December 10, 2015 | | Leave a Comment
Martin Luther is known to be the most prominent figure in the Reformation of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther was a priest and professor of theology in the sixteenth century who fought to correct the misleading beliefs of Christianity. Luther was very strict with his view about how the Bible was the only source of divinely revealed knowledge by God and execrated the Church for its erroneous practices. Two primary sources that I believe strongly appeal to his beliefs are his “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” and Lucas Cranach’s piece on “The Contrast between Christ’s True Religion and the False Idolatry of the Antichrist.” Both of these sources are different in many ways, including background and material, but merge together in purpose.
Luther long saw the corruption of the Church emerging. The Catholic Church was the only form of Christianity at the time and Luther witnessed its slow deterioration. The Church had its hands in with politics, civic matters and religion. Over the course of time it became apparent that the Church let these coincide and influence bias decisions with the motives of wealth and power. Luther emphasized strongly on two main points throughout his whole reformation rant. These were called, Sola Fide (Justification is reached by faith alone) and Sola Scriptura (The Bible is the only religious text). These two were main differences between Luther’s view and that of the Roman Catholic Church.
Before the creation of both pieces, Pope Leo X was running a campaign to finance the renovation of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The Pope authorized Johann Tetzel, a Dominican priest, to sell pardons for sins to raise money. This took Luther over the edge and drove him to his posting of the 95 Theses. Luther was strongly against the selling of indulgences to relieve sin. He believed one must only repent their sin before they can confess a sin. Being able to purchase forgiveness defeated the whole purpose of faith. Luther believed that salvation can be reached by faith alone. It is important to know that the purpose of the Pamphlet was not to start a dispute but to stop the Church from making a profit off of forgiveness.
What Luther did was not historical; though when the piece was taken off the door and printed/spread all over the city/surrounding cities a historical revolution was sparked. The piece was printed at the perfect timing. The church was on the verge of division but nobody was brave enough to break away or to say something. Luther had kept quiet for so long avoiding dispute but with the beginning of “indulgence purchasing” Luther’s last straw was driven. Luther watched tons of people, even those who could barely afford to put clothes on their back, pay the church to receive forgiveness. They were basically giving away their last penny for nothing but to help the church live lavishly. Luther wanted to stop the absurdity and really teach the truth.
Luther’s famously known “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” (95 Theses) was a written pamphlet containing 95 propositions that he believed should be argued against the church. Luther hung these propositions on the church door in Wittenberg, Saxony on October 31, 1517 in Latin for other scholars to read and contemplate until a mass meeting was organized. It was rumored that the pamphlet may have been nailed to the door but with Martin’s intention of keeping it in Latin to avoid an outburst it is very unlikely he would do something so outrageous. Luther did not want to stir the pot or create a scene, he simply did not agree with the church and wanted to bring its actions into conversation. One could tell by looking at the piece that Luther wasn’t playing games. He wasn’t looking to start trouble although he wasn’t stirring away from it either. He was very blunt and strait to the point naming every detail that he did not agree with nor felt riotous.
Rather than a full on attack the Catholic Church, Luther’s 95 Theses sole purpose seems to be to explain the truth of God and Christianity as well as the truth behind why the Church claims to be able to do such a deed. In the piece Luther explains that the Pope does not hold the power to remit any penalties other than his own. He explains that all of the Pope’s doings is not to help the people but to help himself and the wealth of the Church. Luther also explains that the Church manipulates the word of God. The Church explains that forgiveness must be bought or earned by good deeds and Luther shoots this down saying that any true Christian can reach forgiveness without such action. He also denotes the Church, saying that any true Christian can be a priest as long as they strictly follow the word of God. This source tells a lot about the period and context in which it was produced. One can see how Christians were being guided in the wrong direction, abused and manipulated. One can only imagine how powerful and wealthy the church was after all the selling of indulgences. Also one can really grasp what the influence of the Church had on the people. Poverty probably reached incredible heights and crime levels could have erupted as well when people thought they could be so easily forgiven. It is mostly clear just how influential and important religion was in this period.
Since somebody took the Pamphlet of theses off of the door and spread them all over it is quite obvious how the source reached us today. There are thousands of copies all over the world and web. In 15 17 Frederick III of Saxony held the greatest collection of holy relics. It was believed that he was trading copies to outsiders for goods. This could have also hugely influenced the widespread. With the text becoming so popular in the 16th century and to the reformation of religion one could hypothesize that scholars, professors, museums etc. from all around the globe, more than likely collected copies and exhibited them which seemed to have carried the piece throughout history all the way until today. Luther successfully used the power of the printing press and commerce to spread his ideas. I personally found several copies in the library of the college, in several local libraries and presented in many online web pages.
The Contrast Piece is what known as a Woodcut or (xylography). This is a type of artistic printing which involves wood carving. Artist would carve pictures into a thin layer of wood and ink over top of it creating a pretty magnificent form of art. The Contrast Woodcut happens to be one Lucas Cranach the Younger’s most famous because of its insane detail and its stunning depiction of what religion under Christ’s true words would be like and how Religion is with the Catholic Church as the head.
Luther after the posting of the 95 Theses gained many followers and continued to mainstream his purpose and beliefs. While preaching Sermons and writing documents Luther continued his teachings of ‘True Religion’ and his arguments against the Church. Luther took his views of the literal bible even farther than naming it the only religious word. He then explained that if the Bible is the word of Christ than any who go against the bible or believe otherwise are Anti-Christ. This theory blatantly scolds the Catholic Church and portrays then the leader of the church, the Pope, as the Devil (Leader of Hell.) The Contrast Piece portrays a spectrum in which beauty and just are at the ‘True Religion’ end and Terror/exile are at the end where the Church leads. The woodcut displays religion influenced by the Pope having no souls in heaven due to false faith and complete chaos on earth with God looking down with disgust along with Luther, the only true believer. The side of the painting with true Christianity shows heaven filled with resting souls, peace and love on earth and people reaching out to learn more and gain faith. This theme thus depicts what Christianity is truly about, which is more of a relationship rather than a religious practice. Instead of having deeds that one should or should not do, Christianity is about a close relationship with God.
The piece was created in 1544 in the mist of all of the drama. The Pope had already been put on blast and seen for what he really was, blasphemous. Cranach was a loyal follower and friend of Luther which shows some bias towards his work. Although he was very well known for his honesty in his work. As you see in the piece, Cranach did not fabricate anything nor make any aspect look too good or too malicious. He painted exactly what was happening during the reformation and what was ‘believed’ to happen if the Church was to be in charge.
The piece has survived centuries and is exhibited in Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin at the State Museums for Prussian Cultural Heritage. I searched to find how it has been preserved and how it reached the museum but came up short with detail. (I did however email the head of the museum and am currently waiting for more information on the piece.) I do know by looking through the museum cite that the objects in the collections are preserved, safeguarded and recorded digitally.
Both of these pieces of work are huge contributors to teaching and keeping alive the history of the Reformation. Now a days Christianity is derived of 10 main sects. In the 16th century there was just the Catholic Church. Without art such as these sources, individuals would only be able to imagine how this division came about and what the world had went through. These pieces of art are extremely important pieces of history and a part of life that influences millions of individuals in today’s society.
Luther, Martin. Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences. Wittenberg: Guttenberg Printing, 1517. Print. The 95 Theses.
Oberman, Heiko Augustinus. Luther: Man between God and the Devil. New Haven: Yale UP, 1989. Print. ‘The Contrast between Christ’s True Religion and the False Idolatry of the Antichrist.’