Martin Luther Was Not A Reluctant Revolutionary
Martin Luther was born in 1483 and challenged the church in 1521. He lived his life in streams of passion, and purposefully challenged the church to a battle of biblical morals. Martin Luther proved that he purposefully triggered a revolution with his writings, when he worded his 95 theses as a declaration of protest, then accepted the publication of his work on a printing press, and finally when he refused to recant his work.
Martin Luther wrote the 95 theses statement to cause an uprise within the church. Luther repeatedly called out the pope and his use of indulgences throughout the theses. As quoted in his 75th statement, Luther wrote, “To consider papal indulgences so great that they could absolve a man even if he had done the impossible and had violated the mother of God is madness.” Here Luther is bluntly stating that it is ridiculous to believe that indulgences will work. Luther would not have called out the pope like this if he was reluctant. But some may still argue that is not enough evidence to prove Luther wanted to cause a response from the church. So, in statement 86 of his theses he wrote, “Again, ‘Why does not the pope, whose wealth is today greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build this one basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?’” Here Luther is calling out the pope for using money from indulgences on the basilica of St. Peter rather than his own. A final example of Luther speaking up was when he disapproved of indulgences working in statement 37, “Any true Christian, whether living or dead, participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted him by God, even without indulgence letters.” This statement would have angered the church because indulgences were an enormous source of income for them. There is absolutely no way that Luther would have written this if he was reluctant. Martin Luther wanted the truth of what the pope was doing and how corrupt the church was to make its way into the public eye.
The second reasoning proving Martin Luther was not a reluctant revolutionary was when he did not stop the mass publication of his work through the printing press. As well as later publishing his own work with the printing press. The printing press was invented by a man named Johann Gutenberg and would be utilized as an advantage for Luther. In November 1517, Luther agreed to have the university press, which was an academic publishing house, print the 95 theses. As well as let Kespar nutzel translated the 95 theses into German later that year; written translations were sent to interested groups across Germany. By agreeing to this Luther agreed to have his work mass spread to all different people. If Luther truly did not want to start a revolution, and he only wanted to have dissection with his fellow scholars why would he make his theses available to everyone. Luther used the printing press which therefor allowed his 95 theses to “spread like wildfire,” through Germany and help get his ideas out to the people. If Luther hadn’t used this press then he wouldn’t have been able to start a revolution because he would not have to public to help him. Luther continuously went back to the printing press with various different writings showing he wasn’t really reluctant. If Martin Luther was truly reluctant he would not have shared his views to everyone using the printing press.
The third reason to prove that Martin Luther fully understood the consequences of his actions and was not reluctant in creating a revolution against the church is that he stood by his works with his life at stake, never recanting anything he wrote. Luther’s vision of religion was very internal and individualized, as he valued a relationship with God over all other forms of worship, which would have made it very easy for him to solidify his personal relationship with God to achieve salvation without creating a continent-wide rebellion against the Catholic papacy. One example of this unrelenting dedication to his works came at the Diet of Worms, where Luther was tasked with pleading his case for not being executed due to the crime of heresy. Here, Luther stated one of his most famous quotes, “On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me.” Earlier in the Diet of Worms, Luther stated, “But it is not in my power to recant them, because that recantation would give that tyranny and blasphemy and occasion to lord it over those whom I defend and to rage against God’s people more violently than ever.” Luther’s lack of apology and remorse for the uprising he had started in Europe could not have been more clear than at the Diet of Worms, where in front of the Holy Roman Emperor, a devout Catholic Charles V, one of the highest authorities in all of Europe, Luther refused to back down. If Luther truly did not want to start a revolution, he would have reacted his work. As well as with this stance, he had to have understood the feelings of anger and frustration he was unleashing across Europe, as the unwavering authority of the Catholic church was being challenged for one of the first times in modern history.
Despite all the evidence that points towards Luther not being a reluctant revolutionary, there are some points that could be made to show he was reluctant. For example, when Luther wrote the 95 theses and posted them on the Church door, he wrote them in Latin so that only highly educated scholars could read and comprehend his work. However, this does not show that Luther was reluctant, rather that he wanted to gauge the religious community’s reaction to his unheard of ideas. By posting his ideas, Luther knew that they were out there for the world to see, and by writing them in Latin, all he did was slow down a process that he intended to start. Additionally, Luther’s statement that “I would never have thought that such a storm would rise from Rome over one simple scrap of paper” is an argument that could possibly be used by those arguing for Luther’s reluctance. However, people only propose ideas for discussion when they are expecting a response. The 95 theses were an undeniably radical document that directly challenged the pope; the most powerful man in Europe. In a time when the church controlled nearly every aspect of life, and its history of silencing dissent was well known, it is very hard to imagine that Luther was not aware of the possibility of a violent response.
In conclusion, Martin Luther was not by any means a reluctant revolutionary. Luther had numerous opportunities to fix what he started, however he never took this chance. Although he never admitted it to the public, he published many bold ideas such as the 95 Theses and worded them so argumentatively. Due to the very controversial topic he must have known that going against the church would cause visible tension between the public and the church. Due to the printing press, Luther’s works spread quickly and relentlessly, and with his encouragement his ideas kept growing. Later on in Luther’s life, when the church requested him to recant his work, he blatantly refused. He was very passionate towards his ideas and was very stubborn on his opinions. Even after witnessing the destruction it caused, he would stand by his ideas proving his true intentions. This shows that Martin Luther knowingly started a revolutionary force because of the wording of the 95 Theses, non-prevention of the mass publication of his work, and the refusal to recant his works.
