The German reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546) was the first and greatest figure in the 16th-century Reformation. A composer of commentaries on Scripture, theology, and ecclesiastical abuses, a hymnologist, and a preacher, from his own time to the present he has been a symbol of Protestantism.
Martin Luther was born at Eisleben in Saxony on Nov. 10, 1483, the son of Hans and Margaret Luther. Luther's parents were of peasant stock, but his father had worked hard to raise the family's status, first as a miner and later as the owner of several small mines, to become a small-scale entrepreneur. In 1490 Martin was sent to the Latin school at Mansfeld, in 1497 to Magdeburg, and in 1498 to Eisenach. His early education was typical of late-15th-century practice. To a young man in Martin's circumstances, only the law and the church offered likely avenues of success, and Hans Luther's anticlericalism probably influenced his decision that his son should become a lawyer and increase the Luther family's prosperity, which Hans had begun. Martin was enrolled at the University of Erfurt in 1501. He received a bachelor of arts degree in 1502 and a master of arts in 1505. In the same year he enrolled in the faculty of law, giving every sign of being a dutiful and, likely, a very successful son.
Between 1503 and 1505, however, Martin experienced a religious crisis which would take him from the study of law forever. His own personal piety, fervently and sometimes grimly instilled by his parents and early teachers, and his awareness of a world in which the supernatural was perilously close to everyday life were sharpened by a series of events whose exact character has yet to be precisely determined. A dangerous accident in 1503, the death of a friend a little later, and Martin's own personal religious development had by 1505 started other concerns in him.
Then, on July 2, 1505, returning to Erfurt after visiting home, Martin was caught in a severe thunderstorm in which he was flung to the ground in terror, and he suddenly vowed to become a monk if he survived. This episode, as important in Christian history as the equally famous (and parallel) scene of St. Paul's conversion, changed the course of Luther's life. Two weeks later, against the opposition of his father and to the dismay of his friends, Martin Luther entered the Reformed Congregation of the Eremetical Order of St. Augustine at Erfurt. Luther himself saw this decision as sudden and based upon fear: "I had been called by heavenly terrors, for not freely or desirously did I become a monk, much less to gratify my belly, but walled around with the terror and agony of sudden death I vowed a constrained and necessary vow."
Luther's early life as a monk reflected his precipitate reasons for entering a monastery: "I was a good monk, and kept strictly to my order, so that I could say that if the monastic life could get a man to heaven, I should have entered." Monastic life at Erfurt was hard. Monks had long become (with the friars and many of the secular clergy) the targets of anticlerical feeling. Charged with having forsaken their true mission and having fallen into greed and ignorance, monastic orders made many attempts at reform in the 15th and 16th centuries. The congregation at Erfurt had been reformed in 1473. The year before Luther entered the Augustinian order at Erfurt, the vicar general Johann Staupitz (later Luther's friend) had revised further the constitution of the order.
Luther made his vows in 1506 and was ordained a priest in 1507. Reconciled with his father, he was then selected for advanced theological study at the University of Erfurt, with which his house had several connections.
Luther at Wittenberg
In 1508 Luther was sent to the newer University of Wittenberg to lecture in arts. Like a modern graduate student, he was also preparing for his doctorate of theology while he taught. He lectured on the standard medieval texts, for example, Peter Lombard's Book of Sentences; and he read for the first time the works of St. Augustine. In 1510 Luther was sent to Rome on business of the order and in 1512 received his doctorate in theology. Then came the second significant turn in Luther's career: he was appointed to succeed Staupitz as professor of theology at Wittenberg. Luther was to teach throughout the rest of his life. Whatever fame and notoriety his later writings and statements were to bring him, his work was teaching, which he fulfilled diligently until his death.
Wittenberg was a new university, founded in 1502-1503, strongly supported by the elector Frederick the Wise. By 1550, thanks to the efforts of Luther and his colleague Philip Melancthon, it was to become the most popular university in Germany. In 1512, however, it lacked the prestige of Erfurt and Leipzig and was insignificant in the eyes of the greatest of the old universities, that of Paris. It was not a good place for an ambitious academic, but Luther was not ambitious in this sense. His rapid rise was due to his native ability, his boundless energy, his dedication to the religious life, and his high conception of his calling as a teacher.
The intellectual climate which shaped Luther's thought is difficult to analyze precisely. The two competing philosophic systems of the late Middle Ages—scholasticism (derived from the Aristotelianism of St. Thomas Aquinas) and nominalism (derived from the skepticism of William of Ockham and his successors)—both appear to have influenced Luther, particularly in their insistence on rigorous formal logic as the basis of philosophic and theological inquiry. From Ockhamism, Luther probably derived his awareness of the infinite remoteness and majesty of God and of the limitation of the human intellect in its efforts to apprehend that majesty.
Luther's professional work forced him further to develop the religious sensibility which had drawn him to monasticism in 1505. In the monastery and later in the university Luther experienced other religious crises, all of which were based upon his acute awareness of the need for spiritual perfection and his equally strong conviction of his own human frailty, which caused him almost to despair before the overwhelming majesty and wrath of God. In 1509 Luther published his lectures on Peter Lombard; in 1513-1515 those on the Psalms; in 1515-1516 on St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans; and in 1516-1518 on the epistles to the Galatians and Hebrews. Like all other Christians, Luther read the Bible, and in these years his biblical studies became more and more important to him. Besides teaching and study, however, Luther had other duties. From 1514 he preached in the parish church; he was regent of the monastery school; and in 1515 he became the supervisor of 11 other monasteries: "…. write letters all day long," he wrote, "I am conventual preacher, reader at meals, sought for to preach daily in the parish church, am regent of studies, district Vicar, inspect the fish-ponds at Leitzkau, act in the Herzberg affair at Torgau, lecture on St. Paul, revising my Psalms, I seldom have time to go through my canonical hours properly, or to celebrate, to say nothing of my own temptations from the world, the flesh, and the devil."
Righteousness of God
Luther's crisis of conscience centered upon the question of his old monastic fears concerning the insufficiency of his personal efforts to placate a wrathful God. In his own person, these fears came to a head in 1519, when he began to interpret the passage in St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans which says that the justice of God is revealed in the Gospels.
Luther, the energetic monk and young theologian, felt himself to be "a sinner with an unquiet conscience." After an intense period of crisis, Luther discovered another interpretation of St. Paul's text: "I began to understand that Justice of Go…. to be understood passively as that whereby the merciful God justifies us by faith…. At this I felt myself to be born anew, and to enter through open gates into paradise itself." Only faith in God's mercy, according to Luther, can effect the saving righteousness of God in man. "Works," the term which Luther used to designate both formal, ecclesiastically authorized liturgy and the more general sense of "doing good," became infinitely less important to him than faith.
