3 January 1521 – The Excommunication of Martin Luther

Martin LutherOn 3rd January 1521, Pope Leo X issued the papal bull Decet Romanum Pontificem excommunicating Martin Luther, reformer, German priest and Professor of Theology, from the Catholic Church.

The Pope had asked Luther to retract his “Ninety-Five Theses” (full name: The Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences or Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum), which Luther had published in 1517, but Luther refused. Luther was then called by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, to renounce or defend his religious stance at the Diet of Worms. He did not back down, and Charles V issued the Edict of Worms on 25th May 1521, declaring Luther an outlaw and heretic.

In his Ninety-Five Theses, Luther had, amongst other things, attacked the sale of indulgences, emphasised that salvation was free through Christ by faith and repentance, explained the limiting power of the Pope, emphasised that true repentance should be a way of life and not earned by confession, and declared that it was blasphemous to consider the cross with papal arms on it as of equal worth of Christ’s cross.

Luther is known for his doctrine of “Justification by Faith”, the idea that salvation and redemption were only attainable through faith in Christ and by God’s grace. Luther said “This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification, is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness.”

You can read more about Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses in my article “Martin Luther and Anne Boleyn”, which also examines whether Anne was a Lutheran or Protestant.

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5 thoughts on “3 January 1521 – The Excommunication of Martin Luther”
  1. Defense of the Seven Sacraments! Proof that Luther was wrong! He may have had a point over the sale of indulgences, but he became more and more anti-Catholic, also wanted to move books from the Bible that did not agree with his point of view. He was also in the end responsible for asking the emperor to send an army to put down the Protestant rebellion in Germany and caused the deaths of thousands of people. He also doubted his own salvation and yes, he did translate the Bible into German, but the translation was flawed. Sorry, have no time for Martin Luther of his heretical beliefs.

    1. Everyone is entitled to their opinion on religion but to say that Luther’s beliefs were “heretical” suggests that those who today go to Lutheran Churches or those whose beliefs stem from his work are heretics. That may be your belief, but I really do not want a religious war here.

  2. Heretical means to choose other than the official and sanctioned belief of the time. I am not starting a religious war, and hope no-one is. I have many Lutheran friends; and accept them as fellow Christians. but do not agree that Luther was correct. I also believe it was a deep shame that the Church split into so many different ways; and especially that the bloodshed that followed was because of these many varied differences. Thankfully today we are not having this attitude and can talk in peace and common sense, but Luther himself I feel did much damage as did others on both sides. There were attempts by some reformers and Catholics to resolve the differences at Trent and one Cardinal sadly died on the way or his plan could have prevented the terrible wars that followed for many years afterwards across Europe. I am sure it was not the intent of any one personally to start a war; but inviting the Emperor to put down the Peasants protests in Germany in 1525 and the 30 years war; plus the attempts to make entire cities Catholic free; did not give grounds for a peaceful solution. Of course I accept all Christians as fellow Christians; but the word was used at the time and his views are still seen as heretical as he chose to make them so.

  3. I have many good friends who are devout Catholics and who I believe are good Christian people. However there are elements of what they believe that I do not believe and I would guess they feel the same about elements of my faith. Likewise within the protestant faith there are variations for example those who follow Calvin.s teaching on predestination and those who follow Arminius on free will. Likewise with Creation and evolution.
    However I believe God is bigger than our quarrels and looks upon the heart.The two great pillars upon which the Christian Church is built is resurrection and forgiveness and the love of God is all encompassing.

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