Religion Wiki
Part of the series on
Luther seal.jpg
Luther's Seal

Protestant Reformation
Lutheran Orthodoxy


Martin Luther · Philipp Melanchthon
Martin Chemnitz · Johann Gerhard
Paul Gerhardt
Johann Sebastian Bach
Henry Melchior Muhlenberg
Lars Levi Læstadius
C. F. W. Walther

Book of Concord

Augsburg Confession
Apology of the Augsburg Confession
Smalcald Articles
Treatise on the Power and
Primacy of the Pope

Luther's Large Catechism
Luther's Small Catechism
Formula of Concord

Theology and Sacraments

Evangelical Catholic · Law and Gospel
Sola scriptura · Sola gratia · Sola fide
Holy Baptism · Confession
The Eucharist · Sacramental union

Liturgy and Worship

Agenda · Divine Service
Lutheran Liturgical Calendar


Lutheran World Federation
International Lutheran Council
Evangelical Lutheran Free Church
Old Lutheran Church
Confessional Evangelical Conference
List of Lutheran Denominations

Luther at age 46 (Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1529)

Luther's Seal

Martin Luther (November 10, 1483–February 18, 1546) was a German theologian, an Augustinian monk, and an ecclesiastical reformer whose teachings inspired the Reformation and deeply influenced the doctrines and culture of the Lutheran and Protestant traditions. Luther's call to the Church to return to the teachings of the Bible led to the formation of new traditions within Christianity and to the Counter-Reformation, the Catholic reaction to these movements. His contributions to Western civilization went beyond the life of the Christian Church. His translations of the Bible helped to develop a standard version of the German language and added several principles to the art of translation. His hymns inspired the development of congregational singing in Christianity. His marriage on June 13, 1525, to Katharina von Bora began a movement of clerical marriage within many Christian traditions.

Luther's early life

Martin Luther was born to Hans and Margarette Luther, née Lindemann, on November 10, 1483, in Eisleben, Germany, and was baptized on the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, after whom he was named. His father owned a copper mine in nearby Mansfeld. Having risen from the peasantry, his father was determined to see his son ascend to civil service and bring further honor to the family. To that end, Hans sent young Martin to schools in Mansfeld, Magdeburg and Eisenach.

At the age of seventeen, in 1501, Luther entered the University of Erfurt. The young student received a bachelor's degree in 1502 and a master's degree in 1505. According to his father's wishes, he enrolled in the law school of that university.

All that changed during a thunderstorm in the summer of 1505. A lightning bolt struck near to him as he was returning to school. Terrified, he cried out, "Help, Saint Anne! I'll become a monk!". His life spared, Luther left his law school and entered the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt.

Luther's struggle to find peace with God

Young Brother Martin Luther fully dedicated himself to monastic life, the effort to do good works to please God and to serve others through prayer for their souls. He devoted himself to fasts, flagellations, long hours in prayer and pilgrimage and constant confession. The more he tried to do for God, it seemed, the more aware he became of his sinfulness.

Johann von Staupitz[{{fullurl:{{wikipedia:FULLPAGENAME}}}}#endnote_Staupitz], Luther's superior, concluded the young man needed more work to distract him from excessive rumination. He ordered the monk to pursue an academic career. In 1507 Luther was ordained to the priesthood. In 1508 he began teaching theology at the University of Wittenberg. Luther received his bachelor's degree in Biblical Studies on March 9, 1508, and a bachelor's degree in the Sentences by Peter Lombard (the main textbook of theology in the Middle Ages), in 1509. On October 19, 1512, Martin Luther received the degree Doctor of Theology and on October 21, 1512, he was "received into the senate of the theological faculty" and called to the position of Doctor in Biblia.

Luther's theology of grace

The demanding discipline of earning academic degrees and preparing lectures drove Martin Luther to study the Scriptures in depth. Influenced by Humanism's call ad fontes ("to the sources"), he immersed himself in the study of the Bible and the early Church. Soon terms like penance and righteousness took on new meaning for Luther, and he became convinced that the Church had lost sight of several of the central truths of Christianity taught in Scripture—the most important of them being the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Luther began to teach that salvation is completely a gift of God's grace through Christ received by faith.

Later, Luther defined and reintroduced the principle of the proper distinction between Law Gospel that undergirded his theology of grace. Overall, Luther believed that this principle of interpretation was an essential starting point in the study of the Scriptures. Luther saw failure to distinguish Law and Gospel properly as the cause of the obstruction of the Gospel of Jesus in the Church of his day, which, he believed, gave rise to many fundamental theological errors in turn.

The indulgence controversy

In addition to his duties as a professor, Martin Luther served as a preacher and confessor at the Castle Church, a "foundation" of Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony. This church was named "All Saints" because it was the repository of his collection of holy relics. This parish served both the Augustinian monastery and the university. It was in the performance of these duties that the young priest was confronted with the effects of obtaining indulgences on the lives of everyday people.

An indulgence is the remission (either full or partial) of temporal punishment still remaining for sins after their guilt has already been removed by absolution. A buyer could purchase one, either for himself or for one of his deceased relatives in purgatory. The Dominican friar Johann Tetzel was enlisted to travel throughout Archbishop Albert of Mainz's episcopal territories promoting and selling indulgences for the renovation of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Tetzel was very successful at it. He urged: "as soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs".

