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