Was Martin Luther a Reluctant Revolutionary?
Martin Luther was a devout monk who ended up turning on the only thing he knew. Luther, often seen as a reluctant revolutionist yet changed the catholic church and shifted political power single handedly. This begs the question, was Luther a reluctant revolutionist? Luther, being a superior scholar, would not mistakenly cause an up rise within the catholic church. Luther pointed out the flaws in the church within his published 95 theses that spread like wildfire throughout Germany, and the rest of Europe. From this Luther gained thousands of supporters, and ended up creating his own religion. Though some may think different, Martin Luther’s actions show that he was not a reluctant revolutionary.
While at the monastery of Aramite Augustines of Strict Observance, Martin Luther dedicated his life to the church. Luther became one of the most devout monks at the monastery and performed all his religious duties flawlessly. However, Luther began to be a troubled man. He believed no matter what he did, he would not be deserving of salvation. He pushed himself further than anyone should, to the point where he was harming himself. To help the troubled monk, the superiors at the monastery sent Luther on a mission to Rome, the religious capital for the Catholic Church. He walked 700 miles to get to Rome, and when he got there he was amazed by what he saw. He was surrounded by this great city, and by the Church. While at first Luther was amazed by what he saw, he began to notice the great wealth of the Church. The Church has been profiting off all of the pilgrims that pass through the city. They would sell them Indulgences with the promise of passage through purgatory. To Luther, Indulgences were just bribery of the Church, a defiance of God. Luther realizes that the church is corrupt. They are a Europe-wide organization profiting off of its followers. Even the leaders of the Papacy do not follow the rules of the Church. As Luther returns from Rome, he begins to question the teaching of the church. The very church that he had dedicated his life to. Luther becomes a tortured soul. He believes that he will never be accepted into heaven if he keeps having thoughts against the church. Despite this, he cannot get rid of the thoughts. He begins to drive himself into insanity at the thought of never reaching salvation.
As you may know, Luther was charged with heresy after he refused to disown his 95 theses. Luther’s 95 theses had spread all over Europe through the printing press. Because of Luther’s radical words, the papacy was out for his head and charged him with heresy. Luther was not a stupid man, he knew he need support to keep his life. Luther was a very cunning man, he knew exactly how to play the cards to his benefit. Instead of going straight to the church like a man without tact, Luther decided to put on a secular focus so his life could be saved and so he could start the revolution. After all, it was the secular forces that really had the power in Europe. So, To get more support, Luther, with great cunning and tact, sent a letter, “Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation.” Luther, a savvy man he was, told the German nobles exactly what they wanted to hear to win their support. He used great tact talking about how the papacy was stealing their money and not using it for good purposes and he said in the address, “In this wise they have slyly stolen from us our three rods, that they may go unpunished, and have ensconced themselves within the safe stronghold of these three walls, that they may practice all the knavery and wickedness which we now see.” He gave the German nobles an excuse to stop paying their money to the papacy. Luther wrote this address with such tact it would be almost impossible for him to be naïve or reluctant. He knew exactly what to say and what would hit the German nobles the most to side with him rather than the papacy. Luther even knew the people to go to (the nobles) to get support. He knew exactly what he was doing. Luther was aware of the world and knew how to play the cards politically rather well. Luther was aware of the world and knew how to play the cards politically rather well. A naïve person would have gone straight to the church Luther knew that to purify the church, he needed to get the support of people who were truly in power. In his address, he also called for war. Someone who was a ‘reluctant’ revolutionary would do the opposite. But no, Luther was ready for the revolution, actively proven by the many bold things he did to try to ignite it; he was subtle in no way-he let the whole world know of his opinions but with tact. Luther was very bold. Luther’s address to the German Nobility went exactly as planned as he got the support of Frederick the Wise, Prince of Saxony. Luther had played the cards right as Frederick was already trying to limit the power of the Church and now, he didn’t have to look bad following through with his plans and halting payments as he had an ‘excuse’ through Luther’s writings. Frederick saved Luther from execution as he convinced the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V to let Luther present his case during the Diet of Worms in 1521(an influential European Convention). Luther knew exactly what he was doing when he started the revolution, and the “Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation” backs up that claim well.