As a priest concerned about the spiritual welfare of his parishioners, Luther saw this traffic in indulgences as an abuse that could mislead them into relying simply on the indulgences themselves to the neglect of the confession, true repentance, and satisfactions. Luther preached three sermons against indulgences in 1516 and 1517. On October 31 1517, according to traditional accounts, Luther's 95 Theses were nailed to the door of the Castle Church as an open invitation to debate them. The Theses condemned greed and worldliness in the Church as an abuse and asked for a theological disputation on what indulgences could grant. Luther did not challenge the authority of the pope to grant indulgences in these theses.

The 95 Theses were quickly translated into German, widely copied and printed. Within two weeks they had spread throughout Germany, and within two months throughout Europe. This was one of the first events in history that was profoundly affected by the printing press, which made the distribution of documents easier and more widespread.

Response of the Papacy

After disregarding Luther as "a drunken German who wrote the Theses" who "when sober will change his mind," Pope Leo X ordered the Dominican professor of theology, Sylvester Mazzolini, called from his birthplace Priero, Prierias (also Prieras), in 1518, to inquire into the matter. Prierias recognized Luther's implicit opposition to the authority of the pope by being at variance with a papal bull, declared him a heretic, and wrote a scholastic refutation of his theses. It asserted papal authority over the Church and denounced every departure from it as a heresy. Luther replied in kind, and a controversy developed.

Meanwhile, Luther took part in an Augustinian convention at Heidelberg, where he presented theses on the slavery of man to sin and on divine grace. In the course of the controversy on indulgences, the question arose of the absolute power and authority of the pope, since the doctrine of the "Treasury of the Church," the "Treasury of Merits," which undergirded the doctrine and practice of indulgences, was based on the Bull Unigenitus (1343) of Pope Clement VI. Because of his opposition to that doctrine, Luther was branded a heretic, and the pope, who had determined to suppress his views, summoned him to Rome.

Yielding, however, to the Elector Frederick, who the pope hoped would become the next Holy Roman Emperor and who was unwilling to part with his theologian, the pope did not press the matter, and the cardinal legate Cajetan was deputed to receive Luther's submission at Augsburg (Oct. 1518).

Luther, while professing his implicit obedience to the Church, now boldly denied papal authority, and appealed first "from the pope not well informed to the pope who should be better informed" and then (Nov. 28) to a general council. Luther now declared that the papacy formed no part of the original and immutable essence of the Church.

Desiring to remain on friendly terms with Luther, the pope made a final attempt to reach a peaceful resolution of the conflict with him. A conference with the papal chamberlain Karl von Miltitz at Altenburg in January 1519 led Luther to agree to remain silent as long as his opponents would, to write a humble letter to the pope, and to compose a treatise demonstrating his reverence for the Catholic Church. The letter was written but never sent, since it contained no retraction. In the German treatise he composed later, Luther, while recognizing purgatory, indulgences, and the invocation of the saints, denied all effect of indulgences on purgatory.

When Johann Eck challenged Luther's colleague Carlstadt to a disputation at Leipzig, Luther joined in the debate (27 June–18 July 1519). In the course of this debate he denied the divine right of the papal office and authority, holding that the "power of the keys" had been given to the Church (i.e., to the congregation of the faithful). He denied that membership in the western Catholic Church under the pope was necessary to salvation, maintaining the validity of the eastern Greek (Orthodox) Church. After the debate, Johann Eck claimed that he had forced Luther to admit the similarity of his own doctrine to that of Jan Hus, who had been burned at the stake. Eck viewed this as corroborating his own claim that Luther was "the Saxon Hus" and an arch heretic.

The breach widens

Luther's thought develops

There was no longer hope of peace. Luther's writings were now circulated widely, reaching France, England, and Italy as early as 1519, and students thronged to Wittenberg to hear Luther, who had been joined by Melanchthon in 1518, and now published his shorter commentary on Galatians and his Operationes in Psalmos (Work on the Psalms), while at the same time he received deputations from Italy and from the Utraquists of Bohemia.

These controversies necessarily led Luther to develop his theses further, and in his, he set forth the significance of the Eucharist that it is for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith for those who receive it, he advocated that a council be called to restore communion in both kinds for the laity.

The Lutheran concept of the Church, wholly based on immediate relation to the Christ who gives himself in preaching and the sacraments, was already developed in his Von dem Papsttum zu Rom (On the Papacy in Rome), a reply to the attack of the Franciscan Augustin von Alveld at Leipzig (June 1520); while in his Sermon von guten Werken (Sermon on Good Works), delivered in the spring of 1520, he controverted the Catholic doctrine of good works and works of supererogation, holding that the works of the believer are truly good in any secular calling (vocation) ordered of God.

The treatises of 1520

To the German Nobility

The disputation at Leipzig (1519) brought Luther into contact with the humanists, particularly Melanchthon, Reuchlin, Erasmus, and associates of the knight Ulrich von Hutten, who, in turn, influenced the knight Franz von Sickingen. Von Sickingen and Silvester of Schauenburg wanted to place Luther under their protection by inviting him to their fortresses in the event that it would not be safe for him to remain in Saxony because of the threatened papal ban.

Under these circumstances, complicated by the crisis then confronting the German nobles, Luther issued his To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (Aug. 1520), committing to the laity, as spiritual priests, the reformation required by God but neglected by the pope and the clergy. For the first time of many, Luther here publicly referred to the pope as the Antichrist. The reforms Luther proposed concerned not only points of doctrine but also ecclesiastical abuses: the diminution of the number of cardinals and demands of the papal court; the abolition of annates; the recognition of secular government; the renunciation of papal claims to temporal power; the abolition of the interdict and abuses connected with the ban; the abolition of harmful pilgrimages; the reform of mendicant orders to eliminate wrongdoing; the elimination of the excessive number of holy days; the suppression of nunneries, beggary, and luxury; the reform of the universities; the abrogation of the clerical celibacy; reunion with the Bohemians; and a general reform of public morality.

