Martin Luther is best known for shaking up the religious world with his "95 Theses", which started the Protestant Reformation.
Born 10 November 1483 in Eisleben to Hans Luder and Margaret Lindemann
Married Katherine von Bora on 13 June 1525. They had six children: Johannes (aka Hans, John), Elisabeth, Magdalena, Martin, Paul, and Margaretha
Died 18 February 1546 in Eisleben. Buried 22 February 1546 at Wittenberg in the castle church
Birth and Parents
Martin Luther was the son of Hans Luder and his wife Margaret (nee Lindemann). He was probably born in Eisleben, in modern-day Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, possibly on 10 November 1483 (his widely accepted date of birth) and was baptized the next day at the Church of Saints Peter and Paul. He was named after St. Martin of Tours, whose feast day was 11 November. It should be kept in mind that the widely-accepted date of birth may not be correct because, according to Luther's own writings, he believed he was born in 1484 in Mansfield. Adding further confusion to his date of birth is Martin's grave marker in the church at Wittenberg: it states that Martin was aged sixty-three years, two months and ten days on his date of death (18 February 1546). That age would give him a date of birth of 8 December 1482.
Martin's last name at birth was Luder, but he changed the spelling of his name to Luther during his lifetime.
Early Life, Education and Religion
Martin was raised in the town of Mansfield, where his father first worked in the local copper mines and later owned a prosperous small business as a smelter. Martin was first educated at the local latin school and later attended a school, possibly run by the Brethren of the Common Life, at Magdeburg in 1497, with his studies focused on personal piety. His interests in a monastic life may have started while attending school there.
His father sent him to the University of Erfurt to study law and there he received the degree of Bachelor of Philosophy in 1502 and, on 6 January 1505, he received his master's degree.
After graduating, Martin rebelled against his father's desire for him to be a lawyer and, on 17 July 1505, Martin became an Augustinian monk. It is thought by some that he made this decision because the brutality of his home and school life drove him into the monastery, but no evidence has been found to prove that Martin had anything but a normal childhood with strict parents. A common story about Luther is that his decision to serve God was inspired when Martin was walking the road to Erfurt during a thunderstorm and a bolt of lightning struck the ground near him. He thought the strike was a sign from God and vowed to become a monk if he survived the storm. "Help me, St. Anne!" Luther screamed. "I will become a monk!" This story, and other similar versions of it, may be legends: Martin may have simply felt a strong calling to serve God.
Martin continued his education while living his monastic life, eventually earning his doctorate in biblical studies. He was ordained a priest in 1507. From 1508-1510, he studied at the University of Erfurt and at the University of Wittenberg. In the winter of 1510 or 1511, he took time away from his studies to travel to Rome for about five months. The purpose of this trip is reported differently by Lutheran scholars: he may have gone as a representative for the German Augustinian monasteries, or to either protest against or advocate for his mentor, Abbott Johann von Staupitz, or he may have gone to make a general confession in the Eternal City.
Martin returned to Wittenberg in 1512 and was appointed sub-prior. On 4 October he was made licentiate and, on 19 October, he received his doctorate. He was appointed as a professor of biblical studies in 1513, and was a representative of the vicar-general in Saxony and Thuringia in 1515.
Martin firmly believed in the writings of Augustine, who had regarded the Bible, rather than church officials, as the ultimate religious authority. Martin increasingly considered the Catholic Church to be corrupt in its sale of indulgences and stressed that salvation could only be reached through a person's commitment to their faith and by the grace of God.
On All's Saints Eve, 1517, Luther publicly objected to the way a priest was selling indulgences. Popular legend has it that Luther nailed his writing, "Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences" (better known as "The 95 Theses"), onto the wooden doors of Wittenberg Castle cathedral but, more likely, he posted these writings in an area on the doors that served as a community bulletin board. His intention was to propose debate of his ideas for internal reform of the Roman Catholic Church. The ideas he proposed included ending the practice of taking payment or "indulgences" to absolve sins, that the Bible was the only source of authority in the Church, and that faith only would admit people to heaven.