Charles Darwin and Martin Luther
Charles Darwin was a man similar to Luther in many ways. Much like Luther, he challenged the church and was labeled a heretic. They both had very strong personalities and they formulated radical ideas that went against the church and refused to back down when questioned. Darwin kept a strong dedication to his ideas and published his works even when going against everything his society stood on, these similarities make Luther and Darwin historical synonyms.
Starting off with the main similarity between the two, both Luther and Darwin challenged the authority of the church. Luther believed the church was corrupt and was extremely against the idea of selling indulgences for money. His 95 Theses was meant to prove the church wrong and was in fact successful. This was in some way the same as Darwin but Charles had never believed in the church. His ideas and theories would always dismissed by the church no matter the authority the church had. Both of these men had passion towards their theories, determined to get their ideas across and prove the church wrong. They both put their life into their work and even when challenged, continued on.
Charles Darwin and Martin Luther were a like in how they protested the Church’s ideas. Starting with Luther’s 95 theses, along with the rest of his published works, all contradicted the Church. He made it his mission to educate Christians that the Church was corrupt and that all you needed for salvation was yourself. Luther and his papers worked against the Church in an attempt to educate the public. The same can be said about Charles Darwin. Although Darwin’s relationship with the church was not as hostile as Luther’s was, they still disagreed on a fundamental level. When Darwin introduced his famous work, On the Origins of Species by Means of Natural Selection, it directly contradicted religious thought. According to Khan Academy, “Darwinian biology tells a whole new story of creation, one that cannot be literally reconciled with religious creation stories such as those narrated in the book of Genesis.” And so while Darwin’s goal was to educate the public about his theory of evolution and natural selection, it was widely dismissed by the church. Eventually, “ Roman Catholics and other mainstream Christian churches have avoided confusing science with faith and theology by recognizing that they answer different questions and serve different needs” (Khanacademy.com). But the basis of the problem remains; Darwinism fundamentally works against the Church’s message, just like Luther and his radical ideas did!
Furthermore Charles Darwin and Martin Luther strongly resemble each other in the ways they display their passion in their public works. When Darwin developed the concept of evolution and came to believe in it whole-heartedly, he did not back down even when challenged by Creationists (people who believe all living species were created by God as they are). This is incredibly similar to Martin Luther not backing down or recanting his work at the Diet of Worms. Additionally, Khan Academy states that “Darwinian biology tells a whole new story of creation, one that cannot be literally reconciled with the religious creation stories”. Similar to Luther, Darwin has developed ideas that fundamentally challenges the church, but never backs down, only defending his claims. Furthermore, Charles Darwin stated that he was “not apt to follow blindly the lead of other men”, which is similar to Martin reading the bible multiple times in various languages to be absolutely certain of what its contents entail.
Charles Darwin was an English naturalist in the mid-1800s, with ideas that seemed radical and incorrect to many, but to him, they were the only path. For Darwin to publicly publish his ambitious theories that were against the church was outrageous and potentially dangerous in many people’s eyes. But with the harsh scrutiny he got from church officials, Similar to Martin Luther, he knew deep down what had to be done. However, his entire livelihood was at stake, Darwin Felt as he needed to push forward and continue his research. The church was so strongly against this theory of evolution because, in the eyes of the Christian church, God is the creator of all things. And for someone to provide evidence against her ideas intimidated them. Luther and Darwin were also similar in that they were dedicated to the ideas put forth in their works, and defended them in the face of opposition. Luther’s ideas were challenged at the Diet of Worms in 1521. Luther was summoned to the Diet by Charles V, to defend his writings. This situation is not dissimilar to the case of Jan Hus, who was also called to stand trial for his heretical beliefs, but was burnt at the stake before any trial took place. When Luther went to the Diet, Charles commanded that he recant all of his works criticizing the church. However, knowing that he risked execution, Luther refused to do so, and he was arrested.
Darwin and Luther go hand-in-hand with one another due to their many resemblances. In the beginning of both of their careers they shared a common support of catholicism. Both of them proceeded to change their views and protested against the church. Although this occurred in two different ways, they both shared a great passion for their published works against the church’s beliefs. Another great similarity is their dedication to these completely radical ideas which was not common to see in such a unheard of manner. Both of these historical figures took their published works and went against societal norms, while holding such passion for it.
Baker, Lyman A. Martin Luther: Excerpts from His Statement at the Diet of Worms (1521), Kansas State University, www-personal.k-state.edu.
Haught, John F. “Darwin, Evolution, and Faith.” Khanacademy.org. Accessed April
“PBS – Martin Luther – Complete Documentary. (Parts 1 and 2).” Video, 1:49:32.
YouTube. Posted by Donald Spitz, October 18, 2016. Accessed April 13, 2021.
KDG Wittenburg, trans. “The 95 Theses.” http://www.LUTHER. de. Last modified 1997.
Accessed April 16, 2021. https://www.luther.de/en/95thesen.html.