Luther in 1533 by Lucas Cranach
|Born||10 November 1483
|Died||18 February 1546 (aged 62)
Eisleben, Saxony, Holy Roman Empire
|Occupation||Monk, Priest, Theologian|
|Spouse(s)||Katharina von Bora|
|Children||Hans (Johannes), Elisabeth, Magdalena, Martin, Paul, Margarethe|
|Parents||Hans and Margarethe Luther (née Lindemann)|
Martin Luther (10 November 1483 – 18 February 1546) initiated the Protestant Reformation. As a priest and theology professor, he confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his The Ninety-Five Theses in 1517. Luther strongly disputed their claim that freedom from God's punishment of sin could be purchased with money. His refusal to retract all of his writings at the demand of Pope Leo X in 1520 and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms in 1521 resulted in his excommunication by the pope and condemnation as an outlaw by the emperor. Martin Luther taught that salvation is not from good works, but a free gift of God, received only by grace through faith in Jesus as redeemer from sin. His theology challenged the authority of the pope of the Roman Catholic Church by teaching that the Bible is the only source of divinely revealed knowledge and opposed sacerdotalism by considering all baptised Christians to be a holy priesthood. Those who identify with Luther's teachings are called Lutherans.
His translation of the Bible into the language of the people (instead of Latin) made it more accessible, causing a tremendous impact on the church and on German culture. It fostered the development of a standard version of the German language, added several principles to the art of translation, and influenced the translation into English of the King James Bible. His hymns inspired the development of singing in churches. His marriage to Katharina von Bora set a model for the practice of clerical marriage, allowing Protestant priests to marry.
Much scholarly debate has focused on Luther's writings about the Jews. His statements that the Jews' homes should be destroyed, their synagogues burned, money confiscated, and liberty curtailed were revived and used in propaganda by the Nazis from 1933 to 1945. As a result of this and his revolutionary theological views, his legacy remains controversial.
Martin Luther was born to Hans Luder (or Ludher, later Luther) and his wife Margarethe (née Lindemann) on 10 November 1483 in Eisleben, Germany, then part of the Holy Roman Empire. He was baptized as a Catholic the next morning on the feast day of St. Martin of Tours. His family moved to Mansfeld in 1484, where his father was a leaseholder of copper mines and smelters  and served as one of four citizen representatives on the local council. Martin Marty describes Luther's mother as a hard-working woman of "trading-class stock and middling means" and notes that Luther's enemies would later wrongly describe her as a whore and bath attendant. He had several brothers and sisters, and is known to have been close to one of them, Jacob. Hans Luther was ambitious for himself and his family, and he was determined to see Martin, his eldest son, become a lawyer. He sent Martin to Latin schools in Mansfeld, then Magdeburg in 1497, where he attended a school operated by a lay group called the Brethren of the Common Life, and Eisenach in 1498. The three schools focused on the so-called "trivium": grammar, rhetoric, and logic. Luther later compared his education there to purgatory and hell.
In 1501, at the age of nineteen, he entered the University of Erfurt — which he later described as a beerhouse and whorehouse. The schedule called for waking at four every morning for what has been described as "a day of rote learning and often wearying spiritual exercises." He received his master's degree in 1505.
In accordance with his father's wishes, Luther enrolled in law school at the same university that year but dropped out almost immediately, believing that law represented uncertainty. Luther sought assurances about life and was drawn to theology and philosophy, expressing particular interest in Aristotle, William of Ockham, and Gabriel Biel. He was deeply influenced by two tutors, Bartholomäus Arnoldi von Usingen and Jodocus Trutfetter, who taught him to be suspicious of even the greatest thinkers and to test everything himself by experience. Philosophy proved to be unsatisfying, offering assurance about the use of reason but none about loving God, which to Luther was more important. Reason could not lead men to God, he felt, and he thereafter developed a love-hate relationship with Aristotle over the latter's emphasis on reason. For Luther, reason could be used to question men and institutions, but not God. Human beings could learn about God only through divine revelation, he believed, and Scripture therefore became increasingly important to him.
He later attributed his decision to an event: on 2 July 1505, he was on horseback during a thunderstorm and a lightning bolt struck near him as he was returning to university after a trip home. Later telling his father he was terrified of death and divine judgment, he cried out, "Help! Saint Anna, I will become a monk!" He came to view his cry for help as a vow he could never break. He left law school, sold his books, and entered a closed Augustinian friary in Erfurt on 17 July 1505. One friend blamed the decision on Luther's sadness over the deaths of two friends. Luther himself seemed saddened by the move. Those who attended a farewell supper walked him to the door of the Black Cloister. "This day you see me, and then, not ever again," he said. His father was furious over what he saw as a waste of Luther's education.
Luther dedicated himself to monastic life, devoting himself to fasting, long hours in prayer, pilgrimage, and frequent confession. He would later remark, "If anyone could have gained heaven as a monk, then I would indeed have been among them." Luther described this period of his life as one of deep spiritual despair. He said, "I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailor and hangman of my poor soul."
Johann von Staupitz, his superior, concluded that Luther needed more work to distract him from excessive introspection and ordered him to pursue an academic career. In 1507, he was ordained to the priesthood, and in 1508 began teaching theology at the University of Wittenberg. He received a Bachelor's degree in Biblical studies on 9 March 1508, and another Bachelor's degree in the Sentences by Peter Lombard in 1509. On 19 October 1512, he was awarded his Doctor of Theology and, on 21 October 1512, was received into the senate of the theological faculty of the University of Wittenberg, having been called to the position of Doctor in Bible. He spent the rest of his career in this position at the University of Wittenberg.
In 1516-17, Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar and papal commissioner for indulgences, was sent to Germany by the Roman Catholic Church to sell indulgences to raise money to rebuild St Peter's Basilica in Rome. Roman Catholic theology stated that faith alone, whether fiduciary or dogmatic, cannot justify man; and that only such faith as is active in charity and good works (fides caritate formata) can justify man. The benefits of good works could be obtained by donating money to the church.
On 31 October, 1517, Luther wrote to Albrecht, Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg, protesting the sale of indulgences. He enclosed in his letter a copy of his "Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences," which came to be known as The 95 Theses. Hans Hillerbrand writes that Luther had no intention of confronting the church, but saw his disputation as a scholarly objection to church practices, and the tone of the writing is accordingly "searching, rather than doctrinaire." Hillerbrand writes that there is nevertheless an undercurrent of challenge in several of the theses, particularly in Thesis 86, which asks: "Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?"
Luther objected to a saying attributed to Johann Tetzel that "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory [also attested as 'into heaven'] springs." He insisted that, since forgiveness was God's alone to grant, those who claimed that indulgences absolved buyers from all punishments and granted them salvation were in error. Christians, he said, must not slacken in following Christ on account of such false assurances.
According to Philipp Melanchthon, writing in 1546, Luther "wrote theses on indulgences and posted them on the church of All Saints on 31 October 1517", an event now seen as sparking the Protestant Reformation. Some scholars have questioned Melanchthon's account, since he did not move to Wittenberg until a year later and no contemporaneous evidence exists for Luther's posting of the theses. Others counter that such evidence is unnecessary because it was the custom at the University of Wittenberg to advertise a disputation by posting theses on the door of All Saints' Church, also known as "Castle Church".
The 95 Theses were quickly translated from Latin into German, printed, and widely copied, making the controversy one of the first in history to be aided by the printing press. Within two weeks, copies of the theses had spread throughout Germany; within two months throughout Europe.
Luther's writings circulated widely, reaching France, England, and Italy as early as 1519. Students thronged to Wittenberg to hear Luther speak. He published a short commentary on Galatians and his Work on the Psalms. This early part of Luther's career was one of his most creative and productive. Three of his best-known works were published in 1520: To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and On the Freedom of a Christian.
From 1510 to 1520, Luther lectured on the Psalms, the books of Hebrews, Romans, and Galatians. As he studied these portions of the Bible, he came to view the use of terms such as penance and righteousness by the Roman Catholic Church in new ways. He became convinced that the church was corrupt in its ways and had lost sight of what he saw as several of the central truths of Christianity. The most important for Luther was the doctrine of justification – God's act of declaring a sinner righteous – by faith alone through God's grace. He began to teach that salvation or redemption is a gift of God's grace, attainable only through faith in Jesus as the Messiah. "This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification," he wrote, "is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness.
Luther came to understand justification as entirely the work of God. This teaching by Luther was clearly expressed in his 1525 publication On the Bondage of the Will, which was written in response to On Free Will by Desiderius Erasmus (1524). Luther based his position on Predestination on St. Paul's epistle to the Ephesians 2:8-10. Against the teaching of his day that the righteous acts of believers are performed in cooperation with God, Luther wrote that Christians receive such righteousness entirely from outside themselves; that righteousness not only comes from Christ but actually is the righteousness of Christ, imputed to Christians (rather than infused into them) through faith. "That is why faith alone makes someone just and fulfills the law," he wrote. "Faith is that which brings the Holy Spirit through the merits of Christ." Faith, for Luther, was a gift from God. He explained his concept of "justification" in the Smalcald Articles:
The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 3:24–25). He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works and merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23–25). This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us ... Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls (Mark 13:31).
Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz and Magdeburg did not reply to Luther's letter containing the 95 Theses. He had the theses checked for heresy and in December 1517 forwarded them to Rome. He needed the revenue from the indulgences to pay off a papal dispensation for his tenure of more than one bishopric. As Luther later noted, "the pope had a finger in the pie as well, because one half was to go to the building of St Peter's Church in Rome".
Pope Leo X was used to reformers and heretics, and he responded slowly, "with great care as is proper." Over the next three years he deployed a series of papal theologians and envoys against Luther, which only served to harden the reformer's anti-papal theology. First, the Dominican theologian Sylvester Mazzolini drafted a heresy case against Luther, whom Leo then summoned to Rome. The Elector Frederick persuaded the pope to have Luther examined at Augsburg, where the Imperial Diet was held. There, in October 1518, Luther informed the papal legate Cardinal Cajetan that he did not consider the papacy part of the biblical Church, and the hearings degenerated into a shouting match. More than his writing the 95 Theses, Luther's confrontation of the church cast him as an enemy of the pope. Cajetan's original instructions had been to arrest Luther if he failed to recant, but he lacked the means in Augsburg, where the Elector guaranteed Luther's security. Luther slipped out of the city at night, without leave from Cajetan.
In January 1519, at Altenburg in Saxony, the papal nuncio Karl von Miltitz adopted a more conciliatory approach. Luther made certain concessions to the Saxon, who was a relative of the Elector, and promised to remain silent if his opponents did. The theologian Johann Maier von Eck, however, was determined to expose Luther's doctrine in a public forum. In June and July 1519 he staged a disputation with Luther's colleague Andreas Karlstadt at Leipzig and invited Luther to speak. Luther's boldest assertion in the debate was that Matthew 16:18 does not confer on popes the exclusive right to interpret scripture, and that therefore neither popes nor church councils were infallible. For this, Eck branded Luther a new Jan Hus, referring to the Czech reformer and heretic burned at the stake in 1415. From that moment, he devoted himself to Luther's defeat.
On 15 June 1520, the Pope warned Luther with the papal bull (edict) Exsurge Domine that he risked excommunication unless he recanted 41 sentences drawn from his writings, including the 95 Theses, within 60 days. That autumn, Johann Eck proclaimed the bull in Meissen and other towns. Karl von Miltitz, a papal nuncio, attempted to broker a solution, but Luther, who had sent the Pope a copy of On the Freedom of a Christian in October, publicly set fire to the bull and decretals at Wittenberg on 10 December 1520, an act he defended in Why the Pope and his Recent Book are Burned and Assertions Concerning All Articles. As a consequence, Luther was excommunicated by Leo X on 3 January 1521, in the bull Decet Romanum Pontificem.
The enforcement of the ban on the 95 Theses fell to the secular authorities. On 18 April 1521, Luther appeared as ordered before the Diet of Worms. This was a general assembly of the estates of the Holy Roman Empire that took place in Worms, a town on the Rhine. It was conducted from 28 January to 25 May 1521, with Emperor Charles V presiding. Prince Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, obtained a safe conduct for Luther to and from the meeting.
