Reformation Day: A summary of the life of Martin Luther
A Summary of the Life of Martin Luther10/26/12
As you know, this month we celebrate Reformation Day. Not all of you may know what it is exactly about. Before I studied it (by my mom's prompting), the only thing I knew was that we remembered Martin Luther's life and how he posted the 95 thesis on the door of Wittenburg Church. So, basically, I am going to give you an outline of his life, interesting events that happened to him and try to illuminate some of the struggles he went through so that we can learn from his life. I know this is a really long letter, but I hope that you will persevere and read to the end even if it takes you a couple of days because I guarantee that you will learn a lot about Martin Luther, like I did.
Martin Luther was born on November 10,1483 and was baptized by Father Rennebrecher the next day. Martin was born on St. Martin's Day and as you can guess, his parents named him Martin in honor of it.
His parents were devout Catholics. They took very seriously their children's upbringing. His mother, Margaret Ziegler Luther, was a workman's wife whose job it was to carry wood from the forest.
As a child, Martin and his brothers and sisters memorized the Lord's prayer, the Ten Commandments and the Apostles Creed.
As Martin turned 8, Hans Luther, Martin's father was elected to the town council where he continued to serve with distinction until his death. As he began to lease mines and smelting furnaces to operate for himself, the burden of poverty began to lighten for their family. Not long after that, Martin started Latin school in Mansfield as the son of an independent and respected family.
In 1497, Martin and his friend, John were sent to a school in Magdeburg. Martin and his friend sang on the streets for their bread. His voice and feeling for music were exceptionally good and would bring him enjoyment throughout his life. He was also part of the cathedral choir.
In May 1502, at age 18, Martin went to Erfurt school which was known for it's studies of law, theology and arts. He sang there also.
In May 1505, Martin entered the faculty of law. He felt a calling for the monastery, but didn't want to disappoint his father. He met a world of humanists and poets who were bringing renown at Erfurt.
In June, Martin, now nearly 22 left school to visit his home. We don't know why, but it could have been possibly because there was a bad plague at Erfurt or even because he wanted to talk to his father about his distaste for the law. But on the return of his visit, he was caught in a lightning storm and knocked from his horse by it. Fearing instant death, he vowed his life to the monastic calling if St. Anna would save him. (Interesting, I know.) Yet, undoubtedly his decision had already been made, but the lightning bolt surprised him into acknowledging it.
On July 17, 1505, Martin joined an Augustinian monastery.
In the fall 1505, a plague killed 2 of Martin's brothers. Drawn to see the importance of it, Hans Luther agreed that Martin could stay at the monastery.
In September 1506, Martin said his final vows to pledge his life to God.
At age 23, Martin was to be made priest.
On May 2, 1507, Martin was to say his first mass.
In 1508, Martin was moved from Erfurt Monastery to Wittenburg Monastery.
On March 9, 1509, Martin took his first degree in theology at Wittenburg. Not long after Martin was sent back to Erfurt.
In October 1510, Martin journeyed with a messenger to Rome to the Papal See (which comprises the government of the Catholic church). Martin was stunned and unable to understand how immoral the Catholics were in Rome (which was supposed to be the most sacred-type of places to be a Catholic). Luther saw and felt a Rome abandoned to money, luxury and kindred evils.
In January 1511, Martin started back to Erfurt from Rome.
Martin was sent back to Wittenburg Monastery where he stayed until his death.
In May 1512, Martin journeyed with a superior (part of the hierarchy of the catholics) friend to Cologne for a district meeting.
On October 18, 1512, Martin received a Doctor of theology degree.
6 days later, Martin was admitted to the university senate to teach.
In 1516, while he was teaching systematic theology, he published his first book.
He was elected as district vicar for the monasteries of Meissen and Thuringe.
On All Saints Day, Martin posted 95 propositions on the university's bulletin board and sent it to friends. The propositions were mainly against the selling of indulgences.
