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Martin Luther has invented the buzz

Updated: Dec 9, 2021

Half a millennium ago, the theologian Martin Luther denounced the way the Catholic Church was literally selling places in heaven to its followers. His ideas spread like wildfire throughout Germany. In 15 days, some would say. Luther, the first media hero? We dismantle the mechanisms of this first buzz in history, born shortly after the printing press, and to which the Catholic Church contributed, despite itself.

"I was outraged at how the Church was enriching itself, promising redemption with plenary indulgences, which was just an excuse to enrich the pope even more, and a real abomination, since salvation is an unconditional gift of God, obtained by virtue of faith alone.

The resulting problem was a delicate one: by paying for these indulgences, people ended up complacent, believing that they always had free access to paradise. Let us understand that what was at stake was the salvation of the souls of an incalculable number of human beings... I, who for years had been one of the Church's most faithful servants, openly rebelled against the institution to which I had consecrated my life.

In the autumn of 1517, I wrote a document in Latin, in which I violently attacked the blasphemous papacy: the infamous 95 Theses. In it, I expressed my criticism of the Holy Roman Church and my firm disagreement with the sale of indulgences. I was galvanised, for I was transgressing against the most powerful institution in the world ... I posted these theses on the church door of Wittenberg Castle. Although written in Latin, the 95 theses were published, and ordinary people all over Germany became acquainted with them, thanks to movable type printing, a medium that proved to be a providential help.

But no one could have imagined the shocking effects they would have in Europe..."

Luther's message was widely echoed until 1524-1525. But the father of the Protestant reformation did not expect such a great media success. Indeed, he was the first to be surprised by the success of his theses, so much so that he himself, in March 1518, wrote a new version, the "Sermon on indulgences and grace", which simplified and summarized his October 1517 statement. In German this time, to make his ideas accessible to a wider public.

By Arthur, author of the tour "Luther. Reasoning to start again".

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