Martin Luther

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Martin Luther in 1529, painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder

Martin Luther (November 10, 1483 - February 18, 1546) was one of the most important leaders in Christian and German history. An Augustinian monk, priest, and professor of theology, he unintentionally launched the Protestant Reformation and founded the Lutheran Church.

Luther was the first to break Roman Catholic unity on a large scale, ignoring the Great Schism. He was excommunicated for the 95 Theses he had written in 1517 as a direct challenge to Church practice. Furthermore, he had the backing of several German princes who resented the Italian domination of the Church.

A tireless writer of tracts and hymns, Luther reshaped German religious culture by rejecting clerical celibacy and creating a new liturgy that emphasized congregational singing. His very popular hymns and his translation of the Bible into German helped to shape the German language.

To Mainline Protestants, Luther has always been a great reformer who had a deep insight into the Bible and the true nature of the Catholic Church, not unlike the kind of conversion experience vouchsafed St. Paul.[1] "Luther, and with him all the Reformers of the sixteenth century, German, Swiss, and British alike, believed that God spoke to them in the Scriptures in exactly the same way He had spoken to his prophets and apostles."[2]" From the Roman Catholic perspective, Luther remains a monk who overreacted to the problems of the day and caused a great deal of needless trouble, although more recently the Catholic Church and several mainline Lutheran groups have signed a joint declaration resolving several of the theological differences raised by Luther in 1999.[3]

Luther's image changed over the centuries. Calvinists challenged his theology while Catholics systematically reviled his personality well into the 20th century. Lutherans saw him as an authoritative interpreter of the Word and as a hero of the German people, transcending religion.[4]


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Luther was born on Nov. 10, 1483 in the central German town of Eisleben in Thuringia. His father, Hans Luther, originally a peasant, learned mining skills, and became a businessman who owned several small foundries; his mother, Margarethe, came from an educated urban professional family. Luther was brought up strictly according to tradition; he entered the University of Erfurt in 1501, took a master of arts degree in 1505 and studied law in preparation for the legal career his father planned for him. Erfurt was the center of humanism, and Luther was well educated by leading scholars there in Aristotle and the Latin classics.

Young Luther was tormented by the contemporary picture of man's destiny. Germany was at that time obsessed by a cult of death, which had arisen after the Black Death more than a century before; however, not even death was as appalling to Luther as the final judgment and the prospect of everlasting damnation. In July 1505, a thunderstorm overtook him. Struck to the ground by a bolt of lightning, he cried in terror to his father's patron saint, "St. Anne, help me! I will become a monk." Two weeks later he entered the strict Augustinian order.[5]

Monastic years

Luther took his final vows and in May 1507 was ordained a priest. He was assigned to the town of Wittenberg, Saxony the next year as an instructor in logic and physics at the new University of Wittenberg. Luther spent nearly his entire life in Wittenberg. He was favored and protected by the government, thanks to the influence of his friend, the court chaplain Georg Spalatin (1484-1545). He learned Greek and Hebrew and carried out an extensive study of the Bible, as well as standard theological treatises by Scholastic thinkers Peter Lombard (c.1100-60), John Duns Scotus (c.1265-1308), Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), Pierre d' Ailly (1350-1420) and William of Occam (1288-1347). His chief influence was St. Augustine (354-430), the reputed founder of his order.

In 1510-11 he went to Rome on official business for five months, the first and only time he left Germany. He later spoke of seeing Rome's corruption. In 1511 he did not yet share the views of Renaissance Germany's anti-papal and anti-Italian movement, of which he later became leader.[6]

In October 1512, Luther received a doctorate of theology from the University of Wittenberg, and soon afterwards he assumed a Bible-studies professorship there, endowed by his Augustinian order. Lecture notes exist for courses he taught, including Psalms (1513-1515 and 1519), Romans (1515-1516), Galatians (1516-1517), and Hebrews (1517-1518). During this time Luther rose within his order to the office of district vicar, later even overseeing the administration of Augustianian monasteries in Saxony. He was also preaching regularly in the parish church.



Luther's fears continued to plague him. Repeated bouts of depression may have arisen partly from physical causes having to do with Luther's savagely ascetic lifestyle, which was self-imposed against the advice of his confessor. Of this experience, Luther wrote, "I vexed myself with fasts and prayers beyond what was common...if I could have got to heaven by fasting, I should have merited that twenty years ago.... I afflicted myself almost to death."[7]

In reaction to this attempt to justify himself through sacrifice, he was led instead to a belief that nothing in the power of man is good enough to constitute a claim upon God. He had utilized all avenues within the Church's penitential system so that the sins which he could not expunge or eradicate might yet be forgiven, only to discover that he could not confess all of his sins. Some sins were forgotten and others not recognized, for man does not see that he is a sinner until confronted by the accusing finger of God.

