Western Literature 2 lesson 5

“Do you think that Luther really believed that Pope Leo X did not know what the indulgence salesmen were saying?”

In Wittenberg, a sleepy little university town in eastern Germany on the river Elbe, the monk Martin Luther gradually became displeased with the practices of the Catholic Church. It began to dawn on Luther that the Church was corrupt—and the corruption went deep. But surely the Pope could not believe in these immoral values and teachings. Could he?

Luther did in fact believe that Pope Leo X knew what the indulgence salesmen were saying. When he was publicly proclaiming that he disagreed with the practice of selling indulgences, he did not want to offend one of the most influential people in his day, so he claimed that the Pope must not be guilty—even though Luther acknowledged that he was not perfect. However, judging from his doctor of theology from the University of Wittenburg, Luther was no dimwit and must have known that if all of the Church’s underlings practiced selling indulgences, the ruler must know and approve as well. Before delving further into this theory, the reader should know what Indulgences are. The selling of indulgences was the practice where a member of the Clergy forgave the eternal sins of any soul in purgatory using the excess of good works that the saints performed in their lives in exchange for exorbitant sums of money. Luther refers to the Pope many times over in his 95 Theses. The Pope’s title and position were very conspicuous as well and made people stop and take notice of what Luther was saying. Perhaps when Luther was still forming his 95 theses he truly believed in the Pope’s innocence, but after he thought about it for a while and wrote more of them, he realized the Pope’s true guilt.

There is truth in the saying “Power corrupts”. Pope Leo X cared more about money than his own religion. He was even recorded saying, “Since God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it.” Martin Luther realized this finally but did not put it into his Theses. Therefore there can only be speculation about his true thoughts at the time. There are sound arguments for both sides but the soundest seems to be that Luther knew that Pope Leo X sided with the indulgence salesmen.

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