Martin Luther

This essay is concerned with Martin
Luther (1483-1546), and his concept of Christianity. Luther
began his ecclesiastical career as an Augustinian Monk in the
Roman Catholic Church. Consequently, Luther was initially
loyal to the papacy, and even after many theological
conflicts, he attempted to bring about his reconciliation with
the Church. But this was a paradox not to endure because in
his later years, Luther waged a continual battle with the
papacy. Luther was to become a professor of biblical
exegesis at Wittenberg where, in 1957, he posted his
critique of the Roman Catholic Church\'s teachings and
practices. This is otherwise known as The Ninety-Five
Theses, which is usually considered to be the original
document of the Reformation. Basically, this document was
an indictment of the venality of the Roman Catholic Church,
particularly the widespread practice of selling indulgences in
association with the sacrament of penance. Luther\'s beliefs
on the matter was that after confession, absolution relied
upon the sinner\'s faith and God\'s Divine Grace rather than
the intervention of a priest. At this point, Luther did not
advocate an actual separation from the Roman Catholic
Church. Instead, Luther felt his suggested reforms York-3
could be implemented within Catholicism. If this had taken
place, the Protestant Reformation would probably not of
ever seen the light of day--nor would it have been necessary.
But the theological practices being what they were in the
Roman Church, there was little chance at that time for any
great variations to occur within its folds. The Church of
Rome was thoroughly monolithic and set in its ways and was
not about to mutate into something else. If a metamorphosis
had occurred within the Roman Catholic Church, Luther
would have had a different destiny. But Luther\'s fate was
sealed, and his job was cut out for him. Concerning Luther
and the Reformation, Paul Tillich states: "The turning point of
the Reformation and of church history in general is the
experience of an Augustinian monk in his monastic
cell--Martin Luther. Martin Luther did not merely teach
different doctrines; others had done that also, such as
Wyclif. But none of the others who protested against the
Roman system were able to break through it. The only man
who really made a breakthrough, and whose breakthrough
has transformed the surface of the earth, was Martin Luther.
. . . He is one of the few great prophets of the Christian
Church, and his greatness is overwhelming, even if it was
limited by some of his personal traits and his later
development. He is responsible for the fact that a purified
Christianity, a Christianity of the Reformation, was able to
establish itself equal terms with the Roman tradition" (Tillich
227). Tillich\'s York-4 main emphasis, then, is not on Luther
as the founder of Lutheranism, but as the person who broke
through the system of the Church of Rome. Luther shattered
the theological restraints and distortions of the Roman
Catholic religion. This accomplishment amounts to the
establishment of another religion known as Protestantism, a
faith that was generated from the Reformation, with its
advocates such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich
Zwingli, and John Knox. However, Luther stood out as one
of the Reformation titans in a most unique manner. Roland
H. Bainton suggests the following concerning Luther\'s
reforms with regard to the Catholic sacraments; "But
Luther\'s rejection of the five sacraments might even have
been tolerated had it not been for the radical transformation
which he effected in the two which he retained. From his
view of baptism, he was not a second baptism, and no vow
should ever be taken beyond the baptismal vow. Most
serious of all was Luther\'s reduction of the mass to the
Lord\'s Supper. The mass is central for the entire Roman
Catholic system because the mass is believed to be a
repetition of the Incarnation and the Crucifixion. When the
bread and wine are transubstantiated, God again becomes
flesh and Christ again dies upon the altar. This wonder can
be performed only by priests empowered through
ordination. . . His first insistence was that the sacrament of
the mass must be not magical but mystical. . . He, too, had
no mind to subject it to human frailty and would not concede
that York-5 he had done so by positing the necessity of
faith, since faith is itself a gift from God, but this faith is given
by God when, where, and to whom he will and even without
the sacrament is efficacious; whereas the reverse is not true,
that the sacrament is of efficacy without faith. \'I may be
wrong on indulgences,\' declared Luther, \'but as to the need
for faith diminished the role of the priests who may place
awafer in the mouth but cannot engender