Last Updated 03 Sep 2020

Martin Luther: the Reformer

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Commonly referred to as, “The Father of Protestantism” (Funk and Wagnalls 337), “Martin Luther was born into a world dominated by the Catholic Church” (www. pbs. org). “Luther had no intention of opposing the authority of Rome” (Funk and Wagnalls 336) but God had other plans. Martin Luther, who “was named after St Martin” (www. pbs. org) was born on November 10th, 1483 (Thulin 11). Mansfeld was his hometown, although he was born in Eisleben (Thulin 11). His parents moved to Mansfeld, to improve his father's job prospect, in 1484 right after Luther's birth (Thulin 12).

After moving to Mansfeld, Luther's father, Hans, became a miner (Thulin 11). “By 1491 the Luthers were one of the most respected families in Mansfeld” (www. pbs. org). Luther himself stayed in Mansfeld until 1496 (Thulin 12). Luther came from a family of peasants, (Thulin 11) his “parents were simple folk” (Erikson 54) and are described as “a pair of hardworking and pious Germans” (www. pbs. org). Martin's father was the son of a farmer and “ruled his son with an iron fist” (www. pbs. org). In fact, Luther said “My father once whipped me so hard I ran away – I hated him until he finally managed to win me back” (www. bs. org). His mother, Margaret Luther, (Thulin 11) “came from a small but very well-off family” (www. pbs. org). Margaret is also described as “a harsh disciplinarian” (www. pbs. org). Luther said on the subject of parents, “When God wants to speak with us, he does not avail himself of an angel but of parents” (www. pbs. org). Luther's parents had high hopes for their first son (www. pbs. org). They wanted him to become a lawyer because his father thought that “a man of Martin's gifts trained in the law would rise even higher in the social scale” (Green 34).

Luther “resented his father's attempt to dominate his life and to push him into a career which he had selected for him” (Green 35), but he complied with his parents' wishes (www. pbs. org). When Luther, out of terror, made a vow to become a monk his father was completely devastated (Bainton 21, www. pbs. org). In fact, “He did not tell his father of his final decision until he was behind the friary walls” (Green 35). Luther was educated in the schools of Eisenach and Magdeburg and in 1501, at the age of 17, he entered the University of Erfurt (Funk and Wagnalls 335, Erikson 24).

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Luther received his master's degree at 21, in 1505 (Erikson 24). Years later in 1512, at 28, he “became a doctor of theology” (Erikson 24). That same year he was made professor of Biblical Literature and the year after he became a priest he became “a lecturer at the University of Wittenberg” (Funk and Wagnalls 335). On July 2nd of 1505 Luther experienced an event that would change his life forever (Thulin 16). “... caught in a thunderstorm, terrified by the possibility of imminent death... ” (www. pbs. org) he cried out to St. Anne for help and vowed to become a monk (Bainton 21).

Later that same year, at the age of 23, he entered the monastery (Erikson 24). Luther, in the summer of 1506, “became a fully-professed friar” (Green 37) and he celebrated his first mass in the Augustinian monastery in 1507 (Thulin 17). Although his Father did not approve of him becoming a monk, Hans went to great expense to make this occasion a festive day (Thulin 17). Luther was a devout monk for 20 years (Thulin 17, Simon 3). “As young monk Luther was obsessed with atoning for his sins” (www. pbs. org. com). He lived a holy life in the monastery, embracing “the rules of his order with unstinted zeal” (Green 37). From 1512 to 1513 Luther, spiritually uneasy, moved theologically away from orthodox teaching” (Green 45). He became “increasingly doubtful that the Church can actually offer him salvation at all” this is when he discovers that only “his own individual faith will guarantee his salvation” (www. pbs. org).

Luther “turns on the Church, attacking its practice of selling indulgences” (www. pbs. org). “It was his deliberate intention to prove that the doctrine of indulgences contravened the teaching of the Gospel” (Green 59). Although he “had no intention of... ausing a schism in the church” (Funk and Wagnalls 336), “Luther had... very little idea of where his criticisms were likely to lead him” (Green 59). He attacked the selling of indulgences in the 95 theses, which he nailed “to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg” in 1517 at the age of 32 (www. pbs. org, Funk and Wagnalls 336, Erikson 24). This action is regarded as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation (Funk and Wagnalls 336). In April of 1523, nine nuns arrived in Wittenberg (Thulin 85). They had escaped from a nunnery in empty fish barrels to take refuge in Wittenberg (www. bs. org).

“Luther felt responsible to find for them all homes, husbands, or positions of some sort” (Bainton 287). The last nun he placed was one named Katherine von Bora (Bainton 287). Hans had a great desire for Luther to “pass on the name” and it was suggested that Luther should marry Katherine when he had trouble placing her, but he did not take this suggestion seriously (Bainton 288). But just two years after her arrival, in May of 1525, Luther said that he wanted to marry Katherine before his death (Bainton 288). So, “... choing a trend across Europe as former nuns and monks married... ” (www. pbs. org), Martin Luther and Katherine von Bora were married on June 13th, 1525 (Thulin 95). At 42, Luther “was beyond the customary age for marriage” and “Katherine was 16 years younger than” her husband at a youthful 26 (www. pbs. org, Bainton 288). Luther said, “There is no more lovely, friendly, and charming relationship, communion, or company than a good marriage” (www. pbs. org). He also thought that “the man is the head of the wife because he was created first” (Bainton 299).

