Martin Luther

Martin Luther was the instigator behind one of the most significant changes to the Roman Catholic Church in history, developing an idea that would spread across the entirety of Europe and change the landscape of its religion entirely. But how did this happen? Did he intend to create this massive change? Why was he so dissatisfied with the religion at the time? 

Martin Luther Martin Luther

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Table of contents

    Martin Luther, by Lucas Cranach 1528, Wikimedia Commons.Fig. 1 - Portrait of Martin Luther

    A Timeline of Martin Luther's Life

    Date Event
    1483Martin Luther was born in Eisleben, Germany.
    1501 Started studying at the University of Erfurt, where he completed his BA and MA.
    1505Became a Catholic monk of Erfurt monastery. He even later visited Rome in 1510, showing his devotion to Catholicism.
    1508He continued his education, becoming a Lecturer at the University of Wittenburg, where he later completed his Doctorate in 1512.
    1510He even later visited Rome in 1510, showing his devotion to Catholicism. However, he became disillusioned by this trip due to Rome's extravagance.
    1517Martin Luther's 95 Theses were pinned on the door of the Wittenburg Church on the 31st of October. These outlined his discontent with 'Indulgences' and were the start of his shift away from Catholicism.
    1518Disputation with Cardinal Cagieton in Ausburg.
    1519Disputation with Eck in Leipzig.
    1521Martin Luther was excommunicated by the Pope during the 'Diet of Worms'.
    1522The New Testament is translated into German.
    1530Publication of the Augsburg Confession.
    1534The Old Testament is translated into German.
    1546Martin Luther dies due to the development of many long-standing illnesses.

    Martin Luther Facts

    Luther was born in the late 1400s in the small town of Eisleben in West Germany. He was born into a Catholic family and was baptised the day after his birth. His father pushed Martin, the eldest of his sons, to become a lawyer, but he dropped out of his legal studies after only a week, instead pursuing a degree in theology. He achieved his bachelor's degree and his masters in this by 1505.

    After his university studies finished, Luther was caught in a thunderstorm and called out to Saint Anne, the Mother of the Virgin Mary to save him, vowing to become a monk if he survived the ordeal. He joined the Efurt monestary in July of 1505 and dedicated himself entirely to Christ. He was ordained in the monastery two years later and completed even more degrees related to religious studies, including a Doctorate in Theology in 1512. in 1515 he had become the Vicar of Saxony and Thuringia and oversaw eleven monasteries in the area.

    I was a good monk, and I kept the rule of my order so strictly that I may say that if ever a monk got to heaven by his monkery it was I. All my brothers in the monastery who knew me will bear me out. If I had kept on any longer, I should have killed myself with vigils, prayers, reading, and other work.1

    - Martin Luther quoted by R. C. Sproul, 'Classic Teachings on the Nature of God', 2010

    Luther had underlying issues that affected his entire life and religious practice. He never doubted God and his connection to him but questioned the impact of the Church and bishops on the purity of religion.

    Indulgences

    Through monetary payment or favours, those who have sinned were able to reduce their punishment due. This was authorised by the Pope and became increasingly popular in the 1500s. You were also able to pay for indulgences for those already deceased. These particularly bother Luther.

    An example of his discontent came with 'indulgences' which Luther saw as the most blasphemous acts that undermined his beliefs in salvation. This anger led to Luther's most famous event, and the one that kickstarted the Protestant Reformation; the 95 Theses.

    The Beginning of the Reformation

    Luther's 95 Theses, also known as the Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, were pinned onto the Wittenburg Church's door on the 31st of October 1517.

    The 95 Theses

    Posting a Disputation wasn't an extremely radical thing to do at the time, but the contents of Luther's work did cause massive amounts of issues in the Catholic Church. Luther was not trying to overthrow the Catholic Church, but his work was an intellectual attack on some of the core pillars of Catholicism.

    Luther hammers his 95 theses to the door by Ferdinand Pauwels, Wikimedia Commons.Fig. 2 - Luther hammering his 95 Theses to the church door

    The central message was that only God could decide who would receive salvation, not indulgences, good deeds or even the Pope.

