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Martin Luther Biography

Last updated date: 23rd May 2024
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Who was Martin Luther?

Martin Luther was a theologian, priest, author, composer, Augustinian monk, and a pivotal figure in the Protestant Reformation. In 1507, Luther was baptised as a priest. He came to reject several Roman Catholic Church teachings and practices, particularly the view on indulgences. In his Ninety-five Theses of 1517, Luther suggested an academic discussion of the practice and efficacy of indulgences. His refusal to renounce all of his writings at the request of Pope Leo X in 1520 and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms in 1521 resulted in the pope's ex-communication and the Holy Roman Emperor's condemnation as an outlaw. 

Luther expressed antagonistic, aggressive views toward Jews in two of his later works, calling for the burning of their synagogues and their deaths. His rhetoric targeted not only Jews, but also Roman Catholics, Anabaptists, and nontrinitarian Christians. The ex-communication of Pope Leo X was still in effect when Luther died in 1546.

Information About Martin Luther

Martin Luther Date of Birth: 10 November 1483

Place of Birth:  Eisleben, County of Mansfeld, Holy Roman Empire

Death date: 18 February 1546

Place of Death: Eisleben, County of Mansfeld, Holy Roman Empire

Spouse:  Katharina von Bora

Martin Luther History

Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483, in Eisleben, Mansfeld County, Holy Roman Empire, to Hans Luder and his wife Margarethe.  His family moved to Mansfeld in 1484, where his father was a copper mine and smelter leaseholder who also served on the local council as one of four citizen representatives; in 1492, he was elected as a town councillor. 

Luther's mother was a hardworking woman of "trading-class stock and middling means," according to religious scholar Martin Marty. He had several brothers and sisters, and one of them, Jacob, was known to be close to him. Hans Luther was driven by a desire to see his eldest son, Martin, become a lawyer for himself and his family.

Martin was sent to Latin schools in Mansfeld, Magdeburg (1497), and Eisenach (1498). The "trivium" (grammar, rhetoric, and logic) was the focus of the three schools. He enrolled in the University of Erfurt in 1501 when he was 17 years old. In 1505, he got his master's degree.

He enrolled in law school following his father's wishes, but dropped out almost immediately, feeling that law was fraught with uncertainty. Luther was looking for answers to his questions about life and was drawn to theology and philosophy, particularly Aristotle, William of Ockham, and Gabriel Biel.

Bartholomaeus Arnoldi von Usingen and Jodocus Trutfetter, two of his tutors, taught him to be wary of even the greatest thinkers and to test all himself through experience. Philosophy proved unsatisfying, assuring the application of reason but none about loving God, which Luther considered to be more important. 

He believed that reason could not lead men to God, and he formed a love-hate relationship with Aristotle as a result of the latter's focus on reason. The reason may be used to inquire men and institutions, but not God, according to Luther. He believed that the only way for humans to learn about God was through divine revelation, so Scripture grew in importance.

Martin Luther Reformation

The Roman Catholic Church dispatched Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar, to Germany in 1516 to sell indulgences to raise funds to rebuild St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Tetzel's experiences as an indulgence preacher, particularly between 1503 and 1510, led to his appointment as general commissioner by Albrecht von Brandenburg, Archbishop of Mainz, who was deeply in debt to pay for a vast accumulation of benefices and had to contribute a significant amount toward the rebuilding of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Albrecht received permission from Pope Leo X to sell a special plenary indulgence (i.e., a remission of the temporal punishment of sin), with half of the proceeds going to pay the fees of his benefices.

Luther wrote to his bishop, Albrecht von Brandenburg, on October 31, 1517, protesting the sale of indulgences. He included a copy of his "Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences", also known as the Ninety-five Theses, in his letter. According to Hans Hillerbrand, Luther had no intention of facing the church, but rather saw his debate as a scholarly objection to church practices, and the tone of the writing reflects this.

Luther insisted that, because only God can grant forgiveness, those who claimed that indulgences absolved buyers of all punishments and granted them salvation were mistaken. Christians, he said, must not be discouraged from following Christ because of false assurances.

In 1517, the Latin Theses were printed in several towns across Germany. Luther's friends translated the Ninety-five Theses from Latin to German in January 1518. The theses had spread across Germany in less than two weeks. As early as 1519, Luther's works had made their way to France, England, and Italy. 

