IN 1517 a Saxon priest, Martin Luther, protested against abuses arising from the sale of indulgences. These were intended as a condensed substitute for penances which the Church required as one condition of absolution for sin, and for the penalties which the Almighty would inflict in Purgatory. Luther was a sincere, violent, and somewhat ignorant German, who seems to have gone on rather blindly, step by step. In 1521 he was condemned at Worms by an Imperial Diet. He was allowed to leave in safety and remained in hiding, translating the New Testament into German (and so beginning the standardisation of the language), pronouncing against the celibacy of the clergy and transubstantiation, and suffering from hallucinations. The King of England, the clever young Henry VIII., wrote a Defence of the Seven Sacraments, and was given by the Pope the title of Defender of the Faith.

Germany was in such disorder that Luther's agitation precipitated rebellions by the small nobles and peasants, each being suppressed. Luther shunned them; he had genuine reverence for monarchy. Many earnest middle-class men read his German Bible and adopted his "Protestant" views. Many princes adopted them as a cloak for designs on Church property. The Emperor between 1521 and 1546 was constantly absent and at war-with France for Italy and Flanders, with the Turks on the Danube, and with the Moors in Tunis. Journeys were very slow, and it was impossible for Charles to govern Germany with any firmness. Friction with the Pope in Italy also hampered him. Many German abbots " secularised " themselves and their estates, transforming themselves into counts reigning over the monastery's former lands. The Protestant creed was defined at the Augsburg Conference of 1530 by Melanchthon, Luther's able young follower.