In 1518, Martin was summoned to Augsburg to defend his opinions set out in his 95 Theses. He debated with Cardinal Thomas Cajetan for three days, but they never came to an agreement. On 9 November 1518, the Pope condemned Martin's writings, saying they were against church teachings. At a public debate in Leipzig in 1519, when Luther said that "a simple layman armed with the Scriptures" was superior to both pope and councils without scripture, Martin was threatened with excommunication. He responded to the threat of excommunication by publishing three important treatises: "The Address to the Christian Nobility", in which he argued that all Christians were priests, and urged for reforms within the church; "The Babylonian Captivity of the Church", where he reduced the seven sacraments to two: baptism and the Lord's Supper; and "On the Freedom of a Christian", in which he told Christians they were free from church law, but bound in love to their neighbors.
A papal bull of excommunication, "Exsurge Domine", was written 15 July 1520. It condemned forty-one propositions in his writings, ordered the destruction of the books containing those "erroneous" propositions, and demanded that Luther recant within sixty days or receive "the full penalty of ecclesiastical punishment". Martin refused to recant and he was excommunicated by Pope Leo X on 3 January 1521, in the bull Decet Romanum Pontificem.
The enforcement of the ban on the Ninety-five Theses fell to the secular authorities. In April 1521, Martin was given yet another chance to recant at the Diet of Worms in two hearings. It was here that Luther famously made his declaration of refusal in his statement: "I neither can nor will recant anything, for it is neither safe nor right to act against one's conscience." Then he added, in German, "God help me. Amen."
Luther left Worms for Wittenberg on 26 April and escaped to Wartburg Castle in Eisenach on 4 May, where he remained hidden for over ten months. It was during his time at Warburg that he started translating the New Testament into the German language and he also published "On Confession" in which criticized the sacramental system. He also started one of his more important works, "Opinion on Monastic Orders" while at Wartburg.
Emperor Charles V issued an edict against Martin, declaring him a "convicted heretic" on 25 May 1521. The edict ordered all Luther's writings to be burned and placed Martin under the ban of the empire. The Edict of Worms declared:
"For this reason we forbid anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favour the said Martin Luther. On the contrary, we want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic, as he deserves, to be brought personally before us, or to be securely guarded until those who have captured him inform us, whereupon we will order the appropriate manner of proceeding against the said Luther. Those who will help in his capture will be rewarded generously for their good work."
In spring 1522, Martin returned to Wittenberg to support the reform movement he started; however, the movement had moved from a theological cause to a political one, and what became known as the Peasant War started soon afterward.
"Ultimately, because of rising public support for Luther among the German people and the protection of certain German princes, the Edict of Worms was never enforced in Germany." For the remainder of his life, he lived in Wittenberg and managed to avoid arrest while preaching a reformed view of Christianity at the Castle Church. Luther's ideas were compiled by his friend and collaborator, Philip Melanchthon, in a 1530 charter entitled "Augsburg Confession" (Confessio Augustana), which was the symbolic book of Lutheranism.
It took Martin nearly 12 years to complete his translation of the New Testament into the German language, and it was published in six parts in the beginning of 1534. In doing this work, he had used original language texts in Hebrew and Greek rather than Saint Jerome's Latin Vulgate version from the early Middle Ages. He also relied heavily on Erasmas' Greek Translation of the Bible, which was published in Luther's lifetime.
In his later years, Luther mocked many of the other reformers of his time, and sometimes used offensive language in doing so. The other reformers went much further in protesting the Roman church, closing monasteries and convents, and destroying symbols of organized religion. In his later years, his views became further and further removed from the Catholic Church's, and included support for polygamy based on Old Testament practice and sentiments against Judaism.
Johannes (aka John, Hans), born 7 June 1526. Hans was a jurist in Konigsberg, and died there 28 October 1575, some of his descendants were found in Bohemia in 1830 in a state of poverty.
Martin, born 9 November 1531, and studied theology, becoming a minister, but did not have "the intellectual gifts necessary for the ministry and laid down his office". He died as a private citizen, 3 March 1565, having married the daughter of a prominent Wittenburg family.
Paul, born 28 January 1533, died at Dresden in 1593; he was a physician to Dukes and Electors and married Anna Warbeck and had six children.
