Posts Tagged ‘Origin of the word “Protestant”’

500th Anniversary Martin Luther’s Theses

Monday, February 27th, 2017


On 31 October 2017, Protestants throughout the world will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the day on which Martin Luther is said to have nailed 95 Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther was a German monk and professor of moral theology at the University of Wittenberg who became disillusioned with certain abuses practiced by the 16th century Roman Catholic Church. Martin Luther’s Theses eventually sparked the Protestant Reformation. Twelve years after he is said to have nailed the Theses to the church door, the word “Protestant” became a term that described those who protested against the Catholic Church.

Why Martin Luther’s Theses?

In 1510 Luther visited Rome and was disgusted by the practices of church officials, and in particular, by their sale of indulgences. Indulgences were certificates that could be purchased to reduce the punishment for sins committed by the purchasers or their loved ones in purgatory. Martin Luther argued the church practice lead people to think that they could forgo repentance by purchasing indulgences.


Martin Luther depicted as nailing his 95 Thesis to the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

Martin Luther depicted as nailing his 95 Thesis to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany.


 In 1515, Pope Leo X granted indulgences to finance the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. These certificates, in particular, could be purchased to reduce the punishment for almost any sin, including adultery and theft. With his 95 Theses Luther intended to express his disillusionment over this corruption. His Theses called for a reform of the Catholic Church and challenged other scholars to debate church policy. The indulgence controversy set off by the Martin Luther’s Theses was the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, which set into motion lasting social and political change in Europe.

How did Word of the 95 Theses Spread?

On 31 October 1517, Luther sent a letter to Albert of Brandenburg, Archbishop of Mainz, because it was under the archbishop’s authority that indulgences were sold. Whether Luther also posted the Theses on the door of All Saints’ Church and on other churches in Wittenberg is not clear. In any case, Martin Luther’s Theses were quickly reprinted, translated, and distributed throughout Germany and Europe. Although Luther wrote the Theses to be argued in an academic disputation (a formalized method of debate), there is no evidence that such a debate ever took place. No copies of a Wittenberg printing of the 95 Theses have ever been discovered.

Is the nailing of Martin Luther’s Theses a myth?

Today, the majority of researchers agree that Luther mailed the Thesis to the archbishop on 31 October 1517, but they question that he nailed them to the door of All Saint’s. In the early 1960s, researchers began to doubt the latter because the first written account of the event comes from Philip Melanchthon, Luther’s colleague and close friend. Erwin Iserloh, a catholic Luther researcher, suggests that the nailing could not have taking place because Philip Melanchthon did not arrive in Wittenberg until 1518 and therefore could not have been an eyewitness to the event. Besides, Melanchthon never mentioned the nailing until after Luther’s death. Although announcements were routinely hung on the door of All Saints’, the nailing of the 95 theses prior to hearing back from the archbishop seems unlikely.

Walk in Martin Luther’s Footsteps

The German tourism industry has geared up to help visitors discover the history of Reformation. Visitors are encouraged to follow Luther’s footsteps on the 745-mile Luther Trail or to discover his life and legacy on numerous mini-tours across Germany. Tours by train, bus and foot are available to fit every budget. The most prominent Luther sites are Wittenberg, Eisleben and Eisenach. Other cities and towns associated with Martin Luther are Allstedt, Altenburg, Augsburg, Bad Frankenhausen, Bad Hersfeld, Bad Neustadt, Bretten, Coburg, Dresden, Eilenburg, Erfurt, Gotha, Grimma, Halle, Heidelberg, Jena, Leipzig, Magdeburg, Mansfeld, Marburg, Moehra, Muellhausen, Naumburg, Nuremberg, Oppenheim, Pirna, Schmalkalden, Sonneberg, Speyer, Torgau, Weimar, Worms and Zeitz. For more information, visit


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