1483 - 1546
Martin Luther was born on 10 November 1483 in Eisleben in Saxony, Germany. At the age of eighteen Luther began his studies at the University of Erfurt. After completing his studies, at the age of twenty-two, Luther was caught in a thunderstorm where he vowed that, if he was spared, he would become a monk. He joined the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt, which greatly upset his father, who had wanted his son to pursue a legal career.
As a monk Luther tried by his human effort to find peace with God, however he could not find merit with God by his own works. One man who was able to comfort Luther by pointing him to Christ, was John von Staupitz, the head of the Augustinian Order in Germany, who visited the monastery in Erfurt on occasions. When Luther despaired of his sins, Staupitz told him ï¿½Remember that Christ came into the world for the pardon of our sinsï¿½. The Holy Spirit revealed the Biblical truth to Luther that it was by faith alone that he could be saved, and not by his own good works. That justification is by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, became the fundamental truth of the Reformation.
Luther became a priest and was recommended to Frederick the Wise, the Elector of Saxony, for the position of professor of theology at the University of Wittenburg, which Frederick had founded. In 1510 Luther was chosen to go to Rome to represent the interests of the Augustinian Order. At this stage in his life, Luther believed that the Pope was the holy vicar of Christ on earth and that Rome was the supreme seat of holiness. However his visit to Rome soon caused a change in his mind, as he observed immorality and superstition in Rome. After his visit he said, ï¿½If there is a hell, Rome is built over itï¿½ and he said later ï¿½I would not have missed seeing Rome for 100,000 florins. I should have felt always an uneasy doubt whether I was not, after all, doing injustice to the Pope. As it is, I am quite satisfied on the pointï¿½. On his return to Wittenburg, Luther was awarded a degree of Doctor of Divinity, and in 1515 began to preach in the parish church.
The Pope, needing funds to rebuild St Peterï¿½s Cathedral in Rome, decided to issue an indulgence, a document which, when bought, guaranteed less time in purgatory. A monk from Leipzig, John Tetzel, toured Germany selling the indulgence. This outraged Luther, who wrote 95 theses, stating his objections to the sale of indulgences, which he nailed to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenburg on 31 October 1517, a day seen as the beginning of the Reformation. These 95 theses were copied and printed all over Germany and spread throughout Europe. The Pope demanded that Luther should recant and summoned him to appear in Rome. Frederick persuaded the Pope to send a delegate to Germany before whom Luther could appear. The Pope sent Cardinal Cajetan who demanded that Luther retract his errors, but Luther refused. After further unsuccessful attempts to change Lutherï¿½s mind, the Pope excommunicated Luther on 15 June 1520. Luther responded by publicly burning a copy of the bull of excommunication.
The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, ordered Luther to appear before him in Worms. Luther was asked whether he was the author of his writings, and whether he was willing to retract the teachings of which the Church disapproved. On 18 April 1521 at Worms Luther spoke these famous words: ï¿½Unless I am convinced by testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear arguments that I am in error ï¿½ for popes and councils have often erred and contradicted themselves ï¿½ I cannot withdraw, for I am subject to the Scriptures I have quoted; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. It is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against oneï¿½s conscience. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. So help me Godï¿½.
On his way back to Wittenburg from Worms, Luther was kidnapped and taken to Wartburg Castle, where he remained for almost a year. The kidnapping had been arranged by Frederick and Lutherï¿½s friends, to provide a safe hiding place for Luther. During his time at Wartburg, Luther translated the Bible into German. After returning to Wittenburg, Luther married in 1525, his wife was an escaped nun, Catherine von Bora. Luther died in 1546 and was buried in the castle church at Wittenburg.
Portraits of Luther appear on a number of Orange banners: Ravenhill Road Volunteers LOL 580 in Belfast, LOL 935 from Tamlaght Oï¿½Crilly District, and Luther LOL 492 from Belfast, all portray Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the Wittenburg Church door; Beers True Blues Temperance LOL 319 from County Down shows Luther burning the Popeï¿½s bull, and Ormeau True Blues LOL 990 from Belfast has Luther at the Diet of Worms in 1521.
Other articles on the Protestant Reformation: