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Why did Germany respond so rapidly to Luther's message?

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Introduction

Why did Germany respond so rapidly to Luther's message? The beliefs of Martin Luther, and therefore the ideas of the German Reformation, spread rapidly across a great deal of North Germany. At a time of poor communication and transport the speed and spread of it was remarkable. This rapid response was due to a number of religious, political, social and economic factors. During the 16th century religion had a profound influence on peoples' lives. As dissatisfaction with the church grew, people increasingly began to question the role of the church. Within the Catholic religion the church was seen as the only source of salvation. It manipulated this powerful position to control people and raise money through means such as indulgences and high taxes. Luther pointed out that the population of Germany were funding the corrupt religious capital of Rome and that they were being taken for granted. He illustrated that vast sums of money generated through high taxes were flowing out of Germany towards Rome, which could have been put to very good use in the states that formed Germany. He was also very concerned about indulgences. In a letter to the Archbishop of Mainz, Martin Luther demonstrated his worries, 'I do not complain so much of the loud cry of the preacher of indulgences...but regret the false meaning which the simple folk attach to it.' Luther encouraged Catholics to buy what is necessary for life rather than wasting money on indulgences and that indulgences will not save a man because it is only God who can forgive sinners. ...read more.

Middle

Luther's message greatly appealed to them; 'His call for spiritual equality given the 'priesthood of all believers' was readily extended by the peasants of a demand for social equality' (Lotherington pg 146). His rejection of the peasants in the revolt of 1525 did lead some to look to more extreme beliefs however the feelings of the majority of peasants towards Luther and his message remained generally positive. In 1521 there were 65 Imperial Cities within which lived educated people such as bankers, lawyers, teachers and doctors. In these 'free cities' Anti-clericalism was common, with the clergy were often being regarded to as parasites and in some ways alienated from society. People in the cities were greatly willing and able to respond to Luther's message. There was a high degree of literacy and the printing presses were to be found in the cities. The increasing religious, political and social awareness within the cities also affected their attitudes toward the German Reformation. Politically the cities were independent enough to decide religious issues for themselves and had the men capable of presenting the argument. Socially the development of trade had affected the traditional ideal of unity and had led to increasing separation between rich and poor. This led to the rise of groups who were more receptive to new ideas by social change. These groups were the most enthusiastic when Lutheran preachers arrived in town. ...read more.

Conclusion

Finally his theology enabled many groups in Germany, such as Princes, the new middle classes and peasants, to see something that was beneficial to them. His theology also tapped into existing dissatisfaction with the church that many possessed. I therefore believe that people responded so rapidly to Luther's message because firstly many saw something in it that was beneficial to them. Whether it be the head of states who would prosper from the money that stayed within Germany or the peasants who were being told that they no longer needed to give money to the church. Secondly it tapped into many of their existing concerns about the church that many people had had for years. These included the corruption of the Catholic Church in areas such as relics and priests who did not fill their duties and the vast sums of money flowing out of Germany towards Rome. Finally German society was at such a stage that it was open to change. Factors such as the increasingly large amounts of people were becoming literate meant that Germany embraced the reform. In my opinion it is hard for one to distinguish the single most significant factor that caused such a rapid response however of all of the factors I believe the most important was that Luther's message tapped into the existing dissatisfaction with the church that many Germans possessed. Had the German people been completely satisfied with the Catholic Church, they wouldn't have even considered Luther's message. John Round ...read more.

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