Martin Luther, famous for his Ninety-Five Theses and his “break away” from the Catholic Church is a man of both controversy and misunderstanding. He was living in a time when questioning and humanistic values were exploding.
Martin Luther was born in Eisleben, Germany on November 10, 1483 and died in the same town on February 18, 1546. His home life, as a child, was a cold one. With his father, Hans, who was quick to anger, life didn’t come as a joy to Luther. His mother also had a part in his unhappiness although she appeared pious, she beat Martin regularly.
Despite difficulties at home, Luther excelled in school. In 1501, at the age of eighteen, he attended the University of Erfurt, where, in 1502, he received a bachelor and masters degree in philosophy. While the university was humanistic in nature, and its theology was of the modern sort, Luther didn’t succumb to the trends, until later on.
In 1507, Luther was ordained into the priesthood, entering into an Augustinian Monastery. This was a respected center of Catholic learning with a theological college and an extensive library of books and manuscripts. Here Luther began to form secular and humanistic ideas opposite to those of the Catholic Church.
Luther had little time for outside study and unhappiness began to set into his life. He began to neglect his responsibilities of studying, and became depressed; finding no comfort in what the Catholic Sacraments had to offer him.
It was at this time the Luther decided that man was ultimately evil by nature and nothing could be done to change man’s nature. This evil nature of man was the result of original sin. He decided that works were the result of man’s corrupt will, and that by faith alone was man’s saving grace.
Critics claim that Luther entered into a paranoid, self indulged and nearly psychotic state. They say that many of the disputes and problems Luther had with the church were based on those original doctrines set up by the church. The doctrines were easily misunderstood by the laity.
The most famous event in Luther’s life occurred on October 31, 1517, when he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the local church door. Interestingly enough, it was not his intention to cause such a rift in the church. But rather, this was his process of opening up debate and causing a reform within the church; not complete separation.
Much of what Luther protested against was of his own emotional “hang-ups” and misunderstanding. His main disagreement was against indulgences. He believed that “faith alone” will lead us into salvation.
It is not denied that a doctrine, like that of indulgences, was open to misunderstanding by the laity; that priests in times of humanistic enthusiasm fell into exaggerated statements. It is also understandable that financial considerations in the confessional were becoming exceedingly radical, and led to abuse and scandal. The opposition to the indulgences, not the doctrine, which remains the same to this very day, but the methods used in it, was not new. Martin is credited with the first main protest, and the actions taken against the accusations/ disagreements against the church.
Many scholars, and even most Lutherans, know that his Ninety-Five Theses were not meant to cause a reformation outside of the church, but rather one inside. Some say that this whole event, and wave of radical movements to come, was exaggerated completely out of context by a confused reformer, the media, and the church’s handle on the situation.
This act of defiance to recant was later reported to the Vatican, where they asked Luther to repent for his heresy against the church. Luther later defended his works at the Diet of Worms. There, he stated that he would not and could not take back his statements. What followed was his eventual excommunication. Luther followed the idea that, “once a priest, always a priest,” so he continued to practice his priestly duties until the end of his life. He later retired back to his home.
Once he returned, he still carried out church services, but was not recognized officially by the Catholic Church. Instead he edited the Mass, emphasizing the sermon, and getting rid of the sacraments. He also stopped praying to Mary, and the saints. Over time, people saw this act as a “break away” from the Catholic Church. These people began thinking that Luther started his own church, “Lutheranism.” Although, he didn’t name this new religion after himself; it was named this by his “so-called” followers after his death.
Martin Luther’s impact on the world has been unimaginable to the millions of people all around the world. This caused hundreds of break off denominations from the Catholic Church, resulting in the 20 or so Christian churches we have all around our home town. These individual denominations have been continuing to grow for the past five hundred years. This was the leading path for humanism, and liberal thinking since the renaissance period, to our present day.
I pray for the day when the Lutherans will come back into full Communion with the church. I know it won't be anytime soon, but I can still pray for it right? =D It's such a SAD thing that one depressed and confused man could create such an unintentional break in the the Catholic Church, and to cause thousands, if not millions, of people to leave the church. Such a sad event..