    For a complete list of the 95 Theses, visit - https://www.luther.de/en/95thesen.html

    This was Luther's first action against Catholicism, and he established his own ideals that separated him from traditional Catholic beliefs.

    The Establishment of Luther's Theology

    Luther had undergone a crisis in regard to his relationship with Catholicism. He disagreed with Salvation being granted or the opportunity boosted by the Church and was questioning how it could be achieved. If Humans are all fundamentally sinners, how can they be justified before God? By reading through the Bible's scripture, Luther was able to come to his answer:

    "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith; as it is written: “The just shall live by faith.” - Romans 1:17.

    This passage from Romans 1:17 allowed Luther to understand how Salvation could be achieved; by 'Faith Alone'. No matter how you may live your life, you are subject to God and God alone, and he would only judge you on how faithful you had been throughout your life. Anything done to attempt and win favour with God, such as good deeds and indulgences would not boost your chances of achieving salvation, and may even harm you if done with the wrong intentions.

    Lutheran Theology became mainly defined by the 'Five Solas', with the main two being 'Sola Fide' and 'Sola Scriptura'. Below are their definitions:

    The 'Five Solas'Translation and Definition
    'Sola Fide'Translates to 'Salvation by Faith Alone'. Christ is the only one whom faith in is justified. Anyone who believes in the holiness of another will not be saved.
    'Sola Scriptura'Translates to 'Scripture Alone'. Establishes the Bible as the sole authoritative source for all Christians and their worship.
    'Sola Gratia'Translates to 'Salvation by Grace Alone'. Only God can decide who will be saved and who will not. No work can change the judgement of God.
    'Solus Christus'Translates to 'In Christ Alone'. He is the only one who can save Protestants due to his sacrifice on the cross.
    'Soli Deo Gloria'Translates to 'For the Glory of God Alone'. God must always be praised for his ability to save those who follow him.

    The main points to remember about Luther's Theology are that only God can save you and bring you into salvation (known as 'Sola Fide') and that only scripture is the authority (known as 'Sola Scriptura'). Nobody has any influence in defining religion except these two sources - not even the Pope!

    Expansion of the Reformation Movement

    The expansion of the Reformation Movement involved the Luther Affair, Matin Luther's excommunication, the Diet of Worms, and finally the Creation of Lutheranism.

    The Luther Affair

    The Luther Affair defines the period between 1517 and 1521 when Martin Luther's writing began to spread, and his work became increasingly popular. Note Luther was still a Catholic during this period and never wanted to destroy the Religion, he was only trying to do what he thought was right to help others achieve salvation.

    Luther engaged in formal disagreements with the Chruch in both 1518 in a disputation against Cardinal Cajetan in Augsburg and in 1519 against fellow theologian Johann Eck in Leipzig, who had previously been friendly with Luther. These events solidified Luther as a severe threat to the Catholic Church, as he formally stated how the Pope had zero power as he wasn't referred to in the Bible.

    Martin Luther Excommunicated

    Luther's increased popularity led to the Pope sending him 'Exsurge Domine' in 1520. This was a papal bull stating that Luther would be excommunicated unless he withdrew many of his writings such as the 95 Theses. Luther, burnt this letter from the Pope and was therefore excommunicated in January of 1521. Luther was now operating outside the Catholic Church, with both the Pope and Charles V, King of the Holy Roman Empire, wanting his capture. Luther's books were banned, and he was sent to a court hearing in an event known as the 'Diet of Worms'.

    The Diet of Worms

    Luther was called to the city of Worms on April 17th 1521, in order to renounce his published writings that had been banned by the Pope.

    Luther at the Diet of Worms by Anton von Werner, Wikimedia Commons.Fig. 3 - Luther at the Diet of Worms

    Although apologising for the extent of some of the language used, he refused to recant unless there was Biblical scripture that disproved his arguments:

    Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against my conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.2

    - Martin Luther quoted by Richard N. Soulen, 'Sacred Scripture: A Short History of Interpretation', 2009

    Luther's refusal to retract his writings made him a wanted man by the Catholic Church. He went into hiding and was taken in by Fredrick the Wise who hid him at Wartburg Castle. Fredrick the Wise was the Duke of Saxony who was a mighty patron. Here, Luther continued to write, and Lutheranism was fully established as a form of Christianity.

