Essay, Research Paper: Martin Luther


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Martin Luther was a German theologian and religious reformer that had a great
impact on not only religion but also on politics, economics, education and
language. Martin Luther was born in the town of Eisleben, Germany, on November
10, 1483, (Encarta 1). His father Hans Luther, was a worker in the copper mines
in Mansfield. His mother was Margaret. Martin grew up in a home where parents
prayed faithfully to the saints and taught their children to do the same. His
father and mother loved their children dearly, but were also very strict with
them. Luther said, "my father once whipped me so that I ran away and felt
ugly toward him until he was at pains to win me back. …My mother once beat me
until the blood flowed, for having stolen a miserable nut." (Luther 31)
When Martin was five years old, he went to school in Mansfeld, where his parents
had moved about a year after he was born. The subjects taught at this school was
the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, church music, together with
some Latin and arithmetic. (Catholic Encyclopedia 1) The sad part of the
instruction was that Martin and his fellow pupils learned little about the love
of God. They learned to know Jesus, not as the Friend of sinners, but as the
Judge. They feared Jesus, but did not love him. "The schoolmasters in my
days were tyrants and executioners; the schools were jails and hells! And in
spite of fear and misery, floggings and tremblings, nothing was learned,"
Luther said. (Luther 31) Despite the conditions at Mansfield, Martin learned
rapidly, for he was a bright boy and studied diligently. At the age of twelve he
was admitted to the Latin High School at Magdeburg, sixty miles from his home.
Here, for the first time, Luther found a Bible. Most of his teachers at
Magdeburg were members of the Brethren of the Common Life. This is the first
place where he feels his first desire to enter into the religious community. The
next year his father transferred him to a school on Eisenach, wishing him to
become a lawyer. Here a young woman, Mrs. Ursala Cotta, took a special liking to
him. At one time, when a group of boys was singing before her house, she invited
Martin in and offered him free lodging. He accepted. He received free meals in
another house where he taught a young child of the family. Luther was now free
to devote more time to his studies. Since the Cotta family was a cultured
family, Luther's stay in this home taught him to appreciate such things as music
and art and helped him to develop especially his remarkable talent for music. By
the time Luther was far enough advanced to enter the university his father had
become a prosperous man. He went from being a miner to being the owner of many
small foundries. He could now afford to give Martin a college education.
Recognizing the gifts of his son, the father intended that his son should become
a lawyer and therefore sent him to the University of Erfurt in 1501 at the age
of seventeen. (Encarta 2) Here again the young student prayed and studied
constantly. To increase his knowledge, Luther spent much time at the library.
"Discipline was as strict as it had been at Megdeberg and Eisenach. The
students were awakened at 4:00 AM. Lectures began as the sun rose and continued
until 5:00 PM. The first meal of the day was at 10:00 AM. The students hurried
from class to class, pausing only for the briefest of conversations before the
next lecture commenced, whispering quietly to each other in the required
Latin," (Luther 34). In 1505 at the age of twenty-one he was awarded the
Master of Arts degree. (Encarta 2). He now had the right to teach and was able
to register for a law course. To please his father, Martin remained on at the
University to read law, but he soon lost interest in that subject. More and more
he studied religion and worried over his sinful condition. But no matter how
hard he tried to please God, he couldn't find peace of soul. One day a friend
was torn from him by sudden death. Luther was so shaken that he became fearful
and deeply disturbed. A little later, while returning to Erfurt from a visit to
his parents, he was overtaken by a violent thunderstorm. Almost frantic with
fear, young Luther then and there determined to become a monk and no longer
wanted to follow his father's wishes. He said, "St. Anne help me! I will
become a monk," (Luther 35). Upon his return to the University, Martin sold
his books, said farewell to his friends, and, deaf to their pleadings entered
the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt. After spending a few weeks as a candidate
to enter the Order of Augustinian Eremites and having the senior friars watch
him to see if he would be a suitable person to enter the monastery, he was
formally admitted to the trial period of one year. After that one year was up
the superiors would make a decision to see if he should remain with the