The doctrine of justification, taking shape in Luther's thought between 1515 and 1519, drew him into further theological speculation as well as into certain positions of practical ecclesiastical life. The most famous of these is the controversy over indulgences. In 1513 a great effort to dispense indulgences was proclaimed throughout Germany. In spite of the careful theological reservations surrounding them, indulgences appeared to the preachers who sold them and to the public who bought them as a means of escaping punishment in the afterlife for a sum of money. In 1517 Luther posted the 95 Theses for an academic debate on indulgences on the door of the castle church at Wittenberg. Both the place and the event were customary events in an academic year, and they might have gone unnoticed had not someone translated Luther's Latin theses into German and printed them, thus giving them widespread fame and calling them to the attention of both theologians and the public.
News of Dr. Luther's theses spread, and in 1518 Luther was called before Cardinal Cajetan, the papal legate at Augsburg, to renounce his theses. Refusing to do so, Luther returned to Wittenberg, where, in the next year, he agreed to a debate with the theologian Johann Eck. The debate, originally scheduled to be held between Eck and Luther's colleague Karlstadt, soon became a struggle between Eck and Luther in which Luther was driven by his opponent to taking even more radical theological positions, thus laying himself open to the charge of heresy. By 1521 Eck secured a papal bull (decree) condemning Luther, and Luther was summoned to the Imperial Diet at Worms in 1521 to answer the charges against him.
Diet of Worms
A student of Luther's described his teacher at this period: "He was a man of middle stature, with a voice which combined sharpness and softness: it was soft in tone, sharp in the enunciation of syllables, words, and sentences. He spoke neither too quickly nor too slowly, but at an even pace, without hesitation, and very clearly…. If even the fiercest enemies of the Gospel had been among his hearers, they would have confessed from the force of what they heard, that they had witnessed, not a man, but a spirit."
Luther throughout his life always revealed a great common sense, and he always retained his humorous understanding of practical life. He reflected an awareness of both the material and spiritual worlds, and his flights of poetic theology went hand in hand with the occasional coarseness of his polemics. His wit and thought were spontaneous, his interest in people of all sorts genuine and intense, his power of inspiring affection in his students and colleagues never failing. He was always remarkably frank, and although he became first the center of the Reform movement and later one of many controversial figures in it, he retained a sense of self-criticism, attributing his impact to God. He said, in a characteristic passage: "Take me, for example. I opposed indulgences and all papists, but never by force. I simply taught, preached, wrote God's Word: otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip of Amsdorf the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing: the Word did it all. Had I wanted to start troubl…. I could have started such a little game at Worms that even the emperor wouldn't have been safe. But what would it have been? A mug's game. I did nothing: I left it to the Word."
Great personal attraction, absolute dedication to his theological principles, kindness and loyalty to his friends, and an acute understanding of his own human weakness—these were the characteristics of Luther when he came face to face with the power of the papacy and empire at Worms in 1521. He was led to a room in which his collected writings were piled on a table and ordered to repudiate them. He asked for time to consider and returned the next day and answered: "Unless I am proved wrong by the testimony of Scripture or by evident reason I am bound in conscience and held fast to the Word of God. Therefore I cannot and will not retract anything, for it is neither safe nor salutary to act against one's conscience. God help me. Amen." Luther left Worms and was taken, for his own safety, to the castle of Wartburg, where he spent some months in seclusion, beginning his great translation of the Bible into German and writing numerous tracts.
Return to Wittenberg
In 1522 Luther returned to Wittenberg, where he succeeded in cooling the radical reforming efforts of his colleague Karlstadt and continued the incessant writing which would fill the rest of his life. In 1520 he had written three of his most famous tracts: To The Christian Nobility of the German Nation, which enunciates a social program of religious reform; On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, on Sacraments, the Mass, and papal power; and Of the Liberty of a Christian Man, a treatise on faith and on the inner liberty which faith affords those who possess it.
The Lutheran Bible, which was "a vehicle of proletarian education" as well as a monument in the spiritual history of Europe, not only gave Luther's name and views wider currency but revealed the translator as a great master of German prose, an evaluation which Luther's other writings justify.
Besides these works, Luther had other matters at hand. His name was used now by many people, including many with whom he disagreed. The Reformation had touched society and its institutions as well as religion, and Luther was drawn into conflicts, such as the Peasants' Rebellion of 1524-1525 and the affairs of the German princes, which drew from him new ideas on the necessary social and political order of Christian Germany. Luther's violent antipeasant writings from this period have often been criticized. His fears of the dangerous role of extreme reformers like Karlstadt and Thomas Münzer, however, were greater than his hope for social reform through revolution. Luther came to rely heavily upon the princes to carry out his program of reform. In 1525 Luther married Katherine von Bora, a nun who had left her convent. From that date until his death, Luther's family life became not only a model of the Christian home but a source of psychological support to him.
Luther's theological writings continued to flow steadily. Often they were written in response to his critics or in the intense heat of debate with Protestant rivals. Among those great works not brought about by conflict should be numbered the Great Catechism and the Small Catechism of 1529 and his collection of sermons and hymns, many of the latter, like Ein Feste Burg, still sung today.
Debates with Theologians
In 1524-1525 Luther entered into a discussion of free will with the great Erasmus. Luther's On the Will in Bondage (1525) remained his definitive statement on the question. In 1528 Luther turned to the question of Christ's presence in the Eucharist in his Confession concerning the Lord's Supper, which attracted the hostility of a number of reformers, notably Ulrich Zwingli. In 1529 Luther's ally Melancthon arranged a discussion between the two, and the Marburg Colloquy, as the debate is known, helped to close one of the early breaches in Protestant agreement.
In 1530, when Charles V was once again able to turn to the problems of the Reformation in Germany, Luther supervised, although he did not entirely agree with, the writing of Melancthon's Augsburg Confession, one of the foundations of later Protestant thought. From 1530 on Luther spent as much time arguing with other Reformation leaders on matters of theology as with his Catholic opponents.
Luther's disputes with other theologians were carried out with the same intensity he applied to his other work: he longed for Christian unity, but he could not accept the theological positions which many others had advanced. He was also fearful of the question of a general council in the Church. In 1539 he wrote his On Councils and Churches and witnessed in the following years the failure of German attempts to heal the wounds of Christianity. On the eve of his death he watched with great concern the calling of the Council of Trent, the Catholic response to the Reformation.
