On October 31st, 1517, an Augustinian friar and professor of theology went to the door of the Wittenberg castle church in Germany and affixed the famous 95 theses. Conventionally, with this gesture, Martin Luther initiated the Protestant Reformation.
What triggered this act of rebellion?
With the coffers of the Holy See embittered by the financial crisis, Leo X in order to invest in the reconstruction of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican decided to promote a large-scale campaign to sell indulgences. This practice consisted in selling a promise of forgiveness of the sinful soul in exchange for paying the indulgent bubble.
At that time there were numerous criticisms of the very great abuses of power that the Church was carrying on, especially to the detriment of the poorest believers.
It was Martin Luther who decided to rebel against this indiscriminate and illicit profit. Quietly, he tried to explain in his aforementioned 95 theses his convictions regarding the effectiveness of the indulgences and the work of the Church, in the possibility of a true fruitful dialogue with the prince of Saxony and the academic community.
Although already before Luther different were the religious reformers who tried to profess a different Christianity than the one practiced by the official Church, this stance provoked a political and religious earthquake, which gave rise to what in the years will be known as the Protestant Reformation. And yet, despite Luther's intention being a reform within the Church, what happened in those years was a real split in the Christian world.
The Protestant Reformation succeeded above all thanks to the economic and political support of many principles in different areas of Europe, which not only supported the cause of Luther but protected its own security from the various threats and accusations of heresy.
Let us therefore ask ourselves, what criticisms and changes did Luther support in those years?
Definitely the focal point of Luther's battle was to approach the faithful directly to the Bible while respecting everyone's right to read the sacred texts. His intention was indeed to move away from the tradition that for centuries had celebrated the liturgy only in Latin, a language unknown to most. Thus, he began his work of translating the Bible into German.
Moreover, Luther protested for years about the implicit goals of economic power that the Church was pursuing within its own hierarchies.
The church was accused of corruption and nepotism, internal favouritism among ecclesiastics and family members. This dimension of profit of the Church was also emphasized by the practice of simony, the sale of ecclesiastical offices, a practice as strongly present in the history of the Papacy as strongly criticized in the aforementioned 95 theses.
And first of all, as already mentioned, it was the criticism of the practice of indulgence, referring to the possibility of partial or total remission of penalties as a practice not solidly based on the words of the Bible.
What became the key principles of Protestantism?
Luther based many of his reflections on the importance of faith in Jesus Christ as the main road to the salvation of one's soul and against the salvific value of good works.
Furthermore, it is fundamental to underline how the Reformation denied that there could be other intermediaries between man and God outside of Jesus Christ, which had as a fundamental consequence the refusal of the invocation of the Saints, of Mary, and of the intercessor role of the Church. Only and only Jesus Christ could be considered head, the figure of the pope was completely rejected.
These beliefs radically reversed the ecclesiastical hierarchy that had been the basis of the Church up to that time, which had many political consequences.
In addition to this, the central point of the Reformation already mentioned was the direct and inclusive reading of the Holy Scriptures through the translation of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into German, a language more accessible to the people.