10/31 – Luther’s 95 Theses

Luther at the Diet of Worms, 1521. The assembly declared Luther an outcast of the Holy Roman Empire. (source: Wikimedia Commons)

On this day in 1517 Martin Luther, a German theology professor, nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church. The document, known as the “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences”, was a formal list of complaints against the prevailing Catholic hegemony. The most important concept of the 95 Theses was one that became a central part of Protestant faith: that one could attain salvation through faith alone, not actions. This is significant because, at the time, people were pressured by the Church to buy Indulgences – physical objects that were apparently holy, such as a saint’s bones – that would cleanse the buyer of sin. Luther, and many others, sought a change to less materialistic versions of Christianity.

At the time, what we now call Germany was a fragmented set of mini-states that existed within the Holy Roman Empire (a very Catholic organization, as you may have guessed). By presenting his 95 Theses, Luther helped kick off the Protestant Reformation (Protestantism, a form of Christianity, literally means “in protest”). The Reformation, and ensuing counter-Reformations, brought an end to the supremacy of the Catholic church in Europe and influenced hundreds of years of art and culture.

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