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 Issues | Church History | Martin Luther

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

German theologian and reformer


  • 1483 - 10 Nov born to a miner in Eisleben, Lower Saxony (some argue 1484)
  • 1501 - Unversity in Erfurt - intended to enter legal profession but afterwards suddenly decided to become a monk.
  • 1505 - 17 July - entered Augustianian monastery
  • 1508 - called to teach philosophy in Wittenberg
  • 1510 - pilgrimage to Rome
  • 1512 - began to teach theology
    1513 - (approx) Experienced awakening to the Biblical gospel.
  • 1517 - posted his 95 Theses on 31 October proposing to debate indulgences. This was printed and widely circulated. (text)
  • 1518 - Luther called by the Augustinian order to explain his teaching (Bucer and Brentius were both in the audience).
    The Papacy attacked Luther’s views.
  • 1519 (approx) came to mature understanding of justification by grace through faith alone
  • 1519 - Leipzig Disputations
  • 1521 - Excommunicated and then banned following the Diet of Worms. Luther was effectively kidnapped by friends to protect his life and was protected as many of the German Princes had embraced the need for reform.
  • 1525 - married Catharine von Bora. They had six children two of whom died in infancy.
  • 1529 Colloquy in Marburg attempted to harmonise the views of Luther and Zwingli.
  • 1535 Final attempt at reconciliation with Rome. Not long after this Luther published his book ‘Against the Papacy at Rome, founded by the Devil’.
  • 1546 February 18 Luther died in Eisleben.


Articles about Luther and his theology

Martin Luther. Churchman article from 1883 by W. M. Colles.

The Significance of Martin Luther. Churchman article from 1964, by Canon James Atkinson

The Neglected Reformer: Martin Luther through Anglican Eyes. Churchman article (1996) by John Richardson.


The light of the gospel
Of his early days as an Augustinian Friar Luther wrote:
"I sought to make out the meaning of Paul in the term 'the righteousness of God,' and at last I came to apprehend it thus: Through the Gospel is revealed the righteousness which availeth with God — a righteousness by which God in his mercy and compassion justifieth us, as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith.' The expression, 'the righteousness of God,' which I so much hated before, became now dear and precious, my darling and most comforting word and that passage of Paul was to me the true door of Paradise."

The 95 Theses
In 1517 Luther was disturbed by the people of Wittenberg going to buy indulgences from Tetzel (a Dominican monk). Luther warned his people from the pulpit and then proposed on1 November to debate the value of indulgences. At midday on 31 October he posted notice on the doors of the Castle Church with 95 points, or theses, for discussion. The Theses struck a chord and were printed in German and widely and quickly disseminated by others. This event is often seen as the beginning of the Reformation.

See the text of the theses

Leipzig Disputation
June 26 - July 16 1519 Luther’s views were compared to those of Jan Huss and he responded by defending from Scripture some of what Huss taught. This meant that Luther opposed the Council of Constance, though he maintained that the Church had erred by not submitting to the plain teaching of Scripture.

Luther was excommunicated by the Papacy which then demanded that the Diet of Worms (an assembly of the estates of the empire including the Emperor, civil figures and Bishops) ban him. The Diet declined to do this without hearing Luther themselves and the Emperor granted him safe passage to and from Worms.

Worms has been described as “the most splendid scene in history” and “an empire against a man”.
When urged to recant he famously declared in Latin:
“Unless I shall be convinced by the testimonies of the Scriptures or by evident reason (for I believe neither pope nor councils alone, since it is manifest they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is held captive by the word of God; and as it is neither safe nor right to act against conscience, I cannot and will not retract anything.” Adding in German, "Here I stand; I cannot otherwise; God help me. Amen"


See Also

On the Lutheran Articles - 39 Articles History


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