Johann Eck, speaking on behalf of the Empire as assistant of the Archbishop of Trier, presented Luther with copies of his writings laid out on a table and asked him if the books were his, and whether he stood by their contents. Luther confirmed he was their author, but requested time to think about the answer to the second question. He prayed, consulted friends, and gave his response the next day:
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.
Luther is sometimes also quoted as saying: "Here I stand. I can do no other". Recent scholars consider the evidence for these words to be unreliable, since they were inserted before "May God help me" only in later versions of the speech and not recorded in witness accounts of the proceedings.
Over the next five days, private conferences were held to determine Luther's fate. The Emperor presented the final draft of the Diet of Worms on 25 May 1521, declaring Luther an outlaw, banning his literature, and requiring his arrest: "We want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic." It also made it a crime for anyone in Germany to give Luther food or shelter. It permitted anyone to kill Luther without legal consequence.
Luther's disappearance during his return trip was planned. Frederick III, Elector of Saxony had him intercepted on his way home by masked horsemen and escorted to the security of the Wartburg Castle at Eisenach. During his stay at Wartburg, which he referred to as "my Patmos", Luther translated the New Testament from Latin into German and poured out doctrinal and polemical writings. These included a renewed attack on Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz, whom he shamed into halting the sale of indulgences in his episcopates, and a "Refutation of the Argument of Latomus," in which he expounded the principle of justification to Jacobus Latomus, an orthodox theologian from Louvain.
In this work, one of his most emphatic statements on faith, he argued that every good work designed to attract God's favour is a sin. All humans are sinners by nature, he explained, and God's grace, which cannot be earned, alone can make them just. On 1 August 1521, Luther wrote to Melanchthon on the same theme: "Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides."
In the summer of 1521, Luther widened his target from individual pieties like indulgences and pilgrimages to doctrines at the heart of Church practices. In On the Abrogation of the Private Mass, he condemned as idolatry the idea that the mass is a sacrifice, asserting instead that it is a gift, to be received with thanksgiving by the whole congregation. His essay On Confession, Whether the Pope has the Power to Require It rejected compulsory confession and encouraged private confession and absolution, since "every Christian is a confessor." In November, Luther wrote The Judgement of Martin Luther on Monastic Vows. He assured monks and nuns that they could break their vows without sin, because vows were an illegitimate and vain attempt to win salvation.
Luther made his pronouncements from Wartburg in the context of rapid developments at Wittenberg, of which he was kept fully informed. Andreas Karlstadt, supported by the ex-Augustinian Gabriel Zwilling, embarked on a radical programme of reform there in June 1521, exceeding anything envisaged by Luther. The reforms provoked disturbances, including a revolt by the Augustinian monks against their prior, the smashing of statues and images in churches, and denunciations of the magistracy. After secretly visiting Wittenberg in early December 1521, Luther wrote A Sincere Admonition by Martin Luther to All Christians to Guard Against Insurrection and Rebellion. Wittenberg became even more volatile after Christmas when a band of visionary zealots, the so-called Zwickau prophets, arrived, preaching revolutionary doctrines such as the equality of man, adult baptism, and Christ'’s imminent return. When the town council asked Luther to return, he decided it was his duty to act.
Luther secretly returned to Wittenberg on 6 March 1522. "During my absence," he wrote to the Elector, "Satan has entered my sheepfold, and committed ravages which I cannot repair by writing, but only by my personal presence and living word." For eight days in Lent, beginning on Invocavit Sunday, 9 March, Luther preached eight sermons, which became known as the "Invocavit Sermons." In these sermons, he hammered home the primacy of core Christian values such as love, patience, charity, and freedom, and reminded the citizens to trust God's word rather than violence to bring about necessary change.
Do you know what the Devil thinks when he sees men use violence to propagate the gospel? He sits with folded arms behind the fire of hell, and says with malignant looks and frightful grin: "Ah, how wise these madmen are to play my game! Let them go on; I shall reap the benefit. I delight in it." But when he sees the Word running and contending alone on the battle-field, then he shudders and shakes for fear.
The effect of Luther's intervention was immediate. After the sixth sermon, the Wittenberg jurist Jerome Schurf wrote to the elector: "Oh, what joy has Dr. Martin’s return spread among us! His words, through divine mercy, are bringing back every day misguided people into the way of the truth."
Luther next set about reversing or modifying the new church practices. By working alongside the authorities to restore public order, he signalled his reinvention as a conservative force within the Reformation. After banishing the Zwickau prophets, he now faced a battle not only against the established Church but against radical reformers who threatened the new order by fomenting social unrest and violence.
Despite his victory in Wittenberg, Luther was unable to stifle radicalism further afield. Preachers such as Zwickau prophet Nicholas Storch and Thomas Müntzer helped instigate the Peasants' War of 1524–25, during which many atrocities were committed, often in Luther's name. There had been revolts by the peasantry on a smaller scale since the 15th century. Luther's pamphlets against the Church and the hierarchy, often worded with "liberal" phraseology, now led many peasants to believe he would support an attack on the upper classes in general. Revolts broke out in Franconia, Swabia, and Thuringia in 1524, even drawing support from disaffected nobles, many of whom were in debt. Gaining momentum under the leadership of radicals such as Müntzer in Thuringia and Michael Gaismair in Tyrol, the revolts turned into war.
Luther sympathised with some of the peasants' grievances, as he showed in his response to the Twelve Articles of the Black Forest in May 1525, but he reminded the aggrieved to obey the temporal authorities. During a tour of Thuringia, he became enraged at the widespread burning of convents, monasteries, bishops’ palaces, and libraries. In Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants, written on his return to Wittenberg, he explained the Gospel teaching on wealth, condemned the violence as the devil's work, and called for the nobles to put down the rebels like mad dogs:
Therefore let everyone who can, smite, slay, and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel ... For baptism does not make men free in body and property, but in soul; and the gospel does not make goods common, except in the case of those who, of their own free will, do what the apostles and disciples did in Acts 4 [:32–37]. They did not demand, as do our insane peasants in their raging, that the goods of others — of Pilate and Herod — should be common, but only their own goods. Our peasants, however, want to make the goods of other men common, and keep their own for themselves. Fine Christians they are! I think there is not a devil left in hell; they have all gone into the peasants. Their raving has gone beyond all measure.
Luther justified his opposition to the rebels on three grounds. First, in choosing violence over lawful submission to the secular government, they were ignoring Christ's counsel to "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's"; St. Paul had written in his epistle to the Romans 13:1-7 that all authorities are appointed by God and therefore should not be resisted. This reference from the Bible forms the foundation for the doctrine known as the Divine Right of Kings, or, in the German case, the divine right of the princes. Second, the violent actions of rebelling, robbing, and plundering placed the peasants "outside the law of God and Empire," so they deserved "death in body and soul, if only as highwaymen and murderers." Lastly, Luther charged the rebels with blasphemy for calling themselves "Christian brethren" and committing their sinful acts under the banner of the Gospel.
Without Luther's backing for the uprising, many rebels laid down their weapons; others felt betrayed. Their defeat by the Swabian League at the Battle of Frankenhausen on 15 May 1525, followed by Müntzer’s execution, brought the revolutionary stage of the Reformation to a close. Thereafter, radicalism found a refuge in the anabaptist movement and other sects, while Luther's Reformation flourished under the wing of the secular powers.
Martin Luther married Katharina von Bora, one of 12 nuns he had helped escape from the Nimbschen Cistercian convent in April 1523, when he arranged for them to be smuggled out in herring barrels. "Suddenly, and while I was occupied with far different thoughts," he wrote to Wenceslaus Link, "the Lord has plunged me into marriage." Katherina was 26 years old, Luther was 41 years old.
On 13 June 1525, the couple was engaged with Johannes Bugenhagen, Justus Jonas, Johannes Apel, Philipp Melanchthon and Lucas Cranach the Elder and his wife as witnesses. On the evening of the same day, the couple was married by Bugenhagen. The ceremonial walk to the church and the wedding banquet were left out, and were made up two weeks later on 27 June.
Some priests and former monks had already married, including Andreas Karlstadt and Justus Jonas, but Luther's wedding set the seal of approval on clerical marriage. He had long condemned vows of celibacy on Biblical grounds, but his decision to marry surprised many, not least Melanchthon, who called it reckless. Luther had written to George Spalatin on 30 November 1524, "I shall never take a wife, as I feel at present. Not that I am insensible to my flesh or sex (for I am neither wood nor stone); but my mind is averse to wedlock because I daily expect the death of a heretic." Before marrying, Luther had been living on the plainest food, and, as he admitted himself, his mildewed bed was not properly made for months at a time.
Luther and his wife moved into a former monastery, "The Black Cloister," a wedding present from the new elector John the Steadfast (1525–32). They embarked on what appeared to have been a happy and successful marriage, though money was often short. Between bearing six children, four of whom survived to adulthood, Katharina helped earn the couple a living by farming the land and taking in boarders. Luther confided to Michael Stiefel on 11 August 1526: "My Katie is in all things so obliging and pleasing to me that I would not exchange my poverty for the riches of Croesus."
By 1526, Luther found himself increasingly occupied in organising a new church. His Biblical ideal of congregations' choosing their own ministers had proved unworkable. According to Bainton: "Luther's dilemma was that he wanted both a confessional church based on personal faith and experience and a territorial church including all in a given locality. If he were forced to choose, he would take his stand with the masses, and this was the direction in which he moved." From 1525 to 1529, he established a supervisory church body, laid down a new form of worship service, and wrote a clear summary of the new faith in the form of two catechisms.
To avoid confusing or upsetting the people, Luther avoided extreme change. He also did not wish to replace one controlling system with another. He concentrated on the church in the Electorate of Saxony, acting only as an adviser to churches in new territories, many of which followed his Saxon model. He worked closely with the new elector, John the Steadfast, to whom he turned for secular leadership and funds on behalf of a church largely shorn of its assets and income after the break with Rome. For Luther's biographer Martin Brecht, this partnership "was the beginning of a questionable and originally unintended development towards a church government under the temporal sovereign". The elector authorised a visitation of the church, a power formerly exercised by bishops. At times, Luther's practical reforms fell short of his earlier radical pronouncements. For example, the Instructions for the Visitors of Parish Pastors in Electoral Saxony (1528), drafted by Melanchthon with Luther's approval, stressed the role of repentance in the forgiveness of sins, despite Luther's position that faith alone ensures justification. The Eisleben reformer Johannes Agricola challenged this compromise, and Luther condemned him for teaching that faith is separate from works. The Instruction is a problematic document for those seeking a consistent evolution in Luther's thought and practice.
In response to demands for a German liturgy, Luther wrote a German Mass, which he published in early 1526. He did not intend it as a replacement for his 1523 adaptation of the Latin Mass but as an alternative for the "simple people", a "public stimulation for people to believe and become Christians." Luther based his order on the Catholic service but omitted "everything that smacks of sacrifice"; and the Mass became a celebration where everyone received the wine as well as the bread. He retained the elevation of the host and chalice, while trappings such as the Mass vestments, altar, and candles were made optional, allowing freedom of ceremony. Some reformers, including followers of Huldrych Zwingli, considered Luther's service too papistic; and modern scholars note the conservatism of his alternative to the Catholic mass. Luther's service, however, included congregational singing of hymns and psalms in German, as well as of parts of the liturgy, including Luther's unison setting of the Creed. To reach the simple people and the young, Luther incorporated religious instruction into the weekday services in the form of the catechism. He also provided simplified versions of the baptism and marriage services.
Luther and his colleagues introduced the new order of worship during their visitation of Electoral Saxony, which began in 1527. They also assessed the standard of pastoral care and Christian education in the territory. "Merciful God, what misery I have seen," Luther wrote, "the common people knowing nothing at all of Christian doctrine ... and unfortunately many pastors are well-nigh unskilled and incapable of teaching.".
Luther devised the catechism as a method of imparting the basics of Christianity to the congregations. In 1529, he wrote the Large Catechism, a manual for pastors and teachers, as well as a synopsis, the Small Catechism, to be memorised by the people themselves. The catechisms provide easy-to-understand instructional and devotional material on the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, baptism, and the Lord's Supper. Luther incorporated questions and answers in the catechism so that the basics of Christian faith would not just be learned by rote, "the way monkeys do it", but understood.
