the poor or any of the things that we think in the modern world of charitable work exactly and Luther was deeply disturbed by this idea because in his own conscience he felt so sinful that nothing he felt that he could do could help him get to heaven there was not enough good works to do in the world to remove the sin that he felt that he lived with and that all human beings lived with if you think about the medieval mind tallying up the sins they've committed and sometimes sins can just be like jealousy or envy and tallying those against the good works that they've done you can imagine this constant tallying that must have gone on in the medieval conscience so this is a terrible responsibility on the individual and so it must have been a tremendous relief when he read carefully the words of st. Paul Luther st. Paul who said for I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith as it is written the just shall live by faith those last words were critical for Luther that meant to Luther that one is justified one gets to heaven through faith alone not through good works salvation was something freely granted by God and not something that had to be earned by human beings so faith was a kind of gift that God gave you and that faith was all you needed to get to heaven through faith alone is one of Luther's central ideas so all of this makes sense in relationship to the 95 theses and to Luther's concern about indulgences because the indulgences is this proposition that good works will hurry the soul to heaven and that's precisely what Luther is taking the issue with and with really the whole authority of the church to forgive to remit sin and to allow a person into heaven Luther's feeling was that the only power to do that was with God so he looks at his books and he does not renounce them now and he eventually returns to Vinton burg and founds the Lutheran Church and sparks many other types of Protestantism that we'll talk about in the next video