Sale of indulgences
In 1517, Johann Tetzel (1465-1519), a Germanian Dominican friar, was selling indulgences near Wittenberg, Germania. Why? Albert of Mainz was archbishop of two dioceses and bishop of a third. To rule more than one diocese at a time, he needed the permission of the pope. Leo 10th gave him permission in return for a large donation toward the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Albert borrowed the money from the banking house of Fugger in Augsburg. Leo allowed Albert to sell indulgences to repay the loan. Half the money raised went to Leo and half to the Fuggers.
University and Luther
Martin Luther (1483-1546) was an important member of the faculty at the university in Wittenberg. Frederick 3rd (1463-1525), ruler of Saxony, had only recently started the university (1502). Martin had only, even more recently, begun his teaching career there (1512).
On October 31, 1517, Martin posted 95 theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. Some of these expressed his individual insight that indulgences were absurd since all human beings were saved by grace through faith. He also criticized other practices of the Latin Church that troubled him. There was nothing subversive about this. The door served as the community bulletin board. Posting assertions there was the normal way of inviting comments. Martin wrote his theses in Latin and expected responses in Latin from his learned colleagues.
While Martin expected feedback from other professionals, his point of view nonetheless proved remarkably popular. Someone immediately translated his 95 Theses from Latin into German and rushed them into print. Soon readers across Latin Christendom debated them verbally. They also broadcast them in thousands of pamphlets made possible by the rapidly developing printing press.
Martin’s assertions became wildly popular because many people across Latin Christendom already disapproved of various errors in Latin Christian teaching and practice. People in Germania also had a heightened sense that their interests were different from, and sometimes contrary to, those of the pope in Rome.
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