Luther later told of how religious experiences led him to two important theological discoveries: in 1514, a realization of the evangelical purpose of the Gospel, and in 1518 (possibly earlier) a replacement of scholastic theology with what he called the "theology of the cross."

In writing lectures on Psalms, Romans, and Galatians from 1513 to 1516, Luther came to the conclusion, fundamental to Protestant theology, that man depends for his salvation on the sheer grace of God, made available through the sacrificial death of Christ. Christ is not primarily the terrible judge who condemns sinners, but the redeemer upon the cross. Man has only to believe and to accept in trust what God has done in order to be forgiven, even though sin is never entirely taken away. This was to become the central doctrine of Luther's creed: the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

The critical point at which Luther's position diverged from that of the Catholic Church was in his absolute denial of man's ability to do anything whatsoever toward his own salvation. The Catholic Church taught that, through grace, man is given by God the ability to fulfill His commandments and to earn God's favor by doing so. Since man is free to reject this grace, if he accepts it instead and performs good works, his deeds are meritorious. But Luther held that when good deeds are performed with an eye to reward, they are damnable sins.

About indulgences

Luther's actual breach with the Church was occasioned by the Church's use of indulgences, or remissions by the Church of punishment time in Purgatory (a penalty for certain sins). Indulgences did not help souls sent to hell.[8] Invented in the 11th century, indulgences at first only remitted penalties imposed by the pope on earth, but by the 1480s the pope claimed an extension to penalties imposed by God in Purgatory. Some popes undertook not only to remit penalties but also to forgive sins. In return for such benefits the recipients made cash contributions in accordance with their financial ability. The underlying theory of the entire transaction was that Christ and the saints had by their good works earned more credits than were needful for their own salvation and had stored up a treasury of merits from which the pope could make transfers to others. The transfer was often accompanied by a certificate similar to a bank note.

The privilege of dispensing the particular indulgences which drew Luther's ire was granted by Pope Leo X to Albrecht, archbishop of Mainz. The public thought money was going to Rome to build St. Peter's Church; in reality, half the money went to Albrecht so that he could repay the loan that had enabled him to purchase from Rome a second archbishopric. The proclamation of the indulgence was entrusted to Johann Tetzel, a Dominican monk with considerable experience in the field. The indulgence was declared, in an accompanying document, to confer the forgiveness of sin, and there was the further statement that those who secured indulgences for relatives in Purgatory need not themselves be contrite. Tetzel assured his hearers that:[9]

As soon as the coin in the coffer rings
The Soul from purgatory springs.

Break with Rome

95 Theses (1517)

On October 31, 1517, Luther nailed the 95 Theses or issues to the door of the Schlosskirche (Castle Church) in Wittenberg. This act, unremarkable in itself, is considered to be the start of the Protestant Reformation. The 95 Theses were complaints on the subject of indulgences intended to spark public debate,[10] a common procedure among theologians at that time.

Here are two of Luther's most important Theses:

  • Thesis 82: Why does not the pope empty purgatory, for the sake of holy love and of the dire need of the souls that are there, if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a Church? The former reasons would be most just; the latter is most trivial.[11]
  • Thesis 86: Why does not the pope, whose wealth is to-day greater than the riches of the richest, build just this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of poor believers?[12]

Papal reaction to the 95 Theses

The 95 Theses hurled Luther into the middle of controversy, leading to his excommunication by the pope in 1520 and to the Diet of Worms in 1521 which declared him an outlaw in the Holy Roman Empire. Luther's role changed from that of a would-be reformer of the Catholic Church to a declared foe of that institution, as it refused to heed his call to bring its beliefs and practice into line with the doctrines he had been uncovering in his study of the Bible. He was thus the only one of the prominent Protestant Reformers not to break voluntarily with the Church.

Luther sharply attacked any linkage between the raising of money and the remission either of sins or penalties. He denied the jurisdiction of the pope over Purgatory, noting that if the pope could release souls, he should let them all out without collecting a penny. Many colleagues agreed with Luther thus far. But he went on to deny the fundamental theory of the treasury of the accumulated merits of the saints; he attacked not just the abuse of the indulgences but the core idea.