Many historians give Martin Luther the title of “the first propagandist”. However, Luther was not the type of propagandist to spread false ideas, but simply to promote his own in a way that spread them everywhere. Luther seized the opportunity to use the printing press when it was invented. He was one of the first people to realize the power that it had. He used the printing press to spread his ideas, and eventually, he gained many followers that believed what he did. He was one of the first people to use propaganda, and this was a very important step in history, as stated here: “The fact that Luther recognized the value in this little known technology was just as revolutionary as the words in his works,” (Mkkoszycki). Luther went about his whole revolution in a very strategic way. It is important to recognize that while using the printing press, Luther knew exactly what he was doing. Throughout history, and still today, propaganda is something that is used with a purpose. The propagandist behind it would want what they were saying to be known by as many people as possible. In this way, it can be concluded that Luther did want everyone to hear what he had to say. He essentially used the printing press as a weapon against the church. Despite the fact that the church wanted him silenced, he did the opposite to fight for what he believed in. His actions related to how he used the printing press are simply more evidence that Martin Luther was not reluctant in his religious revolution.
Jan Huss was a philosopher in the 15th century who had similar ideas as Luther about the hypocrisy of the church. Therefore, Huss was a large influence on Luthers’ revelations and beliefs, “Luther soon found himself corresponding with Bohemian Hussites on matters of common agreement,” (Reformation500). Bohemian Hussites were the name of the followers and supporters of Jan Huss and his teachings. Because of his heresy against the church, Jan Huss was seized and burnt at the stake. Luther knew about this: “I was overwhelmed with astonishment…I could not understand for what cause they had burnt so great a man, who explained the Scriptures with so much gravity and skill,” (Christianity Today). Huss and Luther had similar ideas, and Luther knew what happened to Huss, but he spread his ideas anyway. Luther had the opportunity to use the printing press as a valuable resource, which Huss had not had. With the invention of the printing press, Luther could share his beliefs much more quickly and more easily than Huss could have. From this evidence, it can be concluded that Luther must have known about the uproar to Huss’s ideas, but went on to spread his own ever more than Huss did. Therefore, he knew the impact that he would make. The fact that Luther knew what happened to Huss, and continued with his revolution and propaganda anyway, is more evidence that he was not reluctant.
This great mission that Martin Luther went on was no accident. His actions proved time and time again that he knew exactly what he was doing. To his knowledge of Jan Huss and his propagandist style, he manipulated to make Europe less reliant on the Church. After all his education and hardships, he gained the power to take down the corrupt Church. Although in his writings, he says he did not realize the effect he would have on Europe and the Christian community. He still did all of these life-threatening things that took a lot of time and hard work, it’s very hard to believe he did all of this with no expectancy of a reaction from his fellow Christians. Martin Luther was a revolutionary thinker and activist that used carefully thought-out decision-making to bring down a corrupt institution that held Europe hostage.
Martin Luther: Comparisons in History
Martin Luther, one of the most significant figures in Christian history, birthed the Reformation based on his beliefs. As reluctant revolutionaries, we argue that Luther and Mahatma Gandhi were parallels to each other despite the very obvious distinctions between both figures. While Luther fought against the very powerful Catholic Church, Gandhi fought for India’s independence, both fighting with similar motivation and morals. Although both figures were seemingly different, Luther and Gandhi shared similar morals and a desire of freedom and salvation for their people.
Martin Luther was a revolutionary in the 16th century that went against the beliefs of the Catholic Church. Martin Luther wrote multiple different works opposing the teachings of the Church and calling them out for being corrupt and manipulative. At the time, the Church was the most powerful force in Europe, going against them was a huge risk not many took. However Martin Luther realized after studying the bible closely that their morals were wrong. Previously being a monk, Luther knew first hand the harsh requirements of salvation. Once he realized salvation was secular, he wrote his 95 Theses to explain all of the different aspects of the church that were immoral. In addition, later in his life he wrote the Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation. Luther wrote to the Germanic princes to alert them of the way the church was really spending their money, and practically asked them for war against the Catholics. Martin Luther repeatedly stood up for what he believed in even though he was pinned against the strongest force at that time. His accomplishments showed how persistent, dedicated, and fearless he was. Jan Hus, who had similar beliefs as Luther was executed for his opinions by the Church. Even though Luther knew his potential fate, he still went to the Diet of Worms when he was invited so he could have the chance to present his case and defend his honor. When asked to recant his words he still refused which shows his absolute bravery.