cloister. Luther continued his study of the Bible. Dressed in the black robe and
little cap, to be worn day and night, he faithfully engaged in the many daily
religious exercises prescribed. He also spent much time in trudging though the
streets of the city, carrying a sack on his back, as was the custom then,
begging for bread, butter, eggs and whatever else he could get for the
monastery. In addition, he swept the chapel, cleaned the rooms, rang the bells,
and performed similar work. Back in his little cell, he constantly studied
religion and philosophy and prayed to the saints, eagerly striving to earn his
way to heaven through his own good works. More than ever he was searching for
peace of soul; he could not find rest. As time went on, however, and as he
continued to study the Bible, and learn much of it by heart, he made the
marvelous discovery that salvation is a free gift from God. In the summer of
1506 Luther made his full profession of vows and was admitted into the
Augustinian community (Luther 41). He then began to prepare for the priesthood
by learning every detail of the Mass and every word of the text needed to be
recited during the Mass. In the spring of 1507, Luther, now twenty-three, was
made a Catholic priest (Catholic Encyclopedia). He celebrated his first Mass
with his peers and family. This was the first time he saw his parents since the
time he left the University. He was unable to say the entire Mass for he just
about fainted after holding up the chalice. "Luther's first Mass was
critical to his development as a truly revolutionary theologian. It represented
his first uncertain but resounding step in a new direction, along a path of
intellectual and religious inquiry that would lead him inexorably toward a new
theological landscape, a landscape that was to be revealed by the transformation
of belief," (Luther 42). Luther then went back to studying theology in
order to become a professor at one of the new German universities staffed by
monks. In 1508, Johann von Staupitz who was the vicar-general of the
Augustinians assigned Luther to the new University of Wittenburg (founded in
1502) to give introductory lectures in moral philosophy (Encarta 1). He soon
became known as a great teacher of the Bible. Students came in great numbers to
listen to his lectures. His work as a teacher was interrupted, however, by a
request from his Father Superior, Dr. Staupitz, to go to Rome in 1510, where the
Pope lived (Martin 46). He and a companion (a senior friar) set out on foot. The
seven-week journey was long and difficult; the two travelers spent their nights
in monasteries along the way. When they finally saw the city before them, Luther
fell on his face and cried out, "Blessed art thou, Rome, Holy Rome,"
(Luther 48). But he was greatly disappointed when he observed that the life on
Rome was very sinful. He was amazed to find that the Italian priests were
leading lives of luxury and self-indulgence. Luther said, "the Italians
mocked us for being pious monks, for they hold Christians fools. They say six or
seven masses on the time it takes me to say one, for they take money for it and
I do not," (Luther 48). After visiting a shrine in Rome was when Luther
began to doubt that a Christian could save a soul simply by visiting shrines and
paying Tithes to the Church. After his return five months later, Luther resumes
his teaching at the University of Wittenburg. In the fall of 1512, he began his
assignment as professor of Bible studies. Besides teaching at the University, he
now also began to preach in the large Castle Church. Never before had the people
heard the Word of God proclaimed so richly and so powerfully. They flocked in
ever increasing numbers to hear him. In his sermons Luther warned his hearers
against trying to earn salvation by good works and pleaded with them to accept
God's offer of free salvation in Jesus. Once again in 1515 Luther received
another promotion. This time he was appointed as the vicar provincial of the
Augustinian Eremites, (Luther 53). In this position he was responsible for the
administrative and spiritual supervision of 11 Augustinian cloisters. During
Luther's study of St. Paul's Letter to the Romans in preparation for his
lectures, "he came to believe that Christians are saved not through their
own efforts but by the gift of God's grace, which they accept in faith. This
event turned him decisively against some of the major tenets of the Catholic
Church," (Encarta 1). Thus was the beginning of the Reformation. Common in
those days was the practice of selling indulgences for money. Pope Leo X started
this practice to get money to be used to finance the construction of St. Peter's
Cathedral on Rome. People who purchased these indulgences were promised freedom
from punishment on earth and in purgatory. John Tetzel, a salesman of
indulgences, came into the neighborhood of Wittenburg. He urged people to buy
