As a young man, Luther abandoned his legal studies after being caught in a dramatic thunderstorm, during which he vowed to become a monk if he survived. He entered a monastery and devoted his life to the formal, religious routines of the Catholic church. These included frequent confessions to more senior clerics and physical penance to attempt to pay for his sins. When visiting Rome, he climbed up a stone staircase - the Scala Sancta - on his knees saying prayers on each of the twenty-eight steps. When he got to the top, he wondered whether there was any genuine spiritual benefit, asking, ‘Who knows whether this is true?’ LUTHER summarized his time in the monastery like this: ‘If ever a monk could get to heaven by his monkery, it was I’.
Eventually, he realized the futility of his own activity, which was unable to save him. Luther was appointed a lecturer in theology at the local university, where he started teaching from the Bible. As he worked his way through Romans, he encountered the truth of justification by faith - diametrically opposed to the doctrine of the Catholic church. When Luther recognized that justification was accomplished by Christ and received through individual faith, Rom. 5. 1, he said, ‘Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates’.
On 31 October 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This was a set of assertions about the biblical truth of salvation, refuting the errors of the contemporary church. The document started, ‘When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent”, he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance’.
At that pivotal moment, Luther undermined the authority of the pope and the teaching of the Catholic church. From then on, he faced a lifetime of controversy and persecution as he taught and understood more of the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone (Eph. 2. 8), with the Bible as sole authority.
One of the key driving forces of the Reformation was the technology of the printing press, harnessed to mass-produce copies of Luther’s writings and, most importantly, his new translation of the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek into the widely spoken German language. There is a first edition of Luther’s Bible from 1534 in the British Library in London.1
Luther wrote many hymns, of which the most famous (in English) is probably ‘A mighty fortress is our God’. My favourite lines are,
‘Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing;
Were not the Right Man on our side, The Man of God’s own choosing’.
Luther knew the ‘Right