This document condemned the corruption and excess of the Roman Catholic Church, especially the papal practice of selling indulgences for the forgiveness of sins. During this time, Dominican Priest Johann Tetzel was commissioned by the Archbishop of Mainz and Pope Leo X to travel throughout Germany, raising monies to pay for the renovation of Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica. Though Prince Frederick III the Wise had banned the sale of indulgences in Wittenberg, some townspeople purchased them elsewhere. When these parishioners returned to Wittenberg, they showed the pardons to Martin Luther, claiming they no longer needed to repent for their sins.
Martin Luther’s frustration with these indulgences led him to pen the 95 theses. His ideas captured the minds of many and were widely shared. Eventually, a copy of this list found its way to Rome. In 1518, efforts were made by the Church to reign in Martin Luther.
However, despite the Church’s entreaties, Martin Luther refused to recant his words. Consequently, in April 1521, the Church excommunicated Martin Luther, and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Germany issued the Edict of Worms, labeling Martin Luther as an outlaw and heretic.
Prince Frederick III the Wise offered his protection to Martin Luther, who began translating the Bible (originally written only in Latin) into German. This translation took ten years. In 1529, Charles V revoked a provision that allowed the ruler of each German state to choose whether they would enforce the Edict of Worms. Supporters of Martin Luther protested, declaring that their allegiance to God trumped their allegiance to the Holy Roman Emperor. They became known to their opponents as protestants. Eventually, the name Protestant would be applied to all who believed the Church should be reformed.
Then, on 18 February 1546, Martin Luther died in Eisleben, Germany. By holding steadfast to his interpretation of scripture, Martin Luther served as the impetus for the Reformation, a movement that would divide Europe into two theological factions—Protestant and Catholic—and would set the scene for 100 years for religious strife.