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German Great Artist Lucas Cranach - Luther, and the Reformation

Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 11:40 PM
The 95 Theses, When Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg Castle Church on 31 October 1517 he was only following the customary way in which scholars in the university town invited learned debate. They were not the first set of propositions Luther had advertised in this way, nor did he think they necessarily contained revolutionary doctrines. But the attack on the sale of indulgences by the church was seen as an unforgivable assault on the Catholic hierarchy, and it started a chain of events that led to the eventual foundation of the Protestant Church.

 Luther, and the Reformation

Led by Martin Luther, the religious revolution known as the Reformation shook the supremacy of the Catholic Church in Europe and founded the beginnings of the Protestant faith.

Art was very closely connected with the beginnings of Protestantism. More than ever before, pictures were used to spread the new religious ideas, and close friendships developed between the artists and the reformers. Such was the case with Lucas Cranach the Elder and Martin Luther, an association which lives on today in Cranach's memorable portraits of the founder of the Protestant faith.

Martin Luther was born in November 1483, in the town of Eisleben in present-day East Germany. He received a good education, and in 1501 went to study at the University of Erfurt where he gained a master's degree. In 1505, at his father's wish, he began studying law, but during the summer he was caught in a violent thunderstorm on the road near Erfurt and, prostrated by a flash of lightning and in fear for his life, vowed to become a monk.

An early home, As a youth, Luther was sent to study at the St George school in Eisenach, which he later described as his favourite town. While he was there he boarded with the Cotta family, and their house has now been turned into a museum dedicated to his memory. Within two weeks Luther honoured his promise and entered the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt. For the next ten years or so he devoted himself to his theological studies and to his promising academic career. In 1511, he was sent by his order to the monastery at Wittenberg, and became professor of theology at the university there the following year. It was in his lectures and sermons over the next six years that the ideas which formed the basis of the religious Reformation evolved.


In these early years, Luther's search for deeper spiritual understanding was guided by his own personal temperament he was highly strung, emotional and subject to bouts of depression and by the religious beliefs of the time. He feared Hell, the Devil and the closeness of Judgement Day. Tormented by the belief that God's justice was punitive, he looked to the Bible for reassurance, and gradually developed his own interpretation of the righteousness of God the doctrine of Justification by Faith alone. This doctrine was based on the belief that salvation is given to the individual believer by God through His grace, rather than as a reward for merit, which is inevitably tainted by sin, and therefore deserving of retributive justice. Since faith is personal, the priest was no longer necessary as an intermediary with God a premise which automatically challenged the entire Church system.

Faithful followers, Disciples helped Luther spread his doctrines throughout Germany. Melanchthon set down a systematic theology of Lutheranism, while Justus Jonas and Johannes Bugenhagen organized the new Church. Erasmus withdrew his support from Luther when he realized the revolutionary implications of his message.
The notion of Justification by Faith alone was the core of Luther's theology and, as such, gave birth to Protestantism. But the revolution did not happen overnight, and until 1517 Luther carried out his responsibilities in Wittenberg seemingly unaware of the potential of his ideas. All this changed on 31 October 1517, when Luther translated his thoughts into action and nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, thus unleashing the religious revolution now known as the Reformation.


Luther was furious about the sale of indulgences in Wittenberg. These were documents, sold by the Church, which offered remission of penance for a cash payment. The people flocked to hear indulgence sellers like John Tetzel, who attracted his audiences with the jingle: 'As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs!' Sentiments like these contradicted Luther's beliefs about salvation, and he deeply resented the Church taking money from the poor under what he understood to be false pretences. He criticized the system in the 95 Theses, but could not have foreseen the consequences of his action. What he had intended as an academic debate rapidly became a national issue, and Luther was thrust from obscurity into the limelight.

