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The Protestant Reformation in Germany. Freedom v. Authority. The Cast of Characters. Martin Luther, an obscure German monk. Changed the medieval world and threatened the Catholic Church like no other. .

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the cast of characters
The Cast of Characters

Martin Luther, an obscure German monk. Changed the medieval world and threatened the Catholic Church like no other.

Leo X, one of the most extravagant Popes in history. Made the mistake of not seeing Luther as a threat to the power of the Catholic Church.

Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor from 1500-1558. Opposed Luther and tried to outlaw him and his followers as heretics.

Hans and Margarette Luther, pious and hardworking Germans whose son changed the world forever.

Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony from 1486-1525.Supported Luther and his teachings. Protected him in his early years so the Reformation had a chance to flourish.

Katharine von Bora, Luther’s wife. Luther found peace when he married this ex-nun whom he had helped to escape from a nunnery.

martin luther driven to defiance
Martin Luther: Driven to Defiance
  • “I would never have thought that such a storm would rise from Rome over one simple scrap of paper...“-- Martin Luther

Martin Luther, an obscure Augustinian monk

Few if any men have changed the course of history like Martin Luther.
  • In less than ten years, this dedicated German monk:
    • Upset a Church that had ruled for a thousand years
    • Set in motion a sequence of revolution, war, and conflict that would reshape Western civilization and bring it into the Modern Era.
Luther’s story is an account of:
    • The birth of the modern age
    • The collapse of medieval feudalism
    • The beginning of the ideals of freedom and liberty that are at the core of the 21st century.

Martin Luther detail from the Freedom Window War Memorial Chapel Washington Cathedral. (Noted are Moses, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther, Paul Revere and George Washington.)

But it is also an intensely human tale:
    • It is the story of a man who begins his journey in the depths of despair, triumphs, but turns to despair again when he is faced with forces he cannot comprehend or control.
    • As his followers sought to build a new and just Europe around him, he could only turn on them in frustration, declaring that their only goal should be Heaven.
    • Martin Luther stands as a hero, the man who built the bridgebetween the Medieval and theModern. His tragedy was thathe would never find thecourage to cross it himself.
Martin Luther was born into a world dominated by the Catholic Church, which held spiritual authority over all the nations of Europe.
  • For the intensely spiritual Luther, the Church's promise of salvation was irresistible. (According to legend, he was caught in a thunder-storm, terrified by the possibility of imminent death, and vowed to become a monk.)
  • But after entering the monastery, Luther became increasingly doubtful that the Church could actually offer him salvation at all. His views were upheld by a trip to Rome, where he found that the capital of Catholicism was laden with corruption.

"God has given us the Papacy. Let us enjoy it!"– Pope Leo X

Wracked by despair, Luther finally finds release in the pages of the Bible, when he discovers that it is not the Church, but his own individual faith that will guarantee his salvation:
    • Rom 3:28: "We maintain therefore thata man is justified by faithapart from theworks of the law."
    • Rom 5:1-2: "Being thereforejustified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; through whom we also have ouraccess by faith into this gracein which we stand….”
    • Gal 2:15-16: “We, being Jews by nature, and not Gentile sinners, yet knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we had to become believers in Christ Jesus, that we might bejustified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.”
    • Gal 3:11-12: “Now that no man is justified by the law before God is evident for‘The righteous will live by faith.’The law is not of faith but ‘The man who does them will live by them.’”

The Problem of Authority

Luther’s discovery uncovered the problem of authority. Is the Bible the sole basis for religious authority (as Luther claimed) or are the Bible and Church tradition the basis for authority (as the Roman Catholic Church claimed)? Here’s how one Protestant denomination today characterizes Luther’s contribution to Reformation theology:

With this revelation, he turns on the Church, attacking its practice of selling Indulgences in the famous95 Theses.
  • The key points of Luther's theseswere simple, but devastating:
    • A criticism of the Pope's purpose in raising the money: "he is richer than Croesus, he would do better to sell St Peters and give the money to the poor people....“
    • A straightforward concern for his flock: "indulgences are most pernicious because they induce complacency and thereby imperil salvation."
Luther was not only a revolutionary thinker, he would also benefit from a revolutionary technology: the newly invented machinery of printing.
    • A single pamphlet would be carried from one town to another, where it would be duplicated in a further print run of thousands.
    • Within three months, all Europe was awash with copies of Luther's 95 Theses.
  • Martin Luther had inadvertentlychosen unavoidable conflict with the most powerful institution of the day: the Catholic Church.
martin luther reluctant revolutionary
Martin Luther: Reluctant Revolutionary
  • "Here I stand, I can do no other, God help me, Amen..."-- Martin Luther

