By January 3, 1521, Pope Leo X decided he had been patient long enough. Not unused to troublemakers, he had considered the case of the heretic German monk for three years, but enough was enough. So he issued a papal bull that excommunicated Martin Luther and banned Luther’s 95 Theses.
The theses were the biggest source of irritation – they were the statements Luther had produced criticizing the selling of indulgences, objecting not just to the fact that improvements for St. Peter’s Basilica were being paid for by extorting the poor, but on the deeper theological grounds that only God could grant salvation.
Once the theses were public, they were posted on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg – where all such disputes were published – but these arguments were quickly translated from Latin to German and printed on the printing press. Within two weeks they were being circulated throughout the country.
The Pope’s ban had to be carried out by secular authorities, so the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire met (the Diet of Worms) to discuss how to handle things. Luther was given safe passage to defend himself, but refused to recant; he was officially declared heretic and from that moment it was a crime for anyone to give him food or shelter. He could be killed without legal consequence.
Curiously, despite these official pronouncements, Luther thrived. It began with his mysterious abduction as he left Worms – he was spirited away to safety in a castle at Warburg by masked horseman.
Luther was under the protection of Frederick, Elector of Saxony, who apparently had enough clout to keep papal enmity at bay. I’m not sure why Frederick was ready to support the Reformation, but it may have had something to do with his defeat for the job of Emperor of the HRE – Charles V got it with the help of the pope.
Luther continued to write and preach in Wittenberg and environs until his death in 1546, pausing to marry a former nun and father six children, translate the Latin Bible into German, and write numerous hymns, including A Mighty Fortress is Our God. He is buried in the Castle Church in Wittenberg – a year after his death the town was occupied by HRE troops who were given strict orders by Emperor Charles V not to disturb his tomb.