Martin Luther

Nation: Germany

Religious Figure

Birth Date: November 10, 1483
Germany Martin Luther Religious Figure Cover
I. Birth and Childhood
II. The Protestant Reformation
[Chronology] Martin Luther's Life
I. Birth and Childhood
Upon the testimony of his brother James, the year 1483 is assigned as the year of Martin Luther's birth; the parents, in later life, not being certain, and he himself caring little for the preservation of such personal matters. But the day and hour, November 10th, between eleven and twelve P.M., were never forgotten by his mother. Baptised the next day in St. Peter's Church, where the font of his baptism may still be seen, he received the name of the saint commemorated on that day in the calendar.

His reminiscences of his childhood were not those of sunshine, rainbows, joyful sports, and the delight of parents in the pleasure and playfulness of their children. With all his love for them, and his appreciation of the efforts they made to do the very best for his welfare, he regretted the harshness and severity which clouded the memory of his early years. Their love for their children expressed itself in the strictness with which they exacted the performance of the utmost detail of every duty, and the excessive punishment that was sure to follow the detection of the most trifling offence. Under the law themselves, the fear of punishment and the hope of reward were the chief motives for their discharge of duty. They ruled their families as they thought that God ruled them. Their sombre view of life was doubtlessly intensified by their poverty and the strain of overwork.

"The apple," says Luther, "should always lie beside the rod. Children should not be punished for trifling things, like cherries, apples, pears, nuts, as though they were serious matters. My parents dealt with me so severely that I was completely cowed. My mother once beat me for the sake of an insignificant nut, until the blood came. Her strictness and the rigorous life she compelled me to lead drove me into the monastery and made me a monk. But at heart they meant it well. They were unable to discriminate between dispositions, and to adapt their correction accordingly."

Never did their devotion to their son cease. As, in later years, they followed him with implicit confidence, as their spiritual guide, and rejoiced in the freedom of the Gospel to which he led them, so in childhood his highest interests ever weighed on their hearts. Friends report that his father was found bending over his child's cradle in earnest prayer. He was early taught to pray. From his mother he learned the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer. But of the meaning of most of that with which his memory was stored he was ignorant. The instructions of the mother abounded in the superstitions current at that time among the German peasantry, while the pictures and legends of the saints, and the processions and other ceremonies of the Church, made a deep impression upon his youthful mind. St. George, the patron of the Counts of Mansfeld, and St. Anna, the patroness of miners, were peculiarly revered. In his mature years he was pleased to read in the legend of the former a useful allegory.

Determined that his son should receive the very best advantages for education that his limited means could afford, John Luther made many sacrifices in order to carry out this purpose. School days began at so early an age that the child was sometimes carried to school by John Oemler, one of his older schoolmates, and, afterwards, his brother-in-law. The methods of the school were crude and mechanical; the teachers, rough and cruel. Reading, writing, and arithmetic were supplemented by some elementary religious instruction, and some pretense at teaching Latin. So liberal were the blows with which the blustering schoolmaster attempted to cover his incompetency, that the pupils had love neither for the teacher nor the branches which he represented. No less than fifteen times in a single morning did this bungling pedagogue beat this young child! He speaks from experience when, in mature life, he says: "It is a miserable thing, when, on account of severe punishments, children learn to dislike their parents; or pupils, their teachers. Many a clumsy schoolmaster, by blustering and storming and striking and beating, and by treating children precisely as though he were a hangman, completely ruins children of good disposition and excellent ability."' But for this school, with all its defects, it may be said that it gave him a knowledge of the Psalter, and of a number of the classical hymns, which he was in future years to translate and adapt to popular use.

In 1497, at the age of fourteen, a better school was found for him at Magdeburg. He did not go from Mansfeld alone. John Reineck, who accompanied him, remained his lifelong friend. Forty years afterwards, when Reineck, then foreman of a foundry, lost his wife, he received a letter of consolation from the schoolmate of his youth. Magdeburg, about forty miles north of his home, afforded him his first experience and contact with city life. The veneration with which he regarded the ecclesiastical buildings that were the ornament of the place, and were even then grey with age, can be imagined.

As his teachers, he tells us, he had members of the religious society of the "Noll Brothers," a branch settlement of the "Brethren of the Common Life." This organization, without exacting vows, had, as its end, the cultivation of a deeper spiritual life. Among his comrades was his subsequent co-laborer, Wenceslaus Link. Thrown upon his own resources for support, he sang for alms at the windows of the wealthier citizens, a mode of livelihood that had been rendered respectable by the example of the mendicant friars, who had exalted poverty to the rank of a virtue. Here he remained for but one year.

The next year, his parents preferring that he should not remain among entire strangers, he was transferred to Eisenach, the home of his mother's family, and not far from Mohra. But, as he continued to sing for his support, his relatives were probably not in such circumstances that they could aid him. Attracted by the open countenance and sweet voice of the boy, Madame Ursula Cotta, whose maiden name was Schalbe, the wife of a leading merchant and member of a prominent family of Italian descent, invited him into her house, and, finally, gave him a home for the rest of his Eisenach life. Not from its wealth and standing among contemporaries does the Cotta family live in history, but from this benevolent act, that has linked the name of Ursula Cotta with that of her renowned pensioner. In her home he was introduced to an entirely new sphere of life, and, just at the age when he most needed such advantages, experienced the ennobling influence of a cultivated Christian woman, and of a peaceful family life, unembarrassed by anxiety for daily support, spent in the fear of God, and attentive to the wants of those less highly favoured.

At Eisenach he found also an instructor who contrasted greatly with those under whom he had previously been, and who gave him the first decided intellectual stimulus. In John Trebonius learning and courtesy were combined. What must have been the feeling of the boy, accustomed to the barbarous treatment in the school at his home, at finding at last a preceptor, eminent for his scholarship, uncovering his head in the presence of his pupils, and publicly censuring his assistants for neglecting to show the same respect to the future dignitaries who were, for the time, under their instruction! Such consideration inspired the pupils with self-respect, and rendered them eager to prove themselves worthy of the honor shown them. Melanchthon tells us that Luther was accustomed to boast of having been a pupil of such a teacher.

Under Trebonius his progress was most rapid. All his fellow students were far surpassed. During this period his studies were chiefly grammatical and classical. His home with the Cotta family brought him into close relations with the institution of the Franciscans, in the near neighborhood, founded and endowed by the Schalbe family, from which Mrs. Cotta came. He also became intimate with an Eisenach priest, by the name of Braun, who afterwards appears prominently as a correspondent.

Four years having been spent at Eisenach, almost under the shadow of the Wartburg, he entered the University of Erfurt in the summer semester of 1501. His name was enrolled as "Martinus Ludher ex Mansfeld." His father having prospered financially, he was relieved of all further care concerning his own support, and was thus enabled to devote himself entirely to his studies.

Jacobs, H. E. (1898). Birth and childhood. In Martin Luther: The hero of the reformation 1483-1546 (pp. 7-13). New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.
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II. The Protestant Reformation
With careful thought, Martin Luther prepared his theses — ninety-five strong, unanswerable propositions — against the crime of indulgences, and with brave heart and firm hand, on October 31, 1517, he nailed them to the Schlosskirche at Wittenberg. In consequence of the act an intense excitement was produced in all directions and on the part of all classes — amongst abbots and bishops, university students, and the masses of the people. All Rome, especially, was stirred from center to circumference. The Pope summoned Luther to the Eternal City, but, befriended by Saxony's king, he refused to obey the call. A learned father of the Church was commissioned to visit him, with the view of changing his opinions or of conquering his will, but the interview accomplished nothing, save to strengthen the reformer's convictions. The distinguished controversialist, Dr. Eck, challenged him to a public debate; but failed to gain a victory over the man that placed triumphantly, over against all ecclesiastical traditions and Council decrees, the infallible Word of the Eternal God. The Pope excommunicated him, but Luther fearlessly consigned to flames the worthless "bull" [edict] and exclaimed, as he flung it into the fire: "As thou [the pope] hast troubled the Holy One of the Lord, may the eternal fire trouble and consume thee!" He was ordered to the Diet of Worms; but all efforts to make him recant had no effect upon the strong-hearted, God-guided Teuton, as he appeared before the splendid array of potentates, national and ecclesiastical, with the immortal declaration: "On God's Word I take my stand; I cannot do otherwise. God help me! Amen."

The Battle of the Reformation had now begun. Luther had arrayed the two forces over against each other: on the one side, tradition, the Pope, Papal Councils; on the other, the Bible, conscience, private judgment. Especially now was the Bible to have free course and to be glorified. Heretofore it had been bound to chains. Now it was to go forth to conquer, imparting liberty to the individual conscience, character to law, stability to national life, and thus opening up vast and varied fields for mental, social, and moral development.