The Babylonian Captivity

Luther employed doctrinal polemics in his Prelude on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, especially with regard to the sacraments.

With regard to the Eucharist, he advocated restoring the cup to the laity, called into question the dogma of Transubstantiation while affirming the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, and rejected the teaching that the Eucharist was a sacrifice offered to God.

With regard to Baptism, he taught that it brings justification only if conjoined with saving faith in the recipient; however, it remained the foundation of salvation even for those who might later fall and be reclaimed.

As for penance, its essence consists in the words of promise (absolution) received by faith. Only these three can be regarded as sacraments because of their divine institution and the divine promises of salvation connected with them; but, strictly speaking, only Baptism and the Eucharist are sacraments, since only they have "divinely instituted visible sign[s]": water in Baptism and bread and wine in the Eucharist. Luther denied in this document that Confirmation, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and Extreme Unction were sacraments.

Freedom of a Christian

In like manner, the full development of Luther's doctrine of salvation and the Christian life is seen in his On the Freedom of a Christian (published November 20, 1520). Here he required complete union with Christ by means of the Word through faith, entire freedom of the Christian as a priest and king set above all outward things, and perfect love of one's neighbor. The three works may be considered among the chief writings of Luther on the Reformation.

The excommunication of Luther

On June 15, 1520, the Pope warned Martin Luther with the papal bull Exsurge Domine that he risked excommunication unless he recanted 41 points of doctrine culled from his writings within 60 days. In October 1520, at the instance of Miltitz, Luther sent his On the Freedom of a Christian to the pope, adding the significant phrase: "I submit to no laws of interpreting the word of God." Meanwhile, it had been rumored in August that Eck had arrived at Meissen with a papal ban, which was actually pronounced there on September 21. This last effort of Luther's for peace was followed on December 12 by his burning of the bull, which was to take effect on the expiration of 120 days, and the papal decretals at Wittenberg, a proceeding defended in his Warum des Papstes und seiner Jünger Bücher verbrannt sind and his Assertio omnium articulorum. Pope Leo X excommunicated Luther on January 3,1521, in the bull Decet Romanum Pontificem.

The execution of the ban, however, was prevented by the pope's relations with Frederick III, Elector of Saxony and by the new emperor Charles V, who, in view of the papal attitude toward him and the feeling of the Diet, found it inadvisable to lend his aid to measures against Luther.

Diet of Worms

Emperor Charles V opened the imperial Diet of Worms on January 22, 1521. Luther was summoned to renounce or reaffirm his views and was given an imperial guarantee of safe conduct to ensure his safe passage.

On April 16, Luther appeared before the Diet. Johann Eck, an assistant of Archbishop of Trier, presented Luther with a table filled with copies of his writings. Eck asked Luther if the books were his and if he still believed what these works taught. Luther requested time to think about his answer. It was granted. Luther prayed, consulted with friends and mediators and presented himself before the Diet the next day. When the matter came before the Diet the next day, Counsellor Eck asked Luther to plainly answer the question: "Would Luther reject his books and the errors they contain?" Luther replied: "Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe." According to tradition, Luther is then said to have spoken these words: "Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen".

Over the next few days, private conferences were held to determine Luther's fate. Before a decision was reached, Luther left Worms. During his return to Wittenberg, he disappeared.

The Emperor issued the Edict of Worms on May 25, 1521, declaring Martin Luther an outlaw and a heretic and banning his literature.

Exile at the Wartburg Castle

Luther's disappearance during his return trip was planned. Frederick the Wise arranged for Luther to be seized on his way from the Diet by a company of masked horsemen, who carried him to Wartburg Castle at Eisenach, where he stayed for about a year. He grew a wide flaring beard, took on the garb of a knight, and assumed the pseudonym Junker Jörg (Knight George). During this period of forced sojourn in the world, Luther was still hard at work upon his celebrated translation of the New Testament, though he could not rely on the isolation of a monastery.

With Luther's residence in the Wartburg began a constructive period of his career as a reformer; while at the same time the struggle was inaugurated against those who, claiming to proceed from the same Evangelical basis, were deemed by him to swing to the opposite extreme and to hinder, if not prevent, all constructive measures. In his "desert" or "Patmos" (as he called it in his letters) of the Wartburg, moreover, he began his translation of the Bible, of which the New Testament was printed in September 1522. Here, too, besides other pamphlets, he prepared the first portion of his German postilla and his Von der Beichte (Concerning Confession), in which he denied compulsory confession, although he admitted the wholesomeness of voluntary private confessions. He also wrote a polemic against Archbishop Albrecht, which forced him to desist from reopening the sale of indulgences; while in his attack on Jacobus Latomus he set forth his views on the relation of grace and the law, as well as on the nature of the grace communicated by Christ. Here he distinguished the objective grace of God to the sinner, who, believing, is justified by God because of the justice of Christ, from the saving grace dwelling within sinful man; while at the same time he emphasized the insufficiency of this "beginning of justification," as well as the persistence of sin after baptism and the sin still inherent in every good work.

Although his stay at Wartburg kept Luther hidden from public view, Luther often received letters from his friends and allies asking for his views and advice. For example, Philipp Melanchthon wrote to him and asked how to answer the charge that the reformers neglected pilgrimages, fasts and other traditional forms of piety. Luther replied on August 1, 1521: "If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2 Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign".

Meanwhile, some of the Saxon clergy, notably Bartholomäus Bernhardi of Feldkirchen, had renounced the vow of celibacy, while others, including Melanchthon, had assailed the validity of monastic vows. Luther in his De votis monasticis (Concerning Monastic Vows), though more cautious, concurred, on the ground that the vows were generally taken "with the intention of salvation or seeking justification." With the approval of Luther in his De abroganda missa privata (Concerning the Abrogation of the Private Mass), but against the firm opposition of the prior, the Wittenberg Augustinians began changes in worship and did away with the mass. Their violence and intolerance, however, were displeasing to Luther, and early in December he spent a few days among them. Returning to the Wartburg, he wrote his Eine treue Vermahnung . . . vor Aufruhr und Empörung (A Sincere Admonition by Martin Luther to All Christians to Guard Against Insurrection and Rebellion); but in Wittenberg, Carlstadt and the ex-Augustinian Gabriel Zwilling demanded the abolition of the private mass, communion in both kinds, the removal of pictures from churches, and the abrogation of the magistracy.

Return to Wittenberg and the Invocavit Sermons

Around Christmas 1521, Anabaptists from Zwickau added to the anarchy. Thoroughly opposed to such radical views and fearful of their results, Luther secretly returned to Wittenberg March 6, 1522, and the Zwickau prophets left the city. For eight days beginning on March 9, Invocavit Sunday, and concluding on the following Sunday, Luther preached eight sermons that would become known as the Invocavit Sermons. In these sermons Luther counseled careful reform that took into consideration the consciences of those who were not yet persuaded to embrace reform. Communion in one kind (the consecrated bread) was restored for a time, the consecrated cup given only to those of the laity who desired it. He was thought by his hearers John Agricola and Jerome Schurf to have accomplished his goal of quelling unrest. The canon of the mass, giving it its sacrificial character, was now omitted. Since the former practice of penance had been abolished, communicants were now required to declare their intention to commune and to seek consolation in Christian confession and absolution. This new form of service was set forth by Luther in his Formula missæ et communionis (Form of the Mass and Communion, 1523), and in 1524 the first Wittenberg hymnal appeared with four of his own hymns. Since, however, his writings were forbidden in that part of Saxon ruled by Duke George, Luther declared, in his Über die weltliche Gewalt, wie weit man ihr Gehorsam schuldig sei (Temporal Authority: to What Extent It Should Be Obeyed), that the civil authority could enact no laws for the soul, herein denying to a Catholic what he permitted an Evangelical.

Martin Luther's marriage and family

April 8, 1523, Luther wrote Wenceslaus Link: "Yesterday I received nine nuns from their captivity in the Nimbschen convent." Luther had arranged for Torgau burgher Leonhard Koppe on April 4 to assist twelve nuns to escape from Marien-thron Cistercian monastery in Nimbschen near Grimma in Ducal Saxony. He transported them out of the convent in herring barrels. Three of the nuns went to be with their relatives, leaving the nine that were brought to Wittenberg. One of them was Katharina von Bora. All of them but she were happily provided for. In May and June 1523, it was thought that she would be married to a Wittenberg University student, Jerome Paumgartner, but his family most likely prevented it. Dr. Caspar Glatz was the next prospective husband put forward, but Katharina had "neither desire nor love" for him. She made it known that she wanted to marry either Luther himself or Nicholas von Amsdorf. Luther did not feel that he was a fit husband considering his being excommunicated by the pope and outlawed by the emperor. In May or early June 1525, it became known in Luther's circle that he intended to marry Katharina. Forestalling any objections from friends against Katharina, Luther acted quickly: on the evening of Tuesday, June 13, 1525, Luther was legally married to Katharina, whom he would affectionately call "Katy." Katy moved into her husband's home, the former Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg, and they began their family: The Luthers had three boys and three girls:

  • Hans, born June 7, 1526, studied law, became a court official, and died in 1575.
  • Elizabeth, born December 10, 1527, prematurely died on August 3, 1528.
  • Magdalena, born May 5, 1529, died in her father's arms September 20, 1542. Her death was especially hard on Luther and Katherine.
  • Martin, Jr., born November 9, 1531, studied theology but never had a regular pastoral call before his death in 1565.
  • Paul, born January 28, 1533, became a physician. He fathered six children before his death on March 8, 1593 and the male line of the Luther family continued through him to John Ernest, ending in 1759.
  • Margaretha, born December 17, 1534, married George von Kunheim of the noble, wealthy Prussian family, but died in 1570 at the age of 36. Her descendants have continued to the present time.

The Peasants' War

The Peasants' War (1524–25) was in many ways a response to the preaching of Luther and others. Revolts by the peasantry had existed on a small scale since the 14th century, but many peasants mistakenly believed that Luther's attack on the Church and the hierarchy meant that the reformers would support an attack on the social hierarchy as well, because of the close ties between the secular princes and the princes of the Church that Luther condemned. Revolts that broke out in Swabia, Franconia, and Thuringia in 1524 gained support among peasants and disaffected nobles, many of whom were in debt at that period. Gaining momentum and a new leader in Thomas Münzer, the revolts turned into an all-out war, the experience of which played an important role in the founding of the Anabaptist movement. Initially, Luther seemed to many to support the peasants, condemning the oppressive practices of the nobility that had incited many of the peasants. As the war continued, and especially as atrocities at the hands of the peasants increased, the revolt became an embarrassment to Luther, who now professed forcefully to be against the revolt; since Luther relied on support and protection from the princes, he was afraid of alienating them. In Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants (1525), he encouraged the nobility to visit swift and bloody punishment upon the peasants. Many of the revolutionaries considered Luther's words a betrayal. Others withdrew once they realized that there was neither support from the Church nor from its main opponent. The war in Germany ended in 1525, when rebel forces were put down by the armies of the Swabian League.

Luther's German Bible

Luther's 1534 bible

Luther translated the Bible into German to make it more accessible to the common people. He began the task of translating the New Testament alone in 1521 during his stay in the Wartburg castle. It was completed and published in September, 1522. The entire Bible appeared in a six-part edition in 1534 and was a collaborative effort of Luther, Johannes Bugenhagen, Justus Jonas, Caspar Creuziger, Philipp Melanchthon, Matthew Aurogallus, and George Rörer. Luther worked on refining the translation for the rest of his life, having a hand in the edition that was published in the year of his death, 1546. The Luther Bible by reason of its widespread circulation facilitated the emergence of the modern German language by standardizing it for the peoples of the Holy Roman Empire that would become Germany in the nineteenth century, and it is considered a landmark in German literature.

Transformations in liturgy and church government

Luther marked a further step in his revision of the liturgy by his Deutsche Messe [German Mass] in 1526, making provision for week-day services and for catechetical instruction. He strongly objected, however, to making a new law of the forms, and urged the retention of other good liturgies. While Luther thus advocated Christian liberty in liturgical matters, he also spoke out in favor of maintaining and establishing liturgical uniformity among those sharing the same faith in a given area. He saw in liturgical uniformity a fitting outward expression of unity in the faith. He considered liturgical variation as confusing openings for theological variation. He did not consider liturgical innovation and change a virtue, especially not one to be exercised by individual Christians or congregations; he was content to reform what he had inherited from the past.

The gradual transformation of the administration of baptism was accomplished in the Taufbüchlein [Baptismal Booklet] (1523, 1526).

In May, 1525, the first Evangelical ordination took place at Wittenberg. Luther had long since rejected the Roman Catholic sacrament of ordination, and had replaced it by a simple calling to the service of preaching and the administration of the sacraments. The laying-on of hands with prayer in a solemn congregational service was considered a fitting human rite. Conditions now seemed to Luther to require the introduction of a higher official authority. As early as 1525 he had complained of the state of affairs, and he held that the secular authorities should take part in the administration of the Church, as in making appointments to ecclesiastical office and in directing visitations. Nevertheless, the discharge of these functions did not appertain to the secular authorities as such, and Luther would gladly have vested them in an Evangelical episcopate, had he known of any persons. suited for that office. He even declared in 1542 that the Evangelical princes themselves "must be necessity-bishops," and even went so far as to meditate (letter of Mar. 29, 1527) a “congregation of Christians“ with full ecclesiastical powers, but determined to be guided by the course of events and to wait until parishes and schools were provided with the proper persons. Since, however, the result of the Saxon visitation gave no encouragement to this project, it was deemed far more important first to win non-Christians to the faith through the Gospel, preserving the external form of the Church as it was at the beginning of the Reformation. The visitation accordingly took place in 1527-29, Luther writing the preface to Melanchthon's Unterricht der Visitatoren an die Pfarrherrn, and himself acting as a visitor in one of the districts after Oct., 1528, while, as a result of his observations, he wrote both his catechisms in 1529. At the same time he took the keenest interest in education, conferring with Georg Spalatin (q.v.) in 1524 on plans for a school system, and declared that it was the duty of the civil authorities to provide schools and to see that parents sent their children to them. He also advocated the establishment of elementary schools for the instruction of girls. In the meantime, Lutheran churches in Scandinavia and many of the Baltic States, as well as the Moravians, continued to maintain the Historic Episcopate and apostolic succession, even though they had adopted Luther's anti-papal theology.

Eucharistic views and controversies

In the meantime, the nature of the Eucharist had become a theme on which Luther found himself obliged to articulate his doctrine fully and polemically. Rejecting the Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation, he nevertheless maintained the Real Presence of the body and blood of Christ in the sacramental bread and wine. He stood by the simple, literal meaning of the Words of Institution ("This is my body," "This is my blood"). Refusing to define the mystery of the Eucharist by concepts such as Consubstantiation, Luther utilized the patristic analogy for the doctrine of the Personal Union of the two natures in Jesus Christ to illustrate his eucharistic doctrine: "by the analogy of the iron put into the fire whereby both fire and iron are united in the red-hot iron and yet each continues unchanged," a concept which he called the "Sacramental Union." (The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, F.L. Cross, Ed., London: Oxford, 1958, p. 337).

Luther's doctrine distinguished him from Carlstadt, Zwingli, Leo Jud, and Œcolampadius, who went "further" by rejected the Real Presence altogether. Carlstadt, Zwingli and Œcolampadius offered differing interpretations of the words of institution: Carlstadt interpreted the "This" of "This is my body" as Christ's action of pointing to himself, Zwingli interpreted the "is" as "signifies", and Œcolampadius interpreted "my body" as "a sign of my body." In the controversy that ensued, Luther replied to Œcolampadius in the preface to the Syngramma Suevicum [Swabian Writing], and also set forth his views in his Sermon von den Sakramenten . . . Wider die Schwärmgeister [Sermon on the Sacrament . . . Against the Fanatical Spirits] and Dass diese Worte . . . noch feststehen [That These Words . . . Still Stand Firm] (spring, 1527), and, more exhaustively, in his Vom Abendmahl Christi Bekenntnis [Confession on Christ's Supper] (1528).

