Historic Trinity


The Reformation in church history designates the movement in the 16th century which aimed to restore the Church founded by Jesus Christ, deformed in the course of centuries, chiefly by the Papacy, to its early normal condition, and which resulted in the separation of a great part of the Western Church from the medieval Church of Rome. Many were stiffled in their efforts of reform by Papal Decrees ordered to keep a priest from functioning and cutting off the sacraments to the lay people. All popular support of a reformer was effectively quashed by this weapon.

The history of the many church Councils shows that the Papacy and hierarchy were opposed to reform. There were movements preparatory to the Reformation. Humanism provided freedom of thought and learning. Mysticism attacked the institutionalism of the church. The Renaissance movement was opening up all of Europe.(see the Renaissance mural in the Pastors Study). Nationalism aroused violent criticism and opposition to "foreign princes" and authorities. Into this era came Dr. Martin Luther, a monk, priest, and professor who struggled with the basic root problem of that day in the church - the doctrine of the meritoriousness of good works being the way to salvation. The Church could not provide Dr. Luther with an answer to "How do I obtain a gracious God?". The final blow probably came when the church began selling indulgences as a false way of salvation in order to raise more money for the building of more structures in Rome.

On October 31, 1517, the Holy Eve (Hallowed Eve - today called Halloween) of All Saints Day the 1st Of November, Dr. Luther protested the corruption in the church by nailing to the community bulletin board, located on the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg , a paper with 95 Theses (reasons) he wanted to debate on how the church should be reformed. Dr. Luther did not want a new church but only to reform the present church.

Action against Dr. Luther by papal authorities was swift, he was excluded from the Roman Church and declared an outlaw. However, the Reformation spread rapidly entering the various lands chiefly through Luther's writings. The Lutheran Reformation is the mother of all the reform efforts of that and succeeding periods.

The Luther Seal depicted on the Reformation Banner at Historic Trinity.  (Photo by F. Hoeper)

Luther’s Coat of Arms

Luther himself explains his seal in a letter to a friend in 1538: "As you request to know if my arms are properly hit upon, I take pleasure in communicating to you my first ideas, which I desire to epitomize in my signet as a badge of my theology. The first is a black cross on a heart in natural color, to remind myself that faith in the Crucified is our salvation. For if we believe from the heart, we become righteous. But although it is a black cross, which mortifies and causes pain, it still leaves to the heart it own color and does not destroy our nature, that is, it does not kill, but rather keeps the heart alive. For the righteous shall live by faith, but by faith in the Crucified. But this heart shall be placed in a white rose to show that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace. Therefore the rose should be white not red, because white is the color of the spirits and the angels. This rose should be set in an azure (blue) field, because this joy in the Spirit and faith is a beginning of the coming and heavenly joy; indeed, already contained in it and anticipated in hope, but yet not revealed. And around the field a golden ring, because this heavenly happiness is eternal and everlasting, as much more precious than all other joy and riches as gold is the foremost and most precious metal. Christ, our dear Lord, be with your spirit unto that life. Amen.”


Dr. Martin Luther, the Father of Protestantism and founder of Lutheranism, was born on November 10,1483 in Eisleben, Germany. His childhood was that of a normal Roman Catholic boy in a middle class home. His father wanted him to become a lawyer, he attended preparatory schools, and University of Erfurt where he completed his A.B. and M.A. degrees in Liberal Arts and entered Erfurt Law School in 1505. On July 17,1505 during a severe thunderstorm and an accident with a knife he made a vow: “Help, O St. Anne, and I will become a monk”. Luther thus entered the Black Cloister of the local Augustianian Hermits. Luther did not find peace of mind or soul in the monastery, yet on April 3, 1507 he was ordained a priest. He continued in his studies to complete his Doctor of Theology in 1512. He became a professor at the University of Wittenberg lecturing on Genesis, Psalms, Romans, Galatians, and Luther’s Halloween Bombshell.

Page from from Luther's 17th century Nurenburg Bible on display at Historic Trinity He discovered his new key to the entire Bible in the principle of “justification by faith”; he gradually won the whole faculty of the university to his point of view. A conflict with the traditional theology of the day was unavoidable. Its first appearance was over the sale of indulgences. He had learned of the practices of the local indulgence peddlers when his parishioners presented their indulgence purchases as a substitute for repentance and forgiveness of sins.