forgiveness for all past, present, and future sins. Some of Luther's church
members purchased these worthless indulgence letters. They boldly refused to
repent of their sins. Their impenitence brought Luther to action. He refused to
give such members absolution and Communion unless they showed themselves
repentant. Deeply disturbed by the attitude of the people, Luther preached many
sermons on repentance. Finally he wrote 95 thesis, sentences in which he
condemned the sale of indulgences. On October 31, 1517, he posted these 95
Theses on the University bulletin board, the door of the Castle Church, (Encarta
1). In one of his theses he stated, "those preachers of Indulgences are
wrong when they say that a man is absolved and saved from every penalty by the
Pope's Indulgences…," (Luther 60). Thousands, both in high places and
low, were glad that Luther had spoken out. When Pope Leo X in Rome heard of the
affair in Germany, he was furious and threatened Luther with excommunication if
he not take back what he did within sixty days. But Luther remained firm, for he
felt that he was right and that he had acted for the glory of God. In 1521
Luther was ordered to appear before Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms for
trial. At this convention the highest officials of the Church and of the State
were present, and Luther was again asked to recant. "He refused firmly,
asserting that he would have to be convinced by Scripture and clear reason in
order to do so and that going against conscience is not safe for anyone,"
(Encarta 2). Not one opponent could bring forward a word from the Bible to show
that Luther was not mistaken. Luther, therefore, refused to change anything that
he had said or written. The emperor then condemned Luther. Luther was now
declared an outlaw; anyone might have killed him without fear of punishment.
Although his life was in great danger, Luther was unafraid and began the return
journey to Wittenburg on April 26, 1521. (Luther 91). While he was riding
through a forest on May 4, 1521, a band of masked men rushed upon him, took him
prisoner, and brought him to a castle, the Wartburg. (Luther 91). At midnight a
heavy drawbridge was lowered, and Luther disappeared behind the massive castle
walls. Only a few persons knew where Luther was, and they kept their secret
well. Some people thought that Luther was dead. What they did not know was that
some of his friends had secretly kidnapped him and had brought him to a safe
place. "On May 26, 1521, Charles V issued a singularly violent proclamation
to the electors, princes, and people of Germany. This proclamation, known as the
Edict of Worms, called upon the Germans to forsake the dissident whose teachings
threatened to divide the nation," (Luther 93). Meanwhile Luther, disguised
as a knight, lived at the Wartburg. Here he translated the New Testament into
the German language so that the common people might easily read and understand
the Word of God. Since printing with movable type had been invented shortly
before this time, copies were soon in the hands of many people. Luther remained
in seclusion at the Wartburg for almost a year. Then he returned to Wittenburg
and again appeared in his pulpit. He preached eight powerful sermons to clear
away certain errors into which many had fallen and to show them what the new way
of life was really like. He warned them against using force in their struggle
against the Pope and his followers. Their sole weapon, he urged, was to be the
powerful Word of God. From Wittenburg Luther went to a number of other towns and
communities everywhere counseling to use the liberty from the Papal oppression
for only one purpose- to become better Christians. Luther lived in constant
danger of being arrested and killed. But although his friends were worried, no
one ever touched him. That he remained alive seems like a miracle. On June 13,
1525, Luther married Katherine von Bora, a former nun. (Luther 114). The wedding
ceremony took place in the Black Cloister in Wittenburg, now changed into a
dwelling place for Luther. Martin and Katherine were blessed with three boys and
three girls. Luther loved home life, and he took time to play with his children,
to make music with them, and to write letters to them when he was away from
home. He was also interested in gardening and in the problems of running a
household. He had many visitors. Although Luther was a man of modest means, he
was very generous. His kindness and generosity to others sometimes worried his
wife, especially since Luther was extremely hospitable and would freely give
shelter, food, and even gave money to the unfortunate. By 1537 Luther's health
had begun to go downhill. "In 1546, Luther was asked to settle a
controversy between two young counts who ruled the area of Mansfeld, where he
had been born," (Encarta 3). After he resolved the conflict he died of a
heart attack on February 18, 1546, in Eisleben, (Encarta 3).
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