Luther sent a copy of the 95 Theses to Archbishop Albrecht, asking him to stop the indulgences. Printed copies in Latin and German began to circulate widely, and many clerics agreed with Luther. The alarmed archbishop forwarded the document to Pope Leo X (1475–1521, pope 1513–21). Leo was a Medici, the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent; he was an aristocrat of dilettantish learning and a worldly patron of expensive arts and architecture (especially St. Peter's church) that had to be paid for. He had no interest in correcting the abuses of indulgence vending. Now, Leo again endorsed the claims of the indulgence-vendors and affirmed that souls were immediately released.

Luther retorted that the pope was wrong – a nearly heretical statement. The pope summoned Luther to Rome, but Luther's prince, Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, stepped in and insisted that his subject must have a fair hearing on German soil. The centuries-old German distrust of an Italian papacy was thus the first factor which gave Luther protection. German nobles did not like the flow of money to Rome, and in aid of cutting this off, they backed Luther.

A compromise was arranged: instead of going to Rome, Luther would appear at a hearing before Cardinal Cajetan, a Dominican, at Augsburg in 1518.[13] The Cardinal confronted Luther with the papal pronouncement, or bull, of Clement VI in 1343, which contained the doctrine of the accumulated treasury of the merits of the saints. Luther rejected this bull, thereby impugning not only the authority of a particular pope but also of the canon law generally. He refused to recant his argument that the efficacy of a sacrament depended on the faith of the recipient. Cajetan branded Luther a heretic. The pope wanted to have Luther brought to Rome by force, but such an undertaking was now politically impossible.[14]

Exsurge Domine

Pope Leo X spent his time on the beauty flourishing during the Renaissance and was a patron of the great artist Raphael. Some historians feel that if the pope had responded more seriously to the challenge of Luther, then the subsequent schism in Germany would not have occurred. Others argue that a Reformation was inevitable and that many leaders were emerging.

In 1520, Pope Leo X announced the papal bull Exsurge Domine, which required Luther to withdraw 41 of his 95 Theses or be excommunicated. Luther refused and was then excommunicated by the Catholic Church.

Luther counterattacks

Luther was free to publicize his position widely, so everyone now recognized Luther as a defiant German spokesman against the Church headquartered in Italy. He wrote a powerful series of pamphlets that rallied political and intellectual support.

  • Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation called upon the rulers, including the emperor, to reform the Church. Luther demanded that the papacy be restored to the poverty and simplicity of the days of St. Peter, and that the finances and vast real estate holdings of the Church should be handled by national churches, not the pope. He also demanded the abolition of clerical celibacy, which the Germans had opposed when it had been brought in by Gregory VII in the 11th century.
  • On The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, written in Latin and directed at priests, was even more challenging. Luther attacked the sacramental character of the Church and thereby undercut many of its claims to power. The Church recognized seven sacraments, Luther only two (baptism and the Lord's Supper, both explicitly authorized by Christ). He argued that the Catholic Mass was not the true Lord's Supper, not being a repetition of the sacrifice of Christ, and that the wine as well as the bread should be given to the laity as well as the clergy. Church doctrine held that the bread and wine of the Eucharist are actually transformed into the body and blood of Christ; only the outward appearances, or "accidents," of bread and wine remain. This doctrine was called transubstantiation, and was based on the philosophy of Aristotle, with whom Luther took much difference. Luther offered his own doctrine of "Real Presence," that after consecration the body and blood of Christ are present "in, with, and under" the form of the bread and wine. The priest causes no miracle, because Christ is everywhere present and at all times; instead, he opens the eyes of believers to Christ where he is, because God's presence and Christ's presence, though universal, are not universally obvious.

When this tract appeared, Erasmus, the eminent humanist in Amsterdam, declared the breach between Luther and the Church was now irreparable.[15]

  • Freedom of the Christian Man went further, promulgating the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Luther declared the Christian to be free from all priestcraft; the priest is merely one who, out of the body of the universal priests, has been "regularly called" to perform a particular office.

Diet of Worms (1521)

The papal bull reached Luther on October 10, 1520. giving him 60 days to recant. Luther's reply was the tract Against the Execrable Bull of Antichrist. After 60 days, he burned the bull in public. Formal excommunication followed.

