Martin Luther and the Reformation
A German Augustinian friar, Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. Luther grew up the son of a miner, but he did not maintain that lifestyle for himself. He lived in a period that had a widespread desire for reformation of the Christian church and a yearning for salvation.
Martin Luther was born at Eisleben in Saxony. Since his father was a miner, it was a great distress on him to send Martin to school and then to the University of Erfurt. There is where he earned his master's degree at the young age of twenty-one. (Erikson, 39) Although his father wished him to study law, Martin, after being terribly frightened in a thunderstorm, vowed to become a friar. In 1505, Luther entered the monastery of the Augustinian friars at Erfurt and was ordained a priest in 1507. (Erikson, 167) He eventually earned a doctorate of theology. From 1512 until his death in 1546, he served as a professor of the Scriptures at the new University of Wittenberg. Because of his Professorship, he had the authority to teach, which he frequently cited as justification for his reforming work. (Erikson, 154)
Even though Luther was a very conscientious friar, things such as his scrupulous observance of the religious routine, frequent confessions, and fasting only gave him temporary relief from anxieties about sin and his ability to meet God's demands. Because of these apprehensions, he began to doubt the value of the monastic life. The fact that the medieval church had long held that monastic life was a sure and certain road to salvation added to Luther's confusion. This led to his study of Saint Paul's letters. Over time, he began to understand the Pauline letters and the Christian doctrine as a whole. Through these studies, Luther came up with a new belief that salvation comes not through external observances and penance but through a simple faith in Christ. Faith is the means by which God sends humanity his grace, and faith is a free gift that cannot be earned. Through this, Martin Luther discovered himself, God's work for him, and the centrality of faith in the Christian life.
Martin Luther is known for bringing about the Reformation. The ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the archdiocese of Magdeburg is where The University of Wittenberg was located. The archbishop of Magdeburg, Albert, was also the administrator of Halberstadt and the archbishop of Mainz. In order to hold all three offices simultaneously required papal dispensation. Because Pope Leo X wanted to complete the building of Saint Peter's Basilica, he did not have the funds for Albert to pay for additional Episcopal benefices. He allowed the Archbishop to borrow money from the bank in order to hire papal dispensation. To repay the debt, Pope Leo X then allowed Albert to sell indulgences. Wittenberg was in the political jurisdiction of Frederick of Saxony, one of the seven electors of the Holy Roman Empire. (Boehmer, 128) Frederick forbade the sale of indulgences within his territory, so the people of Wittenberg, including some of Luther's students, would cross the border from Saxony into Jutenborg in Thuringia to buy these indulgences. According to Catholic theology, individuals who sin alienate themselves from God and his love. In order to be reconciled to God, the sinner must confess his or her sins to a priest and do the penance assigned. To receive the reconciliation, a person had to buy an indulgence. This would allow them to receive their earthly penance, since no one knows what God's ultimate punishment will be. The Catholic faith now has a doctrine to back the three principles of indulgences. (Underwood, 345) First of all, God is merciful, but he is also just. Next, Christ and the saints, through their infinite virtue, established a "treasury of merits" on which the church, through its special relationship with Christ and the saints, can draw. Thirdly, the church has the...
Cited: Boehmer, Heinrich. Martin Luther: Road to Reformation. Meridian Books New York, 1960.
Brown, Robert McAfee. The Ecumenical Revolution. Doubleday &Company, Inc, 1967.
Erikson, Erik H. Young Man Luther. W.W. Norton & Company Inc, 1962.
Huizinga, Johan. Erasmus and the Age of Reformation. Harper Torchbooks, 1957.
Underwood, Kenneth. Protestant & Catholic. The Beacon Press, 1961.
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