Luther’s ideas and reforms on Christianity were in direct conflict with the Catholic Church. These ideas, reforms, and thoughts on faith was the spark plug that started the Protestant Reformation. Luther began his career as an Augustinian Monk in the Roman Catholic Church. Consequently, Luther was initially loyal to the papacy, and even after many theological conflicts, he attempted to bring about his reconciliation with the Church. But this didn’t last long because Luther waged battle with the papacy. Luther was to become a theologian. This is where he wrote the Ninety-Five Theses. It is usually considered to be the original document of the Reformation. Basically, this document exposed all the wrongs of the Catholic Church from indulgences to immoral behavior of priests.
Luther’s believed that absolution relied upon the sinner’s faith and God’s Grace rather than the intervention of a priest. Luther did not want an actual separation from the Roman Catholic Church. Instead, Luther felt his suggested reforms could be implemented within Catholicism. If the Catholic Church had attempted to consider Luther’s reforms, the Protestant Reformation would probably not have seen the light of day. But the religious practices being what they were in the Roman Church, there was little chance at that time for any great change. The Church of Rome, set in its ways, was not about to change into something else. If a change had occurred within the Roman Catholic Church, Luther would have had a different destiny. Luther’s fate was sealed, however his job was cut out for him. Luther broke the religious restraints of the Roman Catholic religion. This accomplishment amounts to the establishment of another religion known as Protestantism, a faith that was generated from the Reformation. Luther stood out as one of the Reformation’s major influences. Luther’s reforms regarded to the Catholic sacraments. For Luther, the Holy Eucharist of Lord’s supper was really a symbolic act rather than an actual instance of change in which the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ. That was an aspect to this sacrament, which Luther could not accept. According to the Roman Church, the bread and wine may have the appearance of such, but their substances have literally become the flesh and blood of Christ. All of this is a literal acceptance of the words of Jesus at the Last Supper: “And as they were eating, Jesus took the bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26: 26-28). Luther’s view of the communion sacrament was strictly symbolic. However, this idea was heresy so far as the Roman Catholic Church was concerned. The sacramental power of its priests was no longer necessary if this concept were to prevail. This is the type of change the Reformation and Martin Luther thought of. The power of the Roman clergy was in jeopardy if the people accepted Luther’s ideas were accepted.
The principal sacrament of the Roman Catholic Church is the Holy Eucharist of Communion. The fact that Luther was messing with this sacrament proved to be a significant problem to the Catholic Church. Luther generated the Protestant belief that this sacrament is a ritual through which they raise their spirits in remembrance of Christ’s life and death. According to the teachings of the Roman Church, Christ’s human body and blood are actually present in the consecrated bread and wine. As Luther saw it, no sacrament is effective by itself without listening to the Word associated with the sacrament, and the faith that believes in it. There is no magical element to any sacrament, including the doctrine of change. Luther’s teachings on the sacraments took away the power of the priests and the special nature of the Holy Eucharist. The Catholic mass depended completely on these concepts in order for the Roman Church to maintain its effectiveness as the representation of Christ. For Luther to take this position-required courage because he was taking on a force of great strength and authority. Luther did what most kings would fear to do. Luther’s courage and boldness can be seen in his “Open Letter to Pope Leo X,” “I have, to be sure, sharply attacked ungodly doctrines in general, and I have snapped at my opponents, not because of their bad morals, but because of their ungodliness. Rather than repent this in the least, I have determined to persist in that fervent zeal and to despise the judgment of men, following the example of Christ who in his zeal called his opponents ‘a blood of vipers,’ ‘blind fools,’ ‘hypocrites’. . . I have truly despised your see, the Roman Curia, which, however, neither you nor anyone else can deny is more corrupt than any Babylon or Sodom ever was, and which, as far as I can see, is characterized by a completely depraved, hopeless, and notorious godlessness” (Luther and Dillenberger 44-45).
It would seem the people would be in favor of the Catholic Church during this time of Reformation. As the central figure of religious rebellion in Germany, Martin Luther brought his ideas about Christianity. According to Luther, mankind is justified by faith alone, and not by works. On the concept of this belief in a personal faith, Luther felt that many rituals and authority of the pope should be challenged. Luther paid the ultimate penalty the Roman Catholic Church could offer. He was excommunicated. Luther then went before the Diet of Worms, where he took a stand concerning his beliefs and was placed under the ban of the Holy Roman Empire. Justification by faith, not by works is perhaps Luther’s most important contribution to the Reformation. According to Luther, salvation is a gift from God, and no human being can possibly do anything to value this blessing. Good works are of no help with regard to the salvation of one’s soul. Therefore, the most a Christian can do is to have faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. This is basically what a Christian is. Because Christianity has only two real sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper), it is necessary for a person to partake in both to be a Christian. Anyone can go around doing good works, but this means nothing to God. However, a Christian should do good works; yet, this will not save one’s soul. Only God knows who will be saved. Christians must conduct their lives according to God’s teachings. Only God is capable of judging His people fairly and wisely according to Luther. “I want to emphasize Luther’s doctrines of sin and faith very much because they are points in which the Reformation is far superior to what we find today in popular Christianity. For Luther sin is ‘Unbelief in the real sin.’ ‘Nothing justifies except faith, and nothing makes sinful except unbelief.’ ‘Unbelief is sin altogether.’ ‘Therefore the word ‘sin’ includes what we are living and doing besides the faith in God.’ These statements presuppose a concept of faith which has nothing whatsoever to do with the acceptance of doctrines” (Tillich 245). Luther believed that mankind is totally lost. This idea really means that human beings are in continual conflict with themselves. In order to deal with this situation, Luther felt faith is something Christian must have. This is the faith that Jesus Christ is the Savior of mankind. Luther did not feel those who committed violent sins were doomed to damnation. Luther believed a Christian soldier could be saved even if he killed other people known as the “enemy.” It should be understood, however, that Luther never approved of war, which he believed, was a definite indication of mankind’s continual conflict with in themselves. Yet, God’s forgiveness may possibly save a Christian soldier just as any other Christian may be so blessed.
One of the most important differences between the Roman Church and Luther’s conception of Christianity is the personal relationship between God and the Christian. In Catholicism, the Church is a messenger between God and the individual. However, Luther feels there is no need for any messenger between Christians and their relationship with God. This is one of Protestantism’s most significant qualities. Another very important characteristic of Luther’s reforms is that the Bible holds all authority when it comes to theological matters. This is completely different from the Roman Catholic view, which believes that the Church is the final authority with regard to theological concerns. In Catholicism the pope is the finial say so in faith and morals under God. Luther could not accept a human being with Holy Orders as the means through which a Christian reaches God. These are the teachings that caused Luther to be excommunicated by the Roman Church and helped to create the Protestant Reformation. When Luther appeared before the Diet of Worms, he was asked by Eck, an official of the Archbishop of Trier: “I ask you, Martin–answer candidly and without horns– do you or do you not repudiate your books and the errors which they contain?” Luther replied, “Since then Your Majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason–I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other–my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for us to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen” (Bainton 144). Luther provided Christianity with a degree of freedom not found in Catholicism. Luther dared to defy the mighty and authoritative Roman Catholic Church. From this the Protestant Reformation was born.