[social_share sc_id=”sc1″]Dr. Martin Luther (10 November 1483 – 18 February 1546)
Martin Luther was a German priest who started the Protestant Reformation with the nailing of his 95 theses to the wall of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, to protest the sale of indulgences by Johann Tetzel.
He was born in Eisleben, Germany, which was a part of the Holy Roman Empire. His parents were Hans Luder (later Luther) and Margarethe Lindemann Luder. He was baptized in the Catholic church on St. Martin of Tours Feast Day and was thus named “Martin”. Hans Luder wanted young Martin to become a lawyer and sent him to school run by The Brethren of the Common Life, a lay Catholic group. He also attended schools in Mansfield and Eisenach. There he was taught the “trivium”; grammar, rhetoric, and logic.
At age nineteen he entered the University of Erfurt to study law but dropped out soon afterwards. He decided to become a monk after being caught in a thunderstorm and crying out “Help, St. Anna, I will become a monk!” He joined the Augustinian order in Erfurt soon afterwards. Luther, as a monk, was like St. Paul before he came to Christ in this regard, “as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” Luther was often fasting, spending long hours in the confessional and in prayer, and on pilgrimages. He wrote later, “If anyone could have gained heaven as a monk, then I would indeed have been among them.” He also confesses, “I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailor and hangman of my poor soul.”
To rid himself of this nonstop introspection, Martin was commanded by his superior to pursue an academic career, which he did becoming a Doctor of Bible at the University of Wittenberg.
Starting in 1505 a Dominican friar named Johann Tetzel was employed by the Vatican to sell indulgences to help pay for the new St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Roman Catholic theology stated that faith alone, whether fiduciary or dogmatic, cannot justify man; and that only such faith as is active in charity and good works can justify man. The benefits of good works could be obtained by donating money to the church. Luther protested this sale of indulgence and wrote to Bishop Albert of Mainz about this, including with his letter the document that would later become known as the Ninety Five Theses. In it he states: “Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?” He also objected to a saying of Tetzel; “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul into heaven springs.”
Luther insisted that, since forgiveness was God’s alone to grant, those who claimed that indulgences absolved buyers from all punishments and granted them salvation were in error. Christians, he said, must not slacken in following Christ on account of such false assurances.
In Rome, cardinals saw Luther’s theses as an attack on the authority of the Pope. In 1518 at a meeting of the Augustinian Order in Heidelberg, Luther set out his positions with even more clarity. In the Heidelberg Disputation, we see the signs of a maturing in Luther’s thought and new precision surrounding his theological perspective.
After the Heidelberg meeting in October 1518, Luther was told to recant his positions by the Papal Legate, Thomas Cardinal Cajetan. Luther stated “Your Imperial Majesty and Your Lordships demand a simple answer. Here it is, plain and unvarnished. Unless I am convicted [convinced] of error by the testimony of Scripture or (since I put no trust in the unsupported authority of Pope or councils, since it is plain that they have often erred and often contradicted themselves) by manifest reasoning, I stand convicted [convinced] by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us. Luther’s refusal to recant set in motion his ultimate excommunication from the Catholic church.
Throughout 1519, Luther continued to lecture and write in Wittenberg. In June and July of that year, he participated in another debate on Indulgences and the papacy in Leipzig. Finally, in 1520, the pope had had enough. On June 15th the pope issued a bull (Exsurge Domini – Arise O’Lord) threatening Luther with excommunication. Luther received the bull on October 10th. He publicly burned it on December 10th.
In January 1521, the pope excommunicated Luther. In March, he was issued a summons by The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to appear in Worms to defend himself. During the Diet of Worms, Luther refused to recant his position. Whether he actually said, “Here I stand, I can do no other” is uncertain. What is known is that he did refuse to recant and on May 8th was placed under Imperial Ban.
Martin Luther married Katharina von Bora, one of 12 nuns he had helped escape from the Nimbschen Cistercian convent in April 1523, when he arranged for them to be smuggled out in herring barrels] “Suddenly, and while I was occupied with far different thoughts,” he wrote to Wenceslaus Link, “the Lord has plunged me into marriage.” Katharina was 26 years old, Luther was 41 years old. Luther confided to Michael Stiefel on 11 August 1526: “My Katie is in all things so obliging and pleasing to me that I would not exchange my poverty for the riches of Croesus.”
In response to demands for a German liturgy, Luther wrote a German Mass, which he published in early 1526. He did not intend it as a replacement for his 1523 adaptation of the Latin Mass but as an alternative for the “simple people”, a “public stimulation for people to believe and become Christians.” Luther based his order on the Catholic service but omitted “everything that smacks of sacrifice”; and the Mass became a celebration where everyone received the wine as well as the bread.
He retained the Elevation of the Host and Chalice, while trappings such as the Mass vestments, altar, and candles were made optional, allowing freedom of ceremony.
Luther’s service included congregational singing of hymns and psalms in German, as well as of parts of the liturgy, including Luther’s unison setting of the Creed. To reach the simple people and the young, Luther incorporated religious instruction into the weekday services in the form of the catechism. He also provided simplified versions of the baptism and marriage services.
Luther devised the catechism as a method of imparting the basics of Christianity to the congregations. In 1529, he wrote the Large Catechism, a manual for pastors and teachers, as well as a synopsis, the Small Catechism, to be memorised by the people themselves. The catechisms provided easy-to-understand instructional and devotional material on the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. Luther incorporated questions and answers in the catechism so that the basics of Christian faith would not just be learned by rote, “the way monkeys do it”, but understood.
Luther had published his German translation of the New Testament in 1522, and he and his collaborators completed the translation of the Old Testament in 1534, when the whole Bible was published. He continued to work on refining the translation until the end of his life. Others had translated the Bible into German, but Luther tailored his translation to his own doctrine. When he was criticised for inserting the word “alone” after “faith” in Romans 3:28, he replied in part: “[T]he text itself and the meaning of St. Paul urgently require and demand it. For in that very passage he is dealing with the main point of Christian doctrine, namely, that we are justified by faith in Christ without any works of the Law . . . But when works are so completely cut away – and that must mean that faith alone justifies – whoever would speak plainly and clearly about this cutting away of works will have to say, ‘Faith alone justifies us, and not works’.”
Luther wrote, as well, many hymns. The most famous of which may be “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott” better known in English as “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvjX2ZTADgs&feature=fvst)
On 17 February 1546, after 8:00 pm, he experienced chest pains. When he went to his bed, he prayed, “Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God” (Ps. 31:5), the common prayer of the dying. At 1:00 am he awoke with more chest pain and was warmed with hot towels. He thanked God for revealing his Son to him in whom he had believed. His companions, Justus Jonas and Michael Coelius, shouted loudly, “Reverend father, are you ready to die trusting in your Lord Jesus Christ and to confess the doctrine which you have taught in his name?” A distinct “Yes” was Luther’s reply.
An apoplectic stroke deprived him of his speech, and he died shortly afterwards at 2:45 am on 18 February 1546, aged 62, in Eisleben, the city of his birth. He was buried in the Castle Church in Wittenberg, beneath the pulpit. The funeral was held by his friends Johannes Bugenhagen and Philipp Melanchthon. A year later, troops of Luther’s adversary Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor entered the town, but were ordered by Charles not to disturb the grave.
I end with a passage of Luther’s writings “If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.”
[social_share sc_id=”sc1″]Dr. Martin Luther (10 November 1483 – 18 February 1546)