In view of the perils to Protestantism in the measures of the Diet of Speyer in 1529 and the coalition of the emperor with France and the pope, the Landgrave Philip desired a union of all the adherents of the Reformation, but Luther declared himself opposed to any alliance which might aid heresy. He accepted, however, the landgrave's invitation to a conference at Marburg (Oct. 1-3, 1529) to settle the matters in controversy. At Marburg, Luther opposed Œcolampadius, while Melanchthon was the antagonist of Zwingli. Although they found an unexpected harmony in other respects, no agreement could be reached regarding the Eucharist. Luther therefore refused to call his opponents brethren, even while he wished them peace and love. Luther was convinced that God had blinded Zwingli's eyes so that he could not see the true doctrine of the Lord's Supper. Luther denounced Zwingli and his followers at this time as "fanatics," "patricides," "matricides," "fratricides," "devils," "knaves," "heretics," "rioters," "hypocrites," and the like.

The princes themselves then subscribed to the Schwabach Articles, upheld by Luther as a condition of alliance with them. Luther's basis for his Eucharistic doctrine was not a mere literal interpretation of the words of institution, but rather thankfulness for Jesus' bodily sacrifice and the administration of this very same body. Luther emphasized the absolute unity of the divine with the human in Christ to explain the actual presence; while Christ's presence is "repletive" (filling all places at once), his omnipresence in the Eucharist is especially "definitive" (unbound by space).

On the other hand, Luther taught with equal clearness that participation in itself is of no avail without faith. He insisted that the impious and even beasts in partaking of the consecrated elements partake of the body and blood of Christ, but the unworthy partake unto damnation. Also, while he disputed the view that the Eucharist is a mere memorial, he fully recognized the commemorative element in it. As regards the effect of the Sacrament on the faithful, he laid special stress on the words "given for you," and hence on the atonement and forgiveness through the death of Christ.

The Small and Large Catechisms

In 1528, Frederick asked Luther to tour the local churches to determine the quality of the peasants' Christian education. Luther wrote in the preface to the Small Catechism, "Mercy! Good God! what manifold misery I beheld! The common people, especially in the villages, have no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine, and, alas! many pastors are altogether incapable and incompetent to teach." In response, Luther prepared the Small and Large Catechisms. They are instructional and devotional material on what Luther considered the fundamentals of the Christian faith, namely the Ten Commandments; the Apostles' Creed; the Lord's Prayer; Baptism; Confession and Absolution; and the Eucharist. The Small Catechism was supposed to be read by the people themselves, the Large Catechism, by the pastors. The two catechisms are still popular instructional materials among Lutherans .

The Diet of Augsburg and the question of civil resistance

Under the same perilous conditions which had made desirable an alliance of all adherents of the Reformation, the estates convened with the emperor at Augsburg in 1530, when the relation of the empire to Protestantism was definitely to be determined. Luther, despised by emperor and empire, remained at Coburg, but the confession there presented by Melanchthon was essentially based upon his labors. The latter, while refraining from an authoritative attitude, was little pleased by the smooth and cautious procedure of Melanchthon, and saw no chance of harmony of doctrine except in abolishment of the papacy, although he hoped for official toleration of both religions in the empire. While the recess of the diet gave the Protestants only a short time to make their submission, the emperor, urged on by threatened war with the Turks and by the Schmalkald League of the Protestant princes and cities, made further attempts to secure harmony, which led to the Religious Peace of Nuremberg in 1532 (q.v.), to last until a general council should be called to make a final decision. Since the Diet of Speyer (1529) the question had become vital whether, in case the emperor refused peace, the princes were justified in, or even bound to, armed resistance. Until now Luther had held that even wrongful acts of the emperor in no way released his subjects from obedience, and had been unfavorable to offensive and defensive alliances between Evangelical princes, preserving this attitude even in regard to the Schmalkald League. His position was somewhat modified, however, by the opinions of the jurists that in cases of public and notorious injustice the existing imperial laws ("the emperor himself in his laws") warranted such resistance. Accepting this, he nevertheless referred judgment on the present conditions to the jurists, and not to the theologians. In his Warnung an die lieben Deutschen (1531), nevertheless, he openly advocated resistance in a righteous cause, while in letters written in 1539 he went back still further to the general requirements of natural law.

Luther's other writings

The number of books attributed to Martin Luther is nothing short of impressive. However, some Luther scholars contend that many of the works were at least drafted by some of his good friends like Melanchthon. Luther's fame provided a much larger potential audience than his — at least as learned — friends could have obtained under their own names.

His books explain the settings of the epistles and show the conformity of the books of the Bible to each other. Of special note would be his writings about the Epistle to the Galatians, in which he compares himself to the Apostle Paul in his defense of the Gospel (for example, the faith-building commentary in Luther and the Epistle to the Galatians).

Luther also wrote about church administration and wrote much about the Christian home.

Luther's writing was very polemical, and when he was passionate about a subject, he would often insult his opponents. For example, in the preface to (On the Bondage of the Will), a response to Erasmus's Diatribe seu collatio de libero arbitrio (Discussion, or Collation, concerning free will), Luther writes,

"your book ... struck me as so worthless and poor that my heart went out to you for having defiled your lovely, brilliant flow of language with such vile stuff. I thought it outrageous to convey material of so low a quality in the trappings of such rare eloquence; it is like using gold or silver dishes to carry garden rubbish or dung."

