Martin Luther

On this day in history, 3rd January 1521, Pope Leo X issued the papal bull Decet Romanum Pontificem excommunicating Reformer, German priest and professor of theology Martin Luther 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:-

“For this reason we forbid anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favor the said Martin Luther. On the contrary, we want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic, as he deserves, to be brought personally before us, or to be securely guarded until those who have captured him inform us, where upon we will order the appropriate manner of proceeding against the said Luther. Those who will help in his capture will be rewarded generously for their good work.”

Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses

You can read the English translation of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses from Project Wittenberg – click here – but, in short, Luther was

  • Attacking the sale of indulgences and the fact that Christians were being led to believe that the purchase of indulgences would give them absolution when salvation was actually available free through Christ, by faith and repentance
  • Explaining true repentance – That it should be a way of life, rather than something that could be earned by confessing to a priest
  • Explaining that the Pope could not remit any guilt and that his powers were limited
  • Declaring that the penitential canons of Church applied only to the living and could not be extended into purgatory
  • Declaring that it was better to give to the poor and needy than to spend money on indulgences which could not give salvation
  • Explaining that salvation could only be obtained from God himself by true repentance
  • Stating that “St. Lawrence said that the treasures of the Church were the Church’s poor” and that “the keys of the Church, given by Christ’s merit, are that treasure”
  • Declaring that the true treasure of the Church was the Holy Gospel of God
  • Explaining that indulgences were against Christ’s teaching which said that the first shall be last
  • Stating that papal pardons “are not able to remove the very least of venial sins”
  • Declaring that it was blasphemous to consider the cross with papal arms on it as of equal worth of Christ’s cross
  • Declaring that money should not be wasted on prayers for the dead when they don’t need them
  • Asking why the wealthy Pope did not use his own money to build his Church rather than that of poor believers
  • Asking the Pope to reply to his points

Martin Luther is viewed as the main catalyst of the Reformation because his writings, which included The 95 Theses, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, On the Freedom of a Christian and On the Bondage of the Will, were circulated widely around Europe and had a major impact. He 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.”

Anne Boleyn – More Lutheran than Luther Himself?

Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador, described the Boleyns as “More Lutheran than Luther himself” but to say that Anne Boleyn was Lutheran is not at all accurate. As Eric Ives points out “Anne’s particular religious affinity was…with the Christian humanists of France”, with men like the reformer Jacques Lefevre, and that her religious stance was “reformist, Bible-based, humanist, francophile, committed”. It would be more accurate to describe her beliefs as ‘evangelical’ rather than ‘Lutheran’ or ‘Protestant’ and Ives explains that “Her attitude would be characteristic of all shades of English evangelical reform for at least a decade more: real spiritual experience, yes; the priority of faith, yes; access to the Bible, yes; reform of abuses and superstition, yes; but heretical views on the miracle of the altar, no.”

Her support of the ‘New Religion’ can be seen in:-

  • Her links with and support of known reformers like Edward Fox, Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Shaxton and William Betts
  • Her books – Out of the 9 books that we know Anne owned, 7 are religious and 6 are reformist in nature
  • Her choice of Nicolas Bourbon, a French reformer and scholar, as tutor for her ward Henry Carey
  • Her links with Hans Holbein’s “The Ambassadors” with its religious symbolism and messages
  • The way she insisted that Henry VIII should read Tyndale’s “The Obedience of a Christian Man”
  • Her influence in the elections of reformist bishops
  • Her patronage and use of Tyndale’s translation of the Bible and the way she encouraged her ladies to read it
  • The way she rescued reformist ‘refugees’ like Nicolas Bourbon
  • Her relationships with Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer
  • Her family’s links with Continental Reformers
  • Her close relationship with her brother, George, who was a zealous reformer

but it is just not possible to described her as Protestant or Lutheran when the English Reformation was in its infancy. Had she survived the coup of 1536 then I am sure that Anne’s beliefs would have developed into what we would call a Protestant.

You can read in detail about Anne Boleyn’s religious beliefs in the following posts:-

and my next talk for The Anne Boleyn Fellowship, which takes place on the 26th January, is on The Boleyns and Religion. See for more information on The Anne Boleyn Fellowship.

Notes and Sources

  • Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences by Dr. Martin Luther, 1517, Project Wittenberg
  • Martin Luther, Wikipedia page
  • The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives, Chapters 18 and 19
  • Anne Boleyn and the Early Reformation in England, Eric Ives
  • A Frenchman at the Court of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives

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