Course:  Church History (1)

Course Title:  Church History and the Standard of the New Testament

Lesson Ten

Lesson Title:   Life of Martin Luther


Introduction:  Background


Martin Luther 1483-1546



Born: November 10, 1483 in Eiselben

Baptized: November 11, 1483St.Martin's day



Luther’s father:  Hans Luther


Luther’s mother:  Margarethe



Luther's School

Parents moved from Eiselben to Mansfeld where Hans Luther became a prosperous entrepreneur in copper mining.

He wanted his son to be a lawyer.


Martin attended school in Mansfeld where Latin was taught until he was fourteen.


Sent to Magdeburg where he studied with 'the Brethren of the Common Life' for one year.



‘When, in my fourteenth year, I went to school at Magdeburg, I saw with my own eyes a  prince of Anhalt, a brother of the Bishop of Merseburg, walk and beg for bread on Broadstreet, with the skullcap of the order of the Barefeet, carrying like a donkey on his back a sack so heavy it bent him to the ground, but his companion walked by him without a burden; this prince alone might serve as an example of the grisly, shorn holiness of the world.  He had so castigated himself by going without food and sleep that he looked like the picture of death, nothing but skin and bones.  And, indeed, he died soon after, for he could not long bear such a severe life.  Whoever saw him could not help gasping with reverence and  must needs be ashamed of his own worldly condition.’




After Magdeburg, Luther went to study in Eiselben.


From Erfurt University to Erfurt Monastery  

1501 Entered the University of Erfurt to study law.

1505 Thunderstorm experience

Luther claimed that during a thunderstorm, lightning nearly hit him (somewhere between Eiselben and Erfurt).

In terror Luther called on St.Anne (the mother of Mary) to help him; vowing that he would then become a monk.

Luther left law school and entered the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt.


Luther knew entering a monastery would infuriate his father who wanted his son to be a lawyer.

It was rather clever that St. Anne was invoked because she was the patron saint of miners (His father became rich through mining).


It is hard to believe the story is true. 

Luther needed an explanation to give his father for leaving law school and joining the monastery.

Hans Luther was furious.


1505 Joined the Augustinian Order in Erfurt

1507 Ordained a priest

1508 Taught at Wittenberg University

1510 Sent on a visit to Rome

From 1512  Became Professor of Theology at Wittenberg.

Between 1512 – 1517 Luther lectured on the Psalms, Romans, Galatians and Hebrews.



1.  Luther attacks the sale of indulgences.


Luther's 'Breakthrough' from the 'Autobiographical Fragment', March I545

'I began to understand that the righteousness of God is the righteousness in which a just man lives by the gift of God, in other words by faith, and that what Paul means is this:  the righteousness of God, revealed in the Gospel, is passive, in other words that by which the merciful God justifies us through faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."

'And now, in the same degree as I had formerly hated the word 'righteousness of God', even so did I begin to love and extol it as the sweetest word of all; thus was this place in St. Paul to me the very gate of paradise….  In the strengthened armour of such thoughts I began my second interpretation of the Psalms.…'


Albrecht Archbishopric of Mainz

Albrecht became Archbishop of Magdeburg in 1513 when he was only 23. 

Albrecht was not a priest.

In 1514 he became Archbishop of Mainz – an office that held one of the 7 votes to elect the Emperor.

He needed to pay for a papal dispensation to hold both offices.

Albrecht had to borrow 21,000 ducats from the Fugger German National Bank  - Jakob Fugger (d.1525).

Pope Leo needed finance to complete St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Albrecht was given the right to sell indulgences. 

Half the money to go to Rome and half to pay the Fugger Bank.









Johann Tetzel (1465-1519).

Albrecht employed Tetzel as he was the best seller of indulgences.

Tetzel famously used the phrase

"As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs."

Tetzel was not allowed to sell the indulgences in Wittenberg as Frederick had a large number of relics and did not want to lose business.


Indulgences helped to finance the Wittenberg University where Luther was teaching.

Tetzel sold indulgences close to Wittenberg on the other side of the River Elbe.

Many of Luther's parishoners went across the River and bought these indulgences.

Luther was outraged and wrote 95 theses in Latin for debate among scholars regarding the authenticity of indulgences.


