The Start of the Reformation

The 31st of October 1517 is a date which will always be known as the start of the Reformation. This is when in Wittenberg, Martin Luther sent his Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences to the Archbishop of Mainz.

The Thesis criticised the Church and the papacy while focussing on the selling of indulgences. Luther’s intentions were not to start a revolution but to bring to attention the problems being created by the indulgence sermons.

The Catholic Church teaches that an indulgence is "a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins”, this led to people believing they could buy their way out of sin. Martin Luther quite rightly knew that you could not buy your way out of sin as the Bible teaches us that our sins have already been paid for with the sacrifice of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and only through inner spiritual repentance would we be forgiven.

Martin Luther was a professor of moral theology at the University of Wittenberg, and he saw the selling of indulgences as an abuse of practise. He became most concerned and inspired to write his theses in 1517 when his parishioners, after buying indulgences, believed they no longer had to repent or change their ways.

By January 1521 it was highly expected that Martin Luther would be burnt at the stake, he had been excommunicated by Pope Leo X and was told all he had to do was recant his statements and he would be spared. He refused, execution was inevitable, however he was taken by a group of men and hidden in Wartburg Castle near the town of Eisenach. It was here that he translated the New Testament from Greek to German and stayed in hiding for nine months after which he returned to Wittenberg. Martin Luther died of natural causes on 18th February 1546, aged 62.

October 31st will be known as the date where the Reformation was started however much of Luther’s breakthroughs did not come until later. Whether intended or not the Theses caused a divide in the Roman Catholic Church and initiated major and lasting change throughout Europe. A lot of what came next eclipses the Theses in its importance, but this truly was the beginning of something remarkable.

It was 27th August 1560 before the Scots Confession was presented to and approved by Parliament in Scotland. Three acts were passed in one day. The first abolished the jurisdiction of the Pope in Scotland. The second condemned all doctrine and practice contrary to the reformed faith. The third forbade the celebration of Mass in Scotland.

On Tuesday 31st October 2017 a service to mark the 500th anniversary of the 95 Theses and the start of the Reformation was held at Westminster Abbey.


“My conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me.”



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