A church in need of reform
Long before Luther's birth, in the latter part of the 15th century, the Roman Catholic Church was in need of thorough reform. There were many abuses and problems:
The Church no longer based its beliefs on the Bible alone. It invented doctrines and practices that Jesus and his apostles never taught.
Church leaders liked things the way they were and held the people in ignorance and superstition. They tried to stop Luther. But, he stood his ground. He marveled that his stand of conscience turned him into one of the most-talked-about people of his time.
Yet his tireless work led not only to church reform, it changed the course of Western history.
I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other. My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. - Martin Luther at his second hearing before the Diet of Worms.
Early attempts at reform
Martin Luther was not the first to see a need for reform. Others before him — Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe and Jan Hus — struck the spark and fanned the coals. Later, Luther ignited a wildfire that could not be doused.
1184 (299 years before Martin Luther’s birth) - The Waldensians, followers of Peter Waldo or Valdo or Pierre de Vaux (died 1218), were itinerant preachers. They adopted the rule of true poverty, public preaching and literal interpretation of scripture, translated the Bible into the people’s language and took a stand against worship of images, pilgrimages and indulgences. Declared heretical, the Waldensians were brutally persecuted and almost destroyed. In 1211, more than eighty Waldensians were burned as heretics in Strasbourg. The Waldensian church survives to this day in Italy, United States, South America and Germany and is a member of the World Council of Churches.
1384 (99 years before Martin Luther’s birth) - Wycliffe Bible appeared, the first translation of scripture into English.
It was translated from Jerome’s Latin “Vulgate,” not from the original Hebrew and Greek, and wasn’t totally accurate. But, John Wycliffe (1329-84) was determined that everyone should read the Bible in their own language.
1415 (68 years before Martin Luther’s birth) - Jan Hus or Huss (1369-1415), a priest in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic), denounced abuses in the Catholic Church. Influenced by John Wycliffe, he spoke against withholding the cup from the people at communion and preached against indulgences, particularly the sale of indulgences issued by John XXIII (in Avignon) to finance his campaign against his rival Gregory XII (in Rome). Hus was provided an opportunity to present his ideas at the Council of Constance. Despite a promise of safe conduct from the kings of Hungary and Bohemia. he was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415.
In Czech, Hus means “goose.” As Hus burned at the sake, the idiom “Hus is cooked” (or, the “goose is cooked”) was coined. Among Hus’ alleged last words: “in a hundred years, God will raise up a man whose calls for reform cannot be suppressed.”
Thoughts of Martin Luther
In effect, "safe conduct passes" to heaven for those who died. In earlier times Indulgences were granted to crusaders for their military service in some supposedly holy quest. But, to the devout, the sale of indulgences for cash to finance questionable wars was an outrage. Jan Hus was one of strongest critics of the practice, until Martin Luther,