Yesterday was the 500th anniversary of a date that is, in many ways, as much if not more significant than the posting of the 95 Theses:
On August 7, 1518, Martin Luther received a summons from Rome to defend his 95 Theses. When he first posted the theses, Luther had no idea that anything significant had just taken place. Largely aimed against the abuses of indulgences (an indulgence was a way for Christians to purchase forgiveness for themselves or their loved ones, shortening their time in purgatory), Luther would have expected his theses to simply inspire debate among scholars.
However, following the translation of the Theses into German and their wide distribution across Europe, the proposed scholarly discussion about indulgences turned into a charge of heresy about the supposed infallibility of the Pope. This summons changed the entire face of the debate. From our librarian, Rev. Bob Smith:
“What did happen was a steep decline in the purchase of indulgence letters. John Tetzel, the Dominican monk that so annoyed Luther, responded by attacking the theses as heretical. The Archbishop of Mainz forwarded them to Rome, recommending a reprimand for the Wittenberg professor. John Eck of Ingolstadt, who was to become Luther’s chief academic opponent, wrote and circulated an extended handwritten review of the 95 Theses. To Luther’s great surprise, they accused Luther of limiting the Pope’s power and did not focus on his challenge to indulgences at all. In doing so, they turned Luther’s attention to the claims of the pope. He poured over the Scriptures on the subject. Luther composed an extended defense of his theses in February 1518.”
(CLICK HERE to read the full article.)
God is able use all things and all people for his good purpose. These men, concerned with the sudden loss of income, tried to browbeat and kill the discussion by skipping over the talk of indulgences and pointing to the authority of the Pope instead, driving Luther to Scripture to weigh their words, and thereby changing the significance of his 95 Theses to something theologically and historically momentous. It’s only hindsight that allows us to see the divine hand working in the fools of history.