As I reflect on the various events and people who share my birthday, I constantly reminded of a man and an event, both German, whose influences shattered the history of the world. I am speaking of Martin Luther and the demolition of the Berlin Wall, however I will only discuss Luther in this post.
Martin Luther was born in Eisleben to a wealthy leaseholder and city counciloron November 10 in the year of Our Lord 1483. He was the eldest child in the family and his father had high hopes for him as a lawyer and sent him to Latin schools in Mansfield at the age of 14. He was trained in the trivium which consisted of grammar, rhetoric, and logic. When he turned 19, he was sent to the University of Erfurt to study law. He did not finish his studies in law and being drawn to theology, he became an Augustinian monk in 1505 while being displeased by his father. Martin Luther could probably be called one of the best monks as he took his monastic life very seriously and tried to the point of hurting himself to be saved by his works. He remarked once that “If anyone could have gained heaven as a monk, then I would indeed have been among them.” However, Martin’s efforts to save himself drove him into spiritual despair. A great friend and mentor of his, John von Staupitz, recommended him to an academic career and the priesthood. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1507 and began teaching at the University of Wittenburg in 1508.
As Luther began studying the Scriptures, he began to examine the practices of the Roman Church and found many errors that led the people astray. He objected to the works and teaching of Johann Tetzel, an inquisitor and commissioner of indulgences, and did so in writing. He declared that forgiveness was only granted by God and that anyone who insisted that indulgences could absolve men from their sins was in gross error. He wrote his objections, purely meant to object to church practices and not to divide the church, into ninety-five theses and nailed them on the door of the Wittenburg Church on October 31, 1517. Tensions between the papacy and Luther escalated to the point where they summoned Luther to appear before the Diet of Worms where they intended to make him recant. It was here that Luther made his famous stand for what he believed and wrote by saying,
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
With this statement, he was marked as a heretic and anyone was allowed to kill him. However, the providence of God intervened and Luther was detained at Wartburg Castle by the Elector of Saxony, Frederick III. It was here that Luther translated the New Testament into German for the German people and wrote many other poignant theological writings.
He returned to Wittenburg in 1522 and began preaching to revive and reform his parish. He not only began to preach against the teaching of the Catholic Church but also against the radicals who were on the far right, too far from the warmth of the Word of God. Shortly after his return, the Peasants War broke out to which Luther opposed by backing the civil leaders. Much is debated about the justification of his statements and I do not condone his violent measures and statements. Let us be reminded that he was just a man who, though saved by grace, did make mistakes and committed sins sometimes just as we all do. In 1525, Luther, a priest and professor by profession, did something that was not condoned by the Roman Church; he married a former nun, Katharina von Bora. They had a very happy marriage and had six children, four of which survived to adulthood. They lived in a former monastery and took in boarders and were extensive in hospitality. Luther spent the rest of his life reforming the church, writing, preaching, and fathering. His literary achievement is very extensive and he not only wrote catechisms, Bibles in German, and other theological books and articles but also many hymns; the most well known being A Mighty Fortress is Our God. He died on the 18th of 1546, a man full of years and achievements, well loved and well hated by many.