The catechism is one of Luther's most personal works. "Regarding the plan to collect my writings in volumes," he wrote, "I am quite cool and not at all eager about it because, roused by a Saturnian hunger, I would rather see them all devoured. For I acknowledge none of them to be really a book of mine, except perhaps the Bondage of the Will and the Catechism." The Small Catechism has earned a reputation as a model of clear religious teaching. It remains in use today, along with Luther's hymns and his translation of the Bible.
Luther's Small Catechism proved especially effective in helping parents teach their children; likewise the Larger Catechism was effective for pastors. Using the German vernacular they expressed the Apostles' Creed in simpler, more personal, Trinitarian language. He rewrote each article of the Creed to express the character of the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. Luther's goal was to enable the catechumens to see themselves as a personal object of the work of the three persons of the Trinity, each of which works in the catechumen's life. That is, Luther depicts the Trinity not as a doctrine to be learned, but as persons to be known. The Father creates, the Son redeems, and the Spirit sanctifies, a divine unity with separate personalities. Salvation originates with the Father and draws the believer to the Father. Luther's treatment of the Apostles Creed must be understood in the context of the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) and the Lord's Prayer, which are also part of the Lutheran catechical teaching.
Luther had published his German translation of the New Testament in 1522, and he and his collaborators completed the translation of the Old Testament in 1534, when the whole Bible was published. He continued to work on refining the translation until the end of his life. Others had translated the Bible into German, but Luther tailored his translation to his own doctrine. When he was criticised for inserting the word "alone" after "faith" in Romans 3:28, he replied: "It is my Testament and my translation, and it shall continue to be mine". The result was an evangelical Bible, suited to the emerging Lutheran church.
Luther's translation used the variant of German spoken at the Saxon chancellery, intelligible to both northern and southern Germans. He intended his vigorous, direct language to make the Bible accessible to everyday Germans, "for we are removing impediments and difficulties so that other people may read it without hindrance." Published at a time of rising demand for German-language publications, Luther's version quickly became the most popular Bible translation. As such, it made a significant contribution to the evolution of the German language and literature. Furnished with notes and prefaces by Luther, and with woodcuts by Lucas Cranach which contained anti-papal imagery, it played a major role in the spread of Luther's doctrine throughout Germany. The Luther Bible influenced other vernacular translations, such as William Tyndale's English Bible, a precursor of the King James Bible.
Luther was a prolific hymn writer, authoring hymns such as "A Mighty Fortress is Our God." Luther opened the way for a bringing together of high art and folk music, of all classes, clergy and laity, men, women and children. His device for this linking was the singing of German hymns in connection with worship, the school, the home, and the public arena.
Luther's 1524 creedal hymn "We All Believe in One True God" is a three-stanza confession of faith prefiguring Luther's 1529 three-part explanation of the Apostles' Creed in the Small Catechism. Luther's hymn, adapted and expanded from an earlier German creedal hymn, gained widespread use in vernacular Lutheran liturgies as early as 1525. Sixteenth-century Lutheran hymnals also included Wir Glauben All among the catechetical hymns, although 18th-century hymnals tended to label the hymn as trinitarian rather than catechetical, and 20th-century Lutherans rarely use the hymn because of the perceived difficulty of its tune.
Luther's 1538 hymnic version of the Lord's Prayer, "Vater Unser in Himmelreich," corresponds exactly to Luther's explanation of the prayer in the Small Catechism, with one stanza for each of the seven prayer petitions, plus opening and closing stanzas; the hymn functioned both as a liturgical setting of the Lord's Prayer and as a means of examining candidates on specific catechism questions. The extant manuscript shows multiple revisions, demonstrating Luther's concern to clarify and strengthen the text and to provide an appropriately prayerful tune. Other 16th- and 20th-century versifications of the Lord's Prayer have adopted Luther's tune, although modern texts are considerably shorter.
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Luther wrote "Aus Tiefer Not Schrei ich zu Dir" [From depths of woe I cry to you] in 1523 as a hymnic version of Psalm 130 and sent it as a sample to encourage evangelical colleagues to write psalm-hymns for use in German worship. In 1524 Luther developed his original four-stanza psalm paraphrase into a five-stanza Reformation hymn that developed the theme of "grace alone" more fully. Because it expressed essential Reformation doctrine, this expanded version of "Aus Tiefer Not" was designated as a regular component of several regional Lutheran liturgies and was widely used at funerals, including Luther's own. Along with Erhart Hegenwalt's hymnic version of Psalm 51, Luther's expanded hymn was also adopted for use with the fifth part of Luther's catechism, concerning confession.
Luther's 1540 hymn "Christ unser Herr zum Jordan Kam" [To Jordan came the Christ our Lord] reflects the structure and substance of his questions and answers concerning baptism in the Small Catechism. Luther adopted a preexisting Johann Walter tune associated with a hymnic setting of Psalm 67's prayer for grace; Wolf Heintz's four-part setting of the hymn was used to introduce the Lutheran Reformation in Halle in 1541. Preachers and composers of the 18th century, including J. S. Bach, used this rich hymn as a subject for their own work, although its objective baptismal theology was displaced by more subjective hymns under the influence of late-19th-century Lutheran pietism.
In October 1529, Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse convoked an assembly of German and Swiss theologians at the Marburg Colloquy, to establish doctrinal unity in the emerging Protestant states. Agreement was achieved on fourteen points out of fifteen, the exception being the nature of the Eucharist — the sacrament of the Lord's Supper — an issue crucial to Luther.
The theologians, including Zwingli, Melanchthon, Martin Bucer, and Johannes Oecolampadius, differed on the significance of the words spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper: "This is my body which is for you," "This cup is the new covenant in my blood" (1 Corinthians 11:23–26). Luther insisted on the Real Presence of the body and blood of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine, which he called the sacramental union, while his opponents believed God to be only spiritually or symbolically present. Zwingli, for example, denied Jesus's ability to be in more than one place at a time; but Luther stressed his ubiquity. According to transcripts, the debate sometimes became confrontational. Citing Jesus's words "The flesh profiteth nothing" (John 6.63), Zwingli said, "This passage breaks your neck". "Don't be too proud," Luther retorted, "German necks don't break that easily. This is Hesse, not Switzerland." On his table Luther wrote the words "Hoc est corpus meum" ("This is my body") in chalk, to continually indicate his firm stance.
Despite the disagreements on the Eucharist, the Marburg Colloquy paved the way for the signing in 1530 of the Augsburg Confession, and for the formation of the Schmalkaldic League the following year by leading Protestant nobles such as John of Saxony, Philip of Hesse, and Georg, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach. The reformed Swiss cities, however, did not sign these agreements. Luther found himself leading a denomination within Protestantism rather than the movement as a whole. Interpretations of the Eucharist differ among Protestants to this day.
At the time of the Marburg Colloquy, Suleiman the Magnificent was besieging Vienna with a vast Ottoman army. Luther had argued against resisting the Turks in his 1518 Explanation of the Ninety-five Theses, provoking accusations of defeatism. He saw the Turks as a scourge sent to punish Christians by God, as agents of the biblical apocalypse that would destroy the antichrist, whom Luther believed to be the papacy, and the Roman Church. He consistently rejected the idea of a Holy War, "as though our people were an army of Christians against the Turks, who were enemies of Christ. This is absolutely contrary to Christ's doctrine and name". On the other hand, in keeping with his doctrine of the two kingdoms, Luther did support non-religious war against the Turks. In 1526, he argued in Whether Soldiers can be in a State of Grace that national defence is reason for a just war. By 1529, in On War against the Turk, he was actively urging Emperor Charles V and the German people to fight a secular war against the Turks. He made clear, however, that the spiritual war against an alien faith was separate, to be waged through prayer and repentance. Around the time of the Siege of Vienna, Luther wrote a prayer for national deliverance from the Turks, asking God to "give to our emperor perpetual victory over our enemies".
In 1542, Luther read a Latin translation of the Qur'an. He went on to produce several critical pamphlets on the Islamic faith, which he called Mohammedanism or the Turk. Though Luther saw the Muslim faith as a tool of the devil, he was indifferent to its practice: "Let the Turk believe and live as he will, just as one lets the papacy and other false Christians live." He opposed banning the publication of the Qur'an, wanting it exposed to scrutiny.
Shaken by the Siege of Vienna, Charles V convened an Imperial Diet at Augsburg in 1530, aiming to unite the empire against the Turks. To achieve this, he needed first to resolve the religious controversies in his lands, "considering with love and kindness the views of everybody". He asked for a statement of the evangelical case, and one was duly devised by Luther, Melanchthon, and their Wittenberg colleagues. Melanchthon drafted the document, known as the Augsburg Confession, and travelled with the elector's party to Augsburg, where it was read to the emperor and diet on 25 June 1530. Luther was left behind at the Coburg fortress in southern Saxony because he remained under the imperial ban and lacked a safe-conduct to attend the diet. His writings during his 165 days at Coburg, including the Exhortation to all Clergy Assembled at Augsburg, show that, unlike Melanchthon, he was set against making concessions.
Despite the Confession's avoidance of strident language or abuse of the pope, the diet rejected it on 22 September. The reformers were ordered to renounce heresy and submit to the control of the Catholic Church by the following April or face the imperial army. The decision confirmed Luther's belief that the mission had been futile. It prompted the Lutheran princes to form a military alliance, the Schmalkaldic League, which Luther cautiously supported on grounds of self-defence in his Warning to His Dear German People of 1531. The Augsburg Confession had become the statement of faith on which Lutherans were prepared to stand or fall. Though a modified version of Luther's position, it is regarded as the first Lutheran treatise.
From December 1539, Luther became implicated in the bigamy of Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse, who wanted to marry one of his wife's ladies-in-waiting. Philip solicited the approval of Luther, Melanchthon, and Bucer, citing as a precedent the polygamy of the patriarchs. The theologians were not prepared to make a general ruling, and they reluctantly advised the landgrave that if he was determined, he should marry secretly and keep quiet about the matter. As a result, on 4 March 1540, Philip married a second wife, Margarethe von der Sale, with Melanchthon and Bucer among the witnesses. However, Philip was unable to keep the marriage secret, and he threatened to make Luther's advice public. Luther told him to "tell a good, strong lie" and deny the marriage completely, which Philip did during the subsequent public controversy. In the view of Luther's biographer Martin Brecht, "giving confessional advice for Philip of Hesse was one of the worst mistakes Luther made, and, next to the landgrave himself, who was directly responsible for it, history chiefly holds Luther accountable". Brecht argues that Luther's mistake was not that he gave private pastoral advice, but that he miscalculated the political implications. The affair caused lasting damage to Luther's reputation.
Luther wrote about the Jews throughout his career, though only a few of his works dealt with them directly. Luther rarely encountered Jews during his life, but his attitudes reflected a theological and cultural tradition which saw Jews as a rejected people guilty of the murder of Christ, and he lived within a local community that had expelled Jews some ninety years earlier. He considered the Jews blasphemers and liars because they rejected the divinity of Jesus, whereas Christians believed Jesus was the Messiah. At the same time, Luther believed that all human beings who set themselves against God shared one and the same guilt. As early as 1516, Luther wrote, "…[M]any people are proud with marvelous stupidity when they call the Jews dogs, evildoers, or whatever they like, while they too, and equally, do not realize who or what they are in the sight of God". In 1523, Luther advised kindness toward the Jews in That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew, but only with the aim of converting them to Christianity. When his efforts at conversion failed, he grew increasingly bitter toward them.
Luther's other major works on the Jews were his 60,000-word treatise Von den Juden und Ihren Lügen (On the Jews and Their Lies), and Vom Schem Hamphoras und vom Geschlecht Christi (On the Holy Name and the Lineage of Christ), both published in 1543, three years before his death. Luther argued that the Jews were no longer the chosen people but "the devil's people": he referred to them with violent, vile language. Luther advocated setting synagogues on fire, destroying Jewish prayerbooks, forbidding rabbis from preaching, seizing Jews' property and money, and smashing up their homes, so that these "poisonous envenomed worms" would be forced into labour or expelled "for all time". In Robert Michael's view, Luther's words "We are at fault in not slaying them" amounted to a sanction for murder.