Pope Leo X, Luther’s Adversary

The Catholic Church brought all its considerable power to bear to try and muzzle Luther, including accusations of heresy and excommunication.
  • But protected by his local ruler, Frederick the Wise, Luther continued:
    • To write ever more radical critiques of the Church
    • To develop a whole new system of faith – one that puts the freedom of the individual believer above the rituals of the Church.
His ideas spread like wildfire, aided by the newly invented printing press.
  • Finally he was called before the German imperial parliament in the city of Worms and told he must recant.
    • Convinced he would not survive the trip to Worms but with absolute faith he declared: "I am not afraid for God's Will will be done and I rejoice to suffer in so noble a cause.“
    • Risking torture and execution, Luther refused to recant and proclaimed his right to believe what he wished.
His stand became a legend that inspired a continent to revolution, overturning the thousand-year old domination of the Church.
  • But as the reformation expanded into a movement for social freedom, Luther found himself overwhelmed by the pace of change. His theological reformation had become a social revolution.
The reform movement spread rapidly away from Germany:
    • To Switzerland and Holland where Calvin and Knox founded societies based on Luther's principles
    • To England, where it would take a bloody civil war before Cromwell could establish his Protestant democratic state
    • To the newly discovered lands of America, where the Puritans would found John Winthrop’s “City on a Hill” on Luther's foundations of religious freedom.
But Luther never left his province in Germany again.
    • Instead he married an ex-nun named Katharine von Bora, whom he had helped to escape from her nunnery, and they had a large family together.
    • Luther was able to devote himself to the simpler pleasures of life: gardening, music, and writing.
  • Luther finally died in the year 1543.
    • Seized by a crippling heart attack, he held onto his righteousness and rage until the very end.
    • "When I die,” he said, “I want to be a ghost...So I can continue to pester the bishops, priests and godless monks until that they have more trouble with a dead Luther than they could have had before with a thousand living ones."
charles v powerful adversary
Charles V: Powerful Adversary
  • Charles V decided that extinguishing Luther would leave the Pope without a rival.

Charles V, Luther’s most powerful adversary

At the age of 19, Charles V was the richest and most powerful person of his time, but all the power in the world did not stop Martin Luther from challenging his Catholic empire.
  • Born in 1500, Charles inherited a vast empire from his parents:
    • When his father Philip I died in 1516 Charles inherited control over The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Artois and Franche-Comté, and the Free County of Burgundy.
    • In 1516 his maternal grandfather Ferdinand II died and he inherited Aragon, Navarre, Granada, Naples, Sicily, Sardinia, Spanish America, and joint kingship with his mother (who was insane) over Castile.
    • Then in 1519 when his grandfather Maximilian I died, Charles inherited the Hapsburg lands in Austria and was elected Holy Roman emperor.


Boundary of the Holy Roman Empire House of Hapsburg Brandenburg Church lands Bourbon lands

Charles V settled in Germany and sought to become the leader of a universal empire. Through his reign he would face ongoing battles with France, resist the advance of the Ottoman Turks, and fail to check the Reformation (because of political expediency and inattention).
    • Like many others, Charles under- estimated the dissatisfaction of hisCatholic subjects and the influencea humble German monk would have through his defiant pen.
    • Despite being a devout Catholic Charles V was acutely conscious of Papal power and it was in his interest for the Vatican to be put in its place.
At the Diet of Worms Charles absolutely opposed Luther but had other things on his mind thus saving Luther from execution as a heretic.
    • Charles was soon preoccupiedby battles with France and theOttoman Turks and did not check the spread of Protest-antism sweeping his Empire.
    • He spent the rest of his life waging war in France, Germany and Spain. It was only after his death in 1558 that a peace treaty was signed with France.
Charles V, the most powerful man of his time:
    • Failed to achieve his dream of a universal empire, thwarted by the political realities of Western Europe.
    • Failed to stop the Reformation and although he bitterly opposed the views of Martin Luther he never acted against him.
  • However, he is remembered today for his integrity, strength of will, and sense of duty.
frederick the wise strong advocate
Frederick the Wise: Strong Advocate
  • "Time, perhaps, will show if I have been a good diviner."-- Frederick the Wise, 1517

