Martin Luther is often the central figure to the Protestant Reformation. We saw last week that there were in fact pre-reformers as well who, in their own way, laid some groundwork for what was to come in Martin Luther’s time.
Like Wycliffe, Martin Luther found some friends in higher places that became key in his later survival – but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Martin lived from 1483 to 1546. He early on was given an education in Latin as well as memorized common things at the time like the 10 Commandments. When it was time for graduate studies he had the choice between law, medicine, and theology. Such a well-known theologian in the later Reformation must have chosen theology, right? Not correct. In fact, his father directed him into law, so Martin followed his father’s direction.
What changed Martin’s mind later, much to his father’s dismay was a storm. The storm was so bad that Martin was terrified he’d be killed by it and promised God he would change his path & instead become a monk in service to Him if he be spared him from death. Obviously, he was spared, because Martin stayed true to his word and entered a monastery.
What followed was a time of torment for Martin as he threw himself into the monastic life. The more he reached out to God, there more he saw his own sin and misery.
It was in 1508 in Wittenberg where he began his studies of theology and became exposed to the Scriptures themselves. After a trip to Rome and his continued studies, it wasn’t long before he began to see conflict between the faith as it is described scripturally and what the Catholic Church was putting forth.
A key trigger was the Pope’s endorsement and pushing of the doctrine of indulgences. Luther saw in them clear contradiction to the Bible. His response to them was the famed 95 Theses which famously were nailed to the doors of the church he had preached at. There is some debate whether this aspect truly happened, but he nevertheless did send a copy to Archbishop Albert of Mainz and some friends of his. This was made all the more possible by the invention of the printing press which would later prove invaluable in the spreading of Luther’s writings.
Martin Luther’s point in his actions was to spark a debate. He wanted things brought to light and have the church deal with them head-on, making reformations where necessary to get/keep the church properly on track. Martin had no intention of creating upheaval or rebelling. Even so, the controversy that ensued served to change Christendom as well as strengthen Martin’s faith as it proved to solidify him in the Bible being the final authority for the Christian faith.
I don’t want to get bogged down here into every minutia that came about next but suffice it to say that things escalated. (I will give it a deeper look in another article)
Eventually, the Pope declared Martin a heretic in 1521 with papal bull (Decree from the Pope) Decet Romanum Pontificem (translates: It pleases the Roman Pontiff). Martin Luther took the bull sent to him and burned it.
Now, here is where some of Martin Luther’s connections come in – albeit, not from any special ability of his own necessarily.
- German citizens were granted the right to a proper hearing before condemnation. (as such the papal bull did not immediately require an authority to apprehend Martin as it normally would)
- Frederick III stood by him and sought to protect him from Rome.
Diet of Worms
The “Diet of Worms” was effectively a meeting in Worms, Germany. Here, it was decided Martin would receive his hearing. Rome demanded Martin recant his works. In the end, he only admitted to speaking too harshly at points & apologized for this but ultimately & absolutely refused to recant his works.
At this point, Charles V (emperor) & Rome were after him which is where Martin Luther goes into hiding – again with help. When he eventually comes out again, he has added even more to his list of works – including a translation of the Bible into German.
The world is never the same again. Martin Luther’s works spread and new “mini” reformations are sparked in other countries. In time, the Protestant Reformation comes to impact all of Europe and then spills over into the New World (where the theologies impact the later formation of the USA).
There are far more details than what I’ve written here. This is just a primer of sorts. Many of Martin Luther’s works can be found online at no cost but you can still buy physical copies to this day of what he wrote.
Next week, I will continue on with key figures who’s lives overlapped with Martin’s or were just after him but continued the developments from the Reformation.
2 thoughts on “Martin Luther”
Thanks for a crisp and thoughtful summary of the life and early contribution of Martin Luther to the Protestant Reformation–very appropriate as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of that great event.
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Just part of a series I intend to end with the posting of Luther’s 95 theses. So with that in mind after today, 2 more posts remain in this current series. I’m already working on what topics will come after this series completion.