It was then up to the German imperial authorities to take any legal action against Luther. The 21-year-old Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, ordered him to stand trial before an assembly (a "Diet") of estates of the Holy Roman Empire that met in the Imperial Free City of Worms (now part of Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany). The emperor, an orthodox Catholic, issued the summons to Luther, who arrived after a triumphal tour across Germany. Luther admitted he wrote the pamphlets and explained on April 18:

Unless I am convicted by Scripture or by right reason (for I trust neither in popes nor in councils, for they have often erred and contradicted themselves) -- unless I am thus convinced, I am bound by the texts of the Bible; my conscience is captive to the Word of God, I neither can nor will recant anything, since it is neither right nor safe to act against conscience is neither. Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen.[16]

The verdict on May 25, 1521 (the "Edict of Worms") was "guilty." Luther was declared an outlaw who could not be legally housed or fed, but could be legally killed. The lines of the Reformation were now hardened.

Luther had already left the trial before the verdict was rendered, having been warned of the possibility of meeting a fate similar to that of John Huss, the fifteenth century reformer. Luther hid at Wartburg Castle at Eisenach under the protection of Frederick. Luther took the pseudonym Junker Jörg (Sir George), grew a wide beard and dressed like a knight while there.

The Reformation

The Wartburg (1521-22)

While he was in hiding, the Reformation accelerated, stimulated by Luther's tracts and organized by his friends in Wittenberg, especially Philipp Melanchthon and the more radical Andreas Karlstadt. The liturgy was altered, with Luther's approval. Wine was once again administered to the laity in Communion. Monks and nuns left the cloister and got married, and Luther concluded that they were right to do so. Luther's translation of the New Testament appeared in 1522; his translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew appeared in 1534.

As iconoclasts and other radical elements began to cause disorder in Wittenberg, Luther returned to restore order. The emperor wanted to arrest him but had to worry first about several serious wars.

Confronting radicals

Peasants, long smarting under social inequalities, revolted in 1524–26 in Saxony, Franconia, Swabia, and Thuringia using his name and that of Thomas Münzer (1490-1525). At first Luther tried to mediate; in his Admonition to Peace, he blamed the unrest on the rulers who persecuted the gospel and mistreated their subjects. Many of the peasants' demands were just, he said, and for the sake of peace, the rulers should accommodate them.

On the other hand, Luther warned the peasants they were blaspheming Christ by quoting the gospel to justify their secular demands. He told them bluntly that the gospel taught obedience to secular authorities and the humble suffering of injustice. As rebellion spread Luther was appalled and denounced the rebellion. In May 1525, he wrote against the "Robbing and Murdering Horde of Peasants," urging the princes to "smite, strangle, and stab [the peasants], secretly or openly, for nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel. It is just as when one must kill a mad dog; if you do not strike him, he will strike you and a whole land with you." He later criticized the merciless ruling classes, who killed some 100,000+ peasants (as well as Münzer) in order to crush the insurrection.

In the later part of his life, Luther was frequently ill, which caused his writings to become increasingly angry and short-tempered. His reading of the Bible revealed from the beginning there had been a perpetual struggle between the true and false church; what happened to the original church of the prophets and apostles could certainly happen to the Lutheran church as well. Luther concluded the papacy was the Antichrist and that his Protestant opponents were "false brethren," like those who had plagued the true prophets and apostles. The Turks, who threatened Europe from the east, were a clear sign of the end times: they were Gog and the little horn in the Book of Daniel.[17]

Spreading the word

For his last 25 years Luther was primarily the professor, the preacher, and writer.[18] He taught at the University of Wittenberg, where some 16,000 students were enrolled, 1520–60, most of whom became enthusiastic proponents of Luther's "New Theology."

The Reformation was a triumph of literacy and of the new printing press. From 1517 onward religious pamphlets flooded Germany and much of Europe. By 1530 over 10,000 publications are known, with a total of ten million copies. Luther strengthened his attacks on Rome by depicting the struggle between "good" and "bad" churches. From there, it became clear that print could be used for propaganda toward other agendas just as easily as in the Reformation; reformist writers used pre-Reformation styles, clichés, and stereotypes and changed items as needed for their own purposes.[19]

Illustrations in the newly translated Bible and in many tracts popularized Luther's ideas. Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), the great painter patronized by the electors of Wittenberg, was a close friend of Luther and illustrated Luther's theology. He dramatized Luther's views on the relationship between the Old and New Testaments (what Luther called "Law and Gospel"), while remaining mindful of Luther's careful distinctions about proper and improper uses of visual imagery.[20]