The Castle Church at Wittenberg


As was the custom Luther nailed his '95 Theses' to the door of the Castle Church  in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517.

The '95 Theses' was written in Latin for scholarly debate.

The '95 Theses' were translated into German and published. 

Within two weeks the Theses was being read around Germany. 

The sale of indulgences quickly diminished.

Tetzel became disgraced and retired to the Dominican monastery in Leipzig where he died in 1519.


Luther's 95 Theses (1517)


'Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter. In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.'


1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said repent willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.

2. This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.

3. Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers mortifications of the flesh.

4. The penalty [of sin], therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

5. The pope does not intend to remit, and cannot remit any penalties other than those which he has imposed either by his own authority or by that of the Canons.

6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring that it has been remitted by God and by assenting to God's remission; though, to be sure, he may grant remission in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in such cases were despised, the guilt would remain entirely unforgiven.


Frederick the Wise (1463 – 1525)

Elector of Saxony.

Went on pilgrimage to Holy Land 1493 and began collecting relics.

By 1520 he had the largest collection of relics in Germany totalling 19,013 pieces.

Founded University of Wittenberg in 1502

1519 Gave his vote to Charles V

1521 Hid Luther in Wartburg

It is thought that he never met Luther personally but he protected him.

1523 Frederick abandoned the veneration of relics.



Elector Frederick the Wise never married but he had two sons and a daughter by Anna Weller.


1525 (May 5th) the day of his death, took communion in both kinds.


2.   Luther's Three ReformingTreatises (1520)






1)  Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (1520)

Rome has put up 3 Walls


  • The First Wall: Spiritual Power over Temporal Power.

'…if pressed by the temporal power, they have affirmed and maintained that the temporal power has no jurisdiction over them, but, on the contrary, that the spiritual power is above the temporal' 

Luther rejects the only the clergy have spiritual authority and upholds the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers.


  • The Second Wall: Authority to Interpret Scripture.



'…if it were proposed to admonish them with the scriptures, they objected that no one may interpret the scriptures but the Pope.'


He rejects the claim that the Pope alone can interpret scripture


The Third Wall: Authority to Call a Council

'…if they are threatened with a council, they pretend that no one may call a council but the Pope'

Luther says any believer can call a council if necessary.




2)   The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520)

Luther's tone is aggressive. 

It is not reconciliatory.

This treatise moved Luther away from Erasmus.

Luther's understanding of the sacraments is based upon the doctrine of 'justification by faith alone'.

Luther is rejecting the Roman Catholic doctrine 'ex opere operato' which regards the work of the sacrament as sufficient to provide grace. 


Luther reduced the seven sacraments to three. 

He rejected four sacraments outright - confirmation; marriage; holy orders; and extreme unction (last rites).

But also writes how the three valid sacraments (bread; baptism; penance) have been abused in their application.



On the Mass

Luther rejected the Thomist doctrine of transubstantiation.

Luther held that bread and wine remain unchanged but the real presence of Christ is in the bread and wine.

Luther rejected the doctrine that 'the Mass is a good work and sacrifice'. 

This teaching had caused 'faith in the sacrament to be utterly lost' and encouraged 'money getting'.



On Baptism

Luther regarded preaching as essential for faith 'to be called forth and nourished'. 

Baptism then signifies two things: death and resurrection; that is, full and complete justification.  When the minister dips the child into the water, this signifies death; when he draws him out again, this signifies life.'




On Penance

Luther writes that the sins of a penitent man are forgiven on the basis of his faith.

'When Christ says, "Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" * He means to call forth faith of the penitent man, so that, on the strength of this work of promise, he may be sure that, if he believes and is absolved, he will be truly absolved in heaven.'

* Matthew 18:18





3) The Freedom of the Christian  (6th September 1520)


The treatise begins with an open letter to Pope Leo X.

The two previous treatises had referred to the Pope as 'antichrist'

The letter shows Luther to be more conciliatory.



'Christian Liberty'

Luther begins this treatise with the words:

'A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none;
A Christian
man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone….'


The treatise upholds the doctrines of 'the priesthood of all believers', and 'justification by faith alone'.

