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1505 A.D. - The Luders' Boy, Martin, Wastes His Law School Education

It's sad for parents who work and save to provide their children chances that they never had, only to have the children walk away from it all and pursue some sort of useless life. It can break a parent's heart. Certainly there was a little of this sadness in the hearts of Hans and Margarethe Luder. Hans was in the mining business, and that is a hard life. Wresting the wealth of the earth from it's deep rock storehouses has always been demanding and back breaking work. This was Hans' life. And his wife had childeren to raise - seven children. Her life too was hard.

So Hans raised his eldest son - who had been born in Eisleben, Germany - with strictness and severity, never sparing the rod. No, never sparing the rod at all.  He hoped to bring him up right - a strong and able man. In fact, he decided that his son would be a lawyer. That was an occupation to be proud of, and one that paid handsomely too. A lawyer was a man that had amounted to something!

They sent him to learn Latin, of course. Indispensable for the law careers. He attended Mansfeld. In 1497, he attended Brethren of the Common Life School. In 1498 he attended Eisenach - here he studied grammer and logic. He hated it. Then he went on to attend the University of Erfurt. He later referred to this as a whorehouse and a beer house. Again, not so good of a scholastic experience, it sounds like. (And we might note that colleges haven't changed so much.) In 1505 he received his Masters Degree.

Finally he could enroll at Law School, and we can only guess at his parent's joy. They had waited a long time for him to finally start Law School. Their son was going to be a man of note.

They couldn't have been happy at all when he dropped out right away. In fact it has been historically noted that his father Hans was "furious". After all of their patience and support and the spending of their hard earned money, they find out that their son is a failure. A quitter. He isn't going to be he important and influential man that they had hoped he would be at all. In fact, he switched to Philosophy. Was he going to be a Philosopher? Now there's a profession that paid nothing! Great choice, son! But they needn't have been too disappointed. He became unsatisfied with Philosophy also. In his view, reason, logic, philosophy: they were alright and useful when considering the things of the earth and the things of man. But they were inadequate for the contemplation of God. Understanding of God came only from divine revelation. And Martin Luder had become very interested in God.

On July 11, 1505 the Law School drop out Martin Luder (or 'Luther' if you prefer) was caught out doors in a thunderstorm. The storm was so severe and the lightening so close by and terrifying that he called out "Help, Saint Anna. I will become a monk." He survived. The lightening spared him. He came to feel bound by that vow he had made in his moment of terror. He entered an Augustinian Friary. He was a 'monk' now. An additional factor that probably influenced Martin was the death of two friends at about this same time.

As for his 'Monk' decision, his father was furious. Was there any end to how disappointing this son was planning to become to the family? Didn't he wish to make a mark in the world - to be something? To be someone? To leave behind some reputable evidence of his existence?

But he stuck with his plan, and a monk he became. At the Friary he became known as a very introspective monk. What they referred to as introspection might very well be diagnosed as depression today though, from the descriptions left of this period of his life. He employed fasting, prayer, and the punishment of his fleshly body to achieve a closer relationship with the Lord. And as a way to purify himself so that he might be worthy of the Lord.

He would later say that if that sort of monkish behavior could win salvation and the favor of the Lord he would have been one of the monks that earned it. He was much harder on himself than most other monks. Another retospective remark he made about this period of his life is that he in essence forgot about Jesus being his Savior and his Comfortor and treated Him like the Jailer and Hangman of his soul. As an example, he was once found nearly dead in his room from a period of self deprivation, but was roused back to life by prayers, spiritual hymns, and music from his worried brother monks.

His Superior apparently decided that Martin's tendency to obsess when it came to introspection, pennance, and sin was a little too extreme for the often solitary life of a monk. Also, he was a notably bright person. So, Martin's Superior at the Friary pointed him in another direction: academic and public service to God.

Here he began to hit his stride, and also became resolved upon a couple of his most important core beliefs. In 1507 he became a Catholic Priest, in 1508 he began to preach the Word at the church in Wittenberg, and in 1512 he obtained a Doctoral degree in Theology. He was given a position at Wittenberg of 'Doctor in Bible'. He would keep this job at Wittenberg until the time of his retirement.