Lutheran propaganda, This woodcut of 1545 contrasts the true religion as preached by Luther on the left, with the teachings of the Catholic church, whose friars on the right are collecting money from the sale of indulgences. Luther's protest immediately appealed to the Germans and aroused intense interest throughout the Holy Roman Empire and beyond. For years resentment at the greed of the Church had been growing, and now at last the people felt they had found someone to champion their cause. Luther's ideas were translated into German and printed pamphlets were sent all over the country. His skills as an author and preacher enabled him to convince thousands. The movement could not be ignored.

The Church attempted to silence Luther, but reacted too slowly. Theologians first attacked Luther's doctrines in the autumn of 1518. Thereafter the Church continually called for Luther to recant, but he refused to do so, believing in the truth of his doctrines. It became increasingly obvious that Luther's challenge was not a harmless call for reform. His doctrine opposed the entire theological basis of the Catholic Church and he found himself on a collision course with its authorities.

An appearance before Cajetan In 1518, Luther was invited to Augsburg to appear before the Pope's representative. But the urbane Cardinal Cajetan could not persuade him to recant his heresy.
By 1520, the Church leaders realized that they had to take action, and in October Luther was sent a bull of excommunication. Fortified by the support of thousands, from princes to peasants, Luther ignored the Pope's message and defiantly set light to a bonfire made from the papal bull and r theological books. The break with the Church was .E now irreparable. In January 1521, Luther was finally excommunicated.


A broadly based movement such as the Reformation could not distance itself entirely from politics. Luther was now banned by the Church, but his relationship with the secular authorities also had to be regularized. To be effective, the papal ban had to be reinforced by an imperial edict. Thus it was that the new emperor, Charles V, found Church reform to be the most urgent issue facing him at the Imperial Diet of Worms in the spring of 1521. Charles invited Luther to defend himself at the Diet and, on 16 April 1521, the Reformer arrived in triumph at Worms, to streets filled with thousands of cheering supporters. The following evening he appeared for the first time before the Diet and was asked to recant.

In defiance of the Emperor, In 1521 Luther was summoned to the Diet of Worms to appear before Charles V, but the Emperor could not get him to change his ideas. The Diet denounced Lutheran heresy and placed Luther under imperial ban, making him an outlaw of both church and state. The next day, in a packed hall, Luther again faced the Emperor. Again he was questioned about his books, and had prepared a reply. He spoke first in German, then in Latin, using no notes. Luther acknowledged the writings as his own and justified them on the basis of truth, as they were grounded in the Word of God. He finished with the plea: 'Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.' The Emperor replied: 'A single friar who goes counter to all Christianity for a thousand years must be wrong.

Events would prove the ruler wrong. Although the Diet issued an edict against Luther, the authorities were powerless to act. Luther's ideas had generated such excitement that to punish Luther would risk revolt. Some even feared for Luther's safety, and immediately after the Diet he was 'kidnapped' by his own followers and 'imprisoned' in the Wartburg Castle until the situation was calmer. All future attempts by the Catholic Church to deal with the Lutheran threat proved futile. Luther had triumphed at Worms, and the Protestant religion had come into being.

Burning the papal bull, The sale of indulgences sanctioned by Pope Leo X launched Luther on his reforming crusade. When the Pope issued a bull of excommunication in 1520, Luther responded defiantly by publicly burning it in Wittenberg, along with books on canon law. The remaining years of Luther's life were ones of consolidation for Protestantism. There were high points such as the formulation of the Confession of the Lutheran faith at Augsburg in 1530 and low points, particularly the crisis caused by the Peasant War of 1525, when extremists in the evangelical party incited the peasants to rebel against their masters: Luther's advice to settle grievances peaceably was disregarded and the peasants were savagely suppressed. Luther himself found personal happiness in 1525, when he broke his monastic vows and married a former nun called Katherine von Bora.

He became a happy family man, content to write copiously and to preach, but was concerned also to steer his new creed through its early years. This religious genius, whose ideas had seized the popular imagination, died in February 1546, in Eisleben. Rarely has the course of history been altered so effectively by the actions of one man as it was by those of Martin Luther.

Writer – Marshall Cavendish

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