Biography of Messiahs and Prophets Martin Luther Part 1

About the famous religious figure Martin Luther, biography and history of the leader of the Protestant movement.

MESSIAHS AND PROPHETS

MARTIN LUTHER (1483-1546)

The man who shattered the unity of the rnedieval Christian church and drove a wedge of impermanence through the subsequent course of Western civilization once described his career this way: "I am the son of a peasant and the grandson and the great-grandson. My father wanted to make me into a burgomaster. I became a monk and put off the brown beret. My father didn't like it, and then I got into the pope's hair and married an apostate nun. Who could have read that in the stars?"

Who indeed. It was a remarkable confluence of man and moment that placed this potentially forgettable son of a 16th-century German coal miner at the fulcrum of modern history.

He was a big, powerfully built man with a broad peasant face, short neck, piercing brown eyes, and a stubborn, protruding jaw. Alternately lyrical and vulgar in his speech, bombastic as well as coolly self-possessed, Martin Luther became the unwitting archetype of the modern revolutionary.

At 21, Luther was flung to the ground during a violent thunderstorm. The young man prayed to St. Anne to spare his life and vowed to enter a monastery if it would be done. Years later at a banquet celebrating Martin's ordination as a priest, his father rose up before the guests and said of the storm: "God grant that it wasn't a devil's spook." No doubt a few of Luther's fellow churchmen entertained the same idea in the years to come.

The first clash came over the issuance of papal indulgences. In those days a sinner could obtain an indulgence, for a fee, to be exchanged in purgatory for a reduced punishment for earthly sins. Luther fairly writhed with fear of his own damnation. But he came to believe that personal faith in the possibility of God's ultimate grace was worth more than the ritual forgiveness of priests. Salvation is won, he declared, not by indulgences or good works on earth but by faith alone.

In 1517 the Vatican pushed indulgences with new vigor to pay for the remodeling of St. Peter's Basilica. Luther, then a professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg, fought back. He proposed a faculty debate on indulgences, and on Oct. 31 of that year he tacked a 95-point outline for debate on the door of the university church.

It was a customary event in an academic year. And it might have gone unnoticed had not someone translated Luther's 95 theses from Latin into German. Then someone printed the charges and circulated the document among the public as well as among theologians. The German laity, which had long chafed under papal taxes and the excesses of the Roman church, soon had a new champion.

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