Luther spoke out against the Jews in Saxony, Brandenburg, and Silesia. Josel of Rosheim, the Jewish spokesman who tried to help the Jews of Saxony in 1537, later blamed their plight on "that priest whose name was Martin Luther—may his body and soul be bound up in hell!—who wrote and issued many heretical books in which he said that whoever would help the Jews was doomed to perdition." Josel asked the city of Strasbourg to forbid the sale of Luther's anti-Jewish works: they refused initially, but relented when a Lutheran pastor in Hochfelden used a sermon to urge his parishioners to murder Jews. Luther's influence persisted after his death. Throughout the 1580s, riots led to the expulsion of Jews from several German Lutheran states.
Luther was the most widely read author of his generation, and he acquired the status of a prophet within Germany. According to the prevailing view among historians, his anti-Jewish rhetoric contributed significantly to the development of antisemitism in Germany, and in the 1930s and 1940s provided an "ideal underpinning" for the National Socialists' attacks on Jews. Reinhold Lewin writes that "whoever wrote against the Jews for whatever reason believed he had the right to justify himself by triumphantly referring to Luther." According to Michael, just about every anti-Jewish book printed in the Third Reich contained references to and quotations from Luther. Heinrich Himmler wrote admiringly of his writings and sermons on the Jews in 1940. The city of Nuremberg presented a first edition of On the Jews and their Lies to Julius Streicher, editor of the Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer, on his birthday in 1937; the newspaper described it as the most radically anti-Semitic tract ever published. On 17 December 1941, seven Protestant regional church confederations issued a statement agreeing with the policy of forcing Jews to wear the yellow badge, "since after his bitter experience Luther had already suggested preventive measures against the Jews and their expulsion from German territory." According to Daniel Goldhagen, Bishop Martin Sasse, a leading Protestant churchman, published a compendium of Luther's writings shortly after Kristallnacht, for which Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church in the University of Oxford argued that Luther's writing was a "blueprint." Sasse applauded the burning of the synagogues and the coincidence of the day, writing in the introduction, "On November 10, 1938, on Luther's birthday, the synagogues are burning in Germany." The German people, he urged, ought to heed these words "of the greatest antisemite of his time, the warner of his people against the Jews." According to Professor Dick Geary, the Nazis won a larger share of the vote in Protestant than in Catholic areas of Germany in elections of 1928 to November 1932.
At the heart of scholars' debate about Luther's influence is whether it is anachronistic to view his work as a precursor of the racial antisemitism of the National Socialists. Some scholars see Luther's influence as limited, and the Nazis' use of his work as opportunistic. Biographer Martin Brecht points out that "There is a world of difference between his belief in salvation and a racial ideology. Nevertheless, his misguided agitation had the evil result that Luther fatefully became one of the 'church fathers' of anti-Semitism and thus provided material for the modern hatred of the Jews, cloaking it with the authority of the Reformer." Johannes Wallmann argues that Luther's writings against the Jews were largely ignored in the 18th and 19th centuries, and that there was no continuity between Luther's thought and Nazi ideology. Uwe Siemon-Netto agreed, arguing that it was because the Nazis were already anti-Semites that they revived Luther's work. Hans J. Hillerbrand agreed that to focus on Luther was to adopt an essentially ahistorical perspective of Nazi antisemitism that ignored other contributory factors in German history.  Similarly, Roland Bainton, noted church historian and Luther biographer, wrote "One could wish that Luther had died before ever this tract was written. His position was entirely religious and in no respect racial."
Other scholars argue that, even if his views were merely anti-Judaic, their violence lent a new element to the standard Christian suspicion of Judaism. Ronald Berger writes that Luther is credited with "Germanizing the Christian critique of Judaism and establishing anti-Semitism as a key element of German culture and national identity." Paul Rose argues that he caused a "hysterical and demonizing mentality" about Jews to enter German thought and discourse, a mentality that might otherwise have been absent.
Since the 1980s, Lutheran Church denominations have repudiated Martin Luther's statements against the Jews and have rejected the use of them to incite hatred against Lutherans.
Luther had been suffering from ill health for years, including Ménière's disease, vertigo, fainting, tinnitus, and a cataract in one eye. From 1531 to 1546, his health deteriorated further. The years of struggle with Rome, the antagonisms with and among his fellow reformers, and the scandal which ensued from the bigamy of the Philip of Hesse incident, in which Luther had played a leading role, all may have contributed. In 1536, he began to suffer from kidney and bladder stones, and arthritis, and an ear infection ruptured an ear drum. In December 1544, he began to feel the effects of angina.
His poor physical health made him short-tempered and even harsher in his writings and comments. His wife Katharina was overheard saying, "Dear husband, you are too rude," and he responded, "They are teaching me to be rude."
His last sermon was delivered at Eisleben, his place of birth, on 15 February 1546, three days before his death. It was "entirely devoted to the obdurate Jews, whom it was a matter of great urgency to expel from all German territory," according to Léon Poliakov. James Mackinnon writes that it concluded with a "fiery summons to drive the Jews bag and baggage from their midst, unless they desisted from their calumny and their usury and became Christians." Luther said, "we want to practice Christian love toward them and pray that they convert," but also that they are "our public enemies ... and if they could kill us all, they would gladly do so. And so often they do."
Luther's final journey, to Mansfeld, was taken because of his concern for his siblings' families continuing in their father Hans Luther's copper mining trade. Their livelihood was threatened by Count Albrecht of Mansfeld bringing the industry under his own control. The controversy that ensued involved all four Mansfeld counts: Albrecht, Philip, John George, and Gerhard. Luther journeyed to Mansfeld twice in late 1545 to participate in the negotiations for a settlement, and a third visit was needed in early 1546 for their completion.
The negotiations were successfully concluded on 17 February 1546. After 8:00 p.m., he experienced chest pains. When he went to his bed, he prayed, "Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God" (Ps. 31:5), the common prayer of the dying. At 1:00 a.m. he awoke with more chest pain and was warmed with hot towels. He thanked God for revealing his Son to him in whom he had believed. His companions, Justus Jonas and Michael Coelius, shouted loudly, "Reverend father, are you ready to die trusting in your Lord Jesus Christ and to confess the doctrine which you have taught in his name?" A distinct "Yes" was Luther's reply.
An apoplectic stroke deprived him of his speech, and he died shortly afterwards at 2:45 a.m. on 18 February 1546, aged 62, in Eisleben, the city of his birth. He was buried in the Castle Church in Wittenberg, beneath the pulpit. The funeral was held by his friends Johannes Bugenhagen and Philipp Melanchthon. A year later, troops of Luther's adversary Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor entered the town, but were ordered by Charles not to disturb the grave.
A piece of paper was later found on which Luther had written his last statement. The statement was in Latin, apart from "We are beggars," which was in German.
1. No one can understand Vergil's Bucolics unless he has been a shepherd for five years. No one can understand Vergil's Georgics, unless he has been a farmer for five years. 2. No one can understand Cicero's Letters (or so I teach), unless he has busied himself in the affairs of some prominent state for twenty years. 3. Know that no one can have indulged in the Holy Writers sufficiently, unless he has governed churches for a hundred years with the prophets, such as Elijah and Elisha, John the Baptist, Christ and the apostles. Do not assail this divine Aeneid; nay, rather prostrate revere the ground that it treads. We are beggars: this is true.
For works by and about Luther, see Martin Luther (resources).
Martin Luther (1483-11-10 – 1546-02-18) was a German theologian, an Augustinian monk, and an ecclesiastical reformer whose teachings inspired the Reformation and deeply influenced the doctrines and culture of the Lutheran and Protestant traditions.
MARTIN LUTHER (1483-1546), the great German religious reformer, was born at Eisleben on the 10th of November 1483. His father, Hans Luther (Lyder, Luder, Ludher), a peasant from the township of Mdhra in Thuringia, after his marriage with Margarethe Ziegler, had settled in Mansfeld, attracted by the prospects of work in the mines there. The counts of Mansfeld, who, many years before, had started the mining industry, made a practice of building and letting out for hire small furnaces for smelting the ore. Hans Luther soon leased one, then three. In 1491 he became one of the four elected members of the village council (vier Herren von der Gemeinde); and we are told that the counts of Mansfeld held him in esteem. The boy grew up amid the poor, coarse surroundings of the German peasant life, imbibing its simple beliefs. He was taught that the Emperor protected the poor people against the Turk, that the Church was the "Pope's House," wherein the Bishop of Rome had all the rights of the house-father. He shared the common superstitions of the time and some of them never left him.
Young Martin went to the village school at Mansfeld; to a school at Magdeburg kept by the Brethren of the Common Lot; then to the well-known St George's school at Eisenach. At Magdeburg and Eisenach Luther was "a poor student," i.e. a boy who was received into a hospice where he lived rent-free, attended school without paying fees, and had the privilege of begging for his bread at the house-doors of the town; in return for which he sang as a chorister in the church to which the school was attached. Luther was never a "wandering student"; his parents were too careful of their child to permit him to lead the life of wandering licence which marked these pests of medieval German scholastic life. At Eisenach he attracted the notice of the wife of a wealthy merchant of Eisenach, whom his biographers usually identify as Frau Cotta.
After three happy years at Eisenach, Luther entered the university of Erfurt (1501), then the most famous in Germany. Hans Luther had been prospering, and was more than ever resolved to make his son a lawyer. Young Luther entered his name on the matriculation book in letters which can still be read "Martinus Ludher ex Mansfelt," a free student, no longer embarrassed by great poverty. In Luther's time Erfurt was the intellectual centre of Germany and its students were exposed to a variety of influences which could not fail to stimulate young men of mental ability.
Its theology was, of course, scholastic, but of what was then called the modern type, the Scotist; its philosophy was the nominalist system of William of Occam, whose great disciple, Gabriel Biel (d. 1495), had been one of its most famous professors; Nicholas de Lyra's (d. 1340) system of biblical interpretation had been long taught there by a succession of able teachers; Humanism had won an early entrance to the university; the anti-clerical teaching of John of Wessel, who had himself taught at Erfurt for fifteen years (1445-1460), had left its mark on the place and was not forgotten. Hussite propagandists, even in Luther's time, secretly visited the town and whispered among the students their anti-clerical Christian socialism. Papal legates to Germany seldom failed to visit the university and by their magnificence bore witness to the majesty of the Roman church.
A study of the scholastic philosophy was then the preliminary training for a course of law, and Luther worked so hard at the prescribed studies that he had little leisure, he said, for classical learning. He attended none of the Humanist lectures, but he read a good many of the Latin authors and also learned a little Greek. He never was a member of the Humanist circle; he was too much in earnest about religious questions and of too practical a turn of mind. The young Humanists would have gladly welcomed him into their select band. They dubbed him the "philosopher," the "musician," recalled in after days his fine social disposition, his skill in playing the lute, and his ready power in debate. He took the various degrees in an unusually brief time. He was bachelor in 1502 and master in 1505. His father, proud of his son's steady application and success, sent him the costly present of a Corpus Juris. He may have begun to study law. Suddenly he plunged into the Erfurt Convent of the Augustinian Eremites and after due noviciate became a monk.
The action was so unexpected that his contemporaries felt bound to give all manner of explanations which have been woven into accounts which are legendary. Nothing is known about the cause of the sudden plunge but what Luther has himself revealed. He has told us that he entered the monastery because he doubted of himself, and that his action was sudden because he knew that his father would have disapproved of his intention.
The word "doubt" has made historians think of intellectual difficulties - of the "theological scepticism" taught by Occam and Biel, of the disintegrating criticism of Humanism. But there is no trace of any theological difficulties in Luther's mind in the struggles which sent him into the convent and distracted him there. He was driven to do what he did by the pressure of a practical religious need, the desire to save his soul. The fires of hell and the shades of purgatory, which are the constant background of Dante's "Paradiso," were present to Luther from childhood.