From there, in that relatively new and undistinguished college in Wittenberg recently founded by the Prince Frederick the Wise, Martin Luder would do to Catholicism what the Apostles had once been accused of doing to the nations of the Earth that existed in their time: he would turn the world upside down. From here he would light the fuse on a keg of powder that smouldered even beforehand throughout Europe. The powder was prepared. The fuse was installed. And now the fire had arrived, in the form of a failed Philosopher, failed Law student, perhaps clinically depressed failed Monk, now Doctor and Priest, named Martin Luder.

The odd thing was that he began his protests against the Catholic church with no apparent intent of beginning a revolution. He just had some issues with the Catholic Church. Of course it was basically just 'the Church' then. There weren't any real alternatives. They didn't allow competition from other denominations in any real sense - at least not among fellow Christians in Europe, anyway. They had burned, tortured, and killed disagreeing or diverging Christians in Europe for hundreds of years. Muslims were a quite strong force, and seemed threatening to Europe. They were a religious option. And there were many Jews in Europe. But among European Christians, the Catholics reigned supreme, with a history of murdering any competition.

Martin had once had an opportunity to travel to Rome. He would see the Holy City - the heart of Jesus's kingdom on Earth. He was very excited, going from holy site to holy site, trying to see what he had only read about and heard about. But by the time his trip was over he came away with the opinion that the heart of the Catholic church was staffed by some very jaded and corrupt people.

The Priests giving Mass there seemed anything but spiritually involved in the beauty of the ceremony. They rushed through it in cases. They even muttered derisive comments in certain instances which he overheard, about such things as doubting the transubstantiation of the bread and wine that they used in the ceremony. Their Priestly comportment away from the churches was certainly not what it could be either. They indulged many of the fleshly passions.

Also, in many places indulgences were hawked openly, basically ripping off the poor with promises of divine intervention in return for money. Pray for pay!!!. Rome was a place that had lost it's holiness to a great degree. It was very much about the world, or at least that was Martin's impression. He had some doubts in his mind from that trip, and over the years, those doubts began to grow into certainties - certainties that something was very wrong.

Through his preaching at Wittenberg, where he focused on Galatians, Psalms, Romans, and Hebrews, he developed a Doctrinal belief that he came to feel very positive of: he felt that all the work of salvation was done by Jesus, and that no works here on Earth brough a person closer to salvation. Salvation was either given freely and in its entirety by Jesus, or it could not be gained at all. It was an un-earnable gift. It came to be called 'Justification by Faith', and it is very well supported by the scriptures, yet was not held as truth by the Catholic church. The Catholic church was leading the poor to believe that it was by constant good works, and many payments to the church (to obtain the prayers of the Priests) that salvation could be obtained. The Catholic church, Martin came to believe, was now operating in serious contradiction to the scriptures in many of its practices.

His objections to these practices began to grow. A certain man moved into the area and began to sell indulgences for money to people, and some of those people were in Luther's Parish. Luther saw that fewer people were coming to Mass because of this. This also did not sit well with him.

He began to preach what the scriptures actually said, often in open variance with what the Catholic church taught as truth. Then, one day in Martin's 34th year of life, on Oct 31, 1517, Luther went a step further. It probably didn't seem like so very big of a deal at the time. He authored and posted 95 written objections to specific Catholic doctrine and practices. He titled the document "Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences". They became known as 'The 95 Thesis", and sometimes when you drive a nail into something, it spells doom for the powers then in charge. We know what happened when Jesus was nailed to a cross. This was in some ways similar.

Tradition holds that the thesis was nailed to the door of the Wittenberg church, more or less a Parish bulletin board, and that's what got the ball rolling on what came to be called 'The Protestant Reformation'. Oddly enough this was done on the day we celebrate Halloween in our modern time. A blow struck against the Devil on Halloween. You've gotta like the irony of it. Luther sent copies to a few of his friends and some bishops.

For a time, the 95 Thesis didn't cause so great of a stir. The affect was not immediate. But, as more persons read them (and this was the age of the printing press) they became a rallying point of sorts to those many persons that had become very disenchanted with the Catholic doctrines. The scriptures were becoming more widely disseminated. What had once been the proprietary property of priests was now often found in the homes of common men and women. They had read the scriptures. They had seen the startling differences between the written truth of God and what the Catholic Church was practicing as Christianity. They wanted reform.

