Tuesday, October 31, 2017, marked five centuries since the start of the process by Martin Luther that led Protestants to break away from the Roman Catholic Church eventually leading to thousands of different denominations. This was not only a major revolution for the Christian religion in general but for the Catholic Church in particular. Most of the Protestant Churches celebrated this 500th year on the same Sunday (October 29) we were dedicating our remodeled Church here at St. Andrew the Apostle. Allow me to share with you some key facts about Protestantism and its birth in a small German town which might answer several questions I have been asked since that day.
October 31, 1517, is the date that German theologian Martin Luther then in his early 30s, published his famous “95 Theses” of criticism of the Catholic Church. His brazen challenge to the powerful Catholic Church created shock waves that eventually changed the face of Christianity. His main complaint was against the Catholic concept of “indulgences” whereby a repentant sinner could reduce their punishment in purgatory through monetary contributions to the Church.
Luther did not stop his resentment of the Catholic Church there but he also attacked what he saw as papal abuses and questioned the place of saints. Legend says that he nailed his list of objections to these and others to the door of a church in the town of Wittenberg, where he was a theology professor.
Of course, he was excommunicated just over three years later but the Reformation had been launched: his message spread quickly, disseminated by the developing printing press. The Reformation caused unprecedented upheavals in Europe, leading to wars, persecutions, and exoduses, including the departure of the Pilgrims to what was later to become our own country America.
In Britain, King Henry VIII followed suit by breaking ties with the Catholic Church in 1534 and establishing the Church of England.
However, the deadliest of Europe’s religious conflicts was the Thirty Years’ War which ended in 1648 and after which the influence of religion in European politics was reduced but the differences in belief between Catholics and Protestants persisted. What are these differences? To this we shall return in the next article, so watch this space!
Fr. RobertBACK TO LIST