Frederick the Wise, Luther’s strong advocate and benefactor

Frederick the Wise is remembered as the man who saved Martin Luther from the fury of the Catholic Church.
  • Frederick was born in Hartenfels Castle, Torgau in 1463, the first son of the Elector Ernst of the House of Wettin.
    • In 1486 he succeeded his father, together with his younger brother John, as sovereign of Ernestine Saxony.
    • He was a man of peaceful conciliation and kept his territory out of all warfare during his reign.
In 1502, Frederick founded the University of Wittenberg where Martin Luther taught.
    • During Luther's lifetime Wittenbergwas the home and intellectual centreof the reformation movement.
    • Frederick was a reliable protector ofthe movement, although only activein the background.
  • At a crucial period for the early Reformation, Frederick protected Luther from the Pope and the emperor, and took him into custody at Wartburg castle after the Diet of Worms (1521).
    • This put Luther under the imperial ban.
    • Frederick’s collection of diplomatic stalling tactics prevented his capture.
    • Frederick saw Luther as unjustly persecuted because he could not be found guilty of any real crime.
Frederick, however, had little personal contact with Luther and remained a Catholic, although he gradually inclined toward the doctrines of the Reformation.
    • He formed his own opinion after listening to his advisers and the opinion of a recognized expert, Renaissance humanist Erasmus von Rotterdam.
    • He died at his hunting lodge in Lochau in 1525.

Erasmus von Rotterdam, a northern Renaissance humanist, remained a Catholic and wanted to reform the church from within.

pope leo x patron of the arts
Pope Leo X: Patron of the Arts
  • "The Church needs a reformation. And this cannot be the work of a single man, as the pope – but it must be that of the whole world."– Martin Luther

Pope Leo X, Luther’s adversary

Pope Leo X was born Giovanni de Medici in 1475 and raised in Italy's most culturally sophisticated city, Florence, as part of the prestigious de Medici family:
    • Renowned patrons of the arts
    • Benefactors of scholarship
    • Masters of political intrigue
He became one of the most extravagant of all Popes.
    • He was more a patron of the arts, as his parents were, than a significant ecclesiastical figure.
    • He was a skilful administrator and became Pope at the age of 37 in 1513.

Raphael’s portrait of Leo X in the company of two cardinals (1518)

Immediately Leo demonstrated his appreciation of art by initiating a massive building project to beautify the Vatican.
  • The pomp and extravagance of his court was an indirect cause of the Reformation.
    • To acquire the enormous sums of money for renovation, he encouraged the sale of "Indulgences."
    • These promised to remove the temporal punishment due to sin after it wasforgiven.
In Germany this practice aroused the anger of Martin Luther, who issued ninety-five arguments for church reform. Luther wrote in his 95 Theses, his criticism of the Church – “why doesn't the Pope build the basilica of St Peter's out of his own money?”
    • German nobles saw an opportunity to cut off currency flowing to Rome that was very much needed at home, so they backed Luther's cause.
    • In 1520, Leo issued the papal bull Exsurge Domine demanding Luther retract 41 of his 95 theses, and after Luther's refusal, excommunicated him.
Some historians believe that Leo never really took Luther's movement or his followers seriously, even until the time of his death in 1521. They also contend that if he had been more interested in religion than artwork, the Reformation may never have happened.
  • Pope Leo X was also the Patron of the artist Raphael and granted King Henry VIII of England the title 'Defender of the Faith'.
  • He was the last pope to look at the papacy as a temporal monarchy.
luther s parents hardworking pious
Luther’s Parents: Hardworking & Pious
  • "When God wants to speak with us, he does not avail himself of an angel but of parents."-- Martin Luther

Hans and Margarette Luther, hardworking and pious Germans

Martin Luther was named after St. Martin by his parents Hans and Margarette Luther, a pair of hardworking and pious Germans who were determined their son would succeed in life.
  • Hans Luther was a farmer's son but turned his back on the land and became a copper miner.
    • In 1484, following the arrival of baby Martin the Luthers moved from Eisleben to Mansfeld to improve Hans' job prospects.
    • Hans became a successful copper smelter and by 1491 the Luthers were one of the most respected families in Mansfeld.
Martin's mother, Margarette came from a small but very well-off family.
    • Despite her soft upbringing, she did her share of the family's workload but with three children to look after she was a harsh disciplinarian.
    • Luther recalled once that “for thesake of stealing a nut, my motheronce beat me until the blood flowed.”
  • Hans also ruled his son with aniron fist.
    • Martin later recalled: "my father oncewhipped me so hard I ran away – I hated him until he finally managedto win me back."
Hans had high hopes for his first son and had his heart set on Martin becoming a lawyer which would enable the Luthers to climb even higher up the social ladder.
    • Young Martin followed his father's wishes without protest.
    • He was sent to the best schools in the area and then to the University of Erfurt.
  • In 1505 Hans was devastated to learn that his son, without consulting him, had decided to embrace religion and had sought admission to the house of the Augustinian Hermits in Erfurt.
Both parents lived to see their son married in 1525 and the birth of several grandchildren before Hans died in 1530 and Margarette in 1531.
  • The Luthers, who were disappointed that their son had not become a middle-class lawyer, both witnessed his transformation into one of the most famous and infamous figures of the medieval world.
katharine von bora wife companion
Katharine von Bora: Wife & Companion
  • "There is no more lovely, friendly, and charming relationship, communion, or company than a good marriage."– Martin Luther