Especially effective were Luther's Small Catechism, for use of parents teaching their children, and Larger Catechism, for pastors.[21] Using the German vernacular they expressed the Apostles' Creed in simpler, more personal, Trinitarian language. The catechisms depict the idea of the Trinity not as a complex doctrine requiring a background in Greek philosophy to understand properly, but as one being filling three different roles: the Father creates, the Son redeems, and the Spirit sanctifies. Salvation originates with the Father and draws the believer to the Father. Luther's treatment of the Apostles' Creed is presented in the context of the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) and the Lord's Prayer, which together form the basis of Lutheran catechesis.[22]


Luther was a prolific hymn writer; one of his most famous hymns is "A Mighty Fortress is Our God."[23] Luther opened the way for a unity of high art and folk music through the singing of German-language hymns in worship, the school, the home, and the public arena.[24]

Luther's 1524 creedal hymn "We All Believe in One True God" is a three-stanza confession of faith prefiguring Luther's 1529 three-part explanation of the Apostles' Creed in the Small Catechism. Luther's hymn, adapted and expanded from an earlier German creedal hymn, gained widespread use in vernacular Lutheran liturgies as early as 1525. Sixteenth century Lutheran hymnals also included Wir Glauben All among the catechetical hymns.

Luther's 1538 hymnic version of the Lord's Prayer, "Vater Unser in Himmelreich" (Our Father who art in Heaven), corresponds exactly to Luther's explanation of the prayer in the Small Catechism, with one stanza for each of the seven prayer petitions, plus opening and closing stanzas. The hymn functioned both as a liturgical setting of the Lord's Prayer and as a means of examining candidates on specific catechism questions.[25]

Luther wrote "Aus Tiefer Not Schrei ich zu Dir" (From depths of woe I cry to you) in 1523 as a hymnic version of Psalm 130 and sent it as a sample to encourage evangelical colleagues to write psalm-hymns for use in German worship.[26]

Luther's 1540 hymn "Christ unser Herr zum Jordan Kam" (To Jordan came the Christ our Lord) reflects the structure and substance of his questions and answers concerning baptism in the Small Catechism. Preachers and composers of the 18th century, including J. S. Bach, used this rich hymn as a subject for their own work.

New theology

The Eucharist

The divine Word, rather than ubiquity and the presence of Christ in the Sacrament, is the center of Luther's eucharistic theology. The hierarchy runs along this course: from the Word at the center of the Sacrament, to the benefit of the Sacrament in the Word of forgiveness, to the comfort given and received when the Sacrament is rightly used, to the fruit of communion in the Word of love. The hierarchy is the Word on which power, benefit, comfort, and communion are dependent; the presence is less important than the Word. Since the Word is incarnational in Jesus Christ, the issue was the very nature of the Word itself.[27]


In his Luther Bible, Luther translated Romans 3:28 by adding an extra German word for "alone" (alleine or alleyn) after the phrase: "justified by faith".[28] Luther believed that the meaning is that man is justified by faith and only faith. The Catholic Church taught that man is justified by faith, good works and confession to the Church authorities.

Luther also considered removing Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation from the canon, arguing that they contradicted the rest of Scripture.[29]

The printing press enabled Luther's translation to be printed for the public in September 1522. The Christian world would never be the same again.[30]


In 1525 Luther married Katharina von Bora (1499-1552), a noblewoman who had been placed in a Cistercian cloister at an early age, where she received an unusually strong education. Luther had helped her escape her cloister two years before their marriage, along with other nuns; husbands had been found for the rest of the group, but Katharina had held out for Luther.

Her intelligence and strong will challenged traditional gender roles and allowed Luther to exemplify his beliefs; their marriage reinforced his position against monastic celibacy. In addition to raising four children, she managed Luther's cloister and expanded his estate. However, despite being the sole heir in Luther's will, Katharina received nothing after his death.[31]

In "The estate of marriage" (1522) Luther removed marriage as a Christian sacrament but elevated its position in German society by advocating it as preferable to celibacy. This change was consistent with his teachings that lay people were in no way inferior to the clergy. Luther spoke of marriage as a temporal institution instituted by God in which both sexes should be treated with respect and the duties of child-rearing should be joyfully accepted. He loosened the restrictions on marriage, including allowing marriage between Christians and non-Christians, and allowed divorce in situations involving adultery, although he called on Christians to forgive.[32]

