What does Reformation Day commemorate?
A German scholar and monk named Martin Luther was upset that a representative of the Catholic Church was coming to his hometown of Wittenberg, a little backwater of a town, to raise money for the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The church planned to sell “indulgences” — a way of winning remission from penance in this life or in purgatory by making a donation to the church. There was a popular saying of the time: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” Luther wasn’t having that, and he wrote down his reasons — his 95 Theses, or grievances against the pope and the church. On Oct. 31, 1517, he nailed them to the door of Castle Church in the center of town.
Luther’s main idea, developed in subsequent years, was this: We do not enter heaven not through sacraments like baptism or absolution, but through faith alone — “sola fide,” in the Latin of the church. Luther had five “solas” he believed Christians needed: faith, Scripture, Jesus, grace and glory.
“I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely by faith,” Luther wrote. “Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open.”
It was like a theological bomb going off. Thanks to the newly invented printing press, Luther’s theses were printed, translated into different languages and spread around Europe. People flocked to Germany to hear Luther speak, the Protestant Reformation was born.