Church History Minute: Martin Luther

Who was he? Really? You don’t know? How’d you make it to this blog? Ok, uh, he’s the founder of Protestantism.

No, but who was he really? Oh well let’s a bit more valid. Let’s cover that in the next question

Why was he important? Really let’s just do the history. Martin Luther did not set out initially to separate from Rome. He was an Augustinian monk and Augustine’s theology was heavily influential upon him. The son of a wealthy copper miner, he initially studied law, but after pleading for his life in a lightening storm, he fulfilled his hasty promise to become a monk. As a monk, he showed himself to be very apt intellectually and so was sent to study theology where he read the New Testament, and later the entire bible, in its entirety. Having been also influenced by the Christian humanists as well, he focused on Paul’s quotation, in Romans 1, of Habakkuk: “The Just will live by faith.” Again, having been trained a lawyer (and an Augustinian), he set this in a strongly legal context. We are declared just, argued Luther, in the heavenly courtroom by virtue of our faith in Christ alone.

Once Johann Tetzel began aggressively selling indulgences of grace to those with money to pay, funds that were used either for the building of St Peter’s Basilica or for the loans that were taken out for said Basilica, Martin Luther became enraged. On October 31, 1517 (yes 500 years is coming up) he nailed 95 theses to Castle Church in Wittenburg.

His work was taken and reprinted on the still fairly recent printing press. Eventually, the notoriety of Luther, primarily from these 95 theses, but also other pamphlets, led to a trial of sorts at Augsburg. Luther did not recant but escaped.

Luther was excommunicated via Papal Bull and he became more stubborn. Eventually (and I’m skipping) this culminated in the Diet of Worms (another trial) where he also refused to recant giving his famous “Here I stand” speech. Although Tetzel had been stopped by this point, Luther was pushing against what he saw as other abuses in a very derogatory manner. It was no longer about indulgences.

Luther went into hiding at this point, during which he focused on translating the bible into German, laying the foundation for much of modern German in the process. During this time some radical reformation took place, which in Germany led to a massive peasants war, which Luther deplored. Once he sided with the kings and the revolt died down he married a former nun (solidifying his separation), worked to organize a new church with his translation and a new confession was drawn up: the Augsburg Confession.

He was no stranger to controversy, but I’m running out of words.

Fun Fact: The tunes for many of his hymns were based upon German drinking songs. Luther thought they’d be more memorable that way.

Where might I have heard of him? Seriously? I… I don’t even know what to do with this.


5 thoughts on “Church History Minute: Martin Luther”

  1. I am not sure I understand Romans 1 of Habbuck ” Having been also influenced by the Christian humanists as well, he focused on Paul’s quotation, in Romans 1, of Habakkuk: ” You write this on the train?

    1. Luther was influenced by Christian humanism. He also focused upon this phrase “The Just shall live by faith” that occurs in Romans 1. Paul is quoting from Habakkuk 2:4 at that point. I’m not sure I understand what you’re asking. Did I get it?

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