In the midst of above condition Martin Luther, a teacher in the University of Wittenberg posed a challenge to the authority of the church. He raised the controversy by pasting on the church door at Wittenberg ninety- five thesis. In accordance with the prevailing practice and customs, the pasting of these thesis implied that he wanted a discussion on the pros and cons of various practices of church.
It may be observed that Martin Luther was prompted to take this action because he saw a monk named Tetzel selling Indulgences in Wittenberg to rid persons of their sins. The indulgences were authoritative certificates issued by the church for remittance of punishment of sins in return for a gift of money to the church for some pious purpose.
The idea underlying the Indulgences was that sin, like world offences, could be commuted by fine. However, in course of time this practice began to be used by the church for raising money without insisting on the previous penitence of the offender. Luther challenged the claim of the Pope and other church officials that God would pardon the purchaser of an indulgence. He asserted “.Salvation was a matter between man and God; it could come from God only, through faith of each human being.”
Soon the ninety-five thesis or statements of Luther became the subject of discussion in the country and within two months they began to be discussed in Europe as well. Though initially Pope Leo did not pay any heed to the controversy raised by Martin Luther, but subsequently he decided to send celebrated theologian Eck to hold a debate with Luther. Eck found that Luther’s doctrine was contrary to the teachings of the church and asked him to recant it.
However, Luther refused to recant and Pope Leo X issued a bull of ex-communication against Luther. Luther retaliated by burning the Papal Bull in public. This greatly enraged the Pope and he ordered Luther to appear before an assembly of the city of Worms. At the Diet of Worms (1521), Luther refuses to recant. Therefore, he was declared ‘an outlaw before God and man”.
Luther saved his life by taking protection with the Duke of Saxony and translated Bible into German. Soon he won the admiration of a large number of German people who described him as a hero and renounced the authority of the Pope. Some of the German princes also supported his ideas and soon most of northern German states were converted into his ideas. They destroyed a large number of monasteries. Some of the priests even abjured their allegiance to the Pope.
Thus the Church in Germany came to be divided between the Roman Catholics and the two were involved in prolonged religious war. In 1526 Emperor Charles V convened the German Diet to settle the religious question. However, the Diet did not succeed. Ultimately, in 1529 Emperor asked the Diet to uproot heresay and to see that Mass was not interfered anywhere. This was not to the liking of the Lutherans and they protested against his order. Thereafter the followers of Luther began to be designated as Protestants.
The protracted religious war between the Catholics and Protestants continued till 1555 when the German Diet signed the Religious Peace of Augsburg. Under this treaty, Lutheranism was accepted another legal form the Christianity and ;he rulers of German states were given the option to decide the religion of their subjects. Under the settlement the Protestants were allowed to keep the property appropriated prior to 1552.
The Catholics who turned Lutherans were required to give up church lands. The northern German states opted for Protestantism or Luther- anism, while the Southern German states continued to be Catholic. From the northern German states Protestantism spread to Denmark, Norway and Sweden.