Martin Luther

Martin Luther was a German theologian and religious reformer, who started the
Protestant Reformation, and whose vast influence during his time period made him
one of the crucial figures in modern European history. Luther was born in
Eisleben on November 10, 1483 and was descended from the peasantry, a fact that
he often stressed. Hans Luther, his father, was a copper miner. Luther received
a sound primary and secondary education at Mansfeld, Magdeburg, and Eisenach. In
1501, at the age of 17, he enrolled at the University of Erfurt, receiving a
bachelor\'s degree in 1502 and a master\'s degree in 1505 . He then intended to
study law, as his father had wished. In the summer of 1505, he abandoned his
studies and his law plans, sold his books, and entered the Augustinian monastery
in Erfurt. The decision surprised his friends and appalled his father. Later in
his life, Luther explained his suprising decision by recollecting several
brushes with death that had occurred at the time, making him aware of the
fleeting character of life. In the monastery he observed the rules imposed on a
novice but did not find the peace in God he had expected. Nevertheless, Luther
made his profession as a monk in the fall of 1506, and his superiors selected
him for the priesthood. Ordained in 1507, he approached his first celebration of
the mass with awe. After his ordination, Luther was asked to study theology in
order to become a professor at one of the many new German universities staffed
by monks. In 1508 he was assigned by Johann von Staupitz, vicar-general of the
Augustinians and a friend and counselor, to the new University of Wittenberg
(founded in 1502) to give introductory lectures in moral philosophy. He received
his bachelor\'s degree in theology in 1509 and returned to Erfurt, where he
taught and studied.
In November 1510, on behalf of seven Augustinian monasteries, he made a visit
to Rome, where he performed the religious duties customary for a pious visitor
and was shocked by the worldliness of the Roman clergy. Soon after resuming his
duties in Erfurt, he was reassigned to Wittenberg and asked to study for the
degree of doctor of theology. In 1512, after receiving his doctorate, he took
over the chair of biblical theology which he held till his death.
Although still uncertain of God\'s love and his own salvation, Luther was
active as a preacher, teacher, and administrator. Sometime during his study of
the New Testament in preparation for his lectures, he came to believe that
Christians are saved not through their own efforts but by the gift of God\'s
grace, which they accept in faith. Both the exact date and the location of this
experience have been a matter of controversy among scholars, but the event was
crucial in Luther\'s life, because it turned him decisively against some of the
major tenets of the Catholic church. Luther became a public and controversial
figure when he published his Ninety-Five Theses on October 31, 1517.
His main purpose of writing the theses was to show his opposition for the
corruption and wealth of the papacy and to state his belief that salvation would
be granted on the basis of faith alone rather then by works. Although it is
generally believed that Luther nailed these theses to the door of All Saints
Church in Wittenberg, some scholars have questioned this story, which does not
occur in any of his own writings. Regardless of the manner in which his
propositions were made public, they caused great excitement and were immediately
translated into German and widely distributed .
Luther\'s spirited defense and further development of his position through
public university debates in Wittenberg and other cities resulted in an
investigation by the Roman Curia that led to the condemnation of his teachings
and his excommunication. Summoned to appear before Charles V at the Diet of
Worms in April 1521, he was asked before the assembled secular and
ecclesiastical rulers to recant. He refused firmly, asserting that he would have
to be convinced by Scripture and clear reason in order to do so and that going
against conscience is not safe for anyone. Condemned by the emperor, Luther was
spirited away by his prince, the elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony, and kept
in hiding at Wartburg Castle. There he began his translation of the New
Testament from the original Greek into German, a seminal contribution to the
development of a standard German language. Disorders in Wittenberg caused by
some of his more extreme followers forced his return to the city in