No one knew quite how to oppose the vast and powerful Catholic church, but there was growing public sentiment that it needed to be done. Some writers of the time even portrayed the Catholic dogma as a form of anti-Christ, and indeed some editions of the Catholic Catechism book actually use the word anti-Christ in reference to their own Pope, posing it as a neutral sort of word meaning 'a stand in for Christ', as in saying that the Pope is 'Christ's stand in' until Christ returns, roughly. ****  Even editions of the Cathechism from fairly recent times contain this word 'anti-Christ' in relation to the Pope, with the sense of the word being that he is the interrum stand-in, as I understand it.  ****

The man who sold the indulgences availed himself of the help of a couple of Dominican friars that he knew, and posted his own counter objections. This little conflict was starting to draw some attention. The following spring in Heidelberg there was a meeting of Augustinians and Luther's 95 Thesis were vigorously discussed. He was later invited to come and talk about them, and some people who heard his explanations were swayed in his direction.

Word reached Rome soon enough, and this trouble-making German priest was the focus of an enquirey by the Inquisition. Though he was not physically present, Luther was tried for heresy. On August 5th Luther was pronounced a heretic by Emperor Maximillian. A summons was sent to Luther to come and answer their charges. Things were heating up. Many men never returned from a visit to the inquisition!

Luther is allowed to interview concerning the charges with a Cardinal Cajetan in Augsburg, rather than going to Rome. The Cardinal advises Luther to recant and quit stirring up troubles within the Church. Luther decides to refuse this advice. It is October of 1518 and Martin Luther decides to flee Augsburg, fearing for his life.

The following October, Luther returned to Wittenberg, and placed himself under the custodial authority of the local Royalty and ruler, the Elector Frederick III, of Saxony. He was called Frederick the Wise. It was a pretty good decision on Luther's part, as this guy did his own thinking, and wasn't necessarily afraid to butt heads with Rome a little if his conscience dictated and politics allowed.  Frederick would prove to be so crucial a protector that you would think God himself had sent him. 

Also, it is good to know a little about the power structure of Germany at this time. There was an Emperor, Maximillian, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (historically this Emperor was usually based in Vienna, Austria) and technically he had control of the area Luther lived in. But his power was not by any means absolute. There were various Princes in Germany, and they had quite a lot of power in their own right. In fact, they were powerful enough that it was a poor move for the Emperor to attempt to force these Princes into anything they didn't want to do. Effectively, for as long as a Prince decided to protect you, you had a significant degree of safety.

But an additional factor to consider was that Rome and the Pope wielded a lot of power and influence also - both political and spiritual. Rome could bring significant force to bear on any European ruler. A key point to understand, however, is that the Princes of Germany held a certain degree of resentment towards Rome over the Pope's habit of trying to determine the politics of Europe - or at least they didn't care for it too much when it involved their own German politics. Martin Luther was becoming just a little bit of a pawn now. Here was a local German Priest from Wittenberg shaking up the powers that be in Rome just a little bit. Though they may not have said it too openly, they probably felt just a little proud of their local boy Luther.

With so much debate erupting concerning indulgences, the Pope, Leo X, felt compelled to issue a proclamation of the churches position on indulgences. It took a position which was basically in direct opposition to Luther's, as might be expected. Indulgences were peddled throughout Europe, and a lot of the money scammed from the poor made its way into the coffers of Rome. It was a giant income stream. They had become quite used to profitting from these indulgences, and they did not care to part with so sweet of a windfall.

By mid-December in 1518 the Pope was pressuring Frederick the Wise, Luther's protector, to send Luther into exile. Thirty five year old Luther prepares to leave, understanding the power the Pope can exert. But Frederick isn't an easy one to push around. He decides to refuse the Pope. Luther will stay for the time being. And across Europe there is increasing talk against Rome and what the Church has become.

Early in 1519 Luther meets with a man sent from Rome, a Papal Chamberlain, named Carl Von Miltitz. As a result of their meeting, intended to soothe the situation before it got to out of hand, Luther agreed to send a letter of apology to the Pope, assuring the Pope that Luther had meant His Holiness no disrespect or insult. He also agrees to lay his case before the Arch-Bishop of Salzberg.

In June, Luther writes the letter to the Pope asking that the Pope be aware that Luther had never meant to undermine or diminish the authority of either the Pope or the Church.

Later in the year, in mid-July, Luther and a supporter named Karlstadt met with and publically debated a man named Johann Eck, who had been sent by Rome, on the subject of indulgences. Eck was a master orator and a skilled debator. Though Luther was able to scripturally justify his objections, he is reported to have left with the feeling that Eck had gotten the better of the debate. True or not, the whole issue of Luther's objections and the Churches response had now become very high profile. Those who hadn't known about it before probably did now, and Luther was rising to a prominence that did not bode well for his safety. But, God was using him for His purposes, and Luther was just strapped onto the front of the locomotive at this point. The pot was starting to boil.

