Capable Men of History: Martin Luther

Martin Luther, born on November 10, 1483, was a German priest, composer, hymn writer, and theologian. As a former Augustinian monk, Luther was best known among Christians as the seminal figure of the Protestant Reformation and as of Lutheranism. Martin Luther was ordained a priest in 1507. He rejected various teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church while challenging the view on indulgences. As a result, Luther offered a scholarly discussion of the efficacy and practice of indulgences in the Ninety-Five Theses of 1517.

However, Luther’s refusal to renounce all of the writing at the best of the Roman Emperor Germanic Charles V and Pope Leo X in 1520 in the Diet of Worms in 1521 resulted in the excommunications. It was done by the Pope and his condemnation as an outlaw by the Holy Roman Emperor. Later, Luther expressed violent and antagonistic views toward the Jews and called for their expulsion and synagogues. Moreover, Martin Luther died in 1546 with the excommunication of Pope Leo X still in force.

Early Life Of Martin Luther

Early Life Of Martin Luther

Martin Luther was born on 10 November 1483 in Eisleben, Saxony which is now Germany and a part of the Holy Roman Empire. He was born to his parents Hans Luther and Margarethe Luther. Luther’s father was a successful businessman and when Luther was young, the family of 10 moved to Mansfeld.

Luther began his education at the age of five at a local school where he learned to read, write, and Latin. Later on, Luther began attending a school run by the Brethren of Common Life in Magdeburg at the age of 13. The teachings of the Brethren focused on personal piety, whereas Luther developed an interest in monastic life.

Martin Luther Enters The Monastery 

Martin Luther Enters The Monastery

Hans Luther had other plans for young Martin such as he wanted him to become a lawyer. So, he took him out of the school in Magdeburg and sent him to the new school in Eisenach. In 1501, Luther got admission to the main university of Germany at that time, the University of Erfurt. There he studied the typical curriculum of the time such as geometry, astronomy, arithmetic, and philosophy.

In 1505, Martin Luther got his master’s degree from the university. In July of the same year, Luther was caught in a violent storm in which he almost got knocked down by a lightning bolt. He took the incident as a sign from God and vowed to become a monk if he survived the lightning bolt and storm. 

The storm subsided and Luther emerged unscathed and true to his promise. On July 17, 1505, he turned his back on his study of the law. Instead, Luther entered an Augustinian Monastery. However, he began to live the rigorous and spartan life of a monk but did not give up his studies. 

From 1507 to 1510, Luther studied at the University of Erfurt and the University of Wittenberg. From 1510 to 1511, he interrupted his studies to become the representative in Rome for the German Augustinian Monasteries.

In 1512, Martin Luther received his Doctor of Theology. Later on, he became a professor of biblical studies. Over the next five years, Luther continued theological studies that would lead him to insights into the implications that Christians have thought about for centuries to come.

Martin Luther Questions The Catholic Church

Martin Luther Questions The Catholic Church

In the early 16th century in Europe, some scholars and theologians began to question the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. It was during this time that translations of the original texts such as the Bible and the writings of Augustine, the early church philosopher, became widely available.

Augustine (340-430) emphasized the primacy of the Bible rather than church officials as the highest religious authority. Also, he believed that humans could not obtain salvation by their deeds, but that only God could bestow salvation through his divine grace. In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church taught that works of righteousness and good deeds can please God. Luther came to share the two fundamental beliefs of Augustine which later form the basis of Protestantism.

Meanwhile, the grant of practicing indulgences by the Catholic Church provided absolution to the sinners and became increasingly corrupt. The sale of indulgences had been banned in Germany but the practice undoubtedly continued. In 1517, a friar named Johann Tetzel started selling indulgences in Germany to raise money to renovate St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The 95 Theses of Martin Luther

The 95 Theses of Martin Luther

Luther strongly opposed the corrupt practice of selling indulgences. Acting on this belief, he wrote the Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences which is also known as The 95 Theses. It is a list of proposals and questions for debate.

Legends say that on October 31, 1517, Luther nailed a copy of the 95 Theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. However, the reality was not so dramatic but Luther hung the document on the door of the church to advertise the academic discussion organized by him.

