Born in Eisleben, Germany, in 1483, Martin Luther went on to become one of Western history’s most significant figures. Luther spent his early years in relative anonymity as a monk and scholar. But in 1517 Luther penned a document attacking the Catholic Church’s corrupt practice of selling “indulgences” to absolve sin. His “95 Theses,” which propounded two central beliefs—that the Bible is the central religious authority and that humans may reach salvation only by their faith and not by their deeds—was to spark the Protestant Reformation. Although these ideas had been advanced before, Martin Luther codified them at a moment in history ripe for religious reformation. The Catholic Church was ever after divided, and the Protestantism that soon emerged was shaped by Luther’s ideas. His writings changed the course of religious and cultural history in the West.
Earns M.A. at Erfurt; begins law studies, based on his father’s wishes; a dear friend died suddenly which greatly troubled Luther. Caught in a terrible storm in Stotternheim (near Erfurt), Luther vows to become a monk if St. Anne saves him. Surviving the storm, he gives up his career as a lawyer and joins the Augustinian order at the monastery in Erfurt.
Luther walks to Rome, a distance of around 1,000 miles. He is appalled by what he witnessed there, corruptions abounded. Witnessed first hand the deceit of the “indulgence sellers”. Luther mediates on the words, “the just shall live by faith” as he climbs the Scala Sancta, (28 white marble stairs).
Luther preaches against the selling of indulgences by Johann Tetzel. On 31st October, he nails the 95 Theses to the door of Lutherstadt Wittenberg’s Castle Church attacking papal abuses and the sale of indulgences. Translated from Latin into German, this printed declaration spreads like wildfire. The pope was selling (via John Tetzel) indulgences to raise money to build St Peter’s church in Rome. An indulgence is a paper papal pardon for sin bought for money. Luther’s 95 Theses were printed in German on a newly invented printing press (God’s Providence) and spread all over Europe. This date is widely believed to be the start of the Protestant Church.
Luther is charged with heresy in Rome. He defends himself in Augsburg before Cardinal Cajetan with arguments based on the Bible rather than church doctrine. He has to flee, returning to Lutherstadt Wittenberg under the protection of Frederick the Wise (the Elector Frederick III).
Pope Leo X did not like Luther because he was ruining his career. Thus, when Luther plastered his 95 Theses on the church door, the pope was radically angered and condemned Luther’s Protestant views as heretical in the bull Exsurge Domine. A Papal bull “Exsurge Domine” gives Luther 60 days to recant or be excommunicated; He writes 3 seminal documents: To the Christian Nobility, On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and The Freedom of a Christian. Luther burns the papal bull and canon law.
Luther is summoned to Diet of Worms (Germany). He arrives there on 18th April, and refuses to recant his writings. He asked for time to carefully consider his answer. He was given 24 hours. Next day at the Diet he made his famous statement when asked again if he would recant- “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. Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me God Amen.” In May Luther is excommunicated by the papal bull Decet Romanum Pontificem; and condemned as an heretic and outlaw. On his journey back to Lutherstadt Wittenberg, he is ‘kidnapped’ and taken to Wartburg Castle near Eisenach. In reality, he is once again under the protection of Frederick the Wise. Safe in the fortress, Luther grows a beard and goes by the name of “Squire George” (“Junker Jörg”). In just 10 weeks, he translates the New Testament from Greek into German.
He writes Against the Heavenly Prophets; writes Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes, criticizing the Peasants’ Revolt; marries Katherine von Bora (a converted nun) and writes Bondage of the Will (against Erasmus’s humanism ). On 25th December, Luther holds the German Mass, the very first Protestant service.
Luther dies in Lutherstadt Eisleben, 18th February. Before he died, Luther declared, “Know that no one can have indulged in the Holy Writers sufficiently, unless he has governed churches for a hundred years with the prophets, such as Elijah and Elisha, John the Baptist, Christ and the apostles… We are beggars: this is true.” His coffin is carried to Lutherstadt Wittenberg, where he is buried at the Castle Church. As recorded on his tombstone, he lived for “63 years, 2 months, and 10 days.”