That next fall an important event happened in the life of Luther. He was given a book to read. It was the writings of a man named Jon Huss (Huss means Goose) who had written against Rome's growingly wicked practices slightly over a century before, and who had been imprisoned, tried, and then burnt at the stake for it. He was a courageous man, and certainly one of the foundational contributors to the Reformation that was now beginning in Luther's time. Huss, in jail and very depressed, had received a dream of encouragement from the Lord just before he died, and he told his supporters, who recorded it for posterity. Huss had said that he'd learned in his vision that 'today they roasted a goose, but in a century there would come a swan that they could neither roast nor broil'.

Upon reading the book written by Huss - 'The Church From Prague' - Luther found himself in fundamental agreement with it, and was surprised to see that someone had voiced what were basically his same objections, yet had done it over 100 years ago. And he had not known of the man's work until now. Luther must have felt encouragement from this experience.  When you're voicing a controversial opinion, it's very nice to hear agreement from a source you respect. And Huss was a very respected source - but much better known in the area of Bohemia.

From about this point on, relations between Luther and the Church did little but deteriorate. Much happened. Luther began to write ..... and write .... and write. He delivered his positions on myriad topics, and they are nearly all highly unfavorable to Rome and the Pope. (One of the important points determining the impact Martin Luther had is that he was one incredibly prodigious writer. His writings were popular with the poor, widely disseminated, and his writings were just incredibly numerous. He wrote many thousands of papers and treatises and lectures and sermons during his life. Very few people of historical eminence can compare with Luther for the sheer volume of his writings. The Superior that decided he was too introspective to make a good monk made a very good call. Luther wasn't made to be a monk. He was a writer and a preacher.

There came a point when the Vicar of Luther's religious order was told by Rome to get him under control or lose his job. The man decided to just resign. Luther wrote an open letter to the Royalty of Germany concerning his feelings and the situation he had with the Church. It so influenced them that it caused 100 of the Knights of Germany to enter into a pledge to protect him.

Leo X then issued a Bull (a papal writing is called a bull) of excommunication against Luther. He was now seperated from and identified as an enemy to the Church.

Book burnings took place. It started with Luther's writings being publically burned, then German college students began to burn Catholic books, then the Papal bull (posted prominently in various locations) was torn down and burned. Things were starting to get pretty hostile. Incidents of open rebellion against the Church were occuring.

Luther wrote a book describing various parts of the Catholic Mass as being Pagan in origin or otherwise fallacious. And Frederick III, Luther's loyal protector, decided to throw his weight - which was considerable - into a demand that Luther not be excommunicated without a chance to defend himself publicly.

The new Emperor, Charles V, summoned Luther to appear before the Diet of Worms. This is the epic confrontation so often depicted in literature and theatre. It is the lone German monk - Luther - entering the cage of the corrupt and powerful Lion (the representatives of Rome) with only his few loyal but powerful friends and the scriptures to support him. But though the future was dark and uncertain for Luther, who was looking forward into time, the Lord was with him, and as the scripture says 'If God is for you, who can be against you?' As Luther traveled to the appointment in Worms he was greeted in town after town by enthusiastic crowds. He was becoming a folk hero. He must certainly have been cheered during what he, by all rights, probably considered his death march. It was well known that Rome would not mind if Martin Luther was no longer alive.

Yet when he arrived to stand before the Trier sent by Rome, a table was placed nearby him, and on it were some of his books and writings. He was asked if he recanted of these writings, many of which were highly critical of the Catholic church. He asked for time to consider his answer, and was granted a recess.

He spent time in deep and fervent prayer. When he next stood before his Trier he basically answered that while he could allow that his tone might not have been appropriate, his conclusions were in keeping with the scriptures, he believed, and he said that unless shown by the scriptures themselves, or by clear and convincing reasoning, he could not in good conscience retract his writings. And he said that councils and Popes were often in disagreement even with each other, so he also could not recant merely because they directed him to, because his conscience would not allow it.

The Emperor (Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) made it clear the next day that he sided with Rome. He wanted Luther condemned. But Prince Frederick the Wise sided with Luther. It was an interesting situation. Luther was dividing Germany, dividing Royalty, and dividing Christiandom.

