The darkness that spread across the world with as the shadow of the Papacy's unremitting reluctance to accept scientific progression turned western civilization from the cradle of knowledge into a place where minds like Aristotle and Galileo were placed into submission behind adherence to religious beliefs at odds with facts and evidence. The importance of Martin Luther to contemporary civilization therefore rests upon the genuinely frightening concept of what the world might look like had he not hammered a nail into the unquestioned authority of the Church.
The spark that lit the wick that would result in the explosion known as the Protestant Reformation can be traced back to a single spring day in 1517. What occurred on the day was nothing that had not been duplicated countless times before and after; the manner in which forces converged to implicate the actions of that day with an importance beyond their scope may be taken according to one's own perspective as either a sign of God working in His mysterious ways or as an example of the mystery of social evolution. The entirety of the Protestant Reformation is conventionally attributed to the work of Martin Luther, but the impetus behind why Luther was motivated to nail the 95 theses to the church wall is as mysterious to most people as the causes behind why that spring day in 1517 was so unique.
Although Luther may be the figure of vital importance in the story of the Protestant Reformation, he was preceded by other figures that acted as the charge behind his radical awakening. The least well known, but perhaps most influential, figure in the story of Luther's awakening was a Dominican friar named Johann Tetzel. Tetzel began selling indulgences along the border of Saxony. Indulgences were nothing more than pieces of paper in reality, but within the universe of the Catholic Church they represented a promise of the remission of the penance placed upon a sinner by his confessor. The sale of indulgences had spread quickly during the early decades of the 1600s and friars such as Tetzel were anything but an uncommon sight (Mullett 68). What set Tetzel apart from the rest that raised the ire of Martin Luther and set him upon a course that would revolutionize western civilization
Another important figure that remains mostly in the shadows on the road leading to the nailing of the 99 Theses is Albert of Hohenzollern. Albert was the younger sibling of the elector of Brandenburg who had gotten himself into debt. By 1513 Albert was paying enormous amounts of cash in order to acquire dispensations from Rome to retain his holdings several bishoprics. At age 23, Albert was not legally old enough to assume the position of bishop in these areas, but that did not stop him from setting his eye on the see of Mainz when the position became vacant. Albert was successfully elected to the position despite the realization that in doing so he would be owing even more money to the Papacy. In order to meet his increasing debt, Albert arranged for financing with the Fuggers Bank before arranging a deal with Leo X in which the pope proclaimed an indulgence in Albert's territories based on the mutual understanding that fully half the money raised would go toward building St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The other half would, of course, go straight to Fuggers by way of Albert (Waibel 40) .