Luther, as well as the other reformers, were quite intolerant of others' beliefs, and this may have exacerbated the Reformation in Germany. This intolerance was displayed in On the Jews and their Lies which is remembered even today (see Martin Luther and the Jews).

However, an indication that Luther really meant what he said in his and was not simply carried away by rhetoric is that, twelve years later, when Luther's friends began collecting his writings, he was able to say that, of all the things he had written, he considered only his catechism and his book to be truly worthwhile.

Luther's work contains a number of statements that modern readers would consider rather crude. It should be remembered that Luther received many communications from throughout Europe from people who could write anonymously, that is, without the spectre of mass media making their communications known. No public figure today could write in the manner of the correspondences Luther received or in the way Luther responded to them. Opinions today can be immediately shared electronically with a wide audience. At least one such statement would not be heard from most modern pastors: He regularly told the Devil off.

Martin Luther and the Jews

Luther's anti-Jewish rhetoric and doctrines are often described as anti-Semitic or examples of anti-Judaism. Luther had expected that presenting his understanding of the Christian gospel to the Jews would convert them, but when his efforts failed, he became embittered and recommended their harsh persecution. In his pamphlet Von den Juden und ihren Lügen (On the Jews and their Lies), published in 1543, he wrote that Jews' synagogues should be set on fire, prayerbooks destroyed, rabbis forbidden to preach, homes "smashed and destroyed," property seized, money confiscated, and that these "poisonous envenomed worms" be drafted into forced labor or expelled "for all time."

British historian Paul Johnson has called On the Jews and their Lies the "first work of modern anti-Semitism, and a giant step forward on the road to the Holocaust." Australian Lutheran pastor Russell Briese's comments at the Council of Christians and Jews at the Great Synagogue in Sydney: "historians are at a loss to find a direct link between the anti-semitism of Luther's time and that of Hitler's campaign." Four centuries later, the Nazis cited the pamphlet to justify the Final Solution. Since the 1980s, Lutheran church bodies and organizations have begun a process of formally disassociating themselves from these writings.

Martin Luther and the medieval persecution of witches

Luther shared the common medieval superstition against witchcraft as inimical to Christianity. The persecution of witches and warlocks took place in Protestant as well as in Roman Catholic countries in Middle Europe during and after the Reformation. Not only Luther but John Calvin supported this persecution as well. They felt it to be in accordance with Exodus 22:18. Luther mentioned the hunting down of witches in a few of his sermons (e.g. that of May 6, 1526: WA 16, 551f., cf. also WA 3, 1179f, WA 29, 520f). In a sermon of August 25, 1538 Luther said: "You must not have pity on witches, I myself would burn them" („Mit Hexen muß man kein Mitleid haben; ich wollte sie selber verbrennen“) (WA 22, 782ff.). Luther believed witchcraft to be a sin against the Second Commandment.

Luther's last journey and death

Martin Luther's final journey to Mansfeld Eisleben came about because of his concern for the families of his brothers and sisters who continued in father Hans Luther's copper mining trade, which was threatened by Count Albrecht of Mansfeld's bringing this industry under his own personal control for his own profit. The controversy that ensued involved all four of the Mansfeld counts: Albrecht, Philip, John George, and Gerhard. Luther journeyed to Mansfeld twice in late 1545 to participate in the negotiations for a settlement. A third visit was needed in early 1546 to complete the negotiations. On January 23 Luther left Wittenberg accompanied by his three sons. The negotiations were successfully concluded on February 17. After 8:00 p.m. on that day Luther suffered chest pains. When he went to his bed he prayed, "Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God" (Ps. 31:5), the common prayer of the dying. At 1:00 a.m. he awoke with more chest pain and was warmed with hot towels. Knowing that his death was imminent, he thanked God for revealing His Son to him in Whom he had believed. His companions Justus Jonas and Michael Coelius shouted loudly, "Reverend father, are you ready to die trusting in your Lord Jesus Christ and to confess the doctrine which you have taught in His name?" A distinct "Yes" was Luther's reply. He died 2:45 a.m. February 18, 1546 in Eisleben, the city of his birth. He was buried in the Castle Church in Wittenberg near to where he had made such an impact on Christendom: his pulpit.

A slip of paper Luther wrote February 16, 1546, was his last written statement: "Know that no one can have indulged in the Holy Writers sufficiently, unless he has governed churches for a hundred years with the prophets, such as Elijah and Elisha, John the Baptist, Christ, and the apostles . . . We are beggars: this is true".

File:The Worms Luther Statue.jpg

The Worms Luther Statue

His legacy

Martin Luther, more than the reformers that preceded him, shaped the Protestant Reformation. Thanks to the printing press, his pamphlets were well-read throughout Germany, influencing many subsequent Protestant Reformers and thinkers and giving rise to diversifying Protestant traditions in Europe and elsewhere. Protestant countries, no longer subject to the papacy, exercised their expanded freedom of thought, facilitating Protestant Europe's rapid intellectual advancement in the 17th and 18th centuries, giving rise to the Age of Reason. In reaction to the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Reformation, too, was a part of this intellectual advancement, for example, through its scholastic Jesuit order. It would also be accurate to consider Martin Luther one of the founders of the German language.

