Pope Leo X (1513-1521) needed great sums of money to continue the building of St. Peter's Church, and to gratify his own extravagant tastes. To secure the money, he resolved to extend the sale of Indulgences (a payment of a debt that a sinner owes to God). Such sales had produced grave abuses in the past and the new drive for money brought matters to a climax.
One seller of Indulgences, a monk named Tetzel, shamefully offered his wares near Wittenberg, declaring that, 'No sooner will the money chink in the box, than the soul of the departed will be free [from Purgatory]!' The spirit of Martin Luther was stirred to the depths! On the 31st of October 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the church door at Wittenberg. In this famous document it was emphatically laid down, among other things, (1) that an Indulgence can never take away guilt; (2) an Indulgence can never take away divine punishment for sin; and (3) the Christian who has truly repented has already received pardon from God, and needs no Indulgence.
Copies were made of the Ninety-Five Theses and printed off by friends for circulation in tens of thousands all over Germany. The conflict which was to usher in the Reformation had begun.
The issues raised were far greater than even Luther himself knew. The pope soon summoned Luther to Rome. To have gone would have meant certain death, and he therefore refused. Up until now Luther had accepted the pope's supremacy; but not any more...
...to be continued