- Category : Writers-Religion-Philosophy
- Type : GE
- Profile : 4/6 - Opportunistic / Role Model
- Definition : Split - Small (27)
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Contagion 4
German reformationist who was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1507 but broke from the church in 1519, denying Papal supreme power. Condemned as a heretic, he began the Reformed Church in 1525.
Martin Luther was one of a houseful of children, the son of Hans Luder, who worked in the copper mines, and his wife Margarethe, a harsh disciplinarian. He was a good student, a quiet boy. He entered Erfurt University, the best school of the time, in 1501, graduating with a BA in 1502 and an MA in 1505. His father wished him to be a lawyer, but to his disappointment, Luther was drawn to the study of the Scriptures. The legend is told that he swore to become a monk on 2 July 1505 when he survived a terrible storm.
He entered the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt and took his monk's vow in 1506. The life of a monk during Luther's time was hard, consisting of fasting, prayer and work. A monk's day began at 3:00 AM with the first hourly prayers. This time molded Luther, above all he found a close relationship to the Bible which characterized his later life and work. In 1507 he was ordained a priest, and went to the University of Wittenberg, where he lectured on philosophy and the Scriptures, becoming a powerful and influential preacher and university professor.
On a mission to Rome in 1510-11 he was appalled by the corruption present in the church. To raise money for rebuilding St. Peter’s, papal emissaries sold "indulgences," the forgiveness of sins in exchange for a fee. Luther was outraged at the shameless traffic, carried on in particular by the Dominican Johann Tetzel. Ostentatious, Tetzel even redeemed the sins of the dead and his saying was repeated, "When the money clangs in the box, the souls spring up to heaven." Luther strongly believed that one lived a life of humility in order to receive God's grace and the purchase of forgiveness was not only a hypocrisy but a distortion of the authority of the church.
As professor of biblical exegesis at Wittenberg (1512 - 46), he began to preach the doctrine of salvation by faith rather than works; and on 31 October 1517 drew up a list of 95 theses on indulgences, denying the pope any right to forgive sins, and nailed them on the church door at Wittenberg. Copies of the theses spread rapidly over Europe and in response, Tetzel published a set of counter-theses and burnt Luther's. He labeled Luther as a heretic and threatened to have him sent to the stake. The Wittenberg students retaliated by burning Tetzel's theses.
The pope, Leo X, at first took little notice of this disturbance, but in 1518 summoned Luther to Rome to answer for his theses. An inquisition was begun in Rome by the Papal Court. The Wittenburg faculty stood behind Luther and debates raged between the powerful church members and intellectuals and philosophers of the time.
After a noted debate in 1519 between Luther and scholar Johann Eck, Luther began to attack the papal system more boldly. In 1520 he published his famous Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, attacking the doctrinal system of the Church of Rome.
The peak of the inquisition came on 15 June 1520, with the excommunication proposal in which Luther was ordered to recant his teachings. A papal bull containing 41 theses was issued against Luther. He burned it on 10 December 1520 before a multitude of doctors, students, and citizens in Wittenberg. He refused to recant unless proven wrong by the Bible or by "clear reason." This behavior caused a conclusive and irrevocable break with Rome. On 3 January 1521 the Pope excommunicated Luther. An order was issued for the destruction of his books, and he was put under the ban of the Empire. On his return from Worms he was seized and lodged (for his own protection) in the Wartburg, the elector's fortress. During the year he spent there, he translated the Scriptures and composed his cogent controversial treatise, "Refutation of the Argument of Latomus."
The instability of the times and emergence of thinkers who no longer accepted church doctrine without question fomented civil unrest. In 1522, Luther was called back to Wittenberg. He rebuked the unruly elements, and made a stand against lawlessness on the one hand, and tyranny on the other. He also published his acrimonious reply to Henry VIII's attack on him in his letter about the nature of the seven sacraments.
On 13 June 1525, Luther’s breach with church dogma was flagrant when he took the vows of marriage. His bride was 16-year-younger Katherine von Bora, a nun who had fled from a convent and had taken refuge in Wittenberg. The marriage was opposed by many of his friends who saw in it the downfall of the Reformation. It proved, nonetheless, to be a robust relationship, resulting in not only a household of six children, but the addition of one of Katharina's relatives and after 1529, six of Luther's sister's children. Luther also housed students in his home to help the family's financial situation. It was a noisy and vigorous extended family. With massive energy, manly and affectionate simplicity, and a rich, if sometimes coarse, humor, Luther was said to not have any idea of how to run a household and was grateful to have his capable Katharina. She was skilled with handling household expenses and proved herself to be a good housewife and gardener.
The first year of his marriage, Luther published his " Discourse on Free Will." In the years that followed, Luther concentrated on spreading his beliefs through writings and sermons. Luther met with Swiss theologians at the famous conference at Marburg in 1529 in which he obstinately maintained his view that Christ is present in
the bread and wine of the Eucharist. The drawing up of his theological views in the Augsburg Confession the following year marks the culmination of the German Reformation. Many German princes and cities signed the Augsburg Confession as an expression of the evangelical faith.
During his last years of life Luther fought against many physical ailments. The death of his daughter Magdelena in 1542 was also very difficult for him. His relationship to people with different beliefs, especially the Jews,
deteriorated drastically during these years. His 1523 work, "Jesus was born a Jew," showed a conciliatory attitude; however, in later years his writing became more strongly anti-Semitic.
Luther continued to lead the Reformation in its fight against its enemies. He dealt his last blow against the Roman Church in 1545 with his publication of "Against the Papacy at Rome Founded by the Devil! "
Luther set off on his last trip on 17 January 1546, to his birthplace, Eisleben. Although he was drawn with illness, he went to settle a dispute among the Mansfeld Counts. The negotiations ended successfully but Luther was too ill to return to Wittenberg. He died on 18 February 1546 in Eisleben. On his death bed, he prayed "Into your hands, I command my spirit. You have saved me, Father, you faithful God."
His voluminous works include "Von den guten Wercken," (Of Good Works), 1520 and his complete translation of the Bible in German, 1534. By 1555, the Reformation had swept Northern and Eastern Europe.