In the 1540s Luther was stricken with diseases a number of times, drawing great comfort from his family and from the lyrical, plain devotional exercises which he had written for children. In 1546 he was called from a sickbed to settle the disputes of two German noblemen. On the return trip he fell sick and died at Eisleben, the town of his birth, on Feb. 18, 1546.
The Writings of Martin Luther (1958) provides 55 volumes of selected works in good translations. A shorter selection is Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings, edited by John Dillenberger (1961). There is a vast literature on Luther and the Reformation. An old but still useful work, of interest because it was written almost a decade before the "Luther Renaissance" of the 1920s, is Preserved Smith, The Life and Letters of Martin Luther (1911; repr. 1968). But it needs to be supplemented by more recent studies.
Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (1950), is one of the most comprehensive biographies. Other biographies are Gordon Rupp, Luther's Progress to the Diet of Worms, 1521 (1951); Robert H. Fife, The Revolt of Martin Luther (1957); Erik H. Erikson, Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History (1958); V. H. H. Green, Luther and the Reformation (1964); Gerhard Ritter, Luther: His Life and Work, translated by John Riches (1964); and Arthur Geoffrey Dickens, Martin Luther and the Reformation (1967), half of which is devoted to the Reformation itself. A popular account is Edith Simon, Luther Alive: Martin Luther and the Making of the Reformation (1968).
A specialized study dealing with doctrinal issues is Erwin Iserloh, The Theses Were Not Posted: Martin Luther between Reform and Reformation (1968). Two brief and good accounts of Luther's theology are Philip S. Watson, Let God Be God: An Interpretation of the Theology of Martin Luther (1947), and Gordon Rupp, The Righteousness of God: Luther Studies (1953). An interesting account of later interpretations of Luther is Jaroslav Pelikan, ed., Interpreters of Luther: Essays in Honor of Wilhelm Pauck (1968). The best general accounts of Luther and the Reformation are Roland H. Bainton, The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century (1953); The New Cambridge Modern History (14 vols., 1957-1970), vol. 2: G. R. Elton, ed., The Reformation, 1520-1559; A. G. Dickens, Reformation and Society in Sixteenth-century Europe (1966); and H. G.Koenigsberger and George L. Mosse, Europe in the Sixteenth Century (1968). □
"Martin Luther." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 27, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/martin-luther
"Martin Luther." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved March 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/martin-luther
Luther, Martin (1483–1546)
LUTHER, MARTIN (1483–1546)
LUTHER, MARTIN (1483–1546), German theologian and author. Martin Luther came to be easily the most well-known public figure—and the most published author—of his time. He was born on 10 November 1483 to Hans and Margarethe Luther in the town of Eisleben and went to school in Mansfeld and Magdeburg and then in Eisenach. His father was in the copper mining business, and wanted Martin to become a lawyer. He entered the University of Erfurt in 1501 and completed the studies necessary for a master's degree four years later. By that time, however, he was suffering from doubts about the meaning of his life and from fears of death, and in the summer of 1505, against his father's wishes, he became a friar of the Observant Augustinians at Erfurt; he took monastic vows in 1506 and was ordained a priest in 1507. On a trip to Rome for the order in 1510–1511, he was disturbed by the corruption he found there, typified by the sale of indulgences to raise money for the rebuilding of St. Peter's. He returned to Saxony, earned his doctorate in 1512, and became professor of biblical exegesis at the University of Wittenberg, a post he held until 1546; he was also the preacher at the church in Wittenberg.
In his lectures on the Psalms and on Paul's Epistles, Luther began to preach the doctrine of salvation by faith rather than by works. Meanwhile, the popular Dominican preacher and papal fundraiser Johann Tetzel appeared in the area to proclaim that the pope had authorized the sale of St. Peter's indulgences; Luther was infuriated to the point of composing a letter of protest to the archbishop of Mainz and posting his Ninety-Five Theses on the Sale of Indulgences on the church door at Wittenberg on 31 October 1517. By the end of the year, the theses had been printed and, a short while later, translated into German and spread throughout the Holy Roman Empire. The archbishop sent the theses to Pope Leo X, who summoned Luther to Rome to answer charges of heresy in 1518. Frederick III (Frederick the Wise; ruled 1486–1525) of Saxony intervened and arranged for Luther to have a formal hearing at Augsburg before the papal legate Cajetan rather than being sent to Rome. Luther refused to retract the views expressed in his theses, maintaining that there was no biblical justification for indulgences, and appealed to a papal council. There followed in 1519 a widely publicized debate at Leipzig between Luther and Johann Eck, a professor from Ingolstadt, on the subject of church authority. Luther's publication of three treatises in 1520 that called for revolutionary changes in late medieval German political, social, and religious life led to a papal bull excommunicating him in 1521; Luther publicly burnt the bull along with a copy of canon law and was called to the Diet of Worms for the purpose of recanting his teachings. He refused and was placed under the ban of the empire, which designated him an "outlaw" whom anyone could kill without legally committing murder.
His protector Frederick III of Saxony sent his soldiers to take Luther to the castle at Wartburg, where he spent a year writing pamphlets, preparing sermons on the Epistles and the Gospels, and translating the New Testament from Greek into German. He returned to Wittenberg in 1522 and resumed teaching and preaching. He urged the establishment of schools for all children (including girls), opposed the German Peasants' War, began the organization of the Saxon church, wrote hymns, a Small Catechism, and a Large Catechism, as well as numerous commentaries and treatises.
In 1525 Luther married Katharina von Bora, a former Cistercian nun who had fled her convent two years earlier under the influence of the Reformation. The couple moved into the former Augustinian monastery where Luther had lived as a monk; they had six children, three boys and three girls, and they also took in the six children of Luther's sister after her death; visitors reported that their home was always filled with students, guests, and boarders. Luther died at Eisleben on 18 February 1546 and was buried in the castle church at Wittenberg. In his funeral oration to faculty and students at Wittenberg, his long-time colleague and friend Philipp Melanchthon observed that in Luther "God gave this last age a sharp physician on account of its great sickness."
Luther was in his own time and remains now an object of passionate approval and disapproval, whom even supposedly scholarly accounts praised (and praise) for whatever their authors find praiseworthy in their own time while condemning him for all that they might judge as repugnant in their worlds. On the other hand, praising and condemning the reformer for all the "right" reasons and in just the "right" measures according to one's own time and culture amounts to thin porridge. The truest story is far more profound: Luther was at the same time quintessentially medieval and the single person who did most to put in motion the events that moved the clock of Western civilization into early modern times.
