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Martin Luther was the main figure who sparked a movement countering the increasing corrupt Catholic Church. While he did institute sweeping and irreversible changes across the world, Luther also wanted to keep some continuity. He condemned old practices, such as the selling of indulgences and the wealth of the clergy, and brought about radical new ideas, such as salvation by faith alone and the importance of marriage in both the community and the clergy, but also thought that the established governmental structures had to be maintained.
Martin Luther was disgusted by the corruption he saw happening in the church. To build a lavish church in Rome, the papacy sold indulgences, which basically sped up the time that a person had to spend in Purgatory. However, previously, the indulgences were only supposed to be given out based on good works and deeds. Luther saw this scheme for what it was and it soon lead him to general criticisms of the entire Church, from the clergy to the Pope. He accused the Church of trying to avoid reform by building up “walls,” which included the papal power to summon council, the supremacy of temporal power, and the exclusivity that the clergy gave themselves to interpret the Scriptures. Luther found no scriptural basis for any of these laws. In fact he argued that the priests were no better than laypeople and the title, simply a fabrication of the Pope, and that the word of God as written in the Bible was the highest authority on all religious matters.
In addition to condemning the traditional Catholic practices, Martin Luther also came up with his own ideas of what the correct beliefs were. One of the central beliefs that he clung too was that faith alone would lead to salvation. If one “believed in [his or her] heart that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead,” then that believer would be saved. Luther’s interpretation essentially nullified the existing dogma that good deeds would lead to salvation, as the inner spiritual body in every person cannot be saved by any action done by the outer body. However, these thoughts did not mean that good works were not important, as mean actions could indicate a lack of faith on the inside. Another dramatic difference in beliefs was Luther’s praise of marriage. He stated that marriage wasn’t a sacrament and compared it to “God’s rose garden,” as evidenced by his subsequent marriage to a former nun and the birth of his six children.
Although Luther is mainly known as a revolutionary, he also advocated for continuity, especially in the established government and hierarchical social structures. When a group of peasants revolted against the lords, Luther was outraged, describing their actions as robbing like “mad dogs.” He justified his position, saying that the peasants had violated their sworn loyalty to the lords and that God had approved of this form of hierarchical structure in society, so rebellion would be an insult to God.
While Martin Luther did favor some continuity in societal structure, he is still most well known for the enormous rift that he placed in Christianity with his questions of Catholicism and radically different doctrines.
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