(10 November 1483 – 18 February 1546) was a German monk, priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517.
Martin Luther was born to peasant stock on November 10, 1483 in Eisleben in the Holy Roman Empire – in what is today eastern Germany. Soon after Luther’s birth, his family moved from Eisleben to Mansfeld. His father was a relatively successful miner and smelter and Mansfeld was a larger mining town. Martin was the second son born to Hans and Magarete (Lindemann) Luther. Two of his brothers died during outbreaks of the plague. One other brother, James, lived to adulthood.
Luther’s father knew that mining was a cyclical occupation, and he wanted more security for his promising young son. Hans Luther decided that he would do whatever was necessary to see that Martin could become a lawyer. Hans saw to it that Martin started school in Mansfeld probably around seven. The school stressed Latin and a bit of logic and rhetoric. When Martin was 14 he was sent to Magdeburg to continue his studies. He stayed only one year in Magdeburg and then enrolled in Latin school in Eisenach until 1501. In 1501 he enrolled in the University of Erfurt where he studied the basic course for a Master of Arts (grammar, logic, rhetoric, metaphysics, etc.). Significant to his spiritual and theological development was the principal role of William of Occam’s theology and metaphysics in Erfurt’s curriculum. In 1505, it seemed that Han’s Luther’s plans were about to finally be realized. His son was on the verge of becoming a lawyer. Han’s Luther’s plans were interrupted by a thunderstorm and vow.
In July of 1505, Martin was caught in a horrific thunderstorm. Afraid that he was going to die, he screamed out a vow, “Save me, St. Anna, and I shall become a monk.” St. Anna was the mother of the Virgin Mary and the patron saint of miners. Most argue that this commitment to become a monk could not have come out of thin air and instead represents an intensification experience in which an already formulated thought is expanded and deepened. On July 17th Luther entered the Augustinian Monastery at Erfurt.
The decision to enter the monastery was a difficult one. Martin knew that he would greatly disappoint his parents (which he did), but he also knew that one must keep a promise made to God. Beyond that, however, he also had strong internal reasons to join the monastery. Luther was haunted by insecurity about his salvation (he describes these insecurities in striking tones and calls them Anfectungen or Afflictions.) A monastery was the perfect place to find assurance.
Assurance evaded him however. He threw himself into the life of a monk with verve. It did not seem to help. Finally, his mentor told him to focus on Christ and him alone in his quest for assurance. Though his anxieties would plague him for still years to come, the seeds for his later assurance were laid in that conversation.
In 1510, Luther traveled as part of delegation from his monastery to Rome (he was not very impressed with what he saw.) In 1511, he transferred from the monastery in Erfurt to one in Wittenberg where, after receiving his doctor of theology degree, he became a professor of biblical theology at the newly founded University of Wittenberg.
In 1513, he began his first lectures on the Psalms. In these lectures, Luther's critique of the theological world around him begins to take shape. Later, in lectures on Paul's Epistle to the Romans (in 1515/16) this critique becomes more noticeable. It was during these lectures that Luther finally found the assurance that had evaded him for years. The discovery that changed Luther's life ultimately changed the course of church history and the history of Europe. In Romans, Paul writes of the “righteousness of God.” Luther had always understood that term to mean that God was a righteous judge that demanded human righteousness. Now, Luther understood righteousness as a gift of God's grace. He had discovered (or recovered) the doctrine of justification by grace alone. This discovery set him afire.
In 1517, he posted a sheet of theses for discussion on the University's chapel door. These Ninety-Five Theses set out a devastating critique of the church's sale of indulgences and explained the fundamentals of justification by grace alone. Luther also sent a copy of the theses Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz calling on him to end the sale of indulgences. Albrecht was not amused. In Rome, cardinals saw Luther's theses as an attack on papal authority. In 1518 at a meeting of the Augustinian Order in Heidelberg, Luther set out his positions with even more precision. In the Heidelberg Disputation, we see the signs of a maturing in Luther's thought and new clarity surrounding his theological perspective – the Theology of the Cross.
After the Heidelberg meeting in October 1518, Luther was told to recant his positions by the Papal Legate, Thomas Cardinal Cajetan. Luther stated that he could not recant unless his mistakes were pointed out to him by appeals to “scripture and right reason” he would not, in fact, could not recant. Luther's refusal to recant set in motion his ultimate excommunication.
Throughout 1519, Luther continued to lecture and write in Wittenberg. In June and July of that year, he participated in another debate on Indulgences and the papacy in Leipzig. Finally, in 1520, the pope had had enough. On June 15th the pope issued a bull (Exsurge Domini – Arise O'Lord) threatening Luther with excommunication. Luther received the bull on October 10th. He publicly burned it on December 10th.
In January 1521, the pope excommunicated Luther. In March, he was summonsed by Emperor Charles V to Worms to defend himself. During the Diet of Worms, Luther refused to recant his position. Whether he actually said, “Here I stand, I can do no other” is uncertain. What is known is that he did refuse to recant and on May 8th was placed under Imperial Ban.
This placed Luther and his duke in a difficult position. Luther was now a condemned and wanted man. Luther hid out at the Wartburg Castle until May of 1522 when he returned to Wittenberg. He continued teaching. In 1524, Luther left the monastery. In 1525, he married Katharina von Bora.
From 1533 to his death in 1546 he served as the Dean of the theology faculty at Wittenberg. He died in Eisleben on 18 February 1546.
