Luther Really Did Want to Start a New Religion: Documentation

A while ago I listened to Colin Donavan on Catholic radio, and I understood him to say that Luther’s Letter to the German Princes of 1521 was where he definitively called for a new religion separate from the Catholic Church. Here are some elements from the letter that illustrate this.

Letter to the German Princes by Martin Luther

“[F]asts must be made optional, and every kind of food made free.”

“[We] should abolish all saints’ days, keeping only Sunday. [All other feasts] should be held on Sundays, or only in the morning with the mass; the rest of the day being a working day.”

“It [is] also right to abolish annual festivals, processions, and masses for the dead, or at least to diminish their number. … [And] we should abolish church wakes.”

“[T]he devil [has] lead us astray, to [set] up pilgrimages, to found churches and chapels, to glorify the saints, and to commit other like follies.”

“The country chapels and churches must be destroyed, such as those to which the new pilgrimages have been set on foot: Wilsnack, Sternberg, Treves, the Grimmenthal, and now Ratisbon, and many others.”

Read more »

Interesting article.

Years ago I read about this. Before Luther, the Catholic Church had enough holy days that the workers were not overworked. I do wish I could remember where I read it, because the author gave the average number of working days in a month - and it was a much smaller number than I had thought.

I wonder if Luther really had worked out that his system would be harder on the peasants.

Well, John Calvin, for example, wanted to start his own “pure” church – it ended up not being a church, but a hodgepodge of “Reformed tradition” with an odd theology that he got credit for! (Although, from my perspective, the Reformed tradition is more about how the church runs itself.)

God bless!

He wanted to change the church. No one disputes that. For Luther, these were not schismatic actions–they were calls for reform of the Catholic Church in Germany. Local calls for reform had been underway for years before Luther came along.

Nothing indicates he was calling for a separate religion, especially since in Luther’s thinking the Catholic Church was not a creature of the church in Rome but was actually a universal church and thereby the manner in which it should be led and reformed was open to the wider church, such as the church in the German lands.

Luther truly didn’t care all that much about the peasants, especially the Jewish peasants; see various articles on the German Peasants’ War and Luther’s involvement, and Luther and Antisemitism.

That’s why I wondered if it was deliberate or accidental. I suspect deliberate.

As do I: Luther was treated by the Prince of Saxony (he was also the Prince of Bavaria) as his “greatest theologian.” Luther was highly respected among the nobles not supportive of the Holy Roman Empire or Rome; of course he would try to remain among them.

But, through reading the article on the German Peasants’ War, there was something interesting: If the wishes of the peasants were found to be unbiblical, they would not want it.

I got taught that Luther never intended to start a new religion, he was just pointing out the corrupted ways of the Church leaders.

I now see this person might not be updated with some facts. Although it seems like some churches were selling indulgences (wrong), and Luther and other “Reformers” tried to talk to the leaders about them but were ignored, they did have heretical view points, and were not only talking about corruptions. Is this right?
If yes, what could the reformers have done, instead of bringing heretical ideas to the table? Only talked about the indulgence problem, and if that did not work, go to other churches that did not do that for the time being, even if the Church leaders were not listening?
Please add/correct me, because I’m not quite sure where we stand on this, and if my teacher taught a bit wrong on it.

His actions say he no longer believed in the communion of saints or adoration of the Blessed Sacrament that has devotions of public processions …

And so his actions imply a different understanding of the Eucharist Who remains among us.

I can understand that he thought at least some of his ideas were reformative. The word Reform and its derivatives appear in the linked translation 24 times. But some of his requests were clearly schismatical, such as his saying, two times, that if the pope doesn’t go along with this the Germans should excommunicate him. To me, that is a clear call, albeit conditional, for a new religion.

in Luther’s thinking the Catholic Church was not a creature of the church in Rome but was actually a universal church and thereby the manner in which it should be led and reformed was open to the wider church, such as the church in the German lands.

I think I am understanding you properly, but do correct me if I’m wrong: you think he thought he could do all the stuff he said without any other church cooperating, even to the point of cutting off communion with the pope and all those in communion with him, and his church would still be part of the universal church? Wouldn’t that reduce the Catholic Church on earth to just those parts of Germany that followed his advice?

I never bought the notion that Luther didn’t want to start a new religion. All one had to do is look at his actions…

Luther was a creature of the political powers invested in the nobility and holy roman emperor. There were serious political issues between the Roman Catholic Church and the princes of Germany. Luther was the perfect solution to their problems with the Church AND with the German populace/peasants. They coddled Luther, and he was their instrument. Oh, and he supposedly wanted to reform the church. :rolleyes: I think the political powers made him realize there was no way to work within the Church, and that a whole separate church (a national one --sort of like England already enjoyed --even though the English Church remained loyal to Rome during Luther’s break.)

This sentence confuses me. Do you mean the English church was a national church before King Henry issued the Oath of Supremacy in 1534? And at the same time loyal to Rome? Or do you mean England didn’t have a national church yet, but the model England went for was the kind of thing the German princes were trying to make in 1521? Or do you mean something else? :confused:

England’s Church enjoyed a certain amount of autonomy from Rome, (They even had their own Sarum Liturgy) which Germany envied, and wished for. Remember the Holy Roman Emperor (and the Electors) and Rome were entangled in political ties and intrigues for power which actually oppressed the nobility and church hierarchy in Germany (compared to say, England.) A very interesting book which considers this subject (as well as many more) is Politicizing the Bible by Scott Hahn.

Thank you for the additional details. It looks like you are clarifying that England’s Church was not a national church in the sense that it was headquartered in England, it was only a national church in the sense that it had English-only customs that the Roman headquarters tolerated. Is that about right?

It went beyond that, because there were fewer political entanglements between England and Rome, as compared to Germany and Rome. Remember cardinals and bishops could be electors (nobles) of the Holy Roman Empire within Germany. The HRE had a long political history with Rome. Because of this, Rome used all of its influence to control the nobles and prelates of Germany, to prop up and fund the sizable papal states in Italy. Germany was a very fragmented country in flux as was Italy at the time. You can hardly overstate the political intrigues between Germany and Italy in Luther’s day.

Thank you, I hadn’t considered that. Does the Scott Hahn book have a good overview of the situation and its history there? It sounds like a real important negative contributor to the Protestant Revolt that I have never considered.

Yes! There is a very good chapter on Luther in that book. However, I would recommend reading the whole book, to get Luther into context with the times. It’s a scholarly book, and could easily be a text book for graduate level course study. However, since it is written by Scott Hahn, it is very readable and clear. :slight_smile:

Help clarifying this? Thanks.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit