Today is the birthday of Martin Luther (1483) (books by this author), the German theologian who set in motion the Protestant Reformation in 16th-century Europe and forever changed Christianity. In response to what he saw as the excesses of Pope Leo X and the Church, such as forgiving penance for sins in exchange for monetary donations, he wrote a screed he called “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” On October 31, 1517, after Luther nailed what was now called “95 Theses” to the doors of the University of Wittenberg’s chapel, people began to vocally question the actions of the pope. Aided by the printing press, copies of the ”95 Theses” spread throughout Germany within two weeks and throughout Europe within two months. Out of the upheaval, the Lutheran Church was eventually born.
The pope demanded that Luther retract his statements, but he refused, saying: “Unless I am convinced by people from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen!” He was excommunicated in 1521.
Martin Luther’s parents originally planned for him to be a lawyer, but legend has it that he was nearly struck by lightning while on horseback, which he read as a sign from God himself. He cried out “Help, Saint Anna! I will become a monk!” in the hopes he would survive. He did, and convinced his parents of his true calling, sold his law books, and entered the monastery. He was an intense young monk, devoted to self-punishment, and would often lie in the snow through the night during the worst of winter until he was in such a state that he needed to be carried back inside.
Luther’s translation of the Bible in German vernacular instead of Latin made it more accessible to the common man, which had a profound impact on the Church and German culture.
It has been said that Luther was inspired to begin the Protestant Reformation while on his chamber pot, though this can’t be confirmed. However, in 2004, archaeologists did discover that Luther’s privy area was quite modern, featuring a heated floor and even a primitive drain.
The Three Solas of Lutheran teaching are: Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Scripture Alone. Composer Johann Sebastian Bach was a devout Lutheran who wrote about 200 cantatas, including at least two for each Sunday and holy day in the Lutheran church year.
Martin Luther never accepted any wages for his work. He had six children with his wife, Katharina, a former nun who had escaped her convent by hiding in a pickle barrel. To make a living, he installed a lathe and learned woodworking and also became a master gardener, growing lettuces, beans, melons, and cucumbers. When a young man wrote to him, anxious that he might be going to hell, Martin Luther advised him to drink heavily, since that was what he did in times of despair. He purportedly once said, “Beer is made by men, wine by God.”