Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483, in the German town of Eisleben. Luther began his university education at Erfurt in 1501. He was ordained as a priest in 1507, and was awarded the degree of Doctor of Divinity in 1512. This allowed him to take up an academic teaching position at the newly founded University of Wittenberg.
Luther was initially propelled to fame through a controversy concerning the sale of indulgences in 1517. Archbishop Albert of Mainz had given permission for the sales of indulgences in his territories, partly as a means of funding the rebuilding of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome (2.4.6). Johann Tetzel, who had been given responsibility for selling these indulgences, crafted a catchy slogan, making the merits of his product clear even to the simplest of people:
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Martin Luther: A Brief History
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As soon as the coin in the coffer rings,
The soul from purgatory springs!
Luther regarded the sale of indulgences as theologically questionable, running the risk of the commodification of forgiveness – in effect, treating God’s forgiveness of sins as something that could be purchased. In 1517, Luther wrote to Archbishop Albert, protest- ing against the practice and giving notice of a set of “theses against indulgences” which he proposed to dispute at the University of Wittenberg. These constitute the famous “Ninety-Five Theses,” regarded by some historians as marking the origins of the Reforma- tion in 1517.