On October 31, 1517, Luther posted the notice of a debate on 95 points for discussion. He hoped the debate would clarify the subject of indulgences and determine the position the university should take on the theology of the day. These efforts caused great financial losses of indulgence sales. The local church authorities used all their forces to bring pressure to bear on the Pope to silence Luther and retain their lucrative concession. Dr. Luther was charged with “suspicion of Heresy” and was summoned to Augsburg were the papal legate was to give him a “fatherly hearing”. Luther would not accept the concept of indulgence unless there was Scriptural basis, and both were disappointed at the failure to resolve their differences. The papal legate recommenced to Luther’s ruler, Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony, that Luther either be banished or surrendered to Rome. The Elector refused to surrender Luther. Luther was declared guilty of 104 heresies, and on June 15, 1520 a Papal Bull was issued giving Luther 60 days to recant. Luther tossed the Papal Bull into a bon fire (see statue on our Luther Tower) and Rome replied with a Bull of Excommunication. Considerable pressure was exerted upon the Emperor and civil authorities to condemn Luther. But, after much political maneuvering Dr. Luther was summoned to the meeting of Imperial Diet at Worms in 1521. Luther resisted all effort to make him recant and stated unless convinced of his error on basis of Scripture “Here I Stand, God Help Me” (see mural in Pastors Study). Luther was declared a heretic and a outlaw to be killed on sight.

Luther’s Prince placed him in “protective custody” at the Wartburg Castle.(The Wartburg and Wittenberg Castles are carved in stone at the front enterance to our church) During these months of solitude at Wartburg Castle, Luther realized that a reform of the existing church was not possible, and the only solution was a return to early Christianity. While at Wartburg Castle Luther wrote a translation of the New Testament into German from the original Greek. ( A 2nd edition of this Neunberg Bible made in 1662 is in the Pastor's Study, along with a copy of Dr. Luther’s handwriting on a plaque over the fireplace). In 1522 Luther returned to Wittenberg and began actively to reorganize the church service to include hymn singing and greater participation in the liturgy by the congregation. Dr. Luther wrote many hymns among them “A Mighty Fortress”. He wrote the Large and Small Catechisms for the instruction of both youth and adults. Martin Luther married Katharina “Kate” von Bora on June 13,1525 and they had six children. Never a robust man and beset by many attacks of illness, Luther led an amazingly active and productive life. Late in 1545 he was asked to mediate a bitter family quarrel among the Princes of Mansfeld. The quarrel was settled on February 17,1546, but that evening Luther experienced severe pains in the chest and, in spite of all treatment, he died early the following morning in the presence of his two sons, two doctors, members of the nobility, and several other friends. Testimony of the love and esteem with which Dr. Luther was regarded by the German people was the homage given to his mortal remains as the funeral cortege returned to Wittenberg, where his body was laid to rest in the Castle Church on February 22, 1546. (excerpts from Lutheran Cyclopedia)

Luther’s Halloween Bombshell

Martin Luther’s nailing of he 95 theses on the church door is often noted as a pivotal point in the Reformation. The timing and place of Luther’s posting was significant – Halloween, October 31, 1517, on the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Like the Pantheon centuries earlier, the Castle Church held a large collections of supposed relics (the largest outside of Rome). Pieces of bone from saints, locks of hairs from martyrs, a piece of the true cross, a twig from Moses’ burning bush, bread from the Last Supper, a veil sprinkled with the blood of Christ – all were venerated and held in holy awe. The relics were kept in special reliquaries, ornamented with gold, silver, and precious stones. They were exhibited on All Saints Day. By 1518, 17,443 pieces were on display in twelve aisles! The church taught that paying the special fee and viewing the relics would shorten a soul’s stay in purgatory by 1,902,202 years and 270 days! This was one teaching Luther challenged in his 95 theses. On Halloween, the day before All Saints Day when the relics would be specially exhibited. Luther nailed his theses on the church door, challenging scholars to debate the virtue of indulgences, the church’s teaching that by certain works a person would hasten his entrance into heaven. Luther publicly professed the free and gratuitous remission of sin, not be relics, papal pardons, or indulgences, but by faith in Jesus Christ.

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Historic Trinity Lutheran Church
1345 Gratiot Avenue
Detroit, Michigan 48207
Phone: (313) 567-3100
Fax: (313) 567-3209
Email: Historic Trinity