In retrospect, this seemingly minor theological dispute would hardly seem the stuff of social revolution. After all, these sorts of church fights are depressingly common to this day. But this fight was about more than theology. The Church was selling "indulgences" (a key beef in the 95 theses) to fund the completion of the Vatican. So while Luther was enraged over the theology of selling forgiveness for the dead, the rulers of Saxony were worried about the monetary drain those indulgences represented.
When the Catholics threatened to kill him for his "heresy," Frederick III of Saxony (often called "The Wise") took Luther to his Wartburg Castle at Eisenach and gave him protection. It was there that Luther translated the New Testament of the Bible into German--thereby cementing his Reformation by providing a more universal access to the foundations of the faith. Luther insisted his followers should read the Bible for themselves and come to their own conclusions through study. This act alone would have MANY ramifications including a near-universal literacy rate for those areas that became Lutheran.
Luther's church fight would become revolutionary because it embraced economics and empowered the lower classes through literacy. In doing so, he left a profound legacy. I remember growing up as a Lutheran preacher's kid being taught that it wasn't merely enough to "get it right" theologically--your beliefs should also improve everyone's economic and social circumstances. Hence my father, even though very conservative theologically, could also be a New Deal Democrat whose ministry provided social services for those struggling against their personal economic catastrophes.
Personally, I was sick to death of theological disputes by the time I was 15 but I never lost my passion for enrichment through reading or my love of progressive economics. And since the study of economics was originally a branch of moral philosophy, I have long thought it quite appropriate to examine economic questions from a theological perspective. And the place where theology and economics most logically intersect is the subject of debt. As I put it in my speech to the American Economic Association in 1993:
So this is what we have come to: We know we are killing ourselves and our planet; we know there is a possible solution because we can see other humans perfecting one; and, we have millions of highly skilled unemployed whose lives would become infinitely better with useful work.
Why can we not go to work to solve our dilemmas? We are told that there is no money. In fact, all the nations on earth are in debt! We are told there is no money for useful purposes now, and there will be even less in the future as governments are forced by the lords of international finance to devote more of their tax revenue to debt service.
And why are we all in debt? Because we decided that money was a video game, programmed it with the banking assumptions and economic ideas of the middle ages, and let irresponsible children play with the futures of whole regions of the planet. more(I believe Dr. Martin would have approved.)
When the subject is debt, the ugly stepsister of debt--monetary policy, moves front and center because as it is currently done, money is almost always a function of the creation of debt. Put simply, money is debt. When money is debt, you have a host of related problems.