Luther's speech drew a large crowd of students to Wittenberg. In addition to his Work on the Psalms, he wrote a short commentary on Galatians. Luther's early career was one of his most creative and productive periods. In 1520, he published three of his most well-known works: “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation”, “On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church”, and “On the Freedom of a Nation.”

Justification by Faith 

Luther lectured on the Psalms, as well as Hebrews, Romans, and Galatians, from 1510 to 1520. As he studied these passages of Scripture, he began to see the Catholic Church's use of words like penance and righteousness in a new light. He came to believe that the church was corrupt in its ways and had lost sight of many of Christianity's central truths. 

The doctrine of justification— God's act of declaring a sinner righteous—by faith alone through God's grace was the most important for Luther. He began to preach that salvation or redemption is a gift from God, available only to those who believe in Jesus as the Messiah.

Luther came to believe that justification was entirely God's work. This teaching was clearly expressed by Luther in his 1525 publication On the Bondage of the Will, which was written in response to Desiderius Erasmus' On Free Will (1524). St. Paul's epistle to the Ephesians 2:8–10 informed Luther's position on predestination. Luther wrote that Christians receive such righteousness entirely from outside themselves, that righteousness not only comes from Christ but is the righteousness of Christ, imputed to Christians (rather than infused into them) through faith, in opposition to the teaching of his day that believers' righteous acts are performed in cooperation with God.

The Breach Widens

Luther was originally rejected by Pope Leo X as "a drunken German who wrote the Theses" who would "change his mind when sober." As a result, he agreed to have the Augustinians deal with the meddling monk at their April 1518 chapter meeting. After being warned of the possibility of assassination along the way, Luther went incognito to Heidelberg. He was, however, surprised to find that he was well-received and that he returned triumphantly. Luther was emboldened to question the Roman Church's primacy and the power of ex-communication as a result of this.

He went on to say that popes and councils could make mistakes and that the only final authority was the Bible. Luther was summoned to Rome shortly after to answer charges of heresy. The proceedings were moved to Germany thanks to the intervention of Luther's territorial ruler, Fredrick the Wise. At Augsburg, Luther had an inconclusive interview with Cardinal Cajetan, the papal legate. Luther refused to recant, writing that the cardinal was as unfit to handle the case and requesting that his case be heard by a general council.

Due to the political situation following the death of the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian, in early 1519, the Pope adopted a conciliatory policy. Despite their preference for one of their own, the German electors were content to accept the leader of one of the great powers, either Francis I of France or Charles V of Spain. The pope, on the other hand, objected to both of them, claiming that their election would disrupt the balance of power that ensured the church's security. Instead, the pope preferred Luther's territorial lord, Fredrick the Wise. Given the circumstances, the pope had to be cautious when it came to Fredrick's prized professor.

Carl von Militz, a Fredrick relative, was appointed as Cajetan's assistant with the mission of keeping Luther silent until the election was settled. Luther was unfortunately drawn into a controversy between the Universities of Leipzig and Wittenberg, which hampered those seeking reconciliation. In a debate with Johann Eck, an Ingolstadt theology professor, Luther maintained "A simple layman armed with Scripture has more credibility than a pope of the council who lacks it. We should reject popes and councils for the sake of Scripture." Luther was also persuaded by Eck to defend the Bohemian "heretic" John Hus.

The 1520’s Treatise

During the year 1520, Luther published three highly influential tracts that expanded on his ideas and established his agenda for ecclesiastical reform. Luther expressed his beliefs about the "priesthood of all believers" in “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation”. He declared his intention to attack the Romanists' "three walls," which had protected them and stifled reform. Luther proclaimed that the first wall, that the temporal has no authority over the spiritual and that "spiritual power is above the temporal," had been broken down, and that all believers were priests under their baptism.

He also argued that the second wall, that only the pope can interpret scripture, was unfounded because all priests could distinguish what was right or wrong in matters of faith. "As soon as the first two have fallen," Luther said, the third wall, which no one but the pope may call a council, "falls of itself." If the pope breaks the law and offends Christendom, Luther believed a "truly free council" should be convened, which could only be summoned by temporal officials, who he described as "fellow Christians" and "fellow priests."