Documentation exists that asserts that Luther counselled Philip the Landgrave of Hesse, while his current wife was unwilling to consent to a divorce, to commit bigamy, adultery, which Philip willingly fulfilled on the "secret advice of a confessor" which he won from Luther, who said afterward that he did not know that the future bride of bigamy had already been chosen by Philip.[33] There is also irrefutable documentation, which Lutheran historians confirm, that Luther stated without clarification or any discernable context that Christ first became an adulterer at the well with the woman; again, with Magdalen; again, with the adulteress (John 8:1-11), whom He dismissed so lightly—thus the righteous Christ must first become also an adulterer before He died.[34] Some Catholics argue that Luther was blaspheming against God and believed that Christ actually was an adulterer, though he may have just been insisting that Christ bore the punishment for them when he died, as all three had been prostitutes.[35] This view is held by Protestant defenders of Luther.

In Luther's later years, his health, precarious even as a monk, gradually declined. He suffered from constipation, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, dizziness, ringing in his ears, an ulcer on his leg, kidney stones, heart problems, and bouts of depression (battles with the Devil, he called them). Nevertheless, he kept on writing to the end, with 360 published works from 1516 to 1530, and another 184 before his death in 1546.


Charles V tried to stop the spread of Lutheranism. In 1531, the Schmalkaldic League, an alliance of Protestant princes, was formed to defend the Protestant states against possible Catholic attack. In 1544, Charles sent armies against the German princes, but the Peace of Augsburg in 1555 ultimately gave each German prince the right to choose the religion for his state by a principle called cuius regio, eius religio (whose region, his religion). Most of the southern German princes chose Catholicism, the northern princes Lutheranism.

Martin Luther condemned abortion

See also: The Dakotas, the USA states with the highest percentage of Lutherans, are the most pro-life states in the USA and Pro-life and Abortion

An unborn child in the womb.

While lecturing on Genesis 25:1–4, Martin Luther declared:

God wanted to teach and attest that the beginning of children is wonderfully pleasing to Him, in order that we might realize that He upholds and defends His Word when He says: "Be fruitful." He is not hostile to children as we are. ... How great, therefore, the wickedness of human nature is! How many girls there are who prevent conception and kill and expel tender fetuses, although procreation is the work of God![36]

Luther wrote a pamphlet in which he distinguished between women who suffer miscarriages through no fault of their own and "those females who resent being pregnant, deliberately neglect their child, or go so far as to strangle or destroy it."[37] And in a 1544 letter, Luther strongly condemned a woman who had been a guest in his house for, among other reasons, asking his maid to "jump on her body in order to kill the fetus."[38]


Luther thought that the reason the Jews had not converted to Christianity was that they could not abide the Church of Rome. He therefore grew very hostile toward Jews who refused to convert to reformed Christianity, saying they were a rejected people suffering God's wrath for rejecting the true Messiah and should be expelled from Germany.[39]

In 1543 he published a tract entitled On the Jews and Their Lies, in which he called for the burning of synagogues and Jewish schools, the destruction of their prayer books, the demolition of their homes, and the confiscation of their money and property.[40][41]

Historians debate the impact Luther's writings may have had on German thought leading into the Nazi Holocaust of World War II. Luther harshly criticized many peoples in addition to Jews; a pamphlet of his in 1545, the year before he died, was entitled "Against the Roman Papacy, an Institution of the Devil." It is also recorded that at a round table discussion he said he believed in burning witches. Some of Luther's writings seem quite vulgar by today's standards, but much of it was also in response to vulgar accusations against his religious views.


After his death a furious theological battle raged over control of Luther's legacy. On the one hand were the "Syncretists" or "Philippists" (named after Philipp Melanchthon) based at the universities of Wittenberg and Leipzig, who sought a compromise with the Calvinists over disputed issues such as free will and the Eucharist.[42] The other camp were "Gnesio-Lutherans" ("true Lutherans"), centered at Magdenburg, who denounced the first camp for suggesting good works were necessary for salvation. The upshot was the emergence of "confessionalism", an inward-directed search for the "true" Luther that ended up with a highly orthodox theology that seemed frozen in place until the Pietists emerged in the 18th century. While this battle continued, Calvinists made major gains and dominated Protestant thought outside Northern Europe.[43]

Lutheranism has over 70 million adherents today. Its influence in secularized Europe has faded, but many Christians, even Catholics, have sung Luther's famous hymn, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God." Moreover, hundreds of millions of Protestants worldwide agree with Luther that justification is by faith alone. They belong to Protestant congregations that came into being because of Luther's stand.