The notion that Luther was "medieval" refers to his motivating concerns rather than to any religious views that are no longer fashionable in polite circles, such as taking the figure of Satan or the Antichrist literally. Instead, Luther's life displays a consistent, driven search for assurance that he and those he taught and to whom he preached should be assured of their salvation both in the here and now and in the world to come. His fundamental concern was for the "care of souls," first his own and then the souls of those he served. In and of itself, this single-minded focus marks him as a pre-modern religious figure.
By the same token, the essential consequences of Luther's life and career are that, willy-nilly, the content of his personal spiritual quest, and the one he taught his students, changed dramatically. This change was so fundamental that, in combination with the circumstances of the early sixteenth century, it affected both the internal and public lives of many others. They too, unintentionally and perhaps even unconsciously, found themselves leaving the Middle Ages and moving into the early modern period.
The special indulgence sale of 1517, to which Luther objected in the Theses, has generally made indulgences the best known of the religious practices of the time. In fact, for the average believer, the sacrament of confession and penance was a far more common encounter with the medieval confrontation of sin, death, guilt, and wounded consciences. Above all, ever since the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) the faithful were obligated to go to confession at least annually, and most commonly during Lent or in preparation for partaking of Holy Communion at Easter. By contrast, going on a pilgrimage, venerating relics, and the like were all further and optional ways of strengthening and demonstrating one's faith.
For his part, Luther confessed his sins to another person and frequently on a more than daily basis. It remains impossible, of course, to learn exactly what happened within the confines of the confessional. The late medieval manuals suggest a certain rigor. Frequently enough, for example, someone would come and be unable to think of any particular sin that he or she had committed. At this point, the confessor had recourse to a printed list of questions that might be asked, such as, "Have you ever had sexual relations with your spouse for reasons other than procreation?" "Did you or your spouse enjoy the encounter?" Answering yes to either of both questions produced two sins for which penance must be done. Being first a novice and then a friar of the Observant Augustinians in Erfurt, the questions that Luther was asked and was taught to ask himself naturally turned to the internal status of his soul and in particular to the strength and commitment of his personal faith. From the posting of the theses forward, he never ceased in fact to inveigh against this practice of "inquiring about secret sins."
In the preface to the Latin works, which he completed in 1545, one year before his death, Luther eloquently and accurately described the changes that overcame his thinking, indeed his personal faith. There, he detailed rejecting the theology he had been taught, that the righteousness of God was a divine quality with which God judged humanity, and how he realized that it was rather the gift that God bestowed for Christ's sake on unrighteous people, and to which they cleaved in this life by faith alone. The basics of his more developed position appeared publicly in the Theses for the Heidelberg Disputation (spring 1518), in his lecture hall at the University of Wittenberg (1515–1519), and definitively in Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen (1520; On the freedom of a Christian). They lay beneath his insistence at Leipzig (1519) that "a simple layman armed with the Scriptures is mightier than pope and councils without them." Their consequences for Christianity and for Christendom became undeniable in An den christlichen Adel deutscher Nation (Address to the Christian nobility) and De captivitate Babylonica ecclesiae praeludium (On the Babylonian captivity of the church), both of 1520.
Each struck fundamental and telling blows against the medieval ideal of Latin Christendom. Each had politically, institutionally, and religiously revolutionary consequences. Many at the time regarded the Address as a call to arms against everything Roman, a call that—to the likes of Ulrich von Hutten, for example—included the political arrangements of the Holy Roman Empire. Luther cast his treatise as an appeal to the "Christian nobility" (or "ruling class" as some prefer to translate), the Christlichen Adel, to proceed with the reforms that the papacy refused to consider. The problem he faced was that common opinion held overwhelmingly that actually reforming the church was far beyond the competence of secular rulers, no matter how very Christian and upstanding they might be. Only those who had been ordained as priests, at a minimum, had the right to intervene in the affairs of the church in favor of or against any of its practices. There were many places in which local practice decreed that, if there were a property dispute between a clerical and a civil foundation, the case would be heard in an ecclesiastical court, and its outcome would be in little doubt.
This public and sanctioned conviction Luther called "the first wall" behind which papal prerogative protected itself. It was also the first one that he attacked. He did it with his famous teaching on the "priesthood of all believers," which grew directly from the proclamation that all Christians lived by the same grace through faith in the same Christ without distinctions between them. The only differences turned on the principal office or calling that a particular person had, regardless of whether he or she served in the temporal or spiritual spheres. Any baptized Christian was eligible to be called by the believers to preach, to baptize, and to administer the sacrament of the Lord's Supper on either a short- or long-term basis. With one stroke, Luther at least theoretically destroyed the very social class that helped constitute the social and political—as well as religious—reality of late medieval Christendom.
Luther's treatise The Babylonian Captivity of the Church performed much the same function with respect to specifically religious activities. Erasmus thought this the most radical of his treatises, for in a few pages, published initially in Latin, Luther attacked the medieval sacramental system at its core, reducing the number of sacraments from seven to first three and then (on the final pages) two. Two consequences followed. In the first place, if one accepted Luther's argument, then the Church of Rome no longer had anything to offer the laity that was essential to salvation. As then constituted, its raison d'être had ceased to exist. From pope to priest, they were all useless.
But there was an even more important aspect to what Luther had wrought. As he was working his way through one sacrament after another, he developed a consistent standard for what constituted a sacrament. It required biblical evidence that Christ had founded the practice and that it consisted of a promise added to a physical object. Thus, the central sacrament—confession and penance—disappeared and with it went any semblance of religious authority that the clergy might hold over the laity as a matter of principle.
Yet, Luther should not be called a "reformer" without qualification. He made no effort to replace what he tore down with a "better" edifice. Instead, he and his colleagues proceeded to construct a new institution chiefly through ad hoc measures such as visitations that had the sole objective of securing the preaching of the Word of forgiveness through Christ and in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper. All else they relegated to the world in which Christians carried out their vocations. Thus, to understand Luther requires grasping the contradictory theses with which he began On the Freedom of a Christian, published in 1520: "A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all." As time passed and the cause fell to less perceptive figures, this distinction metamorphosed into what became the dichotomy between church and state. In this regard and with these changes, the transition from the medieval world of Latin Christendom into early modern Europe was complete, whereas by contrast the old tensions, polarities, and rivalries persisted in France, Italy, Spain, and Catholic portions of the Holy Roman Empire until the French Revolution.
See also Bible: Translations and Editions ; German Literature and Language ; Lutheranism ; Melanchthon, Philipp ; Peasants' War, German ; Reformation, Protestant ; Saxony .
