… Priest, Professor, Fugitive, Reformer
Martin Luther was born in the Fall of 1483 in Saxony, which later became part of the German Empire. His father Hans was a miner and life was difficult economically for the Luthers. By the time Martin was 8 his father had been able to lease several mines in the town of Mansfeld. It was here that Martin was enrolled in boarding schools. When he was 14 he was enrolled in the St. George boarding school in Eisenach. His parents hoped this school would be a springboard for young Martin to become a lawyer.
WHEN LIGHTNING STRIKES
In July of his 22nd year Martin was returning to his studies at the university in Erfurt after a visit home. He was caught in a thunderstorm. A blinding lightning bolt knocked him to the ground. Looking toward heaven, he pleaded for his life to be spared. He promised that if he were spared he would join a religious order and serve God as a Monk.
Shortly after making this vow, he joined the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt. He took his new life seriously and quickly became known as a biblical scholar. He took a teaching post at the university in Wittenberg and in 1512 the university made him a Doctor of Theology.
PROPOSING A DIALOGUE
On October 31, 1517, Luther tacked ninety-five theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. It was a common practice to post such documents as the first step to opening a dialogue. One of the main questions or concerns Luther had was the selling of indulgences. Papal indulgences were a way for the Catholic Church to raise money to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. By purchasing an indulgence, one could receive forgiveness for sin. One could also purchase forgiveness for family members who had already passed away. Luther felt that this practice made people feel that being good was not important if you could afford an indulgence.
THE BEGINNING OF THE REFORMATION AND THE GROUNDWORK FOR THE RESTORATION
Copies of Luther’s theses spread quickly. Many people, especially colleagues at the university, supported his proposals for reforming the church.
Three and a half years after posting his 95 theses, Luther was excommunicated from the church. During those 3 and a half years he wrote books, pamphlets and other scholarly works which criticized the church and made arguments for, and recommendations for reformation.
THE DIET OF WORMS
Shortly after his excommunication, Luther was summoned to the city of Worms to attend diet (assembly). Princes and other representatives of cities in Germany attended this assembly. Luther was given the opportunity to deny that he had spoken out against the church. He refused. Standing before the diet, he said, “… I cannot and will not retract anything, since to act against one’s conscience is neither safe nor right. God help me, Amen!”
Because of his defiance in Worms, Luther was branded a fugitive who could lawfully be killed on sight. His friend, Prince Frederick of Saxony, secreted Luther to the castle in Wartburg where he, disguised as a knight, spent several months.
Luther eventually married Katherine von Bora, a former nun. As a wedding gift, Prince Frederick gave the couple a house at the university in Wittenberg. They had six children here. Two of their children died before reaching adulthood.
Luther passed away at the age of 62 in the city of his birth, Eisleben, Germany. He remained faithful to his convictions throughout his life. He said, “I would rather lose my life and head than desert the crystal-clear word of God.”
INSPIRED OF GOD
Martin Luther was a person called of God to help lay the groundwork for the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
President Joseph F. Smith said, “Calvin, Luther, Melanchthon, and all reformers, were inspired in thoughts, words, and actions to accomplish what they did for the liberty, and advancement of the human race. They paved the way for the more perfect gospel of truth to come.”
SEE ALSO: MARTIN LUTHER FACT SHEET (pdf viewer will open)