'This is that Christian liberty, our faith, the effect of which is, not that we should be careless or lead a bad life, but that no one should need the law or works for justification and salvation'




Henry VIII (1491-1546)


Henry VIII wrote a treatise 'Assertio Septem Sacramentorum' (Asserting the seven sacraments) in which he opposed the teachings of Luther and upheld the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church and the supremacy of the Pope.


Henry was given the title 'Defender of the Faith' October 17, 1521 by Pope Leo X


Henry kept the title after the split from Rome. 

The British monarch still retains the title.

The letters FD 'Fidei Defensor' can be seen on British coins by




Burning of the papal bull (1520)

Papal Bull (June 15, 1520)

'Exsurge Domine' (Arise O Lord)

Luther was given 60 days to retract.

The 60 days from when Luther received the Papal Bull expired on December 10, 1520.


Exsurge Domine

Arise, O Lord, and judge your own cause. Remember your reproaches to those who are filled with foolishness all through the day. Listen to our prayers, for foxes have arisen seeking to destroy the vineyard whose winepress you alone have trod. When you were about to ascend to your Father, you committed the care, rule, and administration of the vineyard, an image of the triumphant church, to Peter, as the head and your vicar and his successors.

The wild boar from the forest seeks to destroy it and every wild beast feeds upon it. Rise, Peter, and fulfill this pastoral office divinely entrusted to you as mentioned above. Give heed to the cause of the holy Roman Church, mother of all churches and teacher of the faith, whom you by the order of God, have consecrated by your blood.



Burning of the Papal Bull - 10 December 1520 at 9am.

Bonfire at Wittenberg.  

Luther publicly burnt the bull at 9 o'clock in the morning on December 10, 1520 with volumes of the Canon Law and Theologia Summa by the Elster Gate in Wittenberg. 

1)   Canon law – law under which he was judged.  Decretals.   

Attack against ecclesiastical authority

2)   Summary of theology. 

Theologia Summa – Aquinas.

Attack against the teachings of the Scholastics

3)   Luther takes the Papal Bull from his cowl and throws it on the flames. 

 Attack against the authority of Rome.




Luther was excommunicated by the Papal Bull 'Decet Romanum Pontificem' on January 3, 1521.



3.  Luther leads the Reformation


Luther at the Diet of Worms (1521).

Upheld the final authority of scripture alone.

(Sola scriptura)




Luther at the Wartberg (1521- 1522).

He lived as a knight (Junker George).

Luther translated the New Testament into German during the months he was in the Wartberg.


Very aware of the devil attacking him.

It is said he threw an inkwell at him.


Luther’s German Bible


Translated New Testament in the Wartburg Castle (1521-1522)


Used Erasmus's  2nd edition Greek New Testament (1519).


Faith alone


Luther translated Romans 3:28 by adding the word 'alone'.

Luther claimed that the Greek context requires alone to be added.

‘So halten wir nun dafür, daß der Mensch gerecht werde ohne des Gesetzes Werke, allein durch den Glauben.’

 (Thus, we believe that now man is justified without the works of the law, through faith alone.  


Pastoral Duties

Luther was diligent to fulfil his pastoral duties teaching the ordinary people

Luther regarded his Children's Catechism as one of the most important works he had written.


The Hymns of Luther

Luther was a gifted musician and singer - played the flute and the lute

There are 36 hymns written by Luther.

23 of these hymns were written between 1523- 1524 and were published in Johann Walther’s Geystliche gesangk Buchleyn. Luther wrote the Foreword.


Luther also translated Latin hymns, and edited German folk hymns (Leise)

Luther was very familiar with the Psalms and his first hymns were paraphrases of the Psalms.

Luther's used the tunes of ballads and sacred songs and put his words to them.

He also introduced the use of instruments in worship.


Luther best known hymn is 'A Mighty Fortress is our God' probably written at the time of the Protest at Speyer in 1529. 


Luther's First Hymn

Luther wrote his first hymn 'Flung to the Heedless Winds' to commemorate the martyrdom of Heinrich Voes and Johann Esch, two Augustinian monks, who were tried in Antwerp and burnt at the stake on June 30, 1523.

The last verse says:

'Let men heap falsehoods all around
Their sure defeat is spawning
We thank our God the word is found
We stand in its bright dawning.
Summer is even at our door,
The winter now hath vanished,
The tender flowerets spring once more,
And He, who winter banished,
Will send a happy Summer.