Luther had been promised safe passage to and from Worms, so about a week later, Luther left to return home. His future was certainly in doubt. He was cast out of the Catholic church, and the Emperor had sided against him. But, Frederick the Wise was not preventing him from returning home to Saxony, to Wittenburg. And that was saying something, as Frederick the Wise would be harboring a heretic in his land - harboring a man much despised by Rome. But, he wasn't called 'the Wise' for no reason!

As poor Martin Luther was returning home, he was unfortunately attacked and captured by bandits. Poor Martin Luther! Now, whatever punishment had been planned against him by Rome could not be carried out. He was captured - maybe dead. His whereabouts were unknown. And Frederick the Wise was not harboring an excommunicated heretic openly in his land. So Frederick the Wise was not bringing the displeasure of Rome upon himself. And, in a certain castle called Wartburg Castle there is soon a bearded hairy character who shows up from nowhere and goes by the name of Junker Jorge. Junker Jorge looks a whole lot like Martin Luther, but only with a beard. And longer hair. Hmmmm!?! (Junker means 'knight' in the German tongue then employed.)

Well, as you may have guessed, Junker Jorge was really Martin Luther. And for nearly a year he remained mostly at Wartburg and kept a low profile. But he was by no means unproductive. He worked on a series of sermons. He also began writing a German testament.

While he was in hiding, the Emperor officially banned him. But, a little less than a year later the ban was lifted, and Luther returned. He immediately preached at his old church in Wittenburg. And soon he was embarked upon a two year preaching tour of Germany. He became immensely popular with the peasants at this time.

Within a couple of short years, when Luther was 39 years old, the first Protestant martyrs were killed in Brussels. And around the same time, there were over 50,000 German peasants killed in a conflict evolving from Martin Luther's protests against the Catholic church.  Think of that - 50,000! 

Martin Luther had now basically become a religious celebrity, perhaps bordering on being a major world religious leader.  He would go on to become the poster boy for the entire Protestant Reformation. He by no means led a peaceful life, and he was alternately loved and hated by millions. He was called a devourer of the Church. He was known as a leader, as a hero, and as a betrayer. He sparked off a conflict that would result in the death of tens of millions in Europe before it was finally over. Few if any have caused more bloodshed, if you want to consider it in that light. But, it was a conflict that was laying dormant, smouldering and ready to ignite, long before Martin came along.

The rest of his life is worthy of being chronicled, but many have done so. He accomplished much then as well. He went on to be key in a translation of the Bible into German. He set the precedent for marriage among Protestant church leaders. He developed congregational hymn singing. And he wrote and wrote and wrote.

Not all of his positions and opinions seem right or holy. He could be crude. He adjured people to tell Satan to 'kiss their *** ' in one writing. He was against drunkenness but thought a little beer to be a good thing. (An understandable position in Germany!) He was initially pretty favorable towards the Jews, but later, upon finding that they mostly wanted nothing to do with Jesus when he tried to convince them, he adopted very anti-Jewish sentiments. Some of these were eventually used as support in Nazi doctrine, centuries later. He was also harbored pretty serious objections against the Book of James in the scriptures.  Perhaps more than any other book it exhorts the necessity of 'works' in your walk with Jesus. It offended his sense that salvation was by faith alone, though a close reading of James portrays works as a response of gratitude for salvation, rather than a road to it.  If you are truly grateful for your salvation how could you not want to work hard for your Lord, down here on Earth, while you can?   Martin also wasn't sure the Book of Revelation belonged in the Bible, though he eventually included it. The symbology was too hard to understand, he felt.

Martin Luther was a man of courage, conviction, faults, and biases. He was a man of faith, and great love for God. But mostly, he was a man of destiny - one of the great tools used by God. An event of giant scope occurred, and as much as any man, he is credited for beginning it. Today's freedom of religion in America and many other countries could be charged to it, for instance. And with the scriptures in so many hands, a new day had dawned for the Catholic church. They were forced to make a few grudging changes to stem the exodus from their ranks. The Christian world was changed forever.

Martin Luther lived out his days in God's service, and died a natural death. Just as John Huss (Huss means 'goose') had propheseyed when he was soon to be burned at the stake, a swan had come that they could neither roast nor broil. Martin Luther was apparently that swan.

©2017 Daniel Curry & 'Deeds of God' Website