Gandhi was a persistent and dedicated activist around the 1900s in India. Gandhi was known to his followers as Mahatma or “the great-souled one”. His interest in law led him to taking a job offer that moved him to its offices in South Africa. He began his activism as an Indian immigrant there. He was disgusted by the discrimination he experienced as an Indian immigrant. For example, when a European magistrate in Durban asked him to take off his turban, he refused and left the courtroom. In 1906, the government passed an ordinance regarding the registration of its Indian population. This frustrated Gandhi and he led a campaign of civil disobedience that lasted eight years. During these years, many people were imprisoned or shot. After a while, the government of South Africa accepted a compromise which included important concessions. In July of 1914, Gandhi returned to India. Around the time of World War I, he became the leading figure in India’s struggle to gain independence from Great Britain. He launched many organizations against Parliament and the government. Gandhi stressed the importance of economic independence for India. He turned the independence movement into a massive organization, leading boycotts of British manufacturers and institutions representing British influence in India. After violence broke out, he announced the end of the resistance movement to dismay of his followers. British authorities arrested him in March 1922 and tried him for sedition. Gandhi was released early in 1924. He kept away from active participation in politics for the next several years, but in 1930 he launched a new civil disobedience campaign against the colonial government’s tax on salt, which greatly affected Indian’s poorest citizens. In 1931, British authorities made some concessions which made Gandhi again call off the resistance movement and agreed to represent the Congress Party at the Round Table Conference in London. He was again arrested upon his return by a new aggressive colonial government. In 1934, Gandhi announced his retirement from politics and his resignation from the congress party in order to concentrate his efforts on working within rural communities, but he was drawn back into politics because of the outbreak of World War II. He again took control of INC, demanding a British withdrawal from India in return for Indian cooperation with the war effort. Instead, they imprisoned the entire congress leadership and brought Anglo-Indian relations to a new low point. He continued to work toward peace between Hindus and Muslims. He was shot to death in January 1948 by a Hindu fundamentalist, Nathuram Godse. The next day, roughly 1 million people followed the procession and was by his side.
On the surface Martin Luther and Gandhi are very different types of people that had nothing in common. However, we argue that they were parallels to each other because of their determination and how neither of them gave up even after enduring hate from many and facing huge institutions and empires. Throughout both Luther and Gandhi’s revolutions they have both demonstrated persistence and dedication to their movements. While Martin Luther’s revolution started out personal, he continued his revolution in order to protect others from the Church’s lies and wanted others to be able to achieve salvation as well. Gandhi faced the South African parliament and government and fought for independence from British rule in India. Gandhi led boycotts and organizations against the government; violence broke out as a result and Gandhi stopped it as his movement was anti-violence. Violence was littered in the Roman Catholic Church, but after Luther’s return from Wartburg, he saw all of the peasant revolts in 1524 and immediately tried to stop the violence because he did not want his ideas tied to destruction or the destruction of property. Luther’s solution to the peasant revolts was violent and a defining moment in showing who Luther was as a person, Gandhi never resulted to slaughtering 100,000 people, but both Luther and Gandhi shared the ideals that their beliefs were not intended to cause violence. During both revolutions there was a worldwide effect that changed society forever and even when Luther was excommunicated and asked to recant his beliefs he kept going, Gandhi was arrested multiple times, but they both possessed so much motivation and desire to educate and protect others that they were stronger than all the forces against them. Both revolutionaries started with one cause and ended up shaping the world into how we know it today and many people are only able to live their lives in certain ways due to the actions of Martin Luther or Gandhi. Luther and Gandhi both protested the states they were fighting against, Luther stopped following the Catholic Church after his revelation and spoke out against what was wrong. Gandhi refused to buy clothes from the British, so instead he spun his own clothes and spread awareness about his views. Martin Luther and Gandhi both followed similar paths that mirrored each other and despite them being seemingly different people they can be seen as parallels.
Although these two figures have a few differences, Gandhi and Luther both share many key similarities that make them very comparable. As written above, Martin Luther and Mohandas Gandhi share many similarities; from their opposition, to their movements. Both men stayed determined to achieve their goals even if it could mean death. However this was not even their most significant similarity. It was that they shared a distaste for violence. Neither man wished for their name to be attached to a movement that would be perceived as wicked. Of course, with a deeper look into history it can be concluded that neither man lived up to their word and that they were not truly as perfect as they hoped they would appear.
History.com Editors. “Mahatma Gandhi.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, July 30, 2010. https://www.history.com/topics/india/mahatma-gandhi.
Luther , Martin. “Open Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate.” Stanford, web.stanford.edu/~jsabol/certainty/readings/Luther-ChristianNobility.pdf.
“Mahatma Gandhi.” Biography.com. A&E Networks Television, September 4, 2019. https://www.biography.com/activist/mahatma-gandhi.