Martin Luther: Reformer

By A.J. Nappo

Martin Luther was a monk who lived in Germany in the early 1500's.  He believed very strongly in Christianity, was a member of the Catholic Church. Luther devoted his life to his religion. He promised to never get married, to pray regularly, and to fast to show his faith in God.  Luther studied the Bible and spread its teachings to others in his town.

But Martin Luther was unhappy with the Catholic Church.  The leaders of the church were teaching people lessons that were not found in the Bible and that Luther did not support.  In 1517, Martin Luther took action to reform the church, and in doing so he would change religion forever.

In 1516, a man named Johann (Yo-Han) Tetzel visited Martin Luther's town of Wittenburg, Germany.  He had been sent there by the Pope, who was the leader of the Christian church.  Tetzel was in Wittenburg to sell indulgences - certificates that guaranteed people a place in heaven.  Since people at this time were very religious and wanted to go to heaven, they bought indulgences using whatever money they had, even if they were poor.  The church was going to use this money to build a giant new cathedral in Rome, Italy called St. Peter's.

Martin Luther despised the selling of indulgences.   He believed that no person could buy their way into heaven, and that only God could forgive sins.  Luther wrote several letters to the church complaining about indulgences, but Johann Tetzel continued to sell them.

One day in 1517, Martin Luther decided to take a stand on corruption in the church.  Luther wrote a list of 95 complaints about indulgences and other subjects that he was unhappy about.  This document became known as the 95 Theses.  Martin Luther took this document to his local church in Wittenburg and nailed it to the door so that everyone could read it.  Within a few days, copies of the 95 Theses had been made on the local printing press and distributed to people in town.  People read what Luther wrote and started to question the church.

The pope and other church leaders were furious with Martin Luther.  They did not believe that anyone had the right to question the church.  To them, questioning the church was like questioning God.  The pope and his supporters would have to take action quickly to silence Martin Luther.

The pope had Martin Luther arrested and brought to the city of Worms, Germany.  There, the pope ordered Luther to take back the 95 Theses and anything else he ever said against the church - otherwise Luther would be excommunicated. To be excommunicated means to not be a member of the Catholic Church anymore.  The pope thought that since Martin Luther cared very much about Christianity, he would take back his complaints instead of getting kicked out of his church. 

Martin Luther refused to take back the 95 Theses, however.  He repeated his belief that the selling of indulgences was wrong and that the pope did not speak for God.  The pope excommunicated Luther and made him an enemy of the church.  What would Luther do now after becoming an outcast from his own religion?

After he was excommunicated, Martin Luther formed a new version of Christianity called Protestantism.  The old version of Christianity led by the pope was known as Catholicism.  Catholics and Protestants are both Christians, but they have some differrent beliefs.  The main difference between Catholics and Protestants is that Catholics follow the pope and Protestants do not. 

Luther's supporters started leaving the Catholic church by the thousands to join the Protestant church.  The Catholic Church declared war on Protestants to try and stop their religion from spreading, but they were unsuccessful.

Today, Catholic and Protestant churches still exist in the United States and around the world.  Martin Luther's effort to reform the Catholic Church was successful - today indulgences are not sold, and Catholics and Protestants live together in peace.


Page 1, Martin Luther's picture:

Page 2, Martin Luther:

Page 3, Johann Tetzel:

Page 4, Martin Luther and the 95 Theses:

Page 5, Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms:

Page 6, Martin Luther in stained glass: