Martin Luther

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The Luther Rose, Martin Luther's seal and a symbol of Lutheranism.
Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but - more frequently than not - struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.
—Martin Luther[1]

Luther understood too much.

If I had wanted a lecture on the rights of Man, I would have gone to bed with Martin Luther.
Blackadder II[2]

Martin Luther (1483—1546) was a German Augustinian monk and theologian who became a major figure in the Protestant Reformation, founding the Lutheran Church.

Contents

Early life and education

He was born in Eisleben to a Saxon miner, Hans Luther, who sent him to college to become a lawyer. After receiving a master's degree, however, he dropped out of law school, feeling unsatisfied with the profession. In 1505 he was nearly struck by lightning and joined the Augustinian order, infuriating his father.

Luther was subject at this time to much rumination, and his abbot, trying to distract him from this, sent him to the University of Wittenberg to study theology, in which he received a doctorate in 1512. Subsequently he joined the theological faculty at Wittenberg, a position he would hold for the rest of his life.

95 Theses

Four years later, a Dominican friar named Johann Tetzel came through Germany, selling indulgences to raise money for the Archbishop of Mainz, who needed to pay the pope for his appointment to that see.

Luther was outraged because these indulgences appeared to say that the people holding them had purchased their salvation. In response to the indulgence sale, he wrote the 95 Theses, attacking the practice, affirming that salvation and forgiveness are free gifts from God, and inviting a public debate on the subject at his university.

On October 31, 1517, he nailed a copy of the 95 Theses to the door of the Schlosskirche (Castle Church) at Wittenberg, an event later mythologized as the start of the Protestant Reformation.

Diet of Worms

The 95 Theses quickly gained popularity, attracting the attention of church authorities. Meanwhile, Luther continued to develop Protestant theological concepts.

In 1520, Pope Leo X wrote a papal bull, Exsurge Domine, in which 41 of the 95 theses were marked as heretical, and Luther was ordered to recant or be excommunicated. Luther held his position and was then excommunicated.

In 1521, as a result of his excommunication, he was fed a diet of worms summoned before the diet of the Holy Roman Empire at Worms to give answer for his writings. He refused to recant them as demanded, and was thus made an outlaw, in consequence of which it became illegal to feed him and legal to kill him, that is how Roman Catholics showed Christian love and forgiveness.

Exile at Wartburg

He had been promised safe conduct to and from the diet, and thus left for Wittenberg as planned. However, on his way home he was kidnapped by his prince, Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, who sympathized with his position.

Frederick had him taken secretly to Wartburg Castle, above the town of Eisenach. Posing as a knight, Luther spent this time translating the New Testament into German and further expounding on the new Protestant theology. One point of particular interest he developed at this time was his position that it was not a sin to break monastic vows.

Meanwhile, in Wittenberg, the Protestant Reformation had kicked off in earnest. It eventually reached the point where zealous reformers such as Andreas Karlstadt were pursuing extremely immoderate policies such as political revolution and iconoclasm. The town council asked Luther to come back to restore order, which Luther did.

Marriage

Luther preached much in the following years against the use of violence and revolution in spreading Protestantism, both in the initial iconoclasm and then later during the Peasant's War of 1524-5.

In 1525, he married a former nun, Katharina von Bora, whom he had helped escape her convent two years earlier. This set an example of marriage for all Protestant clergy; it also ensured that Luther's bed was made properly, which had been a problem before. The new elector of Saxony gave them a former monastery for a home; they went on to have six children.

Later life

Luther dedicated the rest of his life to the organization of the new Lutheran Church. He completed his German translation of the Bible, translated much liturgy into the German vernacular, composed a number of hymns, and wrote two catechisms, the Large Catechism for teachers and clergymen and the Small Catechism for everyone else. His goal in writing the catechisms was to provide a way for people actually to understand key theological concepts, rather than learning verses or concepts by rote. The catechisms remain popular today.

His efforts to gain acceptance for Lutheranism culminated with the Augsburg Confession, one of the foundational documents of Lutheranism, which was submitted to the imperial Diet of Augsburg in 1530. Although the confession was rejected at that time, its proponents later got the emperor to bring in the doctrine of cuius regio, eius religio, securing Lutheranism's future.

Luther did not survive to see this, however, dying in 1546 in Eisleben, where he had gone to resolve a family dispute.[3]

Anti-Semitism

Luther was originally sympathetic toward the Jews, arguing in several of his early pamphlets that they had been prevented from converting to Christianity by the errors and foibles of the Catholic Church. But in 1543, following years of futile efforts to convert them, he lost it and wrote a great long rant, On the Jews and their Lies, in which, having run out of theological reasons to bash Jews, he started resorting to scatological scorchers like:

Did I not tell you earlier that a Jew is such a noble, precious jewel that God and all the angels dance when he farts? And if he were to go on to do something coarser than that, they would nevertheless expect it to be regarded as a golden Talmud.[4]

On the Jews and Their Lies became a landmark work in German anti-Semitism, and it was held in high esteem by the Nazis; however, its influence on the development of racial anti-Semitism in the 19th century was minimal.

Misattributed quote

The following quote, circulated widely on the Internet, was initially attributed to Luther:

If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.[5]

However, it was since discovered that the quote comes from a 19th century novel.[6]

Trivia

Martin Luther suffered from chronic constipation and believed he received theological insights while seated on the porcelain throne toilet constructed of stone.[7][8][9] Being full of it may have been due to a diet of worms or half a lifetime avoiding the papacy in Rome.[10]

External links

Footnotes

  1. Thinkexist.com: Martin Luther quotes
  2. IMDb: Memorable quotes from Blackagger II
  3. Trivia-Library.com: Famous People's Cause of Death Martin Luther
  4. On the Jews and Their Lies by Martin Luther, 1543
  5. Craven, S. Michael (April 21, 2004). "Where the Battle Rages: The Sexualizing of America." Center for Christ & Culture.
  6. "Luther Didn't Say It." LSI Blog. Luther Science Institute. May 14, 2010.
  7. BBC: Luther's lavatory thrills experts October 22, 2004
  8. Discovery Channel: Martin Luther's Toilet Flushed Out October 25, 2004
  9. Porcelain was not known to Europeans till some decades after Luther’s death and Europeans did not succeed in making porcelain till about two centuries later, seeThe European quest for porcelain: 16th-18th century CE despite this Luther’s toilet had advanced under floor heating ensuring that this great Protestant theologian could contemplate there in relative comfort.
  10. For the first half of his life Luther suffered severely due to the constrictions of Roman Catholicism but later rejected it entirely.
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