Martin Luther and the Reformation (Commentary)

This commentary is based on the classroom activity: Martin Luther and the Reformation

Q1: Read the introduction. Why was Martin Luther so critical of Pope Leo X.

A1: Martin Luther disapproved of Pope Leo X selling indulgences. Luther believed that it was wrong for people to be able to buy forgiveness for sins they had committed. In Thesis 86 he asks: "Why does not the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?" Luther also questioned the idea that the Pope was infallible (incapable of error).

Q2: Study sources 2 to 6. (a) Why did some kings and princes find Martin Luther's ideas attractive? (b) Why did most kings and princes find his ideas dangerous? (c) Select the source that is most hostile to Martin Luther and explain why he might have this point of view.

A2: (a) Some kings and princes were attracted to the ideas of Luther because he believed that they should have more power to make laws than the Pope. (source 3)

(b) Jasper Ridley points out that " a popular movement which attacked Papal authority was a seditious threat to the social order of Christendom which could soon lead to revolutionary attacks on the authority of Kings and on the privileges and property of the nobility and the wealthy classes". For example, Luther was blamed for the German Peasant War in 1525. (source 2)

(c) Source 6 is the most hostile of all the sources in this unit. It is taken from the entry on Martin Luther in The Catholic Encyclopedia. This is unsurprising as Luther's writings were highly critical of the Roman Catholic Church.

Q3: Use the information in sources 8 and 9 to explain source 7.

A3: Hans Holbein portrayed Martin Luther as a "German Hercules" attacking early scholars such as Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas. (source 8) However, Derek Wilson points out that it is a drawing that is open to several different interpretations. Protestants "could applaud the vivid representation of Luther as the champion of falsehood over medieval error" and Catholics "could look on the same image and see in it a vindication of Leo's description of the uncouth German as the destructive wild boar in the vineyard".

Q4: According to the authors of sources 10 and 12, why was Martin Luther's translation of the Bible into German so important?

A4: Martin Luther translated the Bible from Latin into German in a way that enabled it to be understood by ordinary people. (source 10) Derek Wilson claims that the translation "was far and away the most important contribution of Martin Luther to the history of religion".

Q5: Can you explain the meaning of source 11.

A5: Martin Luther commissioned Lucas Cranach to produce illustrations for his German Bible. Source 11 depicts Satan excreting the Pope (source 8). Several illustrations in the Bible showed the Pope as the Anti-Christ.

Q6: Was Henry VIII a supporter of Martin Luther?

A6: Jasper Ridley points out in source 2 that Henry VIII was a determined enemy of Lutheranism. Peter Ackroyd (source 13) reveals that Henry's book attacking Luther, In Defence of the Seven Sacraments, resulted in the Pope giving him the title of "Defender of the Faith". Roger Lockyer (source 14) agrees that "Henry did not approve of Luther, and regarded many of his beliefs as heretical". However, he argues that Henry's own dispute with the Pope over the desire to divorce Catherine of Aragon undermined " the authority of the ecclesiastical hierarchy".