Luther was the greatest religious genius which the 16th century produced, and the roots of the movement in which he was the central figure must be sought for in the popular religious life of the last decades of the 15th and opening decades of the i 6th centuries - a field which has been neglected by almost all his biographers. When it is explored traces of at least five different types of religious sentiment can be discovered. Pious parents, whether among the burghers or peasants, seem to have taught their children a simple evangelical faith. Martin Luther and thousands of children like him were trained at home to know the creed, the ten commandments, the Lord's prayer, and such simple hymns as Ein Kindelein so lobelich, Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist and Crist ist erstanden; and they were taught to believe that God for Christ's sake freely pardons sin. They learned that simple faith which Luther afterwards expounded in his Small Catechism and called the Kinderlehre. When lads trained like himself entered school and college they came in contact with that religious revival which characterized the last half of the 15th century. Fear seemed to brood over the peoples of Western Europe. The plague devastated the badly drained towns, new diseases spread death, the fear of the Turks was permanent. All this went to feed revival, which, founded on fear, refused to see in Jesus Christ anything but a stern judge, and made the Virgin Mother and Anna the "grandmother" the intercessors; which found consolation in pilgrimages from shrine to shrine; which believed in crude miracles, and in the thought that God could be best served within convent walls. Luther's mind was caught in this current of feeling. He records how it was burnt into him by pictures which filled his boyish imagination. Jesus in the painted window of Mansfeld church, stern of face, sword in hand, sitting on a rainbow, coming to judge; an altarpiece at Magdeburg, in which a ship with its crew was sailing on to heaven, carrying no layman on board; the deeds of St Elizabeth emblazoned on the window of St George's parish church at Eisenach; the living pictures of a young nobleman who had turned monk to save his soul, of a monk, the holiest man Luther had ever known, who was aged far beyond his years by his maceration; and many others of the same kind.
Alongside this we can trace the growth of another religious movement of a different kind. We can see a sturdy commonsense religion taking possession of multitudes in Germany, which insisted that laymen might rule in many departments supposed to belong exclusively to the clergy. The jus episcopale which Luther afterwards claimed for the secular authorities had been practically exercised in Saxony and Brandenburg; cities and districts had framed police regulations which set aside ecclesiastical decrees about holidays and begging; the supervision of charity was passing from the hands of the church into those of laymen; and religious confraternities which did not take their guidance from the clergy were increasing. Lastly, the medieval Brethren were engaged in printing and distributing tracts, mystical, anti-clerical, sometimes socialist. All these influences abounded as Luther was growing to manhood and laid their marks upon him. It was the momentary power of the second which drove him into the convent, and he selected the monastic order which represented all that was best in the revival of the latter half of the 15th century - the Augustinian Eremites.
In the convent Luther set himself to find salvation. The last word of that Scotist theology which ruled at the close of the middle ages was that man must work out his own salvation, and Luther tried to do so in the most approved later medieval fashion by the strictest asceticism. He fasted and scourged himself; he practised all the ordinary forms of maceration and invented new ones, all to no purpose. His theological studies, part of the convent education, told him that pardon could be had through the Sacrament of Penance, and that the first part of the sacrament was sorrow for sin. The older theology declared that such sorrow must be based on love to God. Had he this love? God always appeared to him as an implacable judge, threatening punishment for breaking a law which it was impossible to keep. He confessed to himself that he often hated this arbitrary Will which Scotist theology called God. The later theology, taught in the convent by John of Palz and John Nathin, said that sorrow might be based on a meaner motive provided the Sacrament of Penance was continually resorted to. Luther wearied his superiors with his attendance at the confessional. He was looked upon as a young saint, and his reputation extended throughout the convents of his order. The young saint felt himself to be no nearer the pardon of God; he thought that he was "gallows-ripe." At last his superiors seemed to discover his real difficulties. Partly by their help, partly by study of the scriptures, he came to understand that God's pardon was to be won by trusting to His promises. Thus after two years of indescribable mental conflicts Luther found peace. The struggle marked him for life. His victory gave him a sense of freedom, and the feeling that life was given by God to be enjoyed. In all external things he remained unchanged. He was a faithful son of the medieval church, with its doctrines, ceremonies and usages.
Soon after he had attained inward peace, Luther was ordained. He continued his studies in theology, devoting himself to the more "experimental" portions of Augustine, Bernard and Gerson. He showed himself a good man of business and was advanced in his order. In 1508 he was sent with some other monks to Wittenberg to assist the small university which had been opened there in 1502 by Frederick the Wise, elector of Saxony. It was there that Luther began to preach, first in a small chapel to the monks of his order; later taking the place of one of the town's clergy who was in ill-health. From Wittenberg he was sent by the chiefs of the German Augustinian Eremites to Rome on a mission concerning the organization of the order. He went up with the feelings of the medieval pilgrim rather than with the intoxication of the ardent Humanist. On his return (1512) he was sent by Staupitz, his vicar-general, to Erfurt to take the necessary steps for higher graduation in theology, in order to succeed Staupitz himself as professor of theology in Wittenberg. He graduated as Doctor of the Holy Scripture, took the Wittenberg doctor's oath to defend the evangelical truth vigorously (viriliter), became a member of the Wittenberg Senate, and three weeks later succeeded Staupitz as professor of theology.
From the first Luther's lectures in theology differed from those ordinarily given at the time. He had no opinions on theological subjects at variance with the theology taught at Erfurt and elsewhere. No one attributed any heretical views to the young Wittenberg professor. He differed from others because he looked at theology in a more practical way. He thought it ought to be made useful to guide men to the grace of God and to tell them how to persevere in a life of joyous obedience to God and His commandments. His teaching was "experimental" from the beginning. Besides he believed that he had been specially set apart to lecture on the Holy Scriptures, and he began by commenting on the Psalms and on the Epistles of St Paul. He never knew much Hebrew and was not specially strong in Greek; so he used the Vulgate in his prelections. He had a huge widely printed volume on his desk, and wrote the notes for his lectures on the margins and between the lines. Some of the pages survive. They contain in the germ the leading thoughts of what became Lutheran theology. At first he expressed himself in the phrases common to scholastic theology, when these were found to be inadequate in words borrowed from the mystical writers of the 14th and 15th centuries, and then in new phrases more appropriate to the circle of fresh thoughts. Those new thoughts at first simply pushed aside the ordinary theology taught in the schools without staying to criticize it. Gradually, however, Luther began to find that there was some real opposition between what he was teaching and the theology he had been taught in the Erfurt convent. It appeared characteristically enough on the practical and not on the speculative side of theology in a sermon on Indulgences preached in July 1516.
Once begun the breach widened, until Luther could contrast "our theology" with what was taught at Erfurt, and by September he began to write against the scholastic theology, to declare that it was Pelagian at heart, that it repudiated the Augustinian doctrines of grace, and neglected to teach the supreme value of that faith "which throws itself upon God." These lectures and the teaching they contained soon made a great impression. Students began to flock to the small obscure university of Wittenberg, and the elector grew proud of the teacher who was making his university famous. It was at this interesting stage of his own religious career that he felt himself compelled to stand forth in opposition to what he believed to be a great religious scandal, and almost unconsciously to become a Reformer.
Luther began his work as a Reformer by proposing to discuss the true meaning of Indulgences. The occasion was an Indulgence proclaimed by Pope Leo X., farmed by the archbishop of Mainz, and preached by John Tetzel, a Dominican monk and a famed seller of Indulgences. Many of the German princes had no great love for Indulgence sellers, and Frederick of Saxony had prohibited Tetzel from entering his territories. But it was easy to reach most parts of Electoral Saxony without actually crossing the frontiers. The Red Cross of the Indulgence seller had been set up at Zerbst and at Jizterbogk, and people had gone from Wittenberg to buy the Papal Tickets. Luther believed that the sales were injurious to the morals of the townsmen; he had heard reports of Tetzel's sermons; he had become wrathful on reading the letter of recommendation of the archbishop; and friends had urged him to interfere. He protested with a characteristic combination of caution and courage. The church of All Saints (the castle church) was closely connected with the university of Wittenberg. Its doors were commonly used for university proclamations. The Elector Frederick was a great collector of relics and had stored them in his church. He had procured an Indulgence for all who attended its services on All Saints' Day, and crowds commonly gathered. Luther nailed ninety-five theses on the church door on that day, the 1st of November 1517, when the crowd could see and read them.
The proceeding was strictly academic. The matter discussed, to judge by the writings of theologians, was somewhat obscure; and Luther offered his theses as an attempt to make it clearer. No one was supposed to be committed to every opinion he advanced in such a way. But the theses posted somehow touched heart and conscience in a way unusual in the common subjects of academic disputation. Every one wanted to read them. The University Press could not supply copies fast enough. They were translated into German, and were known throughout Germany in less than a fortnight. Within a month they had been heard of all over western and southern Europe. Luther himself was staggered at the way they were received. He said he had never meant to determine, but to debate.
The theses were singularly unlike what might have been expected from a professor of theology. They made no attempt at theological definition, no pretence at logical arrangement; they were anything but a brief programme of reformation. They were simply ninety-five sledge-hammer blows directed against the most flagrant ecclesiastical abuse of the age. They were addressed to the "common" man and appealed to his common sense of spiritual things.
The practice of offering, selling and buying Indulgences (see Indulgence) was everywhere common in the beginning of the 16th century. The beginnings go back more than a thousand years before the time of Luther. In the earliest church life, when Christians fell into sin, they were required to make public confession before the congregation, to declare their sorrow, and to vow to perform certain acts which were regarded as evidence of the sincerity of their repentance. When the custom of public confession before the congregation had changed to private confession to the clergy, it became the confessor's duty to impose these satisfactions. It was thought only right that there should be some uniformity in dealing with repentant sinners, and books appeared giving lists of sins and what were supposed to be suitable satisfactions. When the sins confessed were very heinous the satisfactions were correspondingly severe and sometimes lasted over many years. About the 7th century arose a custom of commuting or relaxing these imposed satisfactions. A penance of several years fasting might be commuted into saying so many prayers, or giving an arranged amount in alms, or even into a money-fine. In the last case the analogy of the Wergeld of the German tribal codes was commonly followed. The usage generally took the form that any one who visited a church, to which the Indulgence had been attached, on a day named, and gave a contribution to its funds, had his penance shortened by one-seventh, one-third or one-half, as might be arranged. This was the origin of Indulgences properly so-called. They were always mitigations of satisfactions or penances which had been imposed by the church as outward signs of inward sorrow, tests of fitness for pardon, and the needful precedents of absolution. Luther uttered no protest against Indulgences of this kind. He held that what the church had imposed the church could remit.
This old and simple conception of Indulgences had been greatly altered since the beginning of the 13th century. The institution of penance had been raised to the dignity of a sacrament, and this had changed both the place and the character of satisfactions. Under the older conception the order had been Sorrow (Contritio), Confession, Satisfaction (or due manifestation of sorrow in ways prescribed) and Absolution. Under the newer theory the order was Sorrow, Confession, Absolution, Satisfaction, and both satisfaction and sorrow took new meanings. It was held that Absolution removed guilt and freed from eternal punishment, but that something had to be done to free the penitent from temporal punishment whether in this life or in purgatory. Satisfactions took the new meaning of the temporal punishments due in this life and the substitute for the pains of purgatory. The new thought of a treasury of merits (thesaurus meritorum) introduced further changes. It was held that the good deeds over and above what were needed for their own salvation by the living or by the saints in heaven, together with the inexhaustible merits of Christ, were all deposited in a treasury out of which they could be taken by the pope and given by him to the faithful. They could be added to the satisfactions actually done by penitents. Thus Satisfactions became not merely signs of sorrow but actual merits, which freed men from the need to undergo the temporal pains here and in purgatory which their sins had rendered them liable to. By an Indulgence merits could be transferred from the storehouse to those who required them. The change made in the character of Sorrow made Indulgences all the more necessary for the indifferent penitent. On the older theory Sorrow (Contritio) had for its one basis love to God; but on the newer theory the starting-point might be a less worthy king of sorrow (Attritio) which it was held would be changed into the more worthy kind in the Sacrament of Penance. The conclusion was naturally drawn that a process of penitence which began with sorrow of the more unworthy kind needed a larger amount of Satisfactions or penance than what began with Contrition. Hence for the indifferent Christian, Attrition, Confession and Indulgence became the three heads in the scheme of the church of the later middle ages for his salvation. The one thing which satisfied his conscience was the burdensome thing he had to do, and that was to procure an Indulgence - a matter made increasingly easy for him as time went on.