    The Creation of Lutheranism

    Whilst working at Wartburg Castle, Luther was able to continue his writing and completed the remarkable feat of translating the entirety of the Bible. Working with some collaborators, the New Testament was translated from Latin to German by 1522, and the Old Testament by 1534. This was crucial to Luther, as having complete access to the bible was key to 'Sola Scriptura', and having it ultimately translated was essential to allow for worship.

    Luther continued to work under Fredrick's protection and was able to set out key features on how he believed worship should be undertaken. Below are the critical defining features of Lutheranism:

    Lutheranism Catholicism
    Followed the 'Five Solas', and these were the most fundamental component of Luther's ideology.The origins of the church came with the Apostle Peter in the First Century.
    No papal authority.The pope is God's representative on earth.
    Support clerical marriage. Advocates of clerical celibacy.
    Against Iconclasim; the act of removing images or monuments in worship. Heavy emphasis on icons and grandeur, including the rood screen to create a divide between clergy and congregation.
    The clergy would still lead the church, but as teachers of the Scripture, they had zero authority. The clergy spoke primarily in Latin and were able to take indulgences to hear and forgive sinners.
    Still followed the act of Eucharist but believed in consubstantiation; i.e. the presence of Christ is only within the bread and wine during the Eucharist. The Catholics believed that the Eucharist was the body and blood of Christ, not only a metaphor. This was transubstantiation.

    A Reflection on Martin Luther

    Martin Luther continued to work and developed a large support base around Europe for his work. By the time of his death, there were Protestant reformations all around Europe; for example, Henry VIII changed the Catholic Church in England to the Church of England in 1534. More leaders have risen across Europe such as John Calvin in France and Huldrych Zwingli in Switzerland, who proposed new ideas, and more radical groups such as Anabaptists.

    Luther, however, had issues of his own beginning to form. He suffered from immensely bad health from the early 1530s and eventually passed in 1546 as a result of these issues. He left behind a legacy however and changed the entirety of European Religion as a result of his work.

    Martin Luther - Key takeaways

    • Luther was born in 1483 to a family following Catholicism and passed away in 1546 due to his poor health.
    • Luther became a Monk in 1505 after studying theology at University. He remained a Monk for years but was dissatisfied with Catholic ideals such as 'indulgences'.
    • Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the All-Saints Church in Wittenburg, marking the start of his move away from Catholicism.
    • As the popularity of Luther increased, the Catholic Church and Pope became angry with him and his infamy. They saw him as a threat. This led to his ex-communication at the Diet of Worms in 1521.
    • At the 'Diet of Worms', Luther refused to recant his writings and was forced into hiding in Saxony. Here, he continued to write and develop his theology of Lutheranism. By 1534, Luther had translated the entirety of the Bible into German from Latin.

    References

    1. Martin Luther quoted by R. C. Sproul, Classic Teachings on the Nature of God (2010), pp. 64.
    2. Martin Luther quoted by Richard N. Soulen, Sacred Scripture: A Short History of Interpretation (2009), pp. 118..
    Frequently Asked Questions about Martin Luther

    Who was Martin Luther?

    Martin Luther was a theologian who created Lutheranism. This was a form of Protestantism which was a rebellion against the Roman Catholic Church.  

    Who killed Martin Luther? 

    Nobody, he died of natural causes. 

    How did Martin Luther die? 

    Luther passed away in 1546 due to his poor health. 

    What did Martin Luther do? 

    He was most famous for creating Lutheranism, being excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church and translating the Bible in its entirety. 

    When was Martin Luther born? 

    Luther was born in 1483 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    When did Martin Luther release his 95 Theses, proposing reformation to the Catholic church?

    Which Pope declared Luther's 95 Theses as heresy?

    What was Luther's main point of contention with the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century?

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