Martin Luther

Martin Luther

Martin Luther is best known as the father of Protestantism, as he was the first to so famously break away from the Catholic Church. He lived to see his teaching put in place by many, and he inspired the first of the numerous Protestant sects that exist today.

Martin Luther was a German priest and professor of theology. After being caught in a frightening thunderstorm that nearly resulted in his death, Luther resolved to align his life more closely to God's teachings. He entered the monastery of the Augustinian friars, and in 1507 he was ordained to the priesthood. While profoundly Catholic, however, he strongly disagreed with several practices being exercised by the early Church, among them immorality, poor education for clerics, and the absence of bishops from their assigned parishes. Angered by the Church's lackadaisical attitude, and using the letters of Saint Paul as his starting point, he began to form the ideas that would shape the Protestant Reformation.

During this same time, another questionable degree was being carried out in order to bring in extra funds for the Church—the sale of indulgences. The belief concerning these publicly issued pardons, which could be purchased for oneself as well as for family and friends, was that God and the saints had established a "treasury of merits" from which the Church could draw as needed. Assuming that the indulgences would assure quick entry into Heaven, people scrambled to procure as many as possible. Luther was troubled by this, and he wrote a letter to the bishop of that city, including alongside the note a list of ninety-five complaints, what is known as the "Ninety-Five Theses on the Power of Indulgences." He had intended his arguments for academic debate and reform, but the Church found offense with Luther's disagreements and assertions, and they responded with the order that he recant or be excommunicated. Luther refused, and as a result was summoned by Charles V to appear before the German Diet of Worms and deny his beliefs. When Luther once again declined, Duke Frederick of Saxony took him under his protection to save him from Charles.

Between 1520 and 1530, Luther created the basic tenets of his new faith. His beliefs rested rested on four major articles, all of which were highly different from the teachings of the Catholic Church. His major assertions were:

  1. Man is saved by faith alone ("sola fide")
  2. The Bible is the sole source of authority in the church ("sola scriptura")
  3. The church consists of the entire community of Christian leaders
  4. All vocations have equal merit, and every person should serve God according to his individual calling

Luther's deviation from traditional beliefs had a great social impact on sixteenth-century society. He inspired many other leaders, among them John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli. His teachings led peasants to revolt against the wealthy landowners, and the change of a religious era lent itself to a new artistic style called the Baroque Movement. Women liked that Luther's argument that all vocations have merit in God's eyes gave dignity to those who were reduced to menial household chores. Martin Luther was responsible for bringing about both chaos and community, and he was the first to openly challenge the Catholic Church.

Key events during the life of Martin Luther:

Entered the University of Erfurt, later enrolled in law school at the same college but dropped out almost immediately
Nearly struck by lightning during a storm, determined to serve God for fear of divine judgment
Entered the Augustinian friary in Erfurt
Ordained to the priesthood
Johann Tetzel was among those selling indulgences to raise funds for the renovation of St. Peter's Basilica
Posted the Ninety-Five Theses
Diet of Worms
Began forming a new system of beliefs
Published German translation of the New Testament (Old Testament was completed in 1534
Peasants' War is instigated, much of it in Luther's name
Marburg Colloquy established doctrinal unity in the emerging Protestant states
Luther passed away after suffering from kidney stones, a cataract, arthritis, and Meniere's disease

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Martin Luther the Reformer in  Stories from German History  by   Florence Aston
Boy Who Sung for Breakfast  in  The Story of Liberty  by  Charles C. Coffin
Plans that Did Not Come to Pass  in  The Story of Liberty  by  Charles C. Coffin
Martin Luther  in  Christian Persecutions  by  Asa Craig
Reformation  in  Germany: Peeps at History  by  John Finnemore
Luther, 1483-1546  in  Saints and Heroes Since the Middle Ages  by  George Hodges
Charles V  in  The History of Germany  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Beginning of the Reformation  in  The Story of Europe  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Luther and the Indulgences  in  Historical Tales: German  by  Charles Morris
Story of Martin Luther  in  The Awakening of Europe  by  M. B. Synge

Image Links

Luther Burning the Pope's Bull
 in Stories from German History

Martin Luther
 in Saints and Heroes Since the Middle Ages
Martin Luther burning pages
Martin Luther burning pages
 in Back Matter
Luther Introduced to the Home of Frau Cotta
Luther Introduced to the Home of Frau Cotta
 in Back Matter
Martin Luther before the Council of Worms
Martin Luther before the Council of Worms
 in Back Matter

Statue of Luther at Worms
 in Historical Tales: German

Martin Luther
 in Martin Luther

Luther burning the Pope's bull at Wittenberg
 in The Tudors and the Stuarts

Short Biography
John Calvin Protestant Theologian. Influenced French Huguenots, Presbyterian Scots, and English Puritans.
Charles V 16th century Hapsburg Emperor who ruled Austria, the Netherlands, Spain and parts of Italy.