This doctrine of Attrition had not the undivided support of the theologians of the later medieval church; but it was taught by the Scotists and was naturally a favourite theme with the sellers of Indulgences. Nor were all theologians at one upon the whole theory of Indulgences. The majority of the best theologians held that Indulgences had nothing to do with the pardoning of guilt, but only with freeing from temporal penalties in this life or in purgatory. But the common people did not discriminate, and believed that when they bought an Indulgence they were purchasing pardon from sin; and Luther placed himself in the position of the ordinary Christian uninstructed in the niceties of theological distinctions.
His Ninety-five Theses made six different assertions about Indulgences and their efficacy: - i. An Indulgence is and can only be the remission of a merely ecclesiastical penalty; the church can remit what the church has imposed; it cannot remit what God has imposed.
ii. An Indulgence can never remit guilt; the pope himself cannot do such a thing; God has kept that in His own hand.
iii. It cannot remit the divine punishment for sin; that also is in the hands of God alone.
iv. It can have no efficacy for souls in Purgatory; penalties imposed by the church can only refer to the living; death dissolves them; what the pope can do for souls in Purgatory is by prayer, not by jurisdiction or the power of the keys.
v. The Christian who has true repentance has already received pardon from God altogether apart from an Indulgence, and does not need one; Christ demands this true repentance from every one.
vi. The Treasury of Merits has never been properly defined; it is hard to say what it is, and it is not properly understood by the people; it cannot be the merits of Christ and of His saints, because these act of themselves and quite apart from the intervention of the pope; it can mean nothing more than that the pope, having the power of the keys, can remit ecclesiastical penalties imposed by the church; the true Treasure-house of merits is the Holy Ghost of the grace and glory of God.
The unexpected effect of the Theses was that the sale of Indulgences began to decline rapidly, and the archbishop of Mainz, disappointed in his hopes of revenue, sent a copy to Rome. The pope thinking that the whole dispute was a monkish quarrel, contented himself with asking the general of the Augustinian Eremites to keep his monks quiet. This was not easy. Tetzel, in conjunction with a friend, Conrad Wimpina, had published a set of counter-theses. John Mayr of Eck, a noted controversialist and professor of theology in the university of Ingolstadt, scented the Hussite heresy in the Theses, and denounced them in a tract entitled Obelisks. Luther at once answered in his Asterisks. A controversy raged in Germany. Meanwhile, at Rome, Silvester Mazzolini of Prierio, a Dominican monk and Inquisitor, had been studying the Theses, was profoundly dissatisfied with them, and wrote a Dialogue about the Power of the Pope, against the presumptuous conclusions of Martin Luther. This book reached Germany about the middle of January 1518, and increased the tumult.
Luther's friends had been provokingly silent about the Theses; but in April 1518, at the annual chapter of the Augustinian Eremites held at Heidelberg, Luther heard his positions temperately discussed, and found somewhat to his astonishment that his views were not acceptable to all his fellow monks. On his return to Wittenberg he began an answer to his opponents. He carefully considered his positions, found them unassailable, and published his Resolutions, the most carefully written of all his works. The book practically discarded all the ideas and practices concerning Indulgences which had come into the medieval church since the beginning of the 13th century, and all the ingenious explanations of the scholastic theologians from Bonaventura and Thomas Aquinas downwards. The effect of the controversy was a great decrease in the sale of Indulgences in Germany, and the Papal Curia saw with alarm a prolific source of revenue decaying. It was felt that Luther must be silenced. He was accordingly summoned to Rome. To obey would have meant death; to refuse in his own name would have been contumacy. But the peremptory summons could be construed as an attack on the university of Wittenberg, and both the elector of Saxony and the emperor Maximilian so regarded it. The result was that Pope Leo cancelled the summons, and it was arranged that Luther should appear before the papal Legate to the German Diet, Thomas de Vio, Cardinal Cajedtan, at Augsburg. The interview was not very successful. At its conclusion Luther wrote two appeals - one from the pope illinformed to the pope well-informed, and the other to a General Council. True to his habit of taking the German people into his confidence, he wrote an account of his interview with the Legate, and published it under the title of the Acta Augustana. The publication greatly increased the sympathy of almost all classes in Germany for Luther. They saw in him a pious man, an esteemed professor, who had done nothing but propose a discussion on the notoriously intricate subject of Indulgences, peremptorily ordered to recant and to remain silent. The elector Frederick shared the common feelings and resolved to defend the man who had made his university so famous. His action compelled the Roman Curia to pause. Germany was on the eve, it was believed, of an election of a king of the Romans; it was possible that an imperial election was not far distant; Frederick was too important a personage to offend. So the condemnation by the Cardinal-Legate was withdrawn for the time, and the pope resolved to deal with the matter otherwise. He selected one of his chamberlains, Charles von Miltitz, the elector's private agent at Rome, and commissioned him. to deal with the matter as he best could. Miltitz received the "golden rose" to give to Frederick, and was furnished with several letters in all of which the pope spoke of Luther as a "child of the devil." His holiness had probably forgotten the fact when he addressed Luther some months later as "his dear son." When Miltitz arrived in Germany he discovered that the movement was much more important than the Roman Curia had imagined. He had not to deal with the opposition of a recalcitrant monk, but with the awakening of a nation. He resolved to meet with Tetzel and with Luther privately before he produced his credentials. Tetzel he could not see; the man was afraid to leave his convent; but he had lengthy interviews with Luther in the house of Spalatin the chaplain and private secretary of the elector Frederick. There he disowned the sermons of the pardonsellers, let it be seen that he did not approve of the action of the Legate, and so prevailed with Luther that the latter promised to write a submissive letter to the pope, to exhort people to reverence the Roman See, to say that Indulgences were useful to remit canonical penances, and to promise to write no more on the matter unless he happened to be attacked. Luther did all this. A reconciliation might have taken place had the Roman Curia supported Miltitz. But the Curia did not support Miltitz, and placed more faith in Eck, who was eager to extinguish Luther in a public discussion.
Luther had been spending the time between his interview with the Legate at Augsburg (Oct. 1518) and the Leipzig Disputation (June 1519) in severe and disquieting studies. He had found that all his opponents had pursued one line of argument: the power to issue an Indulgence is simply one case of the universal papal jurisdiction; Indulgences are what the pope proclaims them to be, and to attack them is to attack the power of the pope; the pope represents the Roman church, which is actually the universal church, and to oppose the pope is to defy the whole church of Christ; whoever attacks such a long-established system as that of Indulgences is a heretic. Such was the argument. Luther felt himself confronted with the pope's absolute supremacy in all ecclesiastical matters. It was a plea whose full force he felt. The papal supremacy was one of his oldest inherited beliefs. He re-examined his convictions about justifying faith and whether they did lead to his declarations about Indulgences. He could come to no other conclusion. It then became necessary to examine the papal claims. He set himself to study the Decretals, and to his amazement and indignation he found that they were full of frauds. It is hard to say whether the discovery brought him more joy or more grief. His letters show him half-exultant and half-terrified. While he was in this state of mind he received Eck's challenge to dispute with him at Leipzig on the papal supremacy.
This Leipzig Disputation was perhaps the most important point in Luther's career. He met Eck in June 1519. It soon appeared that the intention of that practised debater was to force Luther into some admission which would justify opponents in accusing him of holding the opinions of Huss, who had been condemned by the great German Council of Constance. In this he was eminently successful. Eck left Leipzig triumphant, and Luther returned to Wittenberg much depressed. As usual he wrote out and published an account of the Disputation, which was an appeal to his fellow Germans. The result surpassed his expectations. The Disputation made him see that his protest against the abuses of Indulgences was no criticism of an excrescence on the medieval ecclesiastical system, but an attack on its centre of existence. He saw that he stood for the spiritual priesthood of all believers and that medievalism in religion meant that man cannot approach God without a priestly mediator. The people also saw his position and rallied round him; and the Humanists discerned in him a champion against the old intolerance against which they had been revolting in vain. Luther's depression fled. Sermons, pamphlets, letters from his tireless pen flooded the land, and Luther began to be the leader of a German revolt against Rome.
The year 1520 saw the publication of his three most important works, all written at a time when he was fully convinced that he had broken for ever with Rome. They were, On the Liberty of a Christian Man, An Address to the Nobility of the German Nation, and On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church of God - the three primary treatises, as they have been called.
Meanwhile at Rome the pope had entrusted Eck and Prierias with the preparation of a bull (Exurge Domine) against Luther - a bull which followed the line of Eck's charges at Leipzig. The reformer had been expecting it ever since the Disputation at Leipzig, and had resolved to answer it by one striking act which would impress the imagination of every man. He posted up a notice inviting the Wittenberg students to witness the burning of the bull (loth of December 1520). Rome had shot its last ecclesiastical bolt. Nothing remained but an appeal to the secular power, and this was at once prepared.
The emperor Maximilian had died suddenly (12th January 1519), and for long Germany was disturbed with intrigues about the succession - the papal policy being specially tortuous. The widely expressed desire for a German emperor secured the unanimous election of Charles, the grandson of Maximilian and the king of Spain. Never were a people more mistaken and disappointed. The veins of Charles were full of German blood, but he was his mother's son. It was the Spaniard, not the German, who faced Luther at Worms.
Charles was crowned at Aachen, 23rd of October 1520, and opened his first German diet at Worms, 22nd of January 15 21. The pope had selected two envoys to wait on the young emperor, one of them, Jerome Aleander, being specially appointed to secure the outlawry of Luther. The agenda of the diet contained many things seriously affecting all Germany, but the one problem which every one was thinking about was how Luther would be dealt with. The Electoral College was divided. The archbishop of Cologne, the elector of Brandenburg and his brother the archbishop of Mainz were for instant outlawry, while the elector of Saxony, who was resolved to protect Luther, had great influence with the archbishop of Trier and the Count Palatine of the Rhine.
Aleander had no difficulty in persuading Charles, while both were still in the Netherlands, to put Luther under the ban within his hereditary dominions, and the papal nuncio expected that the decree would be extended to the whole German empire. But Charles at first refused to deal summarily with Luther so far as Germany was concerned. The emperor even wrote to the elector of Saxony, asking him to bring Luther with him to the diet for examination. Gradually he came to think that Luther might be condemned without appearing. The members of the diet were slow to come to any conclusion. At last they made up their minds, and presented a memorial to the emperor (19th of February 1521) in which they reminded him that no imperial edict could be published against Luther without their sanction, and proposed that he should be invited to Worms under a safe-conduct and be there examined. They also suggested that Luther should be heard upon the papal claims, and ended by asking the emperor to deliver Germany from the papal tyranny. The emperor agreed to summon Luther under a safeconduct, and that he should be heard; but he refused to mix his case with that of grievances against Rome. He had no sooner made the promise than he seems to have repented it. He saw no need for Luther's appearance. He tried to get him condemned unheard. An edict against Luther had been drafted (15th of February) which the diet refused to sanction. A few days later a second edict was drafted which ordered the burning of Luther's books. The diet again objected. Finally four days after the safe-conduct had been despatched the emperor revised this second edict, limited it to the seizure of Luther's books, and published it on his own authority without consulting the diet (loth March). After Luther had begun his journey, this edict was posted up along his route in order to intimidate him; other means were taken to make him turn aside from Worms; but he was resolved to go there and nothing daunted him. He reached the town (I 6th April) and was met by encouraging crowds. He was summoned to appear before the diet on the 17th and measures were taken to prevent him doing more than answering definite questions put to him. He was asked whether certain books had been written by him and whether he was prepared to maintain or to abjure what he had written. He asked time to prepare an answer to the second question. The diet was anxious to hear Luther, if the emperor was not, and his request was granted. He thus defeated the plot to keep him silent. On the 18th he made his second appearance and delivered the speech, which electrified his audience. At the close he was threatened by Spaniards in the diet. The Germans ringed him round, and, with their hands raised high in the fashion of a landsknecht who had struck a successful blow, passed out into the street and escorted him to his lodgings. Next day (April 19th) the emperor proposed to place Luther under the ban of the empire and read to the assembly a brief statement of his own views. The diet objected, and asked for a conference between Luther and some selected members. Conferences were held, but came to nothing. No compromise was possible between the declaration that man's conscience could only be bound by the Word of God and the emperor's belief in the infallibility of a general council. The commission had to report that its efforts had failed. Luther was ordered to leave Worms and to return to Wittenberg. His safe-conduct was to expire twenty-one days after the 16th of April. Then he was liable to be seized and put to death as a pestilent heretic. There only remained to draft and publish the edict containing the ban. Days passed and it did not appear. Suddenly the startling news reached Worms that Luther had disappeared, no one knew where. It was reported that his body had been found in a silver-mine pierced with, a dagger. The news flew over Germany and beyond it that he had been slain by papal emissaries. At Worms the indignation of the populace was intense. The public buildings were placarded during the night with an intimation that four hundred knights had sworn not to leave Luther unavenged, and the ominous words Bundschuh, Bundschuh, Bundschuh (the watchword of peasant revolts) were written at the foot. The combination suggested an alliance between the lesser knights and the peasants, dreaded by all the ruling classes. The true story of Luther's disappearance was not known until long afterwards. After the failure of the conference the elector of Saxony had commissioned two of the councillors to convey Luther to a place of safety without telling him where it was. Many weeks elapsed before Frederick himself learned that Luther was safe in his own castle of the Wartburg. The disappearance did not mean that Luther had ceased to be a leader of men; but it marked the beginning of an organized national opposition to Rome.
