Why was Luther able to challenge the Catholic Church so successfully in the years 1517-1525?

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Why was Luther able to challenge the Catholic Church so successfully in the years 1517-1525?

Various reasons contributed to Martin Luther’s success in challenging the Catholic Church from the years 1517-25. The five key reasons behind Luther’s success were his protection by Frederick the Wise, the fact his ideas were appealing and popular, his passion and determination, the failures of the Church itself and finally, the timing of his challenge. Some of these factors also affected each other and these links provide the strength which allowed Luther’s revolt to be so successful. This is because one of these factors alone would not have been sufficient in preventing Luther gaining the same fate as those who attempted a reformation before him. Conversely, some reasons can also be considered as having a larger and more widespread effect than others, meaning they were more significant in contributing to the final outcome.

Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony and founder of the University of Wittenberg was the most powerful early defender of Luther. He played a large role in helping Luther keep his message spreading and on several occasions used his authority to benefit Luther’s revolt.  For example, The Papal Bull of Excommunication was never carried out in Saxony and neither were the terms of the Edict of The Worms. Also, Frederick persuaded Charles V to carry out the Diet of Worms in German, instead of Rome, so that Luther could defend himself safely. Another way Frederick defended Luther was in 1521 when he had him ‘kidnapped’ on his way back from Worms and taken to the Wartburg for his safety. The significance of Frederick the Wise’s protection is that he ultimately prevented Luther from being killed or persecuted by those who disagreed with his motives. This in turn allowed his message to carry on spreading and to be developed. Therefore, Frederick the Wise had a fundamental effect on the Lutheran movement because although he never converted to the religion, he contributed to its development and influence over Saxony. The main reason Wise supported Luther was because Luther was a teacher at his University and Wise did not want it to gain a bad reputation. However, other reasons can also be considered such as the fact that Luther’s ideas proved popular and therefore Frederick was happy to support him.

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Essentially, Luther’s success relied upon his ideas being popular and the reason for this was due to the fact his ideas appealed to people of all classes. He addressed his message differently to both the princes, in Address to the Christian Nobility, and the peasants, by creating sermons and woodcuts. This allowed his message to spread among everyone. His ideas appealed to the different classes; peasants interpreted his message of ‘priesthood of all believers’ as supporting social equality and used it as a basis for the Peasants War in 1525 thus showing they supported Luther up until this point. The ...

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