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Martin Luther

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Martin Luther (November 10, 1483 - February 18, 1546) was a Christian theologian and Augustinian monk whose teachings inspired the Lutheran Reformation and deeply influenced the doctrines of Protestant and other Christian traditions (a broad movement composed of many congregations and church bodies). His call to the Church to return to the teachings of the Bible resulted in the formation of new traditions within Christianity and the Counter-Reformation in the Roman Catholic Church, culminating at the Council of Trent.

Luther made contributions in fields beyond religion. His translation of the Bible helped to develop a standard version of the German language and added several principles to the art of translation. Luther's hymns sparked the development of congregational singing in Christianity. His marriage to Katharina von Bora[?], a former nun, revived the tradition of clergy marriage[?] and is sometimes called the first protestant parsonage.

Table of contents

Luther's early life Martin Luther was born to Hans and Margaretha Luther on 10 November 1483 in Eisleben[?], Germany and was baptised the next day on the feast of St. Martin of Tours, after whom he was named. His father owned a copper mine in near Mansfeld[?]. Having risen from the peasantry, his father was determined to see his son ascend to civil service and bring futher honor to the family. To that end, Hans sent young Martin to schools in Mansfeld, Magdeburg and Eisenach.

At the age of seventeen in 1501 he entered the University of Erfurt. The young student received a Bachelor's degree in 1502 and a Master's degree in 1505. According to his father's wishes, Martin enrolled in the law school of that university.

All that changed during a thunderstorm in the summer of 1505. A lightening bolt struck near to him as he was returning to school. Terrified, he cried out, "Help, St. Anne! I'll become a monk!" Spared of his life, but regretting his words, Luther kept his bargin, dropped out of law school and entered the monastery there.

Under the instructions of his order, Luther pursued an academic career. In 1507 he was ordained to the priesthood. In 1508 he began teaching theology at the University of Wittenberg. Luther earned his Bachelor's degree in Biblical Studies on 9 March 1508 and a Bachelor's degree in the Sentences[?] by Peter Lombard[?], (the main textbook of theology in the Middle Ages) in 1509.[Brecht, Vol. 1, p. 93]. On 19 October 1512, the University of Wittenberg conferred upon Martin Luther the degree of Doctor of Theology. [Brecht, Vol. 1, pp. 126-27].

In his studies, he found a Bible chained to a book stand and, reading it, came to believe that mankind's salvation is not in one's works, but in The Work that God has done for man, namely the giving up of Jesus Christ as a substitute felon for man.

The 95 Theses Although many believe that Luther nailed these theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg, this notion has recently been criticized. In the 95 Theses, he objected to many policies and doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther's action was in great part a response to the selling of indulgences[?] by Johann Tetzel, a Dominican priest. Luther's charges directly challenged the position of the clergy as regards individual salvation.

Response of the Papacy Johann Eck would claim that he had forced Luther to admit the similarity between Luther's doctrine and that of John Huss, who had been burned at the stake. On January 3, 1521 Pope Leo X excommunicated Martin Luther.

Diet of Worms From the viewpoint of the Roman Catholic Church, Luther's views were at least schismatic, and possibly heretical. Consequently Luther was called to defend his theses at the Diet of Worms on 17 April 1521. When he appeared before the assembly, Johann von Ecken, Archbishop of Trier acted as spokesman for Emperor Charles the Fifth. He presented Luther with a table filled with copies of his writings. The archbishop asked Luther if he still believed what these works taught. He requested time to think about his answer. Granted an extension, Luther prayed, consulted with friends and mediators and presented himself before the Diet the next day.

When the counselor put the same question to Luther the next day, the reformer apologized for the harsh tone of many of his writings, but could not reject the majority of them or the teachings in them. According to tradition, Luther is said to have spoken these words: "Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen." Many scholars doubt their authenticity because these words were first recorded fifty years after the event by Luther's best friend, Philipp Melanchthon. Because Melanchthon was close to the reformer, he may well be reporting the story as Luther told it. However, we have no way of knowing for sure these words were ever spoken. Of course it is quite plausible that he may have said them to himself, rather than outloud. This might present a natural explanation why such eminently quotable words were not recorded contemporaneusly.[Brecht, vol. 1, pp. 452-460] On May 25, the Emperor issued his Edict of Worms, declaring Martin Luther an outlaw[?].

Exile at the Wartburg Castle Luther had powerful friends among the princes of Germany, one of whom was his own prince, Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony. The prince arranged for Luther to be seized on his way from the Diet by a company of masked horsemen, who carried him to the castle of the Wartburg, where he was kept about a year. He grew a wide flaring beard; took on the garb of a knight and assumed the pseudonym Jörg. During this period of forced retirement from the world, Luther was hard at work upon his celebrated translation of the Bible. During his translation, Luther would make forays into the nearby towns and markets to listen to people talk, so that he could put his translation of the Bible into the language of the people.

Although his stay at the Wartburg kept Luther hidden from public view, Luther often received letters from his friends and allies, asking for his views and advice. For example, Philipp Melanchthon wrote to him and asked how to answer the charge that the reformers neglected pilgrimages, fasts and other traditional forms of piety. Luther's replied: "If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. 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 besides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign." [Letter 99.13, To Philipp Melanchthon, 1 August 1521.] [1] (http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/luther/letsinsbe.txt)

The Peasants' War The Peasants' War[?] (1524-1525) Before quite a year had passed, Luther was called from the Wartburg by the troubles caused by a new sect that had appeared, known as the Anabaptists, whose excesses were casting great discredit upon the whole reform movement.

