To be excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church is to be told that your soul is damned to hell. In this brief clip, Stephen Nichols explains how Martin Luther responded to his excommunication.
This Reformation Month, watch a short video every day on the history and insights of the Protestant Reformation. And don’t forget that for this month only, you can request your free digital download of R.C. Sproul’s video teaching series Luther and the Reformation plus the ebook edition of The Legacy of Luther, edited by R.C. Sproul and Stephen Nichols at ligm.in/Reformation. Offer ends October 31, 2019.
My favorite response from the Roman Catholic Church to Luther’s posting of the Ninety-Five Theses was Pope Leo X’s first response. When a copy of the theses finally made its way to him down in the Vatican, Leo X quipped, “Ah, the ramblings of a drunken German monk. He’ll think differently when he sobers up.” I think Leo X significantly underestimated what he was dealing with in this German monk. On the one hand, Luther never sobered up. This was only the beginning of the challenge between Luther and his church. From the posting of the Ninety-Five Theses until April of 1521 at Worms, there was one singular movement, and it ended with that decisive action of excommunicating Luther.
We need to remember what this means. This is a moment in time when to be outside of the Roman Catholic Church meant that you are outside of salvation. The Roman Catholic Church at this time believed that it held the keys to the kingdom. Literally, when Christ said to Peter, “You are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church,” that was taken as Christ giving the keys of heaven to Peter. Then, as Roman Catholic doctrine understands it through Apostolic succession, Leo X was now the holder of the keys. That decision to excommunicate Luther meant nothing short of saying we are condemning you. We are saying that your soul is damned to hell.
That was the result of the Ninety-Five Theses. That’s how the Roman Catholic Church fundamentally responded to Luther. How did Luther respond? “Well, you’re not the true church. You’ve abandoned your calling as the church. The true church is the church that preaches the Word of God—that preaches the gospel. And the true church is the church that exercises the sacraments aright and according to the Word of God.”