Luther then went on to criticise papal mismanagement and annates (taxes), calling for a "German Prime Minister," declaring that clerical marriage should be allowed, "far too many holy days" should be reduced, and beggary, including that of monks, should be prohibited. Luther expressed sentiments shared by many Germans in all of these calls. 

Luther's next tract, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, dealt with the mediaeval church's seven sacraments. Only two of them, Luther claimed, were instituted by Christ: baptism and the Lord's Supper. He believed that penance—contrition, confession, and absolution—could provide relief to troubled consciences. 

The Freedom of a Christian, Luther's third major tract from 1520, laid out his ethical vision. Luther used a central paradox in this way. "A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none," he explained, "a Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all." 

Luther essentially tried to show that the doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fides) was not mutually exclusive with Christian love and service. Luther claims that "For the Christian, faith is sufficient. He doesn't need his works to be perfected." A Christian was "perfectly free" in this regard. This was not, however, an invitation to "be lazy or loose." In the same way that Christ "emptied himself, taking the form of a servant," the Christian was also "subject to everything." 

"Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good work," Luther insisted, even though he was "justified and acceptable to God, although there are sin, unrighteousness, and terror of death" in him.

Who was Martin Luther Excommunicated by?

The Freedom of a Christian was prefaced by a letter in which Luther deferred to Pope Leo X but slammed the Roman curia as "pestilent, hateful, and corrupt... more impious than the Turk." If these feelings were meant to foster peace, they failed miserably. 

Leo X issued a bull of ex-communication, Decet Pontificem Romanum, on January 3, 1521. (It Pleases the Roman Pontiff). The civil authorities were now in charge of enforcing the ecclesiastical condemnation.

However, because Luther had sparked a popular movement, Fredrick the Wise worked to ensure Luther's right to a fair hearing, and Charles V did not want to alienate the Germans and saw the possibility of using Luther to extract concessions from the pope, it was agreed that Luther would be summoned to appear before the emperor and the German Reichstag under the protection of an imperialist.

Martin Luther Protestant

While Erasmus and other humanists saw Luther as a tumultuous figure, radical spiritualists saw him as a "halfway" reformer. Andreas Carlstadt, a former associate of Luther's who had taken up a parsonage outside of Wittenberg, denounced the use of all "externals'' in religion, such as art or music. Carlstedt's stance eventually became so radical that he rejected the actual presence of Christ in the sacrament. Early Luther follower Thomas Müntzer (1488-1525) was even more radical. 

An early follower of Luther, Thomas Müntzer (1488-1525) was even more radical. Müntzer promoted deep spiritualism in which the Bible was seen as secondary to religious experiences such as dreams and revelations. 

In this vein, Müntzer attacked Romanists and Lutherans as "scribes" who suppressed the spirit's "inner word." He also opposed traditional baptism, believing that only the "inner" baptism of the spirit was valid. He mocked Luther as "Dr Easychair and Dr Pussyfoot," praising Wittenberg's "easygoing flesh." Müntzer's goal was to establish a "new apostolic church" of the elect who would usher in a new social order, if necessary through bloodshed.

Carlstadt and Müntzer, as well as others of their ilk, were dubbed "fanatics" by Luther. He warned the princes of Saxony that they were responsible for maintaining the peace and agreed to Carlstadt's expulsion from the country. After preaching to the Saxon princes that they needed a "new Daniel" to tell them about the "leadings of the spirit" and "wipe out the ungodly," Müntzer fled Saxony by night over the city walls. Luther wanted to create a "middle way" between papists and spiritualists by rejecting both the papal monarchy and spiritualist theocracies.

Who was Martin Luther’s Family?

The mass marriages of Protestant reformers, many of whom had previously served as priests or monks, were as much a revolutionary break from mediaeval Catholic tradition as their theological and faith positions. Luther was not the first monk to marry, and he waited a long time because he feared being martyred. Despite this, he found a bride through extraordinary circumstances. Luther praised a burgher who successfully removed his daughter and eleven other nuns from a cloister, hidden in empty herring barrels, in 1523.

Luther and the reformers saw themselves as champions of women and marriage, rejecting the long-standing tradition of ascetic sexuality. Rather than promoting celibacy as a higher calling, Luther believed that being unmarried was a sin in itself. 

