Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a German Augustinian friar (Bainton, 2011). He had been a Catholic priest at one time, and was also a monk and a seminal figure, as well as a professor of theology. He was born in Saxony, which at that time was part of the Holy Roman Empire (Bainton, 2011). Baptized Catholic the day after his birth, Luther grew up in a family where his father was determined to see him succeed (Bainton, 2011). He wanted Luther to become a lawyer, and was deeply focused on making that a reality. He had brothers and sisters, but he was the eldest child and there was more pressure on him to be successful. Luther was sent to Latin schools, where he was taught logic, grammar, and rhetoric (Bainton, 2011). Later he compared his education to both hell and purgatory.
At 19 he went to university, and received a master's degree four years later (Bainton, 2011). While he was a good student, he was unimpressed with what was being taught to him and felt it was nothing but repetitive spiritual exercises and rote learning. He enrolled in law school, knowing that his father wanted him to (Bainton, 2011). It was a very short period of time before he dropped out, though, citing too much uncertainty in the law itself (Bainton, 2011). It was not what he valued. Finding himself drawn to philosophy and theology, Luther looked for truths and assurances regarding life itself. He was taught to test everything on his own, and to be suspicious of even those who were considered to be great thinkers. His own experiences were what he should be using as a guide to determine what was true.
He focused on philosophy for a while, but ultimately found it to be unfulfilling because it did not provide certainties or answer the questions he had about God (Bainton, 2011). Luther started to focus more of his attention on theology and the Scriptures, believing that reason was not what would lead men to God (Bainton, 2011). Through an experience where he came close to being struck by lightning, Luther decided he would become a monk (Bainton, 2011). When he did so his father was disappointed and furious, feeling as though Luther was wasting his education and that he would not amount to anything important in life because he did not follow through with becoming a lawyer (Bainton, 2011).
Academic and Monastic Life
Luther was very dedicated to his monastic life. He confessed frequently, fasted, and spent many long hours in prayer (Bainton, 2011). Despite going through the motions, he was experiencing deep despair on a spiritual level and felt he had lost touch with Christ as Savior (Bainton, 2011). Instead, he saw Him as a jailor of his soul, and was eventually counseled to focus on the redeeming qualities of Christ instead of staying so wrapped up in confessing sin and attempting to "get better" at not having any sinful thoughts or breaking any rules (Bainton, 2011). He was ordained to the priesthood and sent to teach theology, eventually attaining a doctorate in theology and joining the faculty at the University of Wittenberg (Bainton, 2011). He spent the rest of his academic career there.
Eventually, Luther started questioning the Roman Catholic ideals that were being presented in his church (Bainton, 2011). There was no intent to start a different subset of Christianity, and he was not trying to negate the value of the Catholic Church. However, he had concerns about some of the things the Church was focusing in, and that a large amount of what the Church was teaching did not actually have a scriptural basis (Bainton, 2011). There was a high level of corruption in the Catholic Church, and he started speaking out about it (Bainton, 2011). That brought persecution and danger to his life, but he felt so strongly about the issue that he was not going to back down just because the Catholic Church and many of its members did not like what he had to say (Bainton, 2011). That began a movement toward the Protestant side of Christianity.
There was a great deal of opposition to Luther's ideas about the Catholic Church. One of his most notable shows of disagreement with the Church was his "Ninety-Five Theses," which he posted on the doors of the Church (Bainton, 2011). It was a list of the grievances he had, with the main issue being that he did not believe that physical motions (pilgrimages, fasting, going to church, giving to charity, etc.) could bring about salvation (Bainton, 2011). Those kinds of things were important for a Christian life, but they were not what was needed to gain entrance into heaven. Instead, Luther believed in trusting in God's mercy and being personally pious and contrite when it came to sin (Bainton, 2011). Those were the things that would get a person into heaven, and the rest was just incidental.
Luther's Theses also challenged the idea of selling indulgences, arguing that it was corrupt and not theologically sound (Bainton, 2011). Numerous parts of Catholicism were attacked, such as celibacy, clerical power, and using Latin to conduct mass, as well as the power of the Pope (Bainton, 2011). Of course, the Catholic Church strongly disagreed with Luther's views on the subject, but Luther was still a crucial player in the start of the Reformation (Bainton, 2011). He would not back down, even when he knew that standing his ground was dangerous to him.
Writings and Influence
Luther wrote both a large and small catechism as well as other works. The Ninety-Five Theses was the work that the Catholic Church found particularly troubling, however, as the Pope himself threatened to excommunicate Luther if he did not withdraw it (Bainton, 2011). Luther refused and was excommunicated in 1521. That was only the beginning of the trouble he faced over his writings. The Diet of Worms, a secular counsel before which Luther was brought, asked him about his works, and he acknowledged that he authored them (Bainton, 2011). He also stated that he would not recant anything in them, for it was what he believed to be true based on the scriptures (Bainton, 2011). Luther was declared an outlaw by the Diet of Worms, and his literature was banned (Bainton, 2011). His arrest was also called for, and it was made clear that there would not be any negative consequences sought for any person who killed him (Bainton, 2011).
The goal was to arrest Luther and see that he was punished as a heretic. Anyone who gave him food or shelter would also be guilty of a crime, and no one was legally allowed to help him no matter what he needed (Bainton, 2011). Luther was "apprehended" on his way back to Wittenberg and taken to Wartburg Castle by order of Fredrick III (Bainton, 2011). That allowed him to live safely and also to continue his works. During his time there, he continued to produce writings attacking the Catholic Church and addressing what he believed to be the truth of the Scriptures (Bainton, 2011). Eventually, he was asked to return to Wittenberg and agreed to do so. He did so in secret, though, to keep the risks to his life as low as possible. Once he returned he found that he had many allies who believed in what he was saying about the Catholic Church and about God (Bainton, 2011).
Later Years and Death
Luther and his followers continued to produce literature and gain believers. Eventually, churches were organized where people could worship as they believed instead of following the Catholic Church's teachings (Bainton, 2011). That was one of Luther's greatest legacies, even though he did not start out attempting to…