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medieval times, reformation, protestant churches

Martin Luther

Author: Lena Santos

Martin Luther was a German theologian, a priest and a monk, a scholar and a writer.

He was the leading figure of the Protestant Reformation during the medieval times and became the father of Protestantism. One of the major branches of Protestantism- Lutheranism- was founded and named after him.

Martin Luther, son of a Saxon miner, was born on November 10, 1483 at Eisleben, Saxony (Germany) of the Holy Roman Empire and was married (1525), after losing his priesthood, to Katherina Von Bora, a former Cistercian nun with whom he had six children. He died at the age of 62 on February 18, 1546.
During his early life, at age of 18, he studied at the University of Erfurt. After graduation he studied law in 1505. On the same year, he vowed to become a monk after he was saved from near-death experience in a thunderstorm. He joined the monastery of the Augustinian Hermits where he was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1507. In 1508 he was sent to University of Wittenberg where he continued his studies and lectured on moral philosophy. In 1511 he received his doctorate on theology and an appointment as professor of Scripture which he held until his death.
When Martin Luther visited Rome in 1510 he was shocked to find out about the immorality and corruption within the high echelons of the Roman Catholic Church. What aroused his indignation most was the sale of indulgence from the church which meant that freedom from punishment for sins committed and confessed to a priest could be exchange with donations of money. In 1517 he posted on the door of the church of Wittenberg his Ninety-Five Theses which criticized the said corrupt practices and the papal policies related to the Doctrine of Indulgence. Copies of the 95 theses soon spread all over Europe exposing the Roman Catholic Church hierarchies to scandals and controversies. With these, church officials charged him with heresy, punishable by imprisonment or death. He was summoned to appear in Augsburg before the papal legate. Fearing for his life, Luther requested the protection of the elector, Frederick lll of Saxony. When the faculty of Wittenberg declared support to Luther, Frederick lll refused to turn over him to Rome.

In 1520, Pope Leo X demanded Martin Luther to recant all of his writings criticizing the traditional beliefs and protesting the alleged corrupt practices and policies of the Roman Catholic Church. However, Luther, firmed on his stands for reforms, rejected the order of the Pope. His refusal to recant resulted to his excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church by the Pope on January 3, 1521. In April 1521, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, declared Luther as an outlaw.
Banned from the Empire, Luther took refuge in Wartburg Castle where he stayed in isolation for eight months. His reforming works included the translation of the Latin Bible into German language making it readable by the German people. This resulted to a tremendous effect on the church and the German culture. His marriage to Katrina Von Bora had influenced clerical marriage in the church, particularly in the Protestant churches.

Martin Luther has done a lot of writings in subsequent years. These writings included the Small and Large Catechisms, a number of pamphlets, more than a dozen hymns, thousands of letters, more than 100 volumes of tracts and treatises, sermon books and biblical commentaries.

In 1522 he returned to Wittenberg to restore order against anarchists destroying altars, images and crucifixes on the church he left. With the support of the German princes and Philipp Melanchthon, Luther began to establish Evangelical churches in German territories. He abolished many Catholic traditional practices such as confession and private mass. Priests were allowed to marry. Monasteries and Convents were abandoned by nuns and monks.
During those difficult times, Luther lost popular support when he asked suppression of the Knights Revolt (1522) and the Peasant’s War (1524-26). In 1529, a split in the Reform movement occurs because of the failure to reach a doctrinal accord on the nature of the Eucharist. After settling a dispute in Eisleben on February 17, 1546, he died in bed due to physical strain he experienced in travelling there.

After his death, the Protestant movement flourished all over Europe and throughout the world. Today, his doctrines on the justification by faith and the authority of the Bible were accepted and adopted by other Christian reformers and are shared by many Protestants sects or denominations. Martin Luther is recognized as one of the leading figures of the Christian world.

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