Margaretha, born 17 December 1534, married Georg von Kunheim and had issue; she died in Mühlhausen in 1570 at the age of thirty-six.
Martin and Catharine raised their family in an Augustinian monastery given to them after their marriage by the elector. The home was called the "Black Cloister" and later "Lutherhaus". Here they entertained and boarded many students and other guests and Luther would debate with them and entertain them with tales at the dinner table. Some of these discussions have been published in a work entitled Table Talks. Also living in the house, besides various students and servants, were Katharina's aunt, Magdalena von Bora and Martin's personal attendant, Wolfgang Sieberger.
Martin Luther died on 18 February 1546 while in Eisleben acting as an intermediary in a dispute between two brothers. He was buried on 22 February 1546 at Wittenberg in the castle church.
Martin wrote his will at Wittenberg on 6 January 1542, and it was witnessed by his colleagues Philip Melanchthon, Kaspar Cruciger, and Johannes Bugenhagen; however it was not witnessed by a public official and that fact contributed to future legal problems. The only person named in the will is Luther's wife, Katherine (Katie), but it states that he had five living children at the time he wrote the document. The will also lists property: a small holding of land at Zühlsdorf, "Bruno's house" and "goblets and valuables" worth about a thousand gulden. The will expressly states that he wanted Katie to remain the guardian of his children, however that wish was not granted and legal guardians were appointed for her children.
Martin's wife, Katherine, died at Torgau on 20 December 1552 in obscurity and poverty.
The Reformation Martin Luther ignited has influenced Western history and culture for 500+ years since his death. His writings are still actively studied and preached today in numerous branches of the Christian church. Today Martin Luther is considered one of the most prominent figures responsible for the reformation of Christianity.
↑ Moeller, Bernd and Karl Stackmann. Luder – Luther – Eleutherius. Erwägungen zu Luthers Namen. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1981. Not available online.
↑ Wikipedia: Martin Luther, citing Becking, Bob; Cannegieter, Alex; van er Poll, Wilfred. From Babylon to Eternity: The Exile Remembered and Constructed in Text and Tradition. Routledge: 2016. p. 91 (not available online).
↑ Hillerbrand, Hans J. The Annotated Luther: Christian Life in the World. Vol. 5. "Luther's Will: 1542". (2017). Published online at JSTOR
Rublack, Ulinka, ed. The Oxford Handbook of the Protestant Reformations Oxford University Press: 2017. Google Books, search only.
Nebelsick, Louis D., and Tomoko Emmerling. "'Finding Luther’: Toward an Archaeology of the Reformer and the Earliest Reformation.” in Church History, vol. 86, no. 4, 2017, pp. 1155–1207. Excerpts online at Cambridge.org.
Luther, Martin, Through Faith Alone: 365 Devotional Readings from Martin Luther Concordia Publishing House, Third Edition, 1999. Originally published by God's Word for the Nations Bible Society, 1995. Translated by Gudgeon, Ric; Zimermann, Trudy Rourke; and Meske, Gerhard. Also published by World Publishing in 1998.
Markwald, Rudolf K. and Markwald, Marilyn Morris Katharina Von Bora: A Reformation Life. Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, Missouri. 2002
Nestingen, James A., Martin Luther: A Life. Augsburg Fortress: Augsburg Books, Minneapolis, Minnesota. 2003
Nohl, Frederick, Luther: Biography of a Reformer. Concordia Publishing House, 2003. Includes photographs from the MGM movie Luther, also published in 2003. Title originally published as Martin Luther: Hero of Faith. Concordia Publishing House, 1962.* Mall, E. Jane, Kitty, My Rib. Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, Missouri. 1959. Second edition, 1964: Biography of Martin Luther and his wife Katharina Von Bora
Herzel, Catherine, Great Christians: Their Response and Witness. Lutheran Church Press, Philadelphia. 1964. ISBN 0-687-16895-3 (not available online)
Ink and Blood - documentary on history of the publication of the Holy Bible. Book and accompanying DVD
(German) Mitt. Agricola: aufgrund "Luther-Nachkommen-Buch" in "Ahnen und Enkel", Limburg/Lahn (C.A.Starke-Verlag) 1960
"Martin Luther: The Reluctant Revolutionary". PBS video