The Lutheran Ascension Church at Augusta Victoria Foundation, Jerusalem


Quotes attributed to Luther[44][45] include:

  • You should not believe your conscience and your feelings more than the word which the Lord who receives sinners preaches to you.
  • Justice is a temporary thing that must at last come to an end; but the conscience is eternal and will never die.
  • My conscience is captive to the Word of God, I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen.
  • We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.
  • If he have faith, the believer cannot be restrained. He betrays himself. He breaks out. He confesses and teaches this gospel to the people at the risk of life itself.
  • I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands, that I still possess.
  • To gather with God's people in united adoration of the Father is as necessary to the Christian life as prayer.
  • Peace if possible, truth at all costs.
  • You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.
  • I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals. I have within me the great pope, Self.
  • Where God built a church, there the Devil would also build a chapel.
  • I am afraid that the schools will prove the very gates of hell, unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures and engraving them in the heart of the youth.
  • If you young fellows were wise, the devil couldn't do anything to you, but since you aren't wise, you need us who are old.
  • For some years now I have read through the Bible twice every year. If you picture the Bible to be a mighty tree and every word a little branch, I have shaken every one of these branches because I wanted to know what it was and what it meant.[46]
  • Do not believe in Luther, but only in Christ.[47]
  • There are only two days on my calendar... today and the day of judgment.
  • The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.

See also

Further reading

Primary sources

  • Luther, Martin. Martin Luther: Selections From His Writings, edited by John Dillenberger (1958) excerpt and text search
  • Luther, Martin. Martin Luther's Basic Theological Writings (with CD-ROM), edited by Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Timothy F. Lull, and William R. Russell (2005) excerpt and text search
  • Luther, Martin. The Letters of Martin Luther (1908) full text online free
  • Luther, Martin. Conversations with Luther...Table Talk (1915) full text online free
  • Luther, Martin. Selections from the Table Talk of Martin Luther ed. by Captain Henry Bell, and Henry Morley (2009) excerpt and text search

External links

  • Project Wittenberg, extensive online collection of primary sources by Luther and his colleagues