Katharine von Bora, Luther’s wife

Martin Luther found peace when he married an ex-nun named Katharine von Bora, whom he had helped to escape from her nunnery in an empty fish barrel and had taken refuge in Wittenberg.
  • Katharine von Bora was born in 1499, the daughter of an impoverished nobleman.
    • In 1504 she went to the convent school of the Benedictine order in Brehna (near Halle) and entered the convent of Nimbschen, near Grimma in 1508.
    • In 1515 she took her vows and became a nun.
    • In 1523 she left the convent and ended up in Wittenberg.
  • By June 1525, echoing a trend across Europe as former nuns and monks married, she became Mrs. Martin Luther.
Katharine was 16 years younger than Martin and together they had six children.
    • Luther doted on his large family.
    • He was able to devote himself to the simpler pleasures of life: music, gardening, and writing.
  • Katharine took over the household, particularly the household expenses.
    • It is said that Dr. Luther did not havea clue about how to run a household.
    • Katharine also proved herself to be agood housewife and gardener.
  • Luther's household included:
    • His wife and six children
    • One of Katharine's relatives
    • Six of Luther's sister's children (after 1529).
    • Students to help the family's financial situation.
For recreation the Luthers enjoyed a bowling lane of sorts in their garden, board games such as chess, and music. They even had a pet dog.
  • They grew much of their own food in a small garden at the Black Cloister and then later at a farm outside Wittenberg.
  • Luther and Katherine were diligent parents.
    • They disciplined their children, but did so with love.
    • Their home was noted for its liveliness and its happiness.
  • Katherine outlived her husband by six years.
    • She died on December 20, 1552,in Torgau.
    • She had fled there to get away from the plague in Wittenberg.
1 alcohol cures all evils
1. Alcohol cures all evils

Luther thoroughly approved even advocated drinking heavily. When a young man wrote to him complaining of despair at the prospect of going to hell, Luther wrote back advising him to go and get drunk. That, he said, was what he did when he felt despair.

Luther’s tankard: “Bad and sad thoughts must be followed by a good and happy little song and a friendly conversation.”-- Martin Luther

2 let s talk about sex
2. Let’s talk about sex

Luther also thoroughly approved of sex; he said that a woman had the right to take on a lover, if her husband wasn't able to satisfy her in bed – and the husband should look on this with composure.

3 sing me a song
3.Sing me a song

Luther was very keen on music. An accomplished lute player, he composed countless hymns and he is regarded as one of the most important German composers prior to Bach.

4 wittenberg was an artists colony
4. Wittenberg was an artists' colony

Wittenberg, where Luther lived for much of his life, was a tiny town in Germany at that time. And yet Luther found himself living only a few doors away from two of the greatest German painters of the day, Lucius Cranach and his son. The Cranachs are responsible for the series of striking portraits of Luther that still survive.

5 the fish barrel incident
5. The Fish Barrel incident

Luther's wife was an ex-nun who had managed to escape from her convent by hiding in a barrel that had once contained pickled fish.

6 the dawn of a new faith
6. The dawn of a new faith

With his translation of the Bible into German Martin Luther attained permanent fame as far as a unification of the German language was concerned. Today some 70 million believers on all five continents are members of the Lutheran Church.

7 the animal activist
7. The animal activist

Luther was bitterly opposed to hunting. When he was disguised as a knight in the castle at Wartburg, he refused to take part in the customary pursuit of rabbit hunting. One ran up his leg to escape the dogs, but they still bit through the cloth and killed it.

8 surrounded by relics
8. Surrounded by relics

Although Luther objected to the holy relics he discovered in Rome, there were at least as many on his own doorstep. The Castle Church of Wittenberg contained a collection of over 1500 relics including bones of saints and bits of the true cross. Every All Saints day, these would be spread on the grass in front of the church for the local populace to come and gaze at.

9 the most infamous woodworker and gardener of his time
9. The most infamous woodworker and gardener of his time

Luther was paid no wage, and took no payment for his services. At the end of his life, with six children, he installed a lathe and learned woodwork-ing in order to keep the money coming in. He was also a keen gardener, apparently producing fantastic lettuces, beans, melons and cucumbers.

10 extreme repentance
10. Extreme repentance

As a young monk Luther was obsessed with atoning for his sins and went to ridiculous lengths to punish himself. This ranged from extreme self denial and physical and mental tests to self flagellation. One such punishment consisted of lying in the snow, through the night at the height of winter until he would have to be carried back inside.

  • Adapted from the PBS website “Martin Luther: The Reluctant Revolutionary,”
  • Diagrams on the Problem of Authority from the Middletown Bible Church, Middletown, Connecticut, “Chapter 10. The Reformation,” Great Events That Changed the World,