Martin became greatly discouraged at the continued indulgence selling so during the consecration of the Cathedral church on October 31, 1517, Martin posted his 95 sentences with a brief preamble on the bulletin board which at that time was the wooden doors of the church. He was forced to direct a campaign for the clarification of the gospel and the reform of the church against the selling of indulgences. Martin also wrote a letter the same day to Bishop Albert of Brandenburg who had to bear the responsibility of the selling of indulgences (which was to raise money for the building of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Albert opposed Luther and brought it to the attention of those in Rome who were not in the mood to give serious consideration to a question of piety. Pope Leo X was immersed in secular affairs and had little understanding of the religious.
Martin wrote to Leo X in May 1518 simply seeking for the pope to understand his position and carefully consider the matters at issue, but Leo X was not ready to give careful consideration at that time. He ordered that the fires of rebellion be quenched and simply thought that the theses were written by a drunken monk who would see things clearer when he was sober. Accordingly, the matter was brought up at the meeting of the order at Heidelberg the same year. Luther was present and in order not to involve his order in the issue, he resigned as district vicar.
At 35, Luther was at his greatest strength, but he was forced to defend his action before a representative of the pope in Augsburg. The Cardinal Cajetan was unwilling even to let Luther talk. Luther with respect accorded him his rank at first, but after getting nowhere with the Cardinal continually talking Luther tried to interrupt. This made the Cardinal shout in order to keep talking when at last Luther lost his moderation and began to shout also.
At the second meeting, Luther apologized for his conduct, but at the third and last meeting it was the same story: a call for recantation and a refusal and wish to discuss the issue.
John Eck, a professor of theology challenged Luther and his Wittenburg colleague, Andrew Bodenstein to a public discussion in Leipzig. He knew that if he could wring from either of them heretical statements then Rome could silence both men. Two hundred students along with the professors went with them to Leipzig. When they arrived, there was a constant menace of rioting. Guards were placed at the inns where they lodged and armed groups went with them from inn to church and to the council chamber where the debate was to be held.
Luther entered the lists July 4, 1519. The duke was present and Eck was the dominant figure. Eck moved the debate into a field Luther did not want. He wanted to drive Luther into admitting a position similar to that held by heretical groups throughout church history so he could label him a “heretic.” After bringing up the history and works of different men and groups, Eck finally got Luther to admit that popes and councils could err which was a damning doctrine in those days. Eck was triumphant and Tetzel (who sold the indulgences) was overjoyed. Luther sensed that dark days were ahead, but he felt strength also.
In the early summer of 1520, Pope Leo X signed the bull Exurge Domine which called upon Luther to recant within sixty days or be excommunicated.
On the early morning of December 10, Luther headed a march of zealous youth who supported the truth of the Gospel and Luther outside the city walls to burn the books of papal decrees with other such books and the bull calling for his recantation.
In August, he published To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation on the Improvement of the Christian Estate. In it, he attacked the sole, arbitrary authority of the papacy. Later in October, he published On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church which examined the sacramental system of the Roman church. In November, Luther wrote The Freedom of the Christian Man. He also wrote commentaries on the book of Genesis and Psalms.
On January 3, 1521, Leo X signed the final bull demanding excommunication.
On Feb 13, Aleander, a representative of Rome spoke to the diet of Worms for three hours demanding that Luther be condemned without a hearing because to them Luther had already been condemned because of the bull.
On March 26, Luther received the summons from Charles V, calling him to appear at Worms.
He left for Worms on April 2nd carrying his lute to wile away long hours in the inns. They arrived on the morning of April 16. He was summoned the day after to appear at the meeting of the diet.
At age 38, he was sturdy and large boned, but not stout. He had strong, resolute, fiery and animated feature, but his heart was still unsoiled by the terrors of public warfare.
