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Martin Luther

The 95 Theses

From 1516 on, as a consequence of his new convictions, Luther felt compelled to protest the dispensation of indulgences (see indulgence). The arrival of Johann Tetzel in Saxony in 1517 to proclaim the indulgence granted by Leo X prompted Luther to post his historic 95 theses on the door of the castle church. The abuse of indulgences had been condemned by many Catholic theologians, but it had had great financial success, and ecclesiastical authorities had not halted it. Luther's theses were widely distributed and read, finding sympathy among the exploited peasantry and among the civil authorities, who deplored the drainage of funds to Rome. The propositions were brought to the attention of the pope, who ordered the head of the Augustinians to keep peace in his order. Meanwhile Tetzel was committed to the struggle against Luther, and he found an able colleague in Johann Eck.

Although Luther still considered his activities as directed toward reforms within the church, his opponents found his ideas heretical. In the following years several attempts were made to reconcile Luther to the church, but the basis of compromise was lacking on both sides. At a meeting with the papal legate at Augsburg in 1518, Luther refused to recant, and in 1519 in a public disputation with Eck in Leipzig he was forced to declare his stand as one at variance with some of the doctrines of the church.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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