Luther, Martin. D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe. Weimar, 1883–. The standard critical edition, the unsurpassed work of generations of scholars, which now consists of more than 100 volumes. Comprises Luther's published works, correspondence, the German Bible, and table talks. Commonly referred to as "the Weimar edition" or simply "WA."
——. Luther's Works. Translated and edited by Jaroslav Pelikan, Helmut Lehmann, et al. 55 vols. St. Louis and Philadelphia, 1955–1986. The standard English translation, which is not completely reliable for a number of reasons.
Brecht, Martin. Martin Luther. Translated by James Schaaf. 3 vols. Philadelphia and Minneapolis, 1985–1993. With three large volumes, thorough attention to detail, and the German apparatus by and large intact, these are the volumes for the serious beginner.
Edwards, Mark U. Printing, Propaganda, and Martin Luther. Berkeley, 1994.
Kittelson, James M. Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and His Career. Minneapolis, 1986.
Kolb, Robert. Martin Luther as Prophet, Teacher, Hero: Images of the Reformer, 1520–1620. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1999.
McGrath, Alister E. Luther's Theology of the Cross: Martin Luther's Theological Breakthrough. Oxford, 1985.
Oberman, Heiko. Luther: Man between God and the Devil. Translated by Eileen Walliser-Schwarzbart. New Haven, 1989.
James M. Kittelson
"Luther, Martin (1483–1546)." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 27, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/luther-martin-1483-1546
"Luther, Martin (1483–1546)." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Retrieved March 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/luther-martin-1483-1546
Martin Luther, 1483–1546, German leader of the Protestant Reformation, b. Eisleben, Saxony, of a family of small, but free, landholders.
Early Life and Spiritual Crisis
Luther was educated at the cathedral school at Eisenach and at the Univ. of Erfurt (1501–5). In 1505 he completed his master's examination and began the study of law. Several months later, after what seems to have been a sudden religious experience, he entered a monastery of the Augustinian friars at Erfurt. There, devoutly attentive to the rigid discipline of the order, he began an intensive study of Scripture and was ordained a priest in 1507. In 1508 he was sent to the Univ. of Wittenberg to study and to lecture on Aristotle. In 1510, Luther was sent to Rome on business for his order, and there he was shocked by the spiritual laxity apparent in high ecclesiastical places.
Upon his return he completed the work for his theological doctorate and became a professor at Wittenberg. This period was the beginning of the intimacy between Luther and John von Staupitz, whose influence led Luther to say in 1531, "I have received everything from Staupitz." For Luther these years were times of profound spiritual and physical torment. Obsessed with anxieties about his own salvation, he sought relief in frequent confession and extreme asceticism. His search for peace of mind led him, under the guidance of Staupitz, to further study of the Scriptures.
In preparation for his university lectures in 1513, especially on the letters of Paul, Luther resolved his turmoil. In the Scriptures Luther found a loving God who bestowed upon sinful humans the free gift of salvation, to be received through faith, against which all good works were as nothing. Luther devoted himself with increasing vigor to the work of the church, and in 1515 he became district vicar.
The 95 Theses
From 1516 on, as a consequence of his new convictions, Luther felt compelled to protest the dispensation of indulgences (see indulgence). The arrival of Johann Tetzel in Saxony in 1517 to proclaim the indulgence granted by Leo X prompted Luther to post his historic 95 theses on the door of the castle church. The abuse of indulgences had been condemned by many Catholic theologians, but it had had great financial success, and ecclesiastical authorities had not halted it. Luther's theses were widely distributed and read, finding sympathy among the exploited peasantry and among the civil authorities, who deplored the drainage of funds to Rome. The propositions were brought to the attention of the pope, who ordered the head of the Augustinians to keep peace in his order. Meanwhile Tetzel was committed to the struggle against Luther, and he found an able colleague in Johann Eck.
Although Luther still considered his activities as directed toward reforms within the church, his opponents found his ideas heretical. In the following years several attempts were made to reconcile Luther to the church, but the basis of compromise was lacking on both sides. At a meeting with the papal legate at Augsburg in 1518, Luther refused to recant, and in 1519 in a public disputation with Eck in Leipzig he was forced to declare his stand as one at variance with some of the doctrines of the church.
Break with the Church
As the break with Rome became inevitable, Luther broadened his position to include widespread reforms. In his Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (1520) he supported the new nationalism by advocating German control of German ecclesiastical matters and appealed to the German princes to help effect the reformation in Germany. He attacked the claim of the papacy of authority over secular rulers and denied that the pope was the final interpreter of Scripture, enunciating the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. He assailed the corruption of the church and attacked usury and commercialism, recommending a return to a primitive agrarian society.
Catholic theologians were further aroused with the publication of The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, in which Luther, in an uncompromising attack on the papacy, denied the authority of the priesthood to mediate between the individual and God and rejected the sacraments except as aids to faith. He followed this work with a tract entitled The Freedom of a Christian Man. in which he reiterated his doctrine of justification by faith alone and presented a new ideal of piety—that of the Christian man, free in conscience by virtue of faith and charged with the duty of conducting himself properly in a Christian brotherhood.
By the time the papal bull Exsurge Domine, condemning his views and threatening excommunication, reached Germany, Luther's position was well understood and widely supported. In a dramatic renunciation of papal authority, Luther held a public burning of the bull and of the canon law. In 1521 formal excommunication was pronounced. In the same year Luther was given a safe-conduct and was summoned before the Diet of Worms (see Worms, Diet of). The opinions at the diet were divided, but when an edict of the diet called for Luther's seizure, his friends placed him for safekeeping in the Wartburg, the castle of Elector Frederick III of Saxony. There Luther translated the New Testament into German and began the translation of the entire Bible, a work not completed until 10 years later.
Growth of Lutheranism and His Last Years
At Wittenberg the iconoclasts under Carlstadt had instituted radical changes that Luther greatly deplored. Fearing that his movement was endangered, Luther disregarded his personal safety and returned to Wittenberg, where he spent most of the remainder of his life organizing and spreading the new gospel. Luther suffered a loss of popular appeal when he stoutly opposed (1524–25) the Peasants' War, a revolt that his own spirit of independence had helped to foster. His position was further weakened by a break with the humanists brought about by Erasmus's work, Freedom of the Will (1524), in which Erasmus attacked Luther's doctrine of the enslaved will. Nevertheless, through his forceful writings and preaching his doctrines spread to many towns and free cities, strengthened by the support of many German nobles.
