Martin Luther, Lucas Cranach, around 1529 © DHM

Martin Luther, Lucas Cranach, around 1529

Martin Luther, a professor of theology in Wittenberg, is known for his sermons against the indulgences of the Catholic Church. The ‘indulgence trade’ allowed for the forgiveness of sins in exchange for the purchase of indulgences.

It was reported that Luther nailed his 95 Theses, written against the indulgence trade, to the door of the Wittenberg castle church, but scholars today believe this to be a myth. It is certain, however, that he sent the Theses against such abuses to the papal commissioner of indulgences. Luther initially intended the Theses to be discussed amongst clergymen. He believed that the leaders of the Church would seriously consider his critique, which was grounded in the Bible, but this was not the case. Luther’s friends and some business-minded publishers arranged for the dissemination of the Theses as a publication, however, and Luther’s critique became a subject of much discussion across Europe.

The disinterest and later rejection displayed by the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church led Luther to criticize the official Church ever more radically.