Katherine von Bora was born in 1499 and her mother died soon after her birth (www. pbs. org, Bainton 291). Her father entered her into “the convent school of the Benedictine order” in 1504 and in 1508 she entered into the convent of Nimbschen (www. pbs. org). Just a few years later, in 1515 she took her vows (www. pbs. org). It was quite a task for Katherine to take care of Luther, considering he was often sick (Bainton 292, 293). After a while, Katherine became quite the doctor, in fact, the Luther household became the hospital of Wittenberg during times of epidemic (Simon 335).

Luther said, “There is a lot to get used to in the first year of marriage” (Bainton 290); this is probably because Katherine took over the Luther household (www. pbs. org). “It is said that Dr. Luther did not have a clue how to run a household”, this is when Katherine stepped in and took over the household expenses (www. pbs. org). Since neither Katherine nor Luther had any money when they married (Bainton 291), and Luther wasn't given a wage (www. pbs. org), to provide for the family, “In 1526 he installed a lathe, and learned woodworking” (Bainton 291).

He “also housed students in his home to help the” family finances (www. pbs. org). On October 21, 1525 when Luther told a friend that Katherine was pregnant he said she was fulfilling the verse Genesis 1:28 (Bainton 293). Katherine bore six children in eight years, 3 boys and 3 girls (Bainton 291, 293 Simon 334). Martin and Katherine's first child was a son, called Hans, born on June 7, 1526 (Bainton 293). A daughter, Elizabeth Luther was born on December 10, 1527, but on August 3rd of the next year, Elizabeth Luther died (Bainton 293, Thulin 103).

On December 17, 1529 Magdalena Luther was born and nearly two years later Katherine gave birth to a son, who was named Martin Luther on November 9, 1531 (Bainton 293). Next was another son, Paul Luther on January 28, 1533, who later became a doctor, and finally Margaretha Luther was born to Martin and Katherine on December 17, 1534 (Bainton 292, 293). Sadly, on September 20th Martin Luther held Magdalena, his 14 year-old daughter, in his arms as she died (Bainton 304, Thulin 122).

Life in the Luther house might have been somewhat hectic considering the “Luthers brought up four orphaned children from among relatives” (Bainton 294). Luther thought that “Children are subject to parents and especially to the father” (Bainton 299). Luther and Katherine are described as diligent parents, their children were well-disciplined, but in a loving way (www. pbs. org). “Luther doted on his large family” and although the house was always full “Their home was noted for its liveliness and its happiness” (www. pbs. org).

Luther battled his whole life against depression (Bainton 362). “This man who so undergirded others with faith had for himself a perpetual battle for faith” (Bainton 359). “Luther felt that his depressions were necessary” (Bainton 362). These depressions were always about the same thing, the “loss of faith that God” was good to him, but Luther's greatest problem came from how he should overcome his depressions (Bainton 361). He once said that “during the first year in the monastery the Devil is very quiet” this was not true later in Luther's life (Bainton 37).

Luther said, “When I go to bed, the Devil is always waiting for me” and he would even have direct encounters with the Devil himself (Bainton 362). Luther had a great enthusiasm for music (Bainton 340). “His interest in the arts was unusual among the reformers” (Funk and Wagnalls 337). He was “An accomplished Lute player” and he brought out a hymnbook in 1524 (www. pbs. org, Bainton 345). Luther's most well known hymn is “A Mighty Fortress” which he wrote in the year of his deepest depression (Bainton 370). On February 14th, a few days before his death, Luther wrote his last letter to his wife (Thulin 127).

He died later that month in the year 1546 at Eisleben and “was buried in the Castle Church of Wittenberg” (Thulin 128, Funk and Wagnalls 337). Luther never intended to become the Reformer for which he is remembered, in fact “Few people had heard of Martin Luther before he posted the 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church” (Green 9). He opposed the Catholic Church, “the most powerful institution of the day” (www. pbs. org), and is known as one of, if not, the most influential people in the history of the Christian Church.

Works Cited

  • Bainton, Roland H. Here I Stand: A Life Of Martin Luther. Abingdon-Cokesbury Press: New York. 1950
  • Erikson, Erik H.. Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History. W. W. Norton & Company Inc. : New York. 1962
  • Green, V. H. H.. Luther and the Reformation. B. T. Batsford LTD. : London. 1964 http://www. pbs. org 2003
  • Devillier Donegan Enterprises. February 1, 2009 [http://www. pbs. org/empires/martinluther/about_driv. html] http://www. pbs. org 2003
  • Devillier Donegan Enterprises. February 1, 2009 [http://www. pbs. org/empires/martinluther/char_parents. html] http://www. pbs. rg 2003
  • Devillier Donegan Enterprises. February 1, 2009 [http://www. pbs. org/empires/martinluther/char_wife. html] http://www. pbs. org 2003
  • Devillier Donegan Enterprises. February 1, 2009 [http://www. pbs. org/empires/martinluther/cheats. html] “LUTHER, Martin” Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia. Funk and Wagnalls, Inc. : New York 1979
  • Simon, Edith. Luther Alive: Martin Luther and the Making of the Reformation. Doubleday & Company, INC. : New York. 1968
  • Thulin, Oskar. A Life Of Luther: Told in Pictures and Narrative by the Reformer and His Contemporaries. Fortress Press: Philadelphia. 1966

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