The 95 Theses, which would later become the basis of the Protestant Reformation, were written in a remarkably scholarly and humble tone questioning rather than accusing. However, the general idea of the document was quite provocative. The first two theses contained the central idea of Luther that God intended believers to seek repentance and that faith without deeds does not work leading to salvation.

The other 93 theses, several of which directly criticized the practice of indulgences, supported the first two. In addition to the criticism of indulgences, Luther also reflected popular sentiment in St. Pedro’s Scandal in the 95 Theses. The 95 Theses were quickly distributed throughout Germany and then traveled to Rome. In 1518, Luther was summoned to Augsburg, a city in southern Germany to defend his views before an imperial diet.

A three-day debate between Luther and Cardinal Thomas Cajetan resulted in no agreement. Cajetan defended the use of indulgences in church but Luther refused to back down and returned to Wittenberg.

Luther The Heretic

Luther The Heretic

On November 9, 1518, the Pope condemned the writings of Luther as conflicting with the Church’s teachings. A year later, a series of commissions were convened to examine the teachings of Luther. The first papal commission deemed them heretical, whereas the second simply declared the writings of Luther as scandalous and offensive to pious ears.

In July 1520, Pope Leo X issued a public decree concluding that proposals by Luther were heretical giving Luther 120 days to recant in Rome. Luther refused to recant and on January 3, 1521, Martin Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo from the Catholic Church. On April 17, 1521, Luther appeared before the Diet of Worms in Germany. Again, Luther refused to recant and concluded his testimony with a defiant statement.

On May 25, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V signed an edict against Luther and ordered that his writings be burned. The following year, Luther hid in the town of Eisenach, where he began work on one of the major projects of his life such as translating the New Testament into German which took 10 months.

Significance Of Martin Luther’s Work

Significance Of Martin Luther's Work

Martin Luther is one of the most influential figures in Western history. His writings were responsible for fracturing the Catholic Church and triggering the Protestant Reformation. The central teachings were that the Bible is the central source of religious authority and salvation is attained by faiths but not deeds. As a result, it formed the core of Protestantism.

Luther distanced himself from the radical successors who took over from him. He is remembered as a controversial and capable man of history not only because of his writings which led to major religious division and reform but also the radical positions he took on other issues. Some believe that his anti-Jewish statements may have presaged German Anti-Semitism. However, some people dismiss them as vitriol of a man.

Some of the important contributions of Luther to theological history include the insistence on the Bible as the only source of religious authority. It was to be translated and available to all which was truly groundbreaking in his days.

The Last Years Of Martin Luther

The Last Years Of Martin Luther

In 1521, Luther returned to Wittenberg where the reform movement started by his writings had grown beyond his influence. It was no longer purely theological but political. To lead the reform other leaders stepped forward and at the same time, the rebellion known as the Peasants’ War was making its way through Germany.

Luther had previously written against the adherence of the church to clerical celibacy. In 1525, he married Katherine of Bora, a former nun and the couple had five children. Although the early writings of Luther sparked the Reformation, he hardly participated in it in his later years.

Towards the end of his life, Luther became strident in his views declaring the pope the Antichrist. He advocated the expulsion of Jews from the empire and tolerated polygamy based on the practice of the patriarchs in the Old Testament. 

Luther died on February 18, 1546, at the age of 62 in Eisleben. He was buried in All Saints’ Church also known as Schlosskirche in Wittenberg. 

Martin Luther – A Priest, Theologian, and Hymn Writer

Martin Luther is one of the most controversial and capable men of history who was a priest, theologian, and writer. He is known as a seminal figure among the Christians due to Protestant Reformation also known as Lutheranism. He was an extraordinarily successful monk. However, he continued his studies which resulted in the 95 Theses by Martin Luther.

According to him, the Bible is the only central source of authority in religion. Furthermore, he believed that salvation is attained by faiths but not deeds. The Protestant Reformation got Martin Luther excommunicated by the Pope. However, the Catholic Church was divided and Protestantism emerged as the idea of Martin Luther. In the West, the religious and cultural course changed due to Luther’s writings.