Luther marries Catherine von Bora (12th June 1525)





They had six children.

Students from the University stayed in their home.  It was from this that Luther's Table Talk developed.

The students would write the thing they heard Luther say at the table.

Some things are funny, some words are unguarded, but Luther can be heard speaking in a very relaxed environment.

Luther's Table Talk should be read in this context







Diet of Speyer

Imperial Diet 1526


Elector of Saxony travelled with 700 guests and 400 horses.


Opened June 25, 1526.


Diet sat for two months – made no firm affirmation of faith. 

But it rescinded the edict of Worms 1521 and allowed religious freedom to each estate.



Imperial Diet 1529


In 1529 the Imperial Diet met again Speyer and on April 19 the 1526 edict was rescinded.


It reaffirmed the Edict of Worms with an Imperial ban on Luther and his followers.


A letter of protest was made by the princes.


The letter was rejected at Speyer but was then delivered to Emperor Charles V.


The protest against the 1529 edict of Speyer gave the name Protestant to those who supported the cause of Luther.


Torgau Articles. 

In 1530 Emperor Charles V called for the German Diet to meet at Augsburg on April 8.

Elector John of Saxony met with Luther, Melanchthon and others in Torgau. 

A summary of faith known as the 'Torgau Articles' were made to present to the Emperor at Augsburg.


Veste Coburg

Luther did not go to Augsburg.  He remained in Coburg Castle for five months as his safety could not be assured if he left Saxony. 

Coburg was then the southernmost point of the Duchy of Saxon.

Luther used his time to continue his translation of the Bible into German. 



Augsburg Confession 1530


Melanchthon continued working on the confession of faith. May 11, he sent a completed draft to Luther at Coburg. 

Luther accepted it.

The Lutheran princes at Augsburg gave their approval to the Confession of Faith which was read publicly on June 25, 1530.

The determination of the Lutheran princes won a great victory for the advance of Protestantism.





4.  Martin Luther and the Jews


Anti- Semitism in Europe

Jews regarded as the murderers of the Christ

Inbred in character to destroy Christ in the Mass.


1.  Dispute concerning the Hebrew scriptures:  Pfefferkorn and Reuchlin

2.  Luther's writings 'Jesus Christ was born a Jew' (1523)

3.  Luther's writings 'Against the Jews and their Lies' (1543)


Johannes Reuchlin (1455 – 1522)

Advocated Hebrew studies

Johannes Pfefferkorn (1469 – 1521) way to convert Jews destroy their books.

Dominicans of Cologne agreed

Received authority of Emperor to confiscate Jewish books. 

Pfefferkorn asked for Reuchlin's help.

Reuchlin opposed it.

October 6, 1510 Reuchlin gave an answer to the summons to confiscate Jewish books.

He recommended Hebrew books be studied at University for next 10 years.

Reuchlin won.



Melanchthon was the grandson of Reuchlin's sister.

He had been very close to Reuchlin and developed a great ability in language studies.




1516 hearing in Germany - Reuchlin v Pfefferkorn and the ultra conservative obscurantists.

Reuchlin won. 


Luther congratulated Reuchlin on his victory.


By 1521 Luther regarded as leader upholding the banner of truth and reason over superstition and ignorance.


Luther was depicted in a cartoon standing on the side of  Reuchlin.


















1523 Jesus Christ was born a Jew

Luther attacks antisemitism

Jews blood relations of Christ.

Jews prevented from receiving Jesus as Messiah through deformed Christianity portrayed by Pope and Roman Catholic Church.


Reformation brought new purity to Church

Luther expected Jews to accept Jesus as Messiah.


1543 Against the Jews and their Lies

Twenty years after writing in favour of the Jews, Luther wrote against the Jews.

Luther was angered by the Jews because they were unwilling even to consider that Jesus is the promised Messiah in the light of scripture.

His theological argument in his 1543 treatise is reasonable but he wrote in anger against the Jews and in a wrong spirit. 

His 2000 word conclusion bears no connection with the theological argument of his treatise and it should never have been published.


Luther and Erasmus - The Freedom of the Will
An essay on Luther's Bondage of the Will (1525)