On the darker side, the absolute power of princes over their subjects increased considerably in the Lutheran territories, and Catholics and Protestants waged bitter and ferocious wars of religion against each other. A century after Luther's protests, a revolt in Bohemia ignited the Thirty Years' War, a Catholic vs. Protestants war which ravaged much of Germany and killed about a third of the population.

See also


  • Bainton, Roland H. Here I Stand: a Life of Martin Luther. New York: Penguin, 1995 (1950). ISBN 0452011469.
  • Bornkamm, Heinrich. Luther in Mid-Career 1521-1530. E. Theodore Bachmann, trans. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983. ISBN 0800606922.
  • Bornkamm, Heinrich. Luther's World of Thought. Martin H. Bertram, trans. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1958. ISBN 0758608322
  • Brecht, Martin. Martin Luther. 3 Volumes. James L. Schaaf, trans. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985-1993. ISBN 0800628136, ISBN 0800628144, ISBN 0800628152.
  • Dickens, A.G. Martin Luther and the Reformation. New York: Harper & Row, 1967. ASIN: B0007DY59M.
  • Haile, H.G. Luther: An Experiment in Biography. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1980. ISBN 0385159609.
  • Hillerbrand, Hans J., ed. The Reformation: A Narrative History Related by Contemporary Observers and Participants. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1979. ISBN 0801041856.
  • Iserloh, Erwin, The Theses Were Not Posted: Luther Between Reform and Reformation. Jared Wicks, trans. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1968.
  • Kittelson, James M. Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and His Career. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1986. ISBN 0806622407.
  • Kolb, Robert. Martin Luther As Prophet, Teacher, Hero: Images of the Reformer, 1520-1620. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2000. ISBN 0801022142.
  • Luther, Martin. Christian Cyclopedia. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2000. [1]
  • Luther, Martin. Luther's Works. 55 Volumes. Various translators. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1957. CD-ROM edition, 2001.
  • MacCulloch, Diarmaid. The Reformation: Europe's House Divided 1490-1700. London: BBC Books 2003. ISBN 0713993707
  • Manns, Peter. Martin Luther: An Illustrated Biography. New York: Crossroad Publishing Co., 1982. ISBN 0824505107
  • Marty, Martin. Martin Luther: A Penguin Life. New York: Penguin, 2004. ISBN 0670032727
  • Nohl, Frederick. Luther: Biography of a Reformer. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2003. ISBN 0758606516
  • Oberman, Heiko A. Luther: Man Between God and the Devil. New York: Doubleday, 1989. ISBN 0385422784
  • Oberman, Heiko A. The Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Age of Renaissance and Reformation. James I. Porter, trans. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984. ISBN 0800607090
  • Plass, Ewald M. This Is Luther: A Character Study. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1948 [Reprint, 1984]. ISBN 0570039428.
  • Reu, [John] M[ichael]. Luther and the Scriptures. Columbus, Ohio: The Wartburg Press, 1944. [Reprint: St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1980].
  • Reu, [John] M[ichael]. Luther's German Bible: An Historical Presentation Together with a Collection of Sources. Columbus, Ohio: The Lutheran Book Concern, 1934. [Reprint: St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1984].
  • Ritter, Gerhard. Luther: His Life and Work. John Riches, trans. New York: Harper & Row, 1963. ISBN 0313203474
  • Schwiebert, E.G. Luther and His Times. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1950. ISBN 0570032466.
  • Siemon-Netto, Uwe. The Fabricated Luther: the Rise and Fall of the Shirer myth. Peter L. Berger, Foreword. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1995. ISBN 0570048001.
  • Siemon-Netto, Uwe. "Luther and the Jews." Lutheran Witness 123 (2004)No. 4:16-19. [2]
  • Tjernagel, Neelak S. Martin Luther and the Jewish People. Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1985. ISBN 0810002132
  • Todd, John M. Luther: A Life. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1982. ISBN 0824504798 (Also at [3])
  • Westerholm, Stephen Israel's Law and the Church's Faith. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1988. ISBN 0802802885


  • 1953: Martin Luther, theatrical film, with Niall MacGinnis as Luther; directed by Irving Pichel. Academy Award nominations for black & white cinematography and art/set direction. Rereleased in 2002 on DVD in 4 languages.
  • 1974: Luther, theatrical film (MPAA rating: PG), with Stacy Keach as Luther.
  • 1981: Where Luther Walked, documentary featuring the late Roland Bainton as guide and narrator, directed by Ray Christensen (VHS released in 1992), ISBN 1563640120
  • 1983: Martin Luther: Heretic, TV presentation with Jonathan Pryce as Luther, directed by Norman Stone.
  • 1983: Martin Luther: An Eye on Augsburg, a film funded by the Northern Illinois District of the LCMS with Rev. Robert Clausen as Luther.
  • 2001: Opening the Door to Luther, travelogue hosted by Rick Steves. Sponsored by the ELCA.
  • 2002: Martin Luther, a historical film from the Lion TV/PBS Empires series, with Timothy West as Luther, narrated by Liam Neeson and directed by Cassian Harrison.
  • 2003: Luther, theatrical release (MPAA rating: PG-13), with Joseph Fiennes as Luther and directed by Eric Till. Partially funded by American and German Lutheran groups.

External links

Original texts

This page uses content from the English Wikisource. The original article was at Martin Luther. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with the Religion wiki, the text of Wikisource is available under the CC-BY-SA.

Writings of Luther and contemporaries, translated into English

Online resources

Online information on Luther and his work

This article was forked from Wikipedia on March 24, 2006.

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Martin Luther. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.