Luther's German Bible Luther translated the New Testament into German. He used the recent critical Greek edition of Erasmus, a text which was later called textus receptus. The translation was published in 1521.

The translation of the Old Testament followed in 1534. He chose to omit parts of the Old Testament that were found in the Greek Septuagint but not in the Hebrew Masoretic texts then available. Those parts were eventually omitted by nearly all Protestants, and are known in Protestant circles as the Apocrypha. See Biblical canon.

Luther's writings The number of books attributed to Martin Luther is nothing short of impressive. However, some Luther scholars contend that many of the works were at least drafted by some of his good friends like Melanchton. Luthers fame provided a much larger potential audience than his -- at least as learned -- friends could have obtained under their own name. His books explain the settings of the epistles and show the conformity of the books of the Bible to each other. Of special note would be his writings about the Epistle to the Galatians in which he compares himself to the Apostle Paul in his defense of the Gospel (for example the faith-building commentary in Luther and the Epistle to the Galatians). Luther also wrote about church administration and wrote much about the Christian home.

Luther's work contains a number of statements that modern readers would consider rather crude. It should be remembered that Luther received many communications from throughout Eurorpe from people who could write anonymously, that is, without the spectre of mass media making their communications known. No public figure today could write in the manner of the correspondences Luther received or in the way Luther responded to them. Opinions today can be immediately shared electronically with a wide audience.

On the other hand Luther also deeply believed that reveling in obscenity and sin was the best way to vanquish the Devil. Telling the Devil to kiss ones posterior, according to him, would drive the tormentor of souls to distraction.

Martin Luther and Judaism Luther initially preached tolerance towards the Jewish people, convinced that the reason they had never converted to Christianity was that they were discriminated against, or had never heard the Gospel of Christ. However, after his overtures to Jews failed to convince Jewish people to adopt Christianity, he began preaching that the Jews were set in evil, anti-Christian ways, and needed to be expelled from the German body politic. In his On the Jews and Their Lies, he repeatedly calls them "a brood of vipers and children of the devil", citing Matthew 12:34. In the book written three years before his death, he listed seven recommendations to deal with the Jews.

I shall give you my sincere advice: First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. (...) Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. For they pursue in them the same aims as in their synagogues. Instead they might be lodged under a roof or in a barn, like the gypsies. (...) Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them. Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb. (...) Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. (...) Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping. (...) Seventh, I recommend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow, as was imposed on the children of Adam (Gen. 3:19).

In spite of these seven recommendations, he added:

But if we are afraid that they might harm us or our wives, children, — servants, cattle, etc., if they had to serve and work for us — for it is reasonable to assume that such noble lords of the world and venomous, bitter worms are not accustomed to working and would be very reluctant to humble themselves so deeply before the accursed Goyim-then let us emulate the common sense of other nations such as France, Spain, Bohemia, etc., compute with them how much their usury has extorted from us, divide, divide this amicably, but then eject them forever from the country. For, as we have heard, God's anger with them is so intense that gentle mercy will only tend to make them worse and worse, while sharp mercy will reform them but little. Therefore, in any case, away with them!

Luther's harsh comments about the Jews are seen by many as a continuation of medieval Christian anti-Semitism, and as the above quote shows, reflects earlier anti-Semitic expulsions in the 1300s, when Jews from other countries like Spain and France were invited into Germany. When Luther writes that the Jews should be expelled from his homeland, he expresses widespread feelings of his times.

Luther was zealous toward the Gospel, and he wanted to protect the people of his homeland from the Jews who he believed would be harmful influences since they did not recognize Jesus as thier Saviour. In Luther's time, parents had a right and a duty to direct their children's marriage choices in respect to matters of faith. Likewise, Luther felt a duty to direct his German people to cling to the Jesus the Jews did not accept. It should be noted that church law was superior to civil law in Luther's day and that law said the penalty of blasphemy was death. When Luther called for the deaths of Jews, he was asking that the laws that were applied to all other Germans also be applied to the Jews. Jews were exempt from the church laws that Christians were bound by, most notably the law against charging interest.

In 1994, the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America publicly rejected the parts of Luther's writings that advocated government action against practitioners of Judaism. In 1983, the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod made an official statement([2] (http://www.lcms.org/cic/luther)) regarding the subject of Luther's statements and anti-Semitism.

Luther's Death "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... We are beggars: this is true." [The Last Written Words of Luther][3] (http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/luther/beggars.txt)

See also

  1. John Calvin
  2. Christian antisemitism
  3. John Huss
  4. Lutheran church
  5. Philipp Melanchthon
  6. Servetus[?]
  7. Johann Tetzel
  8. Huldreich Zwingli


  1. Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: a Life of Martin Luther, New York: Penguin, 1995, c1950. 336 p. ISBN 0452011469.
  2. Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, James L. Schaaf, trans. Philadelphia : Fortress Press, c1985-1993. 3 v. ISBN 0800628136, ISBN 0800628144, ISBN 0800628152.
  3. Uwe Siemon-Netto, The Fabricated Luther : the Rise and Fall of the Shirer myth, Foreword by Peter L. Berger. St. Louis: Concordia Pubishing House, c1995. ISBN 0570048001.

External links

  1. PBS Website for the movie Martin Luther [4] (http://www.pbs.org/empires/martinluther/index)
  2. Luther Memorial Foundation of Saxony Anhalt [5] (http://www.martinluther.de/)
  3. Full text of the 95 Theses[6] (http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/luther/web/ninetyfive)
  4. Full text of On The Jews And Their Lies[7] (http://reactor-core.org/secret/on-the-jews-and-their-lies)

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