Lutheranism: Definition, History, Beliefs, Features & Facts

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Lutheranism: Meaning & Definition

Lutheranism – Protestant religious trend founded by the German theologian Martin Luther in 1517.

What is Lutheranism?

Lutheranism is a religious trend derived from Catholicism, founded by the German monk and theologian Martin Luther, in the early 16th century.

Lutheranism is one of the branches of the Protestant Reformation, which also includes CalvinismAnglicanism, Anabaptism, and Presbyterianism.

Lutheranism is based on the 95 Theses that Luther nailed to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1517. Thanks to the invention of the printing press, this text quickly spread throughout Europe and gained numerous adherents, including many of the Princes who ruled the more than 300 states into which the Holy Roman Empire was divided.

Lutheranism was a reaction to the excesses of the Catholic Church, especially the collection of indulgences, the sale of ecclesiastical offices and the granting of forgiveness of sins in exchange for the donation of goods .

This religious doctrine rejects the universal authority of the Pope, the veneration of the images of the saints, purgatory, and the mediators between believers and God.

Today, there are more than 70 million Lutherans scattered throughout the world, making Lutheranism one of the most important strands of Christianity.


Portrait of Martin Luther, by Lucas Cranach, the Elder (1543).

Characteristics of Lutheranism

The main characteristics of Lutheranism are as follows:

  • Consider the Bible as the only source of spiritual knowledge.
  • It proposes to recover the values ​​of Primitive Christianity.
  • He maintains that God does not justify human beings by their works of charity, but only by their faith.
  • He rejects the authority of the Pope over all Christians.
  • It does not accept the veneration of the images of the saints or purgatory.
  • He accepts the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, and practices confirmation, anointing of the sick, and marriage, but does not regard them as sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ.
  • Believe in the trinity, but consider that God the Father and God the Son are two different entities.
  • He rejects the belief in the immaculate conception of Mary and her assumption in body and soul to Heaven.
  • He considers priests as administrators of the word and of the sacraments, and not as mediators between God and believers.
  • Ministers or pastors can marry, have a family, and engage in profit-making activities.

Causes and Consequences of Lutheranism

Causes of Lutheranism

The main causes of the rise of Lutheranism were the following:

  • The sale of indulgences promoted by the Papacy to finance the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
  • The preaching against the sale of indulgences and the riches of the Church by precursors of the Reformation, such as the Englishman John Wyclif (1320-1384), creator of the Lollards movement, and the Bohemian Jan Hus (1370-1415) , founder of the Hussite church. His positions influenced those of Luther.
  • Luther’s rejection of what he considered corrupt practices of the Catholic ecclesiastical hierarchy and his call to the German nobility to deny authority to the Pope and support the creation of a German national church.
  • The influence of some of the ideas of Humanism, especially the criticism of the excessive wealth of the representatives of the ecclesiastical hierarchy.
  • The claim of the Papacy to have authority not only over spiritual matters, but also over earthly ones. This conception led the Pope to try to impose his authority over the kings and generated multiple conflicts with the European monarchies of the time.

Consequences of Lutheranism

The most important consequences of the emergence of Lutheranism were the following:

  • The division of Western Christendom into two great branches:
    • The Roman Catholic Apostolic, who after the Council of Trent (1545-1563) claimed herself as heir to the medieval Christian tradition and accepted the infallible authority of the Pope;
    • Several Protestant, as lutheranism, the calvinism, the anglicanism and presbiterianism, who rejected the authority of the Pope and proposed restore the values of the early Christian.
  • The confrontation between the Holy Roman Emperor, the Catholic Charles V (1520-58), and the German princes who adhered to Lutheranism. That confrontation resulted in the Peace of Augsburg, in which the emperor recognized the right of princes to choose which religion to adopt.
  • The launching of the Counter-Reformation by the Papacy. This process of spiritual renewal included a series of measures to reorganize the Catholic Church and respond to the questions of Luther and his followers.

Representatives of Lutheranism

Among the main representatives of Lutheranism are:

  • Martin Luther (1483–1546): German theologian and monk, main promoter of the Protestant Reformation.
  • Johann Gerhard (1582-1637): German theologian, one of the leaders of the Lutheran church.
  • Hunnius Nikolaus (1585-1643): German-born Lutheran theologian, who wrote numerous texts against the Catholic ecclesiastical authorities.
  • Abraham Calovius (1612-1686): German theologian, defender of Lutheran orthodoxy and opponent of Catholicism and Calvinism.
  • Collinson, Patrick. Reform. Barcelona, ​​Debate. 2004.
  • Gounelle, André. The great principles of Protestantism . Puebla, Cajica. 2008.
  • Miegge, Mario. Martin Luther: the Protestant Reformation and the birth of modern society . Barcelona, ​​Clie. 2016.
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