Martin Luther was a German religious reformer (1483
- 1546) and the initiator of the Protestant Reform. He entered the
Augustinian convent of Erfurt in 1505 and was ordained priest in
1507. He studied philosophy at Erfurt University and received his
Doctor of theology Degree in 1512, becoming professor of biblical
In 1515 and 1516 he wrote his comments on the Letters of St. Paul that preannounced his theological position: man is always sinner and can act only as penitent towards God while awaiting his mysterious divine grace. In 1517 special indulgences were banned in Germany, applicable to the souls in purgatory and that involved pecuniary offerings: the money raised was to be used by Leo X for the construction of the Basilica of St. Peter's in Rome. The collection of funds was the cause of scandals and abuses. Luther rebelled against these abuses on October 31st 1517, and had 95 Theses posted on the door of Wittemberg Cathedral in Latin, in which he criticised the ecclesiastic practice of indulgences, votes, pilgrimages, fasting, and wealth of the Church of Rome, and defended a public discussion between theologians on the efficacy of the indulgences. The controversy flared up violently. Declared an heretic by the pope (1518), Luther refused to withdraw from his positions; in the dispute of Lipsia (1519) he denied the supremacy of the pope, the infallibility of Church General Councils, and declared that the Sacred Scriptures were the only rule of faith.
The papal bull Exsurge Domine (Arise O Lord) (1520) of Leo X was to be a warning to the rebellious monk. Either he retracted his errors within 60 days, or he would face excommunication. Luther responded by publicly burning the papal bull, sustaining that all Christians, according to St. Peter's expression "a royal priesthood and a priestly kingdom" (doctrine of universal priesthood), and that same year laid down the foundations of a church reform in three treatises: To the Christian nobility of the German nation, De captivitate babylonica ecclesiae, De libertate christiana. On January 3rd 1521 the bull Decet Romanum Pontificem Leo X irrevocably excommunicated Luther.
Luther was banned by the Diet of Worms Empire (May 26th 1521), and in order to protect him the prince-elector of Saxony Frederick the Wise had him seized and taken to Eisenach, sheltering him at Wartburg Castle, where Luther began his German translation of the bible (New Testament), which was completed by the end of 1534, and formed his literary and religious masterpiece.
In 1525 Luther joined in marriage with the former nun Katharina Von Bora who bore him 6 children; it was also the year that marked the publication of De servo arbitrio, which fell within the controversy with Erasmus on the liberty of human will and documents the fracture of the humanistic spirit. During the same year he severely fought against the rebellion of the farmers lead by Th. Muntzer. Apart from the reorganisation of the liturgy, he was awaiting also the composition of hymns for the cult and the Small and Large Catechism (1529): the conversations held with friends and disciples are gathered in Table Talks.
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