500 Years On: Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. Online exhibition


Special Collections, University of Otago

Date Created

15th March 2017


Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a friar and Professor of Theology at the University of Wittenberg, Germany. While undertaking scriptural studies, Luther arrived at an essential tenet: the Bible alone was the source to salvation and true Christianity. Luther rejected the authority of the Pope, and thought that people should go to the church and pray, directly to God or Jesus, and not to anyone who claimed special powers or holiness. On 31st October 1517, All Saints’ Day eve, an occasion that attracted many pilgrims to the city, Luther is said to have nailed 95 theses to the church door. These disputations, in Latin, were a provocative attack on indulgences, which he saw as a money-making scheme by the Church. Initially posted to generate scholarly debate, the theses marked a beginning on the Reformation timeline. Importantly, it was not only the theses that sparked the revolution; the time was ripe for action.
Luther was a preacher with a prolific publication output. He utilised the relatively new technology of printing to disseminate his works, many slender tracts (flugschrift) and sermons written in German, to a wider audience. Supporters helped, including Philip Melanchthon and Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony. And of course there were his opponents such as Johannes Cochlaeus, who wrote the first biography on him, and Emperor Charles V. The Papal authorities saw Luther as a ‘notorious heretic’, and he was excommunicated at the Diet of Worms in 1521.
This exhibition, 500 Years On. Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, is a celebratory one that not only acknowledges Luther’s provocative action back in October 1517, but also the result, the spread of Reform that followed across Europe. The major players in this drama include Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, John Knox, and Henry VIII, who was instrumental in starting the English Reformation. There was also the inevitable back-lash, those involved in the ‘Catholic’ Counter Reformation. On-going Catholic and Protestant differences resulted in the wholesale persecution of various sects, the English Civil War, and internal religious and social strife throughout many European countries. Luther’s legacy continues to impact the world today.
Thanks to the Department of Theology and Religion, especially Professor Murray Rae, the Rev Dr Peter Matheson, and Dr Brett Knowles


Special Collections, University of Otago; Hewitson Library, Knox College; various

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