The Reluctant Revolutionary
|Pope Leo X
"Here I stand, I can do no other, God help me, Amen..." (Martin Luther)
When an obscure monk named Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses - 95 stinging rebukes -
attacking the mighty Catholic Church, and its head, Pope Leo X to the door of
Wittenberg Cathedral he unleashed a tornado.
It was a hurricane of violence and revolution that raged across Europe, and changed
the face of a continent forever.
The Catholic Church brought all its considerable power to bear to try and muzzle Luther,
including accusations of heresy and excommunication. But protected by his local ruler,
Frederick the Wise, Luther continued to write ever more radical critiques of the Church,
and to develop a whole new system of faith, one that puts the freedom of the individual
believer above the rituals of the Church.
His ideas spread like wildfire, aided by the newly invented printing press. Finally he's
called before the German imperial parliament, in the city of Worms, and told he must recant.
Risking torture and execution, Luther nevertheless refused and proclaimed his inalienable
right to believe what he wished.
Convinced he would not survive the trip to Worms but with
absolute faith he declared, "I am not afraid, for God's Will will (sic) be done, and I rejoice to suffer in so noble a cause."
His stand became a legend that then inspired a continent-wide revolution, overturning the
thousand-year old domination of the Church. But as the reformation expanded into a movement
for social freedom, Luther found himself overwhelmed by the pace of change. His theological
reformation had become a social revolution.
|Diet of Worms
The epicenter of reform now moved swiftly away from Germany to Switzerland and Holland where
Calvin and Knox founded societies based on Luther's principles. To England, where it would
take a bloody civil war before Cromwell could establish his Protestant democratic state and
finally, to the newly discovered lands of America, where the Pilgrim Fathers would found
their new nation on Luther's foundations of religious freedom.
But Luther never left his province in Germany again. Instead he married, an ex-nun named
Katharine von Bora, whom he had helped to escape from her nunnery and they had a large family
together, Luther was able to devote himself to the simpler pleasures of life, gardening,
music and of course, writing.
Luther finally died in the year 1543, seized by a crippling heart attack but he held onto
his righteousness and rage until the very end.
"When I die, I want to be a ghost...So I can continue
to pester the bishops, priests and godless monks until
that they have more trouble with a dead Luther than they
could have had before with a thousand living ones."
Go back to Program One -