Quotes by Martin Luther
Works by Martin Luther
Protestant reformer Martin Luther wrote many revolutionary works in his lifetime (the 95 Theses being the most influential), but he also preached hundreds of sermons in churches and universities. This collection gathers eight of them into a convenient source with an index for easy reference. Luther's classic image in the Christian church makes him a relevant and familiar choice for allusion. Much as Shakespeare's did for literature, Luther's phrases, such as "sola scriptura" (scripture alone), "sola fide," (faith alone), and "law and gospel," entered mainstream religious language. Luther preaches here on many topics, including "The Parable of the Sower," "Enemies of the Cross of Christ," and "Of the Office of Preaching." This last message is particularly relevant to modern pastors or those who share the message of good news as it gives suggestions and warning about preaching. And this advice, coming from the mouth of one of Christian history's most important figures, should surely be heeded.
The importance of this Commentary on Galatians for the history of Protestantism is very great. It presents like no other of Luther’s writings the central thought of Christianity, the justification of the sinner for the sake of Christ’s merits alone. We have permitted in the final revision of the manuscript many a passage to stand which seemed weak and ineffectual when compared with the trumpet tones of the Latin original. But the essence of Luther’s lectures is there. May the reader accept with indulgence where in this translation we have gone too far in modernizing Luther’s expression—making him “talk American.”
In the September of 1524, Erasmus of Rotterdam, a prominent Catholic scholar of the Reformation Era, published his first attack on Martin Luther's theology. While Erasmus argued for the free will of human beings, Luther argued that humans' sinful nature rendered them slaves to wickedness, free only to sin unless by the intervention of God's sovereign grace. This treatise, which contains Luther's reply to Erasmus, constitutes one side of one of the first and most important debates that emerged during the Reformation, namely, that concerning free will and predestination. Later in his life, Luther would regard De Servo Arbitrio as one of his best works; by contrast, he was loath to recognize some of his other early works as belonging to him at all.
"I, Martin Luther, Doctor, of the Order of Monks at Wittemberg, desire to testify publicly that certain propositions against pontifical indulgences, as they call them, have been put forth by me." This volume is a collection of several works by the father of the Reformation, Martin Luther, edited by Henry Wace. First is a series of introductory essays by Wace and others, and a synopsis of the theology of the Reformation in his famous 95 Theses. These Theses are, per the title, included in this work. The other three primary works in this publication are: "To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Respecting the Reformation of the Christian Estate," "Concerning Christian Liberty," and "On the Babylonish Captivity of the Church." All three are a collection of writings and letters Luther authored on each religious issue. All three pieces, as well as the Theses, are valuable works of literature written by one of the most important Christian figures ever, and should be studied and treasured.
"This sermon is designed and undertaken that it might be an instruction for children and the simple-minded." So begins Martin Luther's preface to his book Large Catechism. But this declaration should not scare away any readers, be they old or young, because Large Catechism is a masterpiece of doctrine that clearly explains the basic tenets of Luther's theology. He intended the writings to be read to children in order that they might learn the catechism and begin to memorize it, but the volume has become a beloved tool for teaching new Lutherans of all ages. The doctrines broken down in the Catechism are: The Ten Commandments, The Apostles' Creed, The Lord's Prayer, the sacrament of baptism, and the sacrament of communion. Each is broken down further into its parts (each commandment, the articles of the creed, etc.) and the fundamentals are explained in simple language. This summation of Lutheran doctrine has survived the centuries, and the relatively short document is a necessity for Lutherans and those interested in the founding father of Protestantism.
Small Catechism is the abridged version of Luther's Large Catechism. Written in the traditional catechism form of a query followed by an answer, these brief Q and As explain the backbone of Lutheran theology. The question asked for each section of the Ten Commandments, Apostle's Creed, and Lord's prayer is "What does this mean?" while the sections on the sacraments include questions like "What does baptism give?" and "How can physical eating and drinking do such great things?" The book is a quick and helpful guide to common practices in the Lutheran church, and is best used as reference or for memorization purposes. Those looking for more complete explanations of Lutheran theology should refer to Luther's Large Catechism.
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Martin Luther’s Preface to the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans summarizes the core belief of the Reformation: justification by faith in Christ. The relatively short document can even serve as an introduction to the Reformation movement as a whole, as it uniquely and succinctly lays out some of its characteristic ideas. As well as covering the relationship between faith and good works, Luther addresses the nature of sanctification in general and the conflict between the spirit and the flesh. The Preface to the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans is a quick and rewarding read, serving as a gateway text to the Reformation and the theology of Martin Luther.
In 1517, Martin Luther's 95 Theses sparked the Protestant Reformation by challenging the practices of the Roman Catholic Church and the authority of the pope. Many of Luther's books were ordered to be burned as a result of Luther's dissent. Despite this fact, a copy of Martin Luther's Table Talk (then entitled Divine Discourses) was found preserved under the foundations of a German citizen's home in 1626. Table Talk contains a series of informal conversations Luther shared with his students and colleagues in his home. The topics of these conversations range from religious doctrine and history to instructions regarding government, church, and the academic university. Throughout this text, Luther presents his beliefs boldly, and at times, his opinions may seem extremely biased. While the ethical implications of Luther's views are highly debated, Table Talk provides an uncensored look at Luther's influential ideas.
A Treatise on Good Works is considered Luther’s clearest exposition on Christian life and the relationship between faith and good works. Contrary to the teachings of the Roman church of his day, Luther taught that people need not perform extraordinary acts of religious devotion to be saved, but rather that Christ saves them by grace through faith. Neither the church nor any other human institution can define what it means for each individual to obey and serve God, and only through the grace of God can people live and act faithfully in their everyday affairs. These doctrines, foundational for Protestantism, have shaped both Christendom and culture at large. This essay is doubtlessly one of the most important texts of the last 500 years.
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