Although the reformers saw marriage as a natural state for men and women, they did not see it as a sacrament or as part of humanity's eternal destiny. As a result, they tended to take a more relativist approach to marriage's indelible nature.

A marriage could only be dissolved or annulled, and partners allowed to marry again, under mediaeval Catholicism, if the marriage had never actually existed and there had been an approved dispensation attesting to that fact. 

Protestant reformers, on the other hand, allowed divorce and remarriage before marriage on the grounds of adultery, abandonment, impotence, life-threatening animosity, or deception (i.e., that a partner already had illegitimate children or was impregnated by another). Some Protestants went so far as to justify divorce by claiming that it was caused by a lack of affection.

Luther advocated secret bigamy as an alternative to divorce and remarriage for women with impotent husbands as early as 1521. This became public knowledge in 1539 when Luther sanctioned a bigamous union between Philip of Hesse and a 17-year-old daughter of his sister's court in one of the reformation's most bizarre and scandalous episodes. 

Although Luther acknowledged that polygamy was against natural law, he believed that it could be justified in extreme cases of distress. He insisted, however, that such pastoral advice be kept completely confidential.

Martin Luther Contributions, Legacy and Commemoration

Luther is commemorated in the Lutheran Calendar of Saints and the Episcopal (United States) Calendar of Saints on February 18th. 

He is commemorated on October 31 in the Church of England's Calendar of Saints. Luther is revered by Christian traditions that emerged directly from the Protestant Reformation, such as Lutheranism, the Reformed tradition, and Anglicanism, in different ways. 

Following Luther's death, various branches of Protestantism have varying degrees of remembrance and veneration of him, ranging from a complete lack of any mention of him to a commemoration almost identical to how Lutherans commemorate and remember his persona. There is no record of Proteus condemning Luther.

Various local memorials commemorate Martin Luther's visit to various locations both within and outside Germany during his lifetime. Lutherstadt Eisleben and Lutherstadt Wittenberg are official Luther municipalities in Saxony-Anhalt.

Mansfeld is sometimes referred to as Mansfeld-Lutherstadt, although the state government has yet to determine whether the Lutherstadt suffix should be added to the official name.

The publication of Martin Luther's Ninety-five Theses in 1517 is commemorated on Reformation Day, which has historical significance in the following European organisations. In the German states of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, and Schleswig-Holstein, it is a public holiday.

Two more states (Lower Saxony and Bremen) are debating whether or not to implement it. Slovenia commemorates it because of the Reformation's significant cultural impact. Protestant pupils are allowed to skip school on that day, and Protestant employers are allowed to leave work to attend a church service. The holiday is celebrated in Switzerland on the first Sunday following the 31st of October. It is also observed in other parts of the world.


Through Martin Luther Biography, we get to know his belief that God has come to rescue his human beings from the mystery of evil and to restore them to full enjoyment of God's gift of mankind. God's Word, delivered in oral, written, and sacramental forms, a word of forgiveness and redemption, provided answers to life's most pressing and oppressive issues for Martin Luther.

FAQs on Martin Luther Biography

Q1. When did Martin Luther Die?

Ans) Martin Luther died on 18 February 1546 in Eisleben, County of Mansfeld, Holy Roman Empire.

Q2.  Why was Martin Luther Protestant?

Ans) Many events occurred at the start of the 16th century that led to the Protestant Reformation. People began to criticise the Catholic Church as a result of clergy abuse. The clergy's greed and scandalous lives had caused a schism between them and the peasants. Luther became increasingly enraged by the clergy's sale of 'indulgences,' which promised forgiveness of sins for those who were still alive or for those who had died and were thought to be in purgatory. He published his '95 Theses' on October 31, 1517, criticising papal abuses and the sale of indulgences.

Q3. What was the Martin Luther Reformation and why did it happen?

Ans) The Reformation refers to attempts to reform (improve) the Catholic Church and the growth of Protestant churches in Western Europe. The Protestant Reformation began in 1517 when a German monk named Martin Luther expressed his dissatisfaction with the Catholic Church. Protestantism was the name given to his followers.

Q4. What are the main ideas that we come across in Martin Luther Biography?

Ans) Martin Luther’s teachings were based on three main ideas: 

  • People could only be saved by believing in God's gift of forgiveness; 

  • The church taught that salvation required both faith and good works. 

  • Only through faith in Jesus Christ will one be saved.