Martin Luther


Stories from the life of Martin Luther.

Luther’s father, Hans, was determined to see Martin, his eldest son, become a lawyer.  He programmed his entire education toward that goal.  Then, on July 2, 1505, while Luther was returning to the university on horseback after a trip home, a lightning bolt struck near him during a thunderstorm. Later telling his father he was terrified of death and divine judgment, he cried out, “Help! Saint Anna, I will become a monk!”  He came to view his cry for help as a vow he could never break. He left Erfurt university, sold his books, and entered St. Augustine’s Monastery in Erfurt on 17 July 1505.[ One friend blamed the decision on Luther’s sadness over the deaths of two friends. Luther himself seemed saddened by the move. Those who attended a farewell supper walked him to the door of the Black Cloister. “This day you see me, and then, not ever again,” he said. His father was furious over what he saw as a waste of Luther’s education. 

For much of his life in the monastery, Luther was plagued by depression and doubt.  He was most faithful as a monk in prayer, pilgrimage, in fasting and confession, but he never felt that he had done enough to please God.  He wrote, “I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailer and hangman of my poor soul.”  One might could recall that a statue in his home church came right out of the book of Revelation. “I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. 14 His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force. Revelation 1:13-16   Luther’s Jesus was a more like a stern judge than a comforting savior.  

However, as a professor at the University of Whittenburg, Luther lectured on the Psalms, and on the books of Hebrews, Romans, and Galatians, and as he studied these portions of the Bible, he came to view the use of terms such as penance and righteousness by the Catholic Church in new ways. He came to see that “the righteousness of God” was not the righteousness God demanded of people, but the righteousness which God himself acted upon.  God fulfills God’s promises no matter what humans do, and that fulfillment of promises is “God’s righteousness.”  Against the teaching of his day that the righteous acts of believers are performed in cooperation with God, Luther wrote that Christians receive such righteousness entirely from Christ.  Furthermore, ours is the righteousness of Christ, imputed to Christians through faith.  Luther’s rediscovery of Christ and His salvation became the foundation for the Reformation, and Luther’s opposition to the Church’s sale of indulgences was based on it.  (Indulgences were written documents authorized by the Pope whose purchase would shorten a person’s stay in purgatory.)  Luther’s opposition to church doctrine and subsequently to the authority of the Pope resulted in the church excommunicating Luther.  Luther never wanted to start a new church; he was forced into doing so in part because he could not subscribe to the church’s views, and the church removed him participation in its life, especially in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

Luther’s fight with the Devil.  For Luther the devil was not a flesh and blood creature, but neither was he a poltergeist – a ghost that had no real power.  His encounter with the demonic often came a night and came in the form of arguments which Luther, at least on one occasion, lost.  He took the influence and power of the Devil seriously.  He one said, “Reader, be commended to God, and pray for the increase of preaching against Satan. For he is powerful and wicked, today more dangerous than ever before because he knows that he has only a short time left to rage.” According to an article by Heiko A. Oberman, “Luther Against the Devil” the story of Luther hurling an inkwell across his study during one of those arguments is pure fiction.  

However, Luther could and did use some rather earthy and vulgar language in such contests and whenever he despaired of his faith which would be a primary activity of the Evil One, he was comforted by a very earthy event.  He would say, “But I am baptized.”  

His marriage to Katherine von Bora.  In Luther’s day, as in these days, priests were celibate – they did not marry.  While a few priests did marry before Luther did so, his marriage to Katharina set a seal of approval on clergy marriages.  Here is one story about the formation of this relationship.

After several years of religious life, Katharina became interested in the growing reform movement and grew dissatisfied with her life in the convent. Conspiring with several other nuns to flee in secrecy, she contacted Luther and begged for his assistance.  On Easter Eve, 4 April 1523, Luther sent Leonhard Köppe, a city councilman of Torgau and a merchant who regularly delivered herring to the convent. The nuns escaped by hiding in Köppe’s covered wagon among the fish barrels and fled to Wittenberg. A local student wrote to a friend: “A wagon load of vestal virgins has just come to town, all more eager for marriage than for life. God grant them husbands lest worse befall.”

Luther at first asked the parents and relations of the refugee nuns to admit them again into their houses, but they declined to receive them, possibly because this would make them accomplices to a crime under canon law.  Within two years, Luther was able to arrange homes, marriages, or employment for all the escaped nuns except Katharina.  Katharina had several suitors, including the Wittenberg University alumnus Hieronymus Baumgartner of Nuremberg, and a pastor, Kaspar Glatz of Orlamünde, but none of the proposed matches resulted in marriage.  She told Luther’s friend and fellow reformer, Nikolaus von Amsdorf, that she would be willing to marry only Luther or von Amsdorf himself.  

Marry they did on June 13, 1545.  Katy did exhibit quite a bit of influence on the Luther household, and even upon Luther himself as exhibited by this statement from Luther:

“You convince me of whatever you please. You have complete control. I concede to you the control of the household, providing my rights are preserved. Female government has never done any good.”

Luther also makes the statement “If I can endure conflict with the devil, sin, and a bad conscience, then I can put up with the irritations of Katy von Bora.”

The couple had six children, one of whom died at eighteen months, and one who died at 13 years in Luther’s arms.