  1. James Atkinson, Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, (1983) , ISBN 0-8028-1260-0, pp.43-58
  2. Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, James Atkinson, Eerdmans, 1983, ISBN 0-8028-1260-0, p.143
  3. Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification
  4. Robert Kolb, Martin Luther as Prophet, Teacher, and Hero: Images of the Reformer, 1520-1620 (1999)
  5. Albrecht Beutel, "Luther's Life," in McKim, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther (2003) p. 3-19; Mullett, Martin Luther (2004), ch. 1, quote p. 27
  6. Mullett, Luther p 46
  7. Mullett, Luther p 44
  8. For the Catholic position see W.H. Kent, "Indulgences" in Catholic Encyclopedia (1911)
  9. A. D. Dickens, Reformation and Society in Sixteenth-Century Europe (1966) p 61-2.
  10. For the e-text see English translation; and Lyman Baker, "Study Guide for the ...Ninety-five Theses"
  11. Luther wrote the theses in Latin. This one read, Scilicet. Cur Papa non evacuat purgatorium propter sanctissimam charitatem et summam animarum necessitatem ut causam omnium iustissimam, Si infinitas animas redimit propter pecuniam funestissimam ad structuram Basilice ut causam levissimam?
  12. The Latin read, Item. Cur Papa, cuius opes hodie sunt opulentissimis Crassis crassiores, non de suis pecuniis magis quam pauperum fidelium struit unam tantummodo Basilicam sancti Petri?
  13. The Dominican order was a great rival of the Augustinians, and theologians took sides with Cajetan or Luther accordingly. MacCulloch (2005), p. 125-6
  14. Mullett, (2004) p. 82-3; Smith, Life and Letters (1911), 48-54; for the Catholic viewpoint see John R. Volz, "Tommaso de Vio Gaetani Cajetan," The Catholic Encyclopedia vol 3 (1908)
  15. Kyle A. Pasewark, "The Body in Ecstasy: Love, Difference, and the Social Organism in Luther's Theory of the Lord's Supper," The Journal of Religion Vol. 77, No. 4 (Oct., 1997), pp. 511-540 in JSTOR
  16. Luther may have added the famous line "Here I stand" later; Smith, Life and Letters pp. 118, 453
  17. Edwards, Luther's Last Battles: Politics and Polemics, 1531-46 (1983)
  18. Edwards, Luther's Last Battles: Politics and Polemics, 1531-46 (1983)
  19. Mark U. Edwards, Jr., Printing, Propaganda, and Martin Luther (1994)
  20. Christoph Weimer, "Luther and Cranach on Justification in Word and Image." Lutheran Quarterly 2004 18(4): 387-405. Issn: 0024-7499
  21. See texts at English translation
  22. Charles P. Arand, "Luther on the Creed." Lutheran Quarterly 2006 20(1): 1-25. Issn: 0024-7499; James Arne Nestingen, "Luther's Catechisms" The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation. Ed. Hans J. Hillerbrand. (1996)
  23. For a short collection see online hymns
  24. Christopher Boyd Brown, Singing the Gospel: Lutheran Hymns and the Success of the Reformation. (2005)
  25. Robin A. Leaver, "Luther's Catechism Hymns." Lutheran Quarterly 1998 12(1): 79-88, 89-98.
  26. Robin A. Leaver, "Luther's Catechism Hymns: 5. Baptism." Lutheran Quarterly 1998 12(2): 160-169, 170-180.
  27. Thomas J. Davis, "'The Truth of the Divine Words': Luther's Sermons on the Eucharist, 1521-28, and the Structure of Eucharistic Meaning." Sixteenth Century Journal 1999 30(2): 323-342. in Jstor; Thomas Osborne, "Faith, Philosophy, and the Nominalist Background to Luther's Defense of the Real Presence," Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 63, No. 1 (Jan., 2002), pp. 63-82 [ in JSTOR]
  28. He wrote in German, "So halten wir nun dafür, daß der Mensch gerecht werde ohne des Gesetzes Werke, alleyn durch den Glauben."
  29. "Luther's Antilegomena"
  30. The Gutenberg Bible, which put the Latin Vulgate in book format, had been printed long before--in 1455--but only in a very small edition.
  31. Martin Treu, "Katharina von Bora, the Woman at Luther's Side." Lutheran Quarterly 1999 13(2): 157-178.
  32. Scott Hendrix, "Luther on Marriage." Lutheran Quarterly 2000 14(3): 335-350.
  33. Philip of Hesse ( scroll down to 5. Bigamous Marriage.
  34. Luther: Christ was an Adulterer (
  35. Wolfmueller, Bryan. (December 4, 2019). Did Martin Luther claim that Jesus was an adulterer? World Wide Wolfmueller. Retrieved May 20, 2022.
  36. (1540–1541) "Lecture on Genesis Chapter Twenty-Five", Luther's Works, Vol. 4 (in English). United States: Concordia Publishing House. 
  37. (1542) "Comfort for Women Who Have Had a Miscarriage", Luther's Works, Vol. 43 (in English). United States: Fortress Press, 243–250. 
  38. (1544) "Letter concerning Rosina von Truchsess", Luther on Women: A Sourcebook (in English). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521658843. “Finally, she drew a number [of men] to her, and became pregnant by one of them. She asked my maid to jump on her body in order to kill the fetus.” 
  39. Most Lutherans ignored these angry polemics against Jews and stressed instead his earlier favorable views. Johannes Wallmann, "The Reception of Luther's Writings on the Jews from the Reformation to the End of the 19th Century." Lutheran Quarterly 1987 1(1): 72-97.
  40. Text of Luther's On the Jews and Their Lies
  41. "Anti-Semitism: Martin Luther - “The Jews & Their Lies”", The Jewish Virtual Library
  42. Randall C. Zachman, The Assurance of Faith: Conscience in the Theology of Martin Luther and John Calvin (1993)
  43. Robert Kolb, Luther's Heirs Define His Legacy: Studies on Lutheran Confessionalization (1996)
  44. Quotes by Martin Luther from GoodReads
  45. Martin Luther Quotes from BrainyQuote
  46. Luther's Table Talk, No. 1877
  47. Émile G. Léonard (1965). A History of Protestantism: I.The Reformation. Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., 131. “Do not believe in Luther, but only in Christ. ... Let Luther go his way, be he rogue or saint (Luther lassen sie fahren, er sei ein Bub oder heilig). ... I do not know Luther and do not wish to know him. What I preach comes not from him, but from Christ. Let the Devil take Luther if he can; but let him leave us Christ and His joy.”