The life and times of Martin Luther, a man considered ‘The Father of the Great Reformation’, is and always will be controversial. Luther’s stand on his beliefs caused many to fall away from the Roman Catholic Church, the largest organized religion in the world at that time. But who was this man, and what did he do?
The dictionary defines the word reform as ‘to make better’, or ‘to remove faults and defects’. The Great Reformation, which took place between the 1300’s and the 1600’s, brought about great changes in western religion that resulted in a split among Roman Catholics. At that time, Luther and many others didn’t agree with several Catholic practices, one of which was the buying of ‘Indulgences’ – which basically meant that a man who committed a sin could go to a local priest and ‘buy’ forgiveness from him by paying a fee. Luther believed that man could only receive forgiveness through God’s grace, not his wallet. Little did Martin Luther know that when he protested this common practice that he would forever change the face of religion.
Martin Luther (originally Luder) was born on November 10th, 1483 in Eisleben, Germany. Times were difficult, especially for Jews, a period when people and feelings were changing, bringing society out of the Middle Ages and into the Modern Age. At that time, many people couldn’t read or write and believed what they were told by those who could, whether it was true or not. At that time, the Bible was printed in Latin, a language few could read, and therefore, many people only had the opportunity to hear church doctrine and teachings orally. At that time, most people belonged to the Catholic religion. If someone didn’t agree to their rules and teachings and dared to speak out about it, they were often branded as heretics and burned at the stake.
Martin Luther attended college and became a professor in 1505. That year, he also became a monk in the Mendicant Order of Augustinian monks in Erfurt. He followed a slogan of the time that meant ‘Back to the Source’, which for him meant a thorough study of the Bible in its original Hebrew and Greek. In 1507, he was ordained as a priest in Erfurt and began studies in Theology at the University there. In 1512, Luther became a Professor of Theology at the Wittenberg University.
Luther upset the leaders of neighboring churches when he disagreed with the practice of indulgences, among others. He strongly protested this, for he believed that people couldn’t buy their salvation from God, but instead received it through their faith. In addition, the reformation made attempts to prevent local Catholic priests, vicars and bishops from taking advantage of the common people through their religious dogma (an opinion or belief that one holds as the absolute truth) and their way of taking money from people who honestly believed that the only way for them to go to heaven was to give the church money for various reasons.
While not all Catholic leaders followed these trends and took advantage of people, a vast majority at the time did, and this was what Luther fought against for many years, without great results. In 1517, he read an instruction manual written for priests describing how they were to go about receiving and gathering these ‘indulgences’. This made him angry and more determined than ever to encourage a change. Luther wrote a letter to his church superior and in it included some key points that are now known as the 95 Theses. It is believed that Luther not only nailed this letter and the 95 Theses to a church door in Wittenberg, but he also sent his 95 Theses to bishops and friends, probably not expecting much of a response.
To his surprise, copies of his Theses began to appear in neighboring cities by the end of the year. Many people agreed with Luther’s comments and criticisms regarding Catholic doctrines and supported him. However, many did not, especially those who’d been benefiting from those practices.
Luther was branded a rebel, though many bishops favored and welcomed his ideas for reform within the Church. Many felt that the laws of the church had caused the spirit and heart of the law to become lost. Luther himself said he wanted to deal with the abuse he felt was going on within the Roman Catholic Church at the time, and that he didn’t initially intend to cause trouble for the church. Nevertheless, no matter what his original intentions, Martin Luther began a movement that became known as the Protestant Reformation. He was labeled a heretic by some, and an anti-Semite and ‘church splitter’ by others. On the other hand, he is also known as the ‘Enlightener of Belief’ and was very popular with the common people.
One of Martin Luther’s greatest accomplishments was a translation of the Bible into German, enabling great numbers of people to finally read the written Word for the first time. Regardless of personal feelings about the man, the professor, and the monk, Martin Luther helped to bring mankind out of the darkness of countless uneducated, superstitious beliefs of the Middle Ages to a form of religious freedom man had not known before.
Martin Luther died on February 18, 1546 in Eisleben and was laid to rest in the church in Wittenberg where the Reformation began, to the dawning of a religious movement that has not been equaled to this day.