Once his case came before the diet, he was told to say nothing except to answer to questions. He thought the request was a bit strange as he was told that he was to appear to defend his reasoning. Eck then pointed to a pile of books on a table and asked if Luther would recant of the positions he set forth in them. Luther was surprised at this sudden demand. Stunned, he seemed powerless to talk, but his friend came to the rescue stating,”Let the names of the books be read.”
Luther was recovered by the time the titles had been read. He spoke slowly stating that the books were his and asked for time to consider whether he would recant his beliefs to see if it was indeed the biblical truth, so that he would not rashly decide anything. The diet then allowed Martin to have time to consider and to be back the next evening at the same time. He remembered the verse that says,”Whoever will deny Me before men, him I also will deny before my Father.” He spent much time in prayer that night and at the end his mind became clear. He would be honest.
When summoned, Luther entered the session cheered by German knights and soldiers. Luther replied to the demand of whether he would recant with a reply in detailed words that he would not because in them was the truth. If he did, God would be right to “turn loose an intolerable deluge of woes.” In proper custom, he spoke in Latin, but many of the northerners who spoke German who could not understand it cried for it in German.
John Eck was amazed that Luther would speak that way and restated his question whether Luther would recant or not and asked him to answer in a simple answer. Luther said briefly and exactly, “Unless I am convinced by scripture or by right reason—for I trust neither popes nor in councils, since they have often erred and contradicted themselves—unless I am thus convinced, I am bound by the texts of the Bible; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I neither can nor will recant anything, since it is neither right nor safe to act against conscience. God help me. Amen.”
Eck was furious and called again for recantation. Luther replied while the tumult increased. Tension arose over the days following. Luther silently slipped out on the morning of April 26, feeling no longer needed, accompanied by the same few friends with whom he had come. On the way, he visited many friends and relatives. While traveling on a narrow road through the forest, he was surprised by a company of armed horseman. They forced his carriage to stop and whispered something to Luther, who turned and told his friends that he had to leave, but that all was well. After a hard days ride, they arrived at the castle of Wartburg where Luther was turned over to the commandant. Word spread rapidly that Luther had been kidnapped though little was known about what exactly happened.
Luther himself was taken by surprise, but was assured once he reached the castle where he was treated with honor and respect. He was dressed as a knight and addressed as “Sir George.” The first few weeks of hiding passed quickly, but soon became restless to give evangelistic leadership to the people of Saxony. So, he began to translate the New Testament into the German language. He also wrote sermons on the Gospels and Epistles as well as on the subjects of the Mass and on monastic vows.
About that time, he read the Edict of Worms which called on the people to surrender him for his proper condemnation with a warning to all who gave him shelter, aid of any kind or had anything to do with any of his books. Finally in the spring of 1522, Luther slipped away from Wartburg still wearing his disguise traveling toward Wittenburg. Along the way, only two Swiss students even suspected that he was Luther.
In the summer of 1524, a rebellion started where peasants began to use force taking castles, rioting, fighting against those over them and more directly against the abuses of the ruling class. The peasant leaders stated their position in the famous Twelve Articles drawn up during the winter of 1524-1525 and adopted in a council at Memmingen on March 7. Luther read the articles and agreed with them. Soon after, he wrote his Exhortation to Peace on the Twelve Articles of the Swabian Peasants. He spoke to the nobles and the peasants. He believed firmly in the peasant's right, but he also believed in the rights of the civil government. He hoped for arbitration, but it was too late. Luther preached against the revolution and argued for relief—not for the destruction—of his people. Rioting was everywhere, but he was forced to choose between two evils sensing anarchy in his native land.
In May, he wrote the pamphlet Against the Thievish, Murderous Hordes of Peasants. He was not deserting the peasant cause, but he had faith in the Saxon princes and knew that the peasants were being thoughtless. The decisive battle of the revolution was fought near Frankenhausen on May 15; peasants with pitchforks and wood axes awaited a miracle while well-armed knights on armored horses with stout lances and sharp swords swept down on them. Luther worked for the peasants, but physical violence was not the way to deal with problems.
