The monk Luther is a theology professor at the Electoral Saxon University of Wittenberg. His scholarliness enjoys the finest reputation. His lectures attract students from all over Europe. Prince Elector Frederick the Wise is proud of his famed professor.
Luther is also a minister and preaches in the City Church of Wittenberg. Many believers, however, do not attend confession, preferring, instead, to buy themselves free of their sins with indulgences. The church’s business with fear for salvation is booming. So is that of the priest Johann Tetzel on behalf of the Archbishop of Magdeburg, Albrecht von Brandenburg, on the road collecting indulgence money from the faithful, which his master needs to pay his debts. Critics mockingly rhyme: “When the money clinks into the chest, the soul ascends to its heavenly rest!” The archbishop also uses the revenue from the sale of indulgences to finance his luxurious lifestyle - which does not prevent him from having himself painted as a saint. Luther is outraged. He argues that the faithful cannot simply purchase God’s redemption, and feels forced to react. He pens an academic report. After all, his is the office of professor. This report will later be described as the “95 Theses”, in which he does not criticise the indulgences categorically, but only attacks the excesses. Luther is said to have nailed the theses to the door of the Palace Church of Wittenberg - a still popular, yet unconfirmed tale.
His theses were initially in Latin, then circulated throughout the entire Empire in German and greeted with enthusiasm by many. For his enemies, on the other hand, they serve as reason enough to instigate a heresy trial against him in Rome. When Luther refuses to retract his theses, Pope Leo X issues a Papal Bull, threatening him with excommunication.
Luther responds in his own way: He burns the Papal Bull publicly before the Gates of Wittenberg - a provocation for the Catholic Church. At the same time, he has the Bull translated from Latin into German, adds an ironic commentary, and then has it printed and circulated. All of which was unheard of in those days. There were indeed papal critics in the Middle Ages, but for someone to make fun of the Pope is unknown and proof of Luther’s extraordinary self-assurance.