He married (1525) a former nun, Katharina von Bora, and raised six children. His closest friends and associates, Philip Melanchthon and Justus Jonas, helped carry forward his endeavors, and after the death of Frederick III he enjoyed the active support of John Frederick I, who succeeded to the electorate. Luther worked actively to build a competent educational system; his extensive writing on church matters included the composition of hymns, a liturgy, and two catechisms that are basic statements of the Lutheran faith.
His attitude hardened toward various sects, especially the Anabaptists, whose growth presented a serious challenge to his conception of the church. His uncompromising attitude in doctrinal matters helped break up the unity of the Reformation that he was anxious to preserve; the controversy with Huldreich Zwingli and later with Calvin over the Lord's Supper divided Protestants into the Lutheran Church and the Reformed Churches. After attempts at union, the Lutherans drew up their own articles of faith in the Augsburg Confession (see creed4), which was written by Melanchthon at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530 with the sanction of Luther, who was not permitted to attend. About this time the control of the Lutheran Church had passed further into the hands of the Protestant princes.
During the last years of Luther's life he was troubled with ill health of increasing severity and the plagues of political and religious disunion within the nation. He died in Eisleben and was buried at Wittenberg, leaving behind an evangelical doctrine that spread throughout the Western world and marked the first break in the unity of the Catholic Church. In Germany his socio-religious concepts laid a new basis for German society. His writings, in forceful idiomatic language, helped fix the standards of modern German.
Luther's works have been published frequently and in many languages; the first attempt at an edition of them was in 1539–58. See H. Grisar, Martin Luther, His Life and Work (tr. 1930, repr. 1971); H. Boehmer, Luther and the Reformation in the Light of Modern Research (tr. 1930) and The Road to Reformation (tr. 1946, repr. 1957); R. H. Fife, The Revolt of Martin Luther (1957); J. MacKinnon, Luther and the Reformation (4 vol., 1962); V. H. H. Green, Luther and the Reformation (1964, repr. 1969); P. Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther (tr. 1966); J. Atkinson, Martin Luther and the Birth of Protestantism (1968); E. G. Rupp, comp., Martin Luther (1970); H. G. Koenigsberger, comp., Luther: A Profile (1973); A. G. Dickens, Martin Luther and the Reformation (1976); H. A. Oberman, Luther: Man between God and the Devil (1982); G. Brendler, Martin Luther: Theology and Revolution (1989).
"Luther, Martin." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 27, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/luther-martin
"Luther, Martin." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved March 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/luther-martin
Born: November 10, 1483
Died: February 18, 1546
The German reformer (one who works to change outdated practices and beliefs) Martin Luther was the first and greatest figure in the sixteenth-century Reformation. An author of commentaries on Scripture (sacred writings), theology (the study of religion), and priestly abuses, a hymnologist (writer of hymns [sacred songs]), and a preacher, from his own time to the present he has been a symbol of Protestantism (group of Christian faiths that do not believe in the supremacy of the pope, but in the absolute authority of the Bible).
Family and education
Martin Luther was born at Eisleben in Saxony, Germany, on November 10, 1483, the son of Hans and Margaret Luther. Luther's parents were peasants, but his father had worked hard to raise the family's status, first as a miner and later as the owner of several small mines, to become a small-scale businessman. In 1490 Martin was sent to the Latin school at Mansfeld, in 1497 to Magdeburg, and in 1498 to Eisenach. His early education was typical of late-fifteenth-century practice. To a young man in Martin's situation, the law and the church offered the only chance for a successful career. He chose to become a lawyer to increase the Luther family's success, which Hans had begun. Martin was enrolled at the University of Erfurt in 1501. He received a bachelor of arts degree in 1502 and a master of arts in 1505. In the same year he enrolled in the instructors of law, giving every sign of being a dutiful and, likely, a very successful, son.
Between 1503 and 1505, however, Martin experienced a religious crisis that would take him from the study of law forever. A dangerous accident in 1503, the death of a friend a little later, and Martin's own personal religious development had by 1505 changed his focus. Then, on July 2, 1505, returning to Erfurt after visiting home, Martin was caught in a severe thunderstorm and flung to the ground in terror; at that moment he vowed to become a monk if he survived. This episode changed the course of Luther's life. Two weeks later, against his father's wishes and to the dismay of his friends, Martin Luther entered the Reformed Congregation of the Eremetical Order of St. Augustine at Erfurt.
Life as a monk at Erfurt was difficult. Luther made his vows in 1506 and was ordained (officially given a religious position in the church) a priest in 1507. No longer in disagreement with his father, he was then selected for advanced theological study at the University of Erfurt.
Luther at Wittenberg
In 1508 Luther was sent to the University of Wittenberg to lecture in arts. He was also preparing for his doctorate of theology while he taught. In 1510 Luther was sent to Rome, Italy, and in 1512 received his doctorate in theology. Then came the second significant turn in Luther's career: he was appointed professor of theology at Wittenberg. He was to teach throughout the rest of his life.
In 1509 Luther published his lectures on Peter Lombard (1095–1160); in 1513–1515 those on the Psalms; in 1515–1516 on St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans; and in 1516–1518 on the epistles to the Galatians and Hebrews. Besides instruction and study, however, Luther had other duties. From 1514 he preached in the parish church; he was regent (head) of the monastery school; and in 1515 he became the supervisor of eleven other monasteries.
Righteousness of God
The doctrine of justification, taking shape in Luther's thought between 1515 and 1519, drew him further into theological thought as well as into certain positions of practical priestly life. The most famous of these is the controversy (causing opposing viewpoints) over indulgences. A person who committed a sin would buy an indulgence from the church to avoid punishment—especially punishment after death. In 1513 a great effort to distribute indulgences was proclaimed throughout Germany. In 1517 Luther posted the Ninety-Five Theses for an academic debate on indulgences on the door of the castle church at Wittenberg. This was the customary time and place to display such an article. They were given widespread fame and called to the attention of both theologians and the public.
News of Luther's theses spread, and in 1518 he was called before Cardinal Cajetan, the Roman Catholic representative at Augsburg, to deny his theses. Refusing to do so, Luther returned to Wittenberg, where, in the next year, he agreed to a debate with the theologian Johann Eck (1486–1543). The debate soon became a struggle between Eck and Luther in which Luther was driven by his opponent to taking even more radical theological positions, thus laying himself open to the charge of heresy (believing in something that opposes what is formally taught by the Church). By 1521 Eck secured a papal bull (decree) condemning Luther, and Luther was summoned to the Imperial Diet at Worms (meeting of the Holy Roman Empire held at Worms, Germany) in 1521 to answer the charges against him.
