Luther, Martin


Luther, Martin
(1483–1546)
   Theologian and Denomination Founder.
   Luther was born in Eisleben, Germany, and was educated at the University of Leipzig. According to his own account, he became a monk to fulfil a vow made in a terrified moment during a thunderstorm. He was ordained a priest in 1507 and moved to Wittenberg where he continued to study at the university. He was subsequently appointed to a Chair in Bible Studies there. The turning point of his career came in 1517. In order to fi- nance the building of the basilica of St Peter in Rome, Pope Leo X had licensed the sale of Indulgences. On 31 October Luther nailed on to the door of Wittenberg Church ninety-five theses against this practice. The ecclesiastical authorities hoped to silence the protest, but Luther refused to recant and converted others, such as Martin bucer, to his position. Under the protection of Elector Frederick III of Saxony, he fled from Wittenberg. In 1519, in a formal debate with Johann eck, he went so far as to deny the primacy of the Pope and the infallibility of General Councils. In 1521 he was summoned to the Diet of Worms, but again he refused to recant and was declared an outlaw; he had already, earlier in the year, been excommunicated. He continued to be protected by Frederick and he returned to Wittenberg in 1522, from where he directed the new movement. During the Peasants’ Revolt of 1524–5, he urged the princes to put down the rebellion, thus ensuring the support of the German secular authorities. In 1524 he finally discarded the religious habit and the following year he married Katharina von Bora, who had herself been a nun. Among his many books were An den Christlichen Adel Deutscher Nation, in which he urged the German princes to embark on the reform of the Church themselves; De Captivitate Babylonica Ecclesiae, in which he argued that only Baptism and the Eucharist were true Sacraments; and Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen, in which he proclaimed the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Among his other writings were a magnificent translation of the Bible into German; a stream of pamphlets against particular church abuses; De Servo Arbitrio, which was a response to erasmus’s De Libero Arbitrio; a small and a large catechism intended to propagate his teaching among the people and a bitter diatribe against the Papacy, Wider das Papsttum zu Rom, vom Teufel Gestiftet.
   He himself was a conservative by temperament. Although he abolished many Catholic practices, he strongly disapproved of the Anabaptists and he disagreed with zwingli’s understanding of the Eucharist. His own liturgical writings retained many of the old patterns, although his talents as a writer of German prose and poetry (particularly in his Bible translation and his famous hymn ‘Ein’ Feste Burg’) did much to develop the modern German language. His own theological position was expressed in the Augsburg Confession of 1530. He stressed that scripture must be seen as the sole rule of belief and that justification was by faith alone. Churches which describe themselves as Lutheran may have episcopal, congregational or presbyterian organisation; what they share is a strong Christocentric theology. It is through faith in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus, that salvation is to be found, as is revealed in Scripture. Today Lutheran churches can be found all over the world, with the highest concentration in Germany, Scandinavia and the United States of America.
   J. Bodensieck (ed.), The Encyclopaedia of the Lutheran Church, 3 vols (1965);
   A.G. Dickens, Martin Luther and the Reformation (1967);
   H.G. Haile, Luther: A Biography (1981).

Who’s Who in Christianity . 2014.

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