It was not till the 25th of May that the edict against Luther was presented to a small number of members of the diet, after the elector of Saxony and many important members had left Worms. It threatened all Luther's sympathisers with extermination, and practically proclaimed an Albigensian war in Germany. But few public documents prepared with so much care have proved so futile. The latter half of 1521 saw the silent spread of Lutheran opinions all over Germany. This was not unaccompanied with dangers. Every movement for reform carries within it the seeds of revolution, and Luther's was no exception to the rule.
The revolution began in Wittenberg during Luther's seclusion in the Wartburg. Andrew Boden of Carlstadt, a colleague of Luther's in the university of Wittenberg, was strongly impressed with the contradiction which he believed to exist between evangelical teaching and the usages of medieval ecclesiastical xvII. 5 a life. He denounced monastic vows, a distinctive dress for the clergy, the thought of a propitiatory mass, and the presence of images and pictures in the churches. Zwilling, a young Augustinian Eremite, added his fiery denunciations. His preaching stirred the commonalty. Turbulent crowds invaded two of the churches and rioted inside. The excitement of the people was increased by the arrival of three men known in history as the Zwickau prophets. Melanchthon felt himself powerless to restrain the tumult. The magistrates of the town were won over and issued an ordinance which attempted to express in legislation the new evangelical ideas. Duke George of Saxony, a resolute opponent of the Reformation, threatened to make the diet interfere. Luther became alarmed, and, not without a private hint from the elector of Saxony,' left his retreat and appeared among his townsmen. His presence and exertions restored order, and the conservative reformation resumed its quiet course. From this time onwards to the outbreak of the Peasants' War (1525) Luther was the real leader of the German nation, and everything seemed to promise a gradual reformation without tumult.
The Peasants' War ended this anticipation. From one point of view this insurrection was simply the last, the most widespreading and the most disastrous of these revolts, which had been almost chronic in Germany during the later decades of the 15th and earlier years of the 16th century and which had been almost continuous between 1503 and 1517. All the social and economic causes which produced them were increasingly active in 1524 and 1525. But it is undoubted that the religious revolt intensified the rebellion of the lower classes. Luther's voice awoke echoes he never dreamt of. The times were ripe for revolution, and the message which spoke of a religious democracy could not fail to suggest the social democracy also. In his appeal to the Nobility of the German Nation he had stated with severe precision the causes of social discontent. Himself a peasant's son and acquainted with the grievances under which the peasant lived, he had at various times formulated most of the demands which afterwards figured conspicuously in the Twelve Articles. The insurgents had. good cause to regard him as a sympathiser. But Luther, rightly or wrongly, believed that of the two ways in which wrongs can be spt right - the way of war and the path of peace - the latter is the only sure road in the long run. He did his best therefore to prevent the rising and risked his life among the infuriated peasants as readily as when he stood before the emperor and the diet. When the rebellion was at its height and Thomas Miinzer had sent forth fiery proclamations urging the peasantry "not to let the blood cool on their swords," Luther issued the pamphlet, which casts a stain on his whole life, in which he hounds on the ruling classes to suppress the insurgents with all violence. In the end the rebellion, formidable as it seemed for a few months, was crushed, and a heavier yoke was laid on the shoulders of the unfortunate peasants.
This year, 1525, saw the parting of the ways in the movement for reform. It ceased to be national and became ecclesiastical. It divided into three separate parts. One, guided by Luther himself, ended, after a long struggle with pope and emperor, in the establishment of evangelical churches under the rule of the secular authorities of the territories which adopted the Lutheran Reformation. Another, remaining true to the principles, doctrines, usages and hierarchy of the medieval church, dreamt only of a purification of moral life, and saw its end realised in the reforms of the council of Trent. The third, gathering together the more revolutionary impulses, expanded into that complex movement called Anabaptism - which spread over western Europe from England to Poland and from Scandinavia to northern Italy, and endured a long and sanguinary persecution at the hands of the civil authorities in most European countries. Its strength and popularity, especially among the artizan classes, have been very much underrated by most historians.
During the storm of the Peasants' War (13th of June 1525) Luther married Catherine von Bora, the daughter of a noble but impoverished family belonging to Meissen. She had been a Cistercian nun in the convent of Nimtzch near Grimma - a convent reserved for ladies of noble birth. Luther's writings, circulating through Saxony, had penetrated the convent walls and had convinced most of the inmates of the unlawfulness of monastic vows. Catherine and eight companions resolved to escape. Their relatives refused to aid them, and they applied to Luther. He entrusted the business to Leonhard Koppe of Torgau, and the rescue was safely carried out(4th of April 1523). The rescued nuns found places of refuge in the families of Wittenberg burghers. The elector John of Saxony (who had succeeded his brother Frederick) gave Luther the house which had served as the Augustinian Convent. The family gathered in this three-storeyed building, with its back windows looking over the Elbe and its front door opening on a great garden, was latterly Luther and his wife, their three sons and two daughters, Magdelena von Bora, Catherine's aunt, two orphan nieces and a grandniece. At the beginning of his married life Luther must have been in straitened circumstances. He married a portionless nun. On to 1532 his salary was two hundred gulden annually (about 16(3 in present money); after 1532 the stipend was increased to X240 with various payments in kind - corn, wood, malt, wine, &c. - which meant a great deal more. The town added occasional gifts to enable Luther to entertain the great personages who came to consult him frequently. Princes made him presents in money. This enabled Luther to purchase from his wife's brother the small estate of Zulsdorf. Catherine, too, was an excellent house-wife. She made the long-neglected garden profitable; kept pigs and poultry; rented other gardens; stocked a fishpond; farmed in a small way; and had her house full of boarders. Luther had a high opinion of her intelligence; she took rank among those consulted on all important occasions; in one letter to her, seldom quoted, he gives the fairest statement he ever made about the views of Zwingli on the Sacrament of the Supper.
The diet of Speyer (1526) saw Germany divided into a Protestant and a Romanist party. After much debate a compromise was arrived at, which foreshadowed the religious peace of Augsburg of 1555. It was resolved that the Word of God should be preached without disturbance, that indemnity should be given for past offences against the edict of Worms, and that meanwhile each state should live religiously as it hoped to answer for its conduct to God and the emperor. The Lutherans interpreted this to mean the right to frame ecclesiastical regulations for various principalities and to make changes in public worship. Luther busied himself in simplifying the service, in giving advice, - anxiously sought for, about the best modes of organising ecclesiastical affairs. In the diet held at Speyer in 1529 a compact Roman Catholic majority faced a weak Lutheran minority. The emperor declared through his commissioners that he abolished "by his imperial and absolute authority" the clause in the ordinance of 1526 on which the Lutherans had relied when they began to organize their territorial churches. The majority of the diet supported the emperor in this, and further proceeded to decree that no ecclesiastical body was to be deprived of its revenues or authority. This meant that throughout all Germany medieval ecclesiastical rule was to be upheld, and that none of the revenues of the medieval church could be appropriated for Protestant uses. On this a portion of the Protestant minority drafted a legal protest, in which the signers declared that they meant to abide by the decision of the diet of 1526 and refused to be bound by that of 1529. From this protest came the name Protestant. A minority in such a case could only maintain their protest if they were prepared to defend each other by force in case of an attack. Three days after the protest had been read, many of the protesting cities and states concluded "a secret and particular treaty," and Philip of Hesse, the ablest statesman among the Protesters, saw the need for a general union of all evangelical Christians in the empire. The difficulties in the way were great. The Saxons and the Swiss, Luther and Zwingli, were in fierce controversy about the true doctrine of the sacrament of the Supper. Luther was a patriotic German who was for ever bewailing the disintegration of the Fatherland; Zwingli was full of plans for confederations of Swiss cantons with South German cities, which could not fail to weaken the empire. Luther had but little trust in the "common man"; Zwingli was a thorough democrat. When Luther thought of the Swiss reformer he muttered as Archbishop Parker did of John Knox- "God keep us from such visitations as Knox hath attempted in Scotland; the people to be orderers of things." Above all Luther had good grounds for believing that at the conference at Memmingen friends of Zwingli had helped to organize a Peasants' War and to link the social revolution to the religious awakening. All these suspicions were in Luther's mind when he consented very half-heartedly to meet Zwingli at a conference to be held in Philip of Hesse's castle at Marburg. The debate proceeded as such debates usually do. Zwingli attacked the weakest part of Luther's theory - the ubiquity of the body of Christ; and Luther attacked Zwingli's exegesis of the words of the institution. Neither sought to bring out their points of agreement. Yet the conference did good; it showed that the Protestants were agreed on all doctrinal points but one. If union was for the present impossible, there were hopes for it in the future.
In 15.30 the emperor Charles, resolved to crush the Reformation, himself presided at the diet. The Protestant divisions were manifest. Three separate confessions were presented to the emperor - one from Zwingli, one by the theologians of the four cities of Strassbourg, Constance, Lindau and Memmingen (Confessio Tetrapolitana), and the Augsburg Confession, the future symbol of the Lutheran church. The third was the most important, and the emperor seriously set himself to see whether it might not be made the basis of a compromise. He found that reconciliation was hopeless. Thereupon the diet resolved that the edict of Worms was to be enforced against Luther and his partizans; that the ecclesiastical jurisdictions were to be preserved; and that all the church property taken possession of by the Lutheran princes was to be restored; and that in all cases of dispute the last court of appeal was to be the Imperial Court of Appeals. The last provision meant that the growing Protestantism was to be fought by harrassing litigation - nicht fechten sondern rechten was the phrase.
Luther was not present at the diet nor at the negotiations. He was still an outlaw according to imperial ideas. Melanchthon took his place as leader.
