Martin Luther and the Reformation
Thanks to Martin Luther, every nation can read the Bible in their mother tongue
Reformation Day, 31st October, is a day of celebration in many Protestant churches commemorating the day in 1517 when Martin Luther posted his ideas and beliefs about the sale of letters of absolution on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.
His childhood and youth
Martin Luther was born on 10th November 1484 in Eisleben, in the German Principality. His father was the son of a peasant who later became a miner. Soon after the birth of their son Martin, they moved from Eisleben to Manzfeld to work in one of the copper mines there. Luther, of modest means, found his calling, and by 1491 his was one of the most respected families in Manzfeld. Luther’s mother, Margarete Luder, looked after the children and their education at home. According to Luther, his mother was a strict governess. At the age of five, Luther was enrolled by his father at the Latin school in Manzfeld, where he was educated in the old medieval methods. The pupils were literally instilled with Latin, reading, and writing. In his later memoirs, Luther called the institution a ‘donkey stable’ and a ‘devil’s school’. In 1497, Luther was sent by his father to Magdeburg to the Luther Brothers of the much more demanding order of the ‘Brothers of the Common Life’. He then continued his studies in Eisenach in 1498 while staying with relatives there. The family’s good financial situation allowed Luther to begin his studies at the University of Erfurt in 1501. His father spent all the money he could spare on his first-born son’s education, as he wanted to make a lawyer and gentleman of good standing out of him.
Founded in 1392, the University of Erfurt was one of the most important German universities in Luther’s youth, so his father’s choice was obvious. According to the medieval university system, students had to first master the basic studies (the so-called seven liberal arts: grammar, rhetoric, dialectics, astronomy, arithmetic, geometry, and music), and only then could they study law or theology. Luther was awarded an academic degree in 1502 and became a Master of Arts in 1505. His father was extremely proud of him and hoped that his son would study law and take up a position at the Elector’s court.
Martin Luther becomes a monk
On July 2, 1505, while returning home from his studies during the summer holidays, he was caught in a storm and prayed for Heaven’s help, vowing to become a monk if he lived. He kept his vow, to the great surprise of those around him, who knew Martin as a man full of joie de vivre. Despite his father’s threats and the family’s disapproval, he entered the Order of St Augustine monastery in Erfurt and took his monastic vows in 1506.
He strictly observed and kept all the rules of monastic life, although this way of life demanded extreme discipline. The monks’ days were filled with prayer, fasting, and work. Luther came into close contact with the Bible during his monastic years. He was ordained a priest in 1507. In that year he began his theological studies at the University of Erfurt. In addition to scholasticism, he also came into contact with the ideas of humanism, which mainly meant the study of the surviving ancient texts in their original language. Then, he began to study the Bible in the original Greek and Hebrew. During Luther’s years as a professor, he was a man of conviction, seeking God’s grace. During his careful study of Romans, it became clear to him that man can be justified by the grace of God alone, not by good works. “But a righteous man will live by faith”, we read in the Bible (Romans 1:17). According to his own writings, Luther had this decisive realisation in the tower room of the monastery in Wittenberg. A circle of theologians was then formed around Luther, including Nikolaus von Amsdorf and Karlstadt (Andreas Bodenstein). In 1514, Luther became the preacher of the city church in Wittenberg.
31 October 1517: the famous ninety-five lots are posted
After a while, he noticed that many of the people of Wittenberg did not go to him for confession, but instead travelled to the towns of Brandenburg and Anhalt to buy indulgences. The sale of indulgences, which in effect replaced confession, was a purchase of spiritual salvation, which Luther totally disapproved of. He firmly believed that everyone should live their whole life in humble trust in God’s grace.
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