Erasmus saw the peasant rebellion as being partially caused by Luther's unbridled attack on the pope and emperor so stated in a pamphlet. Luther gave the matter serious thought and published his reply in December 1525 in his pamphlet On the Slavery of the Will.
As relating to marriage, Luther defended marriage of the clergy on the grounds that it was the first picture of humanity presented in the opening chapters of Genesis. Luther himself married the daughter of the chief magistrate of Wittenburg; they lived together for almost half a century in quiet contentment. Catharine von Bora was twenty-six and Luther was forty-two when they married on June 13, 1525. Their first child, Hans was born on June 6, 1526.
During this time, reconciliation was still attempted, but it was made hard because of the Edict of Worms. Because of the strain of circumstances and preaching daily, Luther's health began to show signs of weakness somewhere about the year 1521 experiencing nausea and vomiting, nervous headaches, severe digestive disturbances and even fainting. He was able to summon the strength to bear the burdens of home and church, nonetheless.
Their son, Hans fell seriously ill and for eleven days could neither eat or drink. The plague came about this time and Luther feared for Catharine's life as she was pregnant with their second child. During this time of deep misery and uncertainty, Luther wrote A Mighty Fortress is Our God. Catharine weathered the plague the last few weeks of her pregnancy and their daughter was born December 10 and named her Elizabeth, but she was not strong and didn't even live to be a year old.
Seeing the lack of instruction of the people by the pastors, Luther wrote The Smaller Catechism and finished it in two years.
In 1529, Charles V called for a second diet to meet at Speyer. He succeeded in getting a majority vote to prohibit reformed worship. In response, the Lutheran areas presented a formal protest to the diet which was signed by representatives of at least 19 cities.
On May 4, almost a year later, Magdalene Luther was born.
Zwingli and Luther drew up a document that stated fifteen cardinal doctrines, showing their agreement in all but the last, which concerned the Lord's supper, which they both signed. Luther defended the doctrine of the Real Presence.
Luther finished the translation of Jeremiah, began Ezekiel and completed all the lesser prophets as well as publishing some of Aesop's fables in German and writing twelve other works.
Around this time, Luther's father, Hans died. When Luther heard it, he rose, took his psalter and entered the study where he stayed for almost two days in unnerved sorrowing. But prayer and faith again were his sources of strength.
After returning home after waiting at Coburg Castle for the finishing of the Diet of Augsburg, the severity of Luther's headaches, rheumatism, recurring digestive disturbances, neuritis in his chest and a dizzying disease in the middle ear all plagued him.
He completed the translation of the Bible in 1534. The last edition to have his personal supervision came in 1545. Among many other hymns, Luther wrote Away in a Manger, No Crib for His Head.
Over the years, eleven orphaned relatives found support in Luther's home. The Luther's had no privacy and even pawned their wedding gifts refusing to sell his written works stating that they were not for sale as they were the gifts of God.
When Magdalene became seriously ill in September 1542, Luther entered the depths of human sorrow already having lost on daughter in infancy. She died not long after.
Their children Hans 19, Martin 14, Paul 12, and Margaret 10 were older now, but so was Luther and Katie. The infirmities of age weighed heavily on him. Often, he felt a strong sense of companionship with the dead of his family: his parents and two daughters.
On January 23, Luther left home again trying to resolve a dispute. Katie begged him not to go because of his health, but Luther had known his duty for too long. After the dispute was settled, Luther became sick. He felt a tightness in his chest that wouldn't leave. Two of his sons who had gone with him were by his side when a terrific pain seized him. He whispered,”Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.” In his final moment, his halting voice whispered the glorious message, “Who...hath...my word...shall...not...see...death....” Then he died. His body was taken back to Wittenburg and buried on February 22 in the cathedral church.
Written by Jessica McNeil
Information taken from Martin Luther by Edwin P. Booth