The decision of the diet compelled the Protestant princes to face the new and alarming situation. They met in conference in mid-winter at the little town of Schmalkald, and laid the foundations of what became the powerful Schmalkald League, which effectually protected the Protestants of Germany until it was broken up by the intrigues of the imperial party. From the time of the formation of this league, Luther retired gradually from the forefront of a reformation movement which had become largely political, and busied himself with reforms in public worship and suggestions for an organization of the polity of the Evangelical church. In this work his natural conservatism is apparent, and he contented himself with such changes as would make room for the action of evangelical principles. He disclaimed the right of suggesting a common order of worship or a uniform ecclesiastical polity; and Lutheran ritual and polity, while presenting common features, did not follow one common use. It may be said generally that while Luther insisted on a service in the vernacular, including the singing of German hymns, he considered it best to retain most of the ceremonies, the vestments and the uses of lights on the altar, which had existed in the unreformed church, while he was careful to explain that their retention might be dispensed with if thought necessary. To the popular mind the great distinction between the Lutheran and the medieval church service, besides the use of the vernacular and the supreme place assigned to preaching, was that the people partook of the cup in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper; and the Lutheran service became popularly distinguished from the Reformed because it retained, while the Reformed did away with, most of the medieval ceremonies and vestments (see Lutherans). The variations in the details of the polity of the Lutheran churches were very numerous, but they all preserved the same distinctive principles. Two conceptions lay at the basis - the thought of the spiritual priesthood of all believers and the belief that the state was a divine ordinance, that the magistracy might represent the whole body of believers and that discipline and administration might be exercised through courts constituted somewhat like the consistorial courts of the medieval bishops, their members being appointed by the magistracy.
The last years of Luther's life were spent in incessant labour disturbed by almost continuous ill-health. He was occupied in trying to unite firmly together the whole evangelical movement; he laboured to give his countrymen a good system of schools; he was on the watch to defeat any attempt of the Roman Curia to regain its hold over Germany; and he was the confidential adviser of a large number of the evangelical princes. Luther's intimacy with his own elector, first John, then John Frederick, helped to give him the place accorded to him by the princes. The chiefs of the Houses of Anhalt and Luneburg, Duke Henry of Saxony, Joachim II. of Brandenburg, Albert of Brandenburg and the counts of Mansfeld, were among Luther's most devoted supporters and most frequently sought his advice. Princely correspondence was not always pleasant. It took its most disagreeable form when Philip of Hesse besieged Luther with requests to give his sanction to taking a second wife while his first was still alive. Luther's weakness brought the second great blot on his career. The document sanctioning the bigamy of the landgrave was signed by Martin Bucer, Luther and Melanchthon, and is a humiliating paper. It may be thus summarized. According to the original commandment of God, marriage is between one man and one woman, and this original precept has been confirmed by our Lord; but sin brought it about that first Lamech, then the heathen, and then Abraham, took more than one wife, and this was permitted under the law. We are now living under the Gospel, which does not give prescribed rules for the external life and has not expressly prohibited bigamy. The law of the land expresses the original commandment of God, and the plain duty of the pastorate is to denounce bigamy. Nevertheless, the pastorate, in single cases of the direst need and to prevent worse, may sanction bigamy in a purely exceptional way. Such a bigamous marriage is a true marriage in the sight of God (the necessity being proved), but it is not a true marriage in the eye of public law and custom. Such a marriage and the dispensation for it ought to be kept secret; if it is made known, the dispensation becomes eo ipso invalid and the marriage is mere concubinage. The principle which underlies this extraordinary paper is probably the conception that the Protestant church has the same dispensing power which the medieval church claimed, but that it was to be exercised altogether apart from fees of any kind.
In his later years Luther became more tolerant on the sacramental question which divided him from the South German cities, although he never departed from his strong opposition to the supposed views of Zwingli himself. He consented to a conference, which, as he was too ill to leave home, met at Wittenberg (May - June 1536). After prolonged discussion the differences were narrowed to one point - the presence of the body of Christ extended in space in the sacrament of the Supper. It was agreed in the Wittenberg Concord to leave this an open question. Thus North and South Germany were united. It is possible that had Luther lived longer his followers might have been united with the Swiss. He repeatedly expressed an admiration for Calvin's writings on the subject of the sacrament; and Melanchthon believed that if the Swiss accepted Calvin's theory of the Supper, the Wittenberg Concord could be extended to include them. But the Consensus Tigurinus, which dates the adhesion of the Swiss to the views of Calvin, was not signed until 1549, when Luther was already dead.
Year by year Luther had been growing weaker, his attacks of illness more frequent and his bodily pains more continuous.
Despite the entreaties of wife and elector he resolved to do what he could to end some trifling dispute about inheritance which threatened the peace of the House of Mansfeld. He left Wittenberg in bitterly cold weather on the 23rd of January 1546, and the journey was tedious and hazardous. He was accepted as arbiter and his decision brought an end to the strife. He preached in Eisleben (February 14) with all his old fervour; but suddenly said quietly: "This and much more is to be said about the Gospel; but I am too weak and we will close here." These were his last words in the pulpit. On the 16th and 17th the deeds of reconciliation were signed and Luther's work was done. The end came swiftly. He was very ill on the evening of the 17th; he died on the early morning of the 18th of February 1546 in his sixty-third year.
The elector of Saxony and Luther's family resolved that he must be buried at Wittenberg, and on the 20th the funeral procession began its long march. The counts of Mansfeld, the magistrates of the city and all the burghers of Eisleben accompanied the coffin to the gates of their town. A company of fifty light-armed troops commanded by the young counts of Mansfeld headed the procession and went with it all the way to Wittenberg. The following was temporarily swelled as it passed .through villages and towns. Delegates from the elector of Saxony met it as it crossed the boundaries of the principality. Luther was laid to rest in the Castle church on whose door he had nailed the theses which had kindled the great conflagration.
Bibliography. - (a) For Luther's life as a whole: Melanchthon, "Historia de vita et actis Lutheri" (Wittenberg, 1545), in the Corpus Reformatorum, vi.; Mathesius, Historien von. Martini Lutheri, Anfang, Lehre, Leben and Sterben (Prague, 1896); Myconius, Historia Reformationis 1517-1542 (Leipzig, 1718); Ratzeberger, Geschichte fiber Luther and seine Zeit (Jena, 1850); Wrampelmeyer, Tagebuch iiber Dr Martin Luther gefiihrt von Dr Conrad Cordatus, 1 537 (Halle, 1885); Forstemann, Neues Urkundenbuch zur Geschichte der evangelischen Kirchenreformation (Hamburg, 1842); Kolde, Analecta Lutherana (Gotha, 1883); G. Losche, Analecta Lutherana et Melanchthoniana (Gotha, 1892); G. Losche, Vollstandige Reformations-Acta and Documenta (Leipzig, 1720-1729); Enders, Dr Martin Luther's Briefwechsel (5 vols., Frankfurt, 1884-1893) J. Cochlaeus (Rom. Cath.), Commentarius de actis et scriptis M. Lutheri, &c. (St Victor prope Moguntium). See also J. Kostlin, Martin Luther, sein Leben and seine Schriften (2 vols., Berlin, 1889); Th. Kolde, Martin Luther, Eine Biographie (2 vols., Gotha, 1884-1893); A. Hausrath, Luther's Leben (2 vols., Berlin, 1904); Lindsay, Luther and the German Reformation (Edinburgh, Iwo); Cambridge Modern History, ii. (Cambridge, 1903); History of the Reformation, i. (Edinburgh, 1906).
(b) For special incidents: The Theses and their publication: W. Kohler, Luthers 95 Theses sammt seinen Resolutionen, den Gegenschriften von Wimpina-Tetzel, Eck and Prierias, and den Antworten Luthers darauf (Leipzig, 1903); Emil Reich, Select Documents illustrating Medieval and Modern History (London, 1905); The Leipzig Disputation: Seidemann, Die Leipziger Disputation im Jahre 1519 (Dresden, 1843); Luther before the Diet of Worms: Deutsche Reichstagsakten unter Kaiser Karl V. (Gotha, 1893-1901), ii.; The Marburg Colloquy; Schirrmacher, Briefe and Acten zu der Geschichte des Religionsgespraches zu Marburg, 1529, and des Reichstages zu Augsburg 1530 (Gotha, 1876); Hospinian, Historia Sacramentaria, ii. 123b-126b; Ehrard, Das Dogma vom heiligen Abendmahl and seine Geschichte, ii. (Frankfurt a M., 1846); The Augsburg Confession: Schaff, The Creeds of the Evangelical Protestant Churches (London, 1877), History of the Creeds of Christendom (London, 1877).
(T. M. L.)
Martin Luther (November 10, 1483 in Eisleben - February 18, 1546 in Eisleben) was a German monk and theologian of Christianity. He is credited with starting the Protestant Reformation. As this happened, what are now called Protestant churches split from the Roman Catholic church. He started the Lutheran Church, the first church of Protestantism.
Luther studied philosophy at the University of Erfurt. In 1505, he entered into the Augustinian Order as a monk. Luther studied and ancient languages in Erfurt. In 1512 he became a doctor of theology in Wittenberg and began his lectures on the Psalms and Letters of Paul.
In October 1517, Luther wrote his 95 Theses. Many people think that he put them on the door of a church in Wittenberg, but this is not sure. Instead, he published a copy. Luther called them The Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences. It questioned the teaching of the western Church and its ideas about penance, the authority of the Pope and the usefulness of "indulgences". At that time, the Catholic Church was saying that they were allowed to decide who could go to Heaven after death, and they were selling indulgences for money to tell them they could go to Heaven. If that was true, it would mean that poor people would not be able to go to Heaven, but that the priests in the church would be rich from selling these things. Luther thought that this was all wrong, and was against the Bible.
After studying the Letters of Paul, especially the Letter to Romans, Luther came up with an idea called "sola fide". This means that faith is the only way that people can get salvation from God. According to sola fide, this would mean that many church customs were useless, and should be cast away.
First, Luther believed that he could reform (change) the Roman Church from the inside (while still being a part of the Church) with his Theses, but the Papacy took his attitude as heresy and excommunicated him on June 15 1520 with a paper saying he did not have their permission to go to Heaven. In October, Luther burned the paper in public, and showed he would not obey the Church unless they accepted his words.
Emperor Charles V opened the imperial Diet of Worms on 22 January 1521 to hear the case. For Luther, it was the last chance to say he had been wrong. But he did not change his mind. The Diet declared Luther an outlaw.
With the help of a friend, Luther hid in Wartburg Castle, near Erfurt. In the castle, he translated the Bible. First, he wrote the New Testament in German instead of the original Greek. Later, he translated the Old Testament into German, too. Until then, the Holy Mass and the Bible were in Latin. Very few people understood it. Most people went to Mass, and did not understand what the priest said because they did not speak Latin. Luther translated the Bible so that more people could read and understand it. That way, they were no longer depending on the priest to tell them what was in the Bible, but could read it themselves.
From the Bible, Luther formed firm ideas about families. Luther knew that what a child learned at home would greatly influence his life. He said in Table Talks, "Sermons very little edify children, who learn little thereby; it is more needful they be taught and well instructed in schools, and at home, and that they be learned and examined what they have learned; this way profits much; 'tis very wearisome, but very necessary". Luther also preached against the Catholic Church's demands that ministers remain single (not married). After hearing his preaching, many nuns wrote to him to ask for help in escaping their convents. Luther helped nine nuns escape one convent. On April 4, 1524, Luther had a friend help the nuns sneak over the wall and then hid them in barrels on a wagon until they were out of the city. One of these nuns was Katherine von Bora.
After finding husbands for the nuns whose families would not accept them, Luther had to find a husband for Katherine von Bora. Katherine, however, not only rejected a match Luther arranged for her, but said she would accept only Luther or another pastor named Amsdorf as her husband.
At first Luther did not really like Katherine and "supposed she was proud and haughty."  His feelings changed, though, and they married on June 13, 1525.  Luther later said, "And thank God it hath turned out well; for I have a pious (holy, God-loving) and faithful wife, to whom one may safely commit (give) his heart". 
They had six children. On June 6, 1526, Luther wrote, "I am a happy husband...for from the most precious woman, my best of wives, I have received, by the blessing of God, a little son, John Luther, and, by God's wonderful grace, I have become a father." 
The firstborn was John Luther. The next was a daughter, Elizabeth; but Elizabeth died when she was just eight months old, and Luther wrote in a letter, "My little daughter Elizabeth is taken from me, and hath left me with a bleeding and almost womanly heart, so sad am I on her account. I never thought the heart of a father was so tender towards his children. Pray the Lord for me." A third child, Magdalene, also died young. After Magdalene came Martin, then Paul, and finally Margaret. It was for his children that Luther wrote the Small Catechism - a book showing the basics of Lutheran beliefs.
Since the time of the silent films there existing films to the biography of Martin Luther. The newest film is called Luther. It was released in 2003.
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