Luther struck the keynote to his grandest mission in these words: "What! Keep the Light of Life from the people; take away their Guide to heaven; keep them in ignorance of what is most precious and most exalted; deprive them of the blessed consolations that sustain the soul in trial and in death; deny the most palpable truths, because dignitaries put on them a construction to bolster up their power! What an abomination! What treachery to heaven! What perils to the souls of men!"

Tupper, K. B. (1892). Martin Luther. In Seven great lights (pp. 21-23). Cincinnati: Cranston & Curts.
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[Chronology] Martin Luther's Life
1483: November 10. Birth at Eisleben.
1497: Enters school at Eisenach.
1501: Student at Erfurt.
1505: Master of Arts.
1505: July 2. Overtaken by storm.
1505: July 17. Enters cloister.
1507: May 2. Ordained.
1508: November. Instructor at Wittenberg.
1509: March 9. Bachelor of Theology. Returns to Erfurt.
1511: October. Starts for Rome.
1512: May. Subprior of cloister at Wittenberg.
1512: October 4. Licentiate.
1512: October 19. Doctor of Theology.
1513: Spring. Lectures on the Psalms begun.
1515: Vicar, in charge of eleven monasteries.
1516: Publishes The German Theology. Lectures on Romans and Galatians.
1517: April. Notes on Penitential Psalms.
1517: September 4. XCVII. Theses against Scholastic Theology.
1517: October 31. The XCV. Theses.
1518: April 26. Heidelberg Conference.
1518: October 12. Before Cajetan at Augsburg.
1519: January, first week. Conference with Miltitz at Altenburg.
1519: June 27. Leipzig Disputation begins.
1519: July 4. Beginning of Luther's discussion with Eck.
1520: June 23. To the German Nobility.
1520: October 6. The Babylonian Captivity.
1520: December 16. Burning of the Bull.
1521: April 2, Starts for Worms.
1521: April 16. Enters Worms.
1521: April 17, 18. Before the Emperor.
1521: April 26. Departure from Worms.
1521: May 4. Taken to the Wartburg.
1521: December 2. Secret journey to Wittenberg.
1522: March 6. Returns to Wittenberg.
1523: September 21. Publican of German New Testament.
1524: August. Conflict with Carlstadt at Jena, Kahlu, and Orlamunde.
1525: April 16. In Thuringia, attempting to check the Peasants' Insurrection.
1525: June 13. Marriage to Catherine von Bora.
1526: Beginning. The German Mass, and Order of Service.
1527: January to March. That the Words: This is my Body, stand firm. Ein feste Burg composed.
1528: March. Large Confession concerning the Lord's Supper.
1528: October. Visitation of churches.
1529: April. The two Catechisms.
1529: April 16. Schwabach Conference.
1529: October 1-3. Marburg Colloquy.
1530: April 3. Starts on the way towards Augsburg.
1530: April 23. Reaches Coburg.
1530: June 5. Hears of his father's death.
1530: October 13. Returns to Augsburg.
1531-34: Working steadily on translation of Old Testament.
1534: August. First edition of complete German Bible.
1535: Lectures on Genesis begun, which were completed only shortly before his death.
1535: November 6. Cardinal Vergerius at Wittenberg.
1535: December. The English commissioners, Fox, Health, and Barnes, reach Wittenberg.
1536: May 22-29. "The Wittenberg Concord" with Bucer and Capito.
1536: December. Preparation of The Schmalkald Articles.
1537: February 7-28. At Schmalkald. Leaves dangerously ill.
1539: Of the Councils and the Church.
1539-41: Revision of translation of the Bible.
1542: January 19. Consecrates Amsdorf as bishop at Naumburg.
1542: September 20. Death of his daughter, Magdalena.
1544: September. Short Confession concerning the Lord's Supper.
1544: The Hauspostille published.
1545: October and December 23. Two journeys to Mansfeld.
1546: January 23. Starts on last journey to Eisleben.
1546: February 14. Preaches his last sermon.
1546: February 17. Signs articles of argreement of the Counts of Mansfeld.
1546: February 18. Dies.
1546: February 22. Buried at Wittenberg. Sermon by Dr. John Bugenhagen; address by Philip Melanchthon.

Luther, Martin. (1899). In H. E. Jacobs & J. A. Haas (Eds.), The Lutheran cyclopedia (pp. 290-291). New York: C. Scribner's Sons.
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