Martin Luther

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.

Indulgences

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.

  1. 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)
  2. 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.

 

Reformation

This year I will be posting a series of articles on the Protestant Reformation as we lead up to Reformation Sunday and Reformation Day of 2017.

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation tied to the posting of Martin Luther’s famed 95 theses that sparked change in Europe that continues to spill over, impacting Christians to this day.

Some nay-sayers over-simplify the time period as a time of religious upheaval and conflict. Yes, these things did happen but there are reasons for them and one key item in all of this was the printing press.

The printing press? Yup. It was a very important invention from this time period – without which the Reformation would have had a much harder time growing as it did.

Why is this? Well, among other works, Martin Luther – the one we like to credit as being the key figure in the Reformation – had written his 95 theses that challenged various beliefs and practices of the time under Roman Catholic rule. The printing press made it possible for people to print his work (copy it) and make it more available than what would have happened with just sending a letter or posting them on a church door.

With the spread of Martin’s writings went the spread of what he had found while actually reading the Scriptures. You see, at this time, the common person didn’t read the Bible but had to depend upon the Catholic Church to dispense what it had to say.

Throw in their effective monopoly on salvation and you had an authority who could claim power over your very soul and experience after death.

Martin Luther’s works – made much more available by the printing press – challenged the Church’s authority on the basis of what the Bible actually said. Things would never be the same!

In the coming weeks, I will write more about these things – bringing more details.

I plan to end it all on Oct. 31st which is Reformation Day (a Tuesday this year) with a posting of Martin Luther’s 95 theses – just as it has become legend that he did some 500 years ago! I will be making some word adjustments to modernize the English as well.

I’m looking forward to it! Stay tuned!