Luther, an Augustinian monk, nailed his petition of Ninety-Five Theses on the door at the Cathedral in Wittenberg, Germany, October 31, 1517. He was condemning the abuses he saw in the Catholic Church which, among other things, was selling indulgences, promising poor, trusting peasants forgiveness for their sins. The Church was using the monies collected to build St. Peter's Cathedral. Luther's position, after extensive Biblical studies, was that there was no place in Scripture where it was said that the faithful had to perform any deed, or buy any piece of paper to gain forgiveness. God's grace and a person's faith was all that was needed.
Luther was a scholar. He began his career as a lawyer at the University of Erfurt at age 19 in 1501, as his father wished. Those years he studied hard but was increasingly dissatisfied and tormented. On July 2nd 1505, while riding back to the University Luther encountered a terrifying thunderstorm. With lightening striking all around him and fearing for his life, he cried out in prayer, "If you save me Lord, I will become a monk". Having been saved, upon returning to the University, he quit law school and on July 17th entered the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt.
Ordained in 1507, Luther received a BA in Biblical Studies in 1508, and another degree in 1509. He taught theology and was awarded a Doctorate of Theology on October 19th in 1512. That same year he became Chair of the Theology department at the University of Wittenberg, where he remained for the rest of his career.
His lectures and sermons in those years 1510-1520 were all directed toward the idea that faith and God's grace alone can save one from hell and damnation. Of course this position was counter not only to the Catholic Church of Rome (where he visited and was horrified by the debauchery he saw in Rome) but the Holy Roman Emperor.
In order to defend his theses, Luther had to appear for 3 days before a papal legate in October 1518, where he was questioned about his beliefs, with the hope that he would recant his words, but where he questioned the pope's right to issue indulgences. The Pope issued a bull of excommunication in June 1520, which Luther tossed into a fire, December 10, 1520 and thus was formally excommunicated on Jan 3 1521.
Then he had to appear before delegates from the Holy Roman Emperor at the Diet of Worms (local civil governing body) April 18th 1521, where he declared:
He wrote a German Mass in 1526, which was widely used throughout Germany, so all the parishioners could understand the words. Under Luther’s influence, too, sermons took on a greater role in the service as a teaching tool. Luther wrote a catechism in 1529 -a manual for pastors and teachers as well as a smaller catechism for children which became a model for clear religious teaching. After finishing the translation of the Old Testament into German in 1534, we had 'The Luther Bible".
There is a new biography of Martin Luther by Eric Metaxas, published by Viking which has just popped up on the New York Times best-seller list, should you wish to read more about his life and struggles. He is truly a man for all seasons, including our own..