The late medieval German lands teemed with innovation. Novel forms of piety emerged, the demand for practical learning grew, more universities competed for students, and wealth from both trade and mining transformed social relations. The dissemination of texts and ideas on an industrial scale via the printing press reshaped communication, knowledge, and belief. In this context, reform—the renewal of a lost standard of the past in the present—became a battle-cry for religious, economic, and political change.
In 1517, Martin Luther, a professor of theology and a monk, published his scathing critique of indulgences, a church practice that allowed Christians to buy off time from suffering for one’s sins in the afterlife. Issued in the provincial town of Wittenberg, this call for academic debate and reform unleashed a series of events that led to the break-up of Latin Christianity. The Reformations that followed forever altered the lives of those in early modern Europe and beyond.
Highlighting the University of Michigan’s Special Collections, Reforming the Word: Martin Luther in Context, commemorates this pivotal transformation in world history. The exhibit will be open to visitors September 5 - November 15 in the Audubon Room of the Graduate Library.