Diet of Worms
Luther came face to face with the power of the Roman Catholic Church and empire at Worms in 1521. He was led to a room in which his writings were piled on a table and ordered to disclaim them. He replied that he could not do this. Luther left Worms and was taken, for his own safety, to the castle of Wartburg, where he spent some months in privacy, beginning his great translation of the Bible into German and writing numerous essays.
Return to Wittenberg
In 1522 Luther returned to Wittenberg and continued the writing that would fill the rest of his life. In 1520 he had written three of his most famous tracts (written piece of propaganda, or material written with the intent of convincing people of a certain belief): To The Christian Nobility of the German Nation; On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church; and Of the Liberty of a Christian Man.
In 1525 Luther married Katherine von Bora, a nun who had left her convent. From that date until his death, Luther's family life became not only a model Christian home but a source of psychological support to him.
Luther's writings continued to flow steadily. Among the most important are the Great Catechism and the Small Catechism of 1529 and his collection of sermons and hymns, many of the latter, like Ein Feste Burg, still sung today.
Debates with Theologians
In 1524–1525 Luther entered into a discussion of free will with the great Erasmus (1466–1536). Luther's On the Will in Bondage (1525) remained his final statement on the question. In 1528 he turned to the question of Christ's presence in the Eucharist (communion with God) in his Confession concerning the Lord's Supper.
In 1530 Luther supervised, although he did not entirely agree with, the writing of Philipp Melancthon's (1497–1560) Augsburg Confession, one of the foundations of later Protestant thought. From 1530 on Luther spent as much time arguing with other Reformation leaders on matters of theology as with his Catholic opponents.
In 1539 Luther wrote his On Councils and Churches and witnessed in the following years the failure of German attempts to heal the wounds of Christianity. In the 1540s Luther was stricken with disease a number of times, drawing great comfort from his family and from the devotional exercises that he had written for children. In 1546 he was called from a sickbed to settle the disputes of two German noblemen. On the return trip he fell ill and died at Eisleben, the town of his birth, on February 18, 1546.
For More Information
Bainton, Roland H. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1950.
Booth, Edwin P. Martin Luther: The Great Reformer. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1999.
Kolb, Robert. Martin Luther As Prophet, Teacher, Hero. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999.
Leplay, Michel. Martin Luther. Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1998.
Schwarz, Hans. True Faith in the True God: An Introduction to Luther's Life and Thought. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1996.
"Luther, Martin." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 27, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/luther-martin-0
"Luther, Martin." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved March 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/luther-martin-0
Although the Reformation was in its purest essence a religious movement, from the outset it also involved social, political, and economic forces and effected fundamental changes in many areas of life. The first of the magisterial reformers, Martin Luther (1483–1546), was pre-eminently concerned with theological matters, but his evangelical insight into the deepest meaning of the Christian gospel had tremendous implications for all aspects of social life and theory. Throughout his life he gave evidence of his concern for social action.
The operative principle of Luther’s social ethics, as expressed in his treatise entitled Christian Liberty (1520), was that religious faith must be active in love. The person precedes the action, for, as he asserted, “good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works.” The new spiritual life of a man who has come to a trusting faith in the gracious God revealed in Christ produces in him a spontaneous out flowing love for his fellow man. This love far transcends a mere prudential desire for the highest good and, like God’s love, should not be dependent upon the worthiness or lovableness of the object. This ethical principle intensifies the force of conscience and the inner directedness of the Christian in society, minimizing heteronomous controls.
Luther believed that all reality belongs to God’s realm, for in the church God works through the Word of the Gospel for the spiritual good of man, and in the secular orders God works through men for the temporal good of man. Thus, such natural orders as the family, the various vocations, the state, and the organization of society in general are also divine orders. While historically they have shown development and are structurally subject to change, these natural orders have their origin in the divine will and are divinely ordained. This view allowed Luther to transcend the negative assessment of secular institutions characteristic of much medieval thought. Institutions such as marriage and state authority had been viewed merely as restraints necessitated by sin or as systems whose legality depended upon the sanction of the church. He viewed them positively as instruments of God’s love and urged men to be thankful for them and to sustain them.
Luther held natural law to be the basis of the natural orders and of all secular authority, including that of non-Christian rulers. He understood this natural law to be the law of love implanted in man’s consciousness and more clearly revealed in the Decalogue and refined in the Sermon on the Mount. Since communities are of divine ordinance, their good positive laws cannot be contrary to God’s will; these laws are rooted in natural law and have a theonomous, or divinely obligating, character. Luther stressed emphatically the need to keep separate the secular and spiritual authorities, for the state is an authority that wields power and is exclusively concerned with the temporal order, while the church is a communion or priesthood of all believers responding to the gospel of God’s love.
Luther’s view of society and of man’s culture, then, was dialectical. On the one hand, culture and society are theonomous insofar as they are sustained by the ever-present creative action of God, who initiates all, encompasses all, and rules over men. On the other hand, they are autonomous insofar as they are the product of man’s own free, rational, responsible, cooperative action. Christians moved by love should participate in the social order and mend and improve it for the good of mankind. Because of his own foreshortened eschatology and preoccupation with ecclesiastical concerns, Luther did not invest effort in the systematic renovation or reorganization of society, as Calvin did, but his thought contained the basic elements for a constructive social philosophy.
In addressing himself to specific social issues, Luther at times reflected conservative views of long standing and at other times expressed novel ideas, which were ahead of his time and which found echoes in subsequent theorists. Although he was himself the son of a rising middle-class mining entrepreneur, he believed in the superior virtues of agrarian life over commerce. He opposed usury with vehemence and flayed the monopolies of ruthless large capitalists like the Fuggers and Medicis. He argued for the just-price theory and accepted the labor theory of value. He stressed the value of vocation to the active life and raised the ordo naturalis to the dignity of the ordo spiritualis. He opposed the mere giving of alms to beggars and urged that people sunk in poverty be given the means to help themselves. While encouraging support of the government and military service in the case of a just war of defense against an aggressor oran international lawbreaker, he insisted that under absolutely no circumstances could a Christian serve in an unjust cause or against his own conscience. It would seem that the highly organized and welfare-oriented social philosophies of such Lutheran lands as Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland reflect generically the basic social thought of Luther. His pivotal faith in God gave him a certain detachment toward material ealth and a courageous attitude in the face of hostile political power and military threats—qualities that perhaps retain a basic relevance for modern social thought.
Lewis W. Spitz
Erikson, Erik H. (1958) 1962 Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History. Austin Riggs Monograph No. 4. New York: Norton.
Forell, George W. 1954 Faith Active in Love. New York: American Press.
Holl, Karl (1911) 1959 The Cultural Significance of the Reformation. New York: Meridian. → First published as Kulturbedeutung der Reformation.
Huegli, Albert G. (editor) 1964 Church and State Under God. St. Louis, Mo.: Concordia.
Luther, Martin (1520) 192? Christian Liberty. Philadelphia: United Lutheran Publication House. → No date appears on the title page.
Luther’s Works. 56 vols. St. Louis, Mo.: Concordia; Philadelphia: Muhlenberg, 1955–1965.
Pauck, Wilhelm (1950) 1961 The Heritage of the Reformation. Rev. & enl. ed. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press.
Rupp, Ernest G. 1953 The Righteousness of God: Luther Studies. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
"Luther, Martin." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 27, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/luther-martin
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Luther, Martin (1483–1546)
Luther, Martin (1483–1546)
A German monk, scholar, and writer, and leader of the Reformation that brought about a new Protestant church. Luther was born in Eisleben, in the kingdom of Saxony. His father was a mine operator who
sought to make a lawyer of his son. Luther's days at the University of Erfurt, however, were shadowed by doubt and guilt over his sinfulness and his worthiness in the eyes of God. On passing through a forest in a thunderstorm, Luther vowed to follow a life of devotion should he survive. He decided to drop his study of the law to become a monk, much to his father's dismay, and entered the Augustinian monastery of Erfurt. He led a strict life of confession, fasting, and prayer, which did little to relieve his self-doubt and uncertainty.
Luther was ordained as a priest in 1507 and studied for a doctorate in theology at the University of Wittenberg. After winning his doctorate in 1512, he was appointed to a teaching position at the university that he held throughout his life. In the meantime, the questions of worthiness plagued him; he came to the conclusion that only a relationship with God based on personal faith could bring redemption and grace. This idea provided the foundation of his revolution against the Catholic Church hierarchy that had long been plagued by greed, corruption, and bureaucratic struggles for power. The church judged Christians by their charitable works, their obedience to the pope, and their purchase of indulgences—a system that Luther saw as the artificial and unholy creation of unworthy men.
In 1517, a monk named Johann Tetzel arrived in Wittenberg on a mission to sell indulgences for the archbishop of Mainz, who would use the money to pay off loans he had used to pay bribes. This inspired Luther to write the founding document of the Reformation, known as the Ninety-five Theses. By tradition, he posted this bold challenge to the papacy on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. Only God could grant remission of sin, in Luther's opinion, and only God can judge souls worthy of release from purgatory and salvation from hell. The Ninety-five Theses were soon printed and circulated throughout Europe, touching off a controversy that permanently divided the Christian community.
Over the next few years, Luther debated his ideas with leading religious men in Germany. He denied the infallibility and primacy of the pope; he defied the pronouncements of the Papacy and of the church councils; he condemned the sale of indulgences; he appealed for a return to the scriptures in all questions of faith and doctrine. Luther set out his ideas in two important books, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church and The Freedom of a Christian Man.
His stand earned him excommunication from the church by Pope Leo X in 1521; Luther had defied the papal bull challenging him by publicly burning it. He was now at risk for arrest and execution on a charge of heresy. Emperor Charles V, who reigned supreme in the Holy Roman Empire, ordered Luther to appear before the Diet of Worms and state his case. Guaranteed safe passage, Luther arrived at Worms and refused to recant his writings. He then rode in disguise to Wartburg Castle, where he lived under the protection of Frederick the Wise, the elector of Saxony. Luther grew a beard and took the name of Knight George while Charles V declared him an outlaw subject to immediate arrest.
At Wartburg Luther completed a German translation of the New Testament, which was published in 1522 and which helped to spread his ideas and influence among the common people of Germany. In 1524, however, a bloody Peasants' Revolt broke out in Germany, in which the old social order was threatened by mobs proclaiming adherence to Luther's ideas. Appalled by the violence, Luther condemned the revolt in his pamphlet Against the Murdering, Thieving Hordes of Peasants, which he urged that revolting peasants be struck down like dogs.
After the Peasant's Revolt, Luther found himself embroiled in controversy within the Reformation movement. He broke with Desiderius Erasmus, the leading humanist of his time; but Lutheranism was enthusiastically taken up by German princes who saw it as a way to escape the authority of the emperor and his ally, the pope. In the meantime, Luther completed a German translation of the Old Testament in 1534; he wrote many treatises on the Bible as well as instruction on the Mass, several hymns, and pamphlets and essays on matters of personal faith. In 1543 he completed On the Jews and Their Lies, in which he condemned in the strongest terms the freedom of Jews to follow their faith and advocated their homes and places of work be burned to the ground. In the meantime, the Protestant Reformation was taken up in Scandinavia, England, the Low Countries, and in France, where the struggle between Catholic and Protestant would turn into a virtual civil war.
See Also: Diet of Augsburg; Hus, Jan; Reformation, Protestant
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Deeply troubled concerning personal guilt, he became convinced concerning justification by faith alone, finding help in the study of the Bible, Augustine's anti-Pelagian writings, John Tauler's mysticism and the Theologia Germanica, as well as the sensitive counsel of his superior John Staupitz. In 1517, pastorally concerned about the propagation of the indulgence traffic by the Dominican preacher J. Tetzel, Luther protested in his famous ninety-five theses. In the inevitable controversy which followed their publication, Luther debated his views with Catholic opponents, and produced in 1520 some of his most influential writings, On Good Works, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Address to the German Nobility, and The Freedom of a Christian. In the same year the papal bull, Exsurge Domine, censured his teaching as heretical, and the promulgation a few months later of Decet Romanum Pontificem declared him excommunicate. He returned to Wittenberg in 1522 in order to preach against the extreme views of Andrew Carlstadt.
In 1525 Luther married Catharine von Bora, a former nun. The Augsburg Confession (1530), mainly the more diplomatic work of Melanchthon, gave moderate expression to his leading ideas; and his prolific writings, on average a book a fortnight, circulated his teaching (addressed to circumstances, rather than being systematic) throughout Europe. His leading ideas were treasured by the Lutheran Churches who summarized Luther's essential message in their Book of Concord (1580). On major articles of faith (Trinity, Christology, atonement, etc.) Luther adhered to the classic credal tradition. The distinctive Lutheran emphasis is on the authority of scripture and soteriology. Because scripture is the word of God, it is the truth of God, in relation to which innovations of the Church (esp. of the papacy) must be judged defective. Sola scriptura (scripture alone) is the source of doctrine and practice. Through ‘faith alone’ (sola fide), a sinful person receives (but does not create, as though faith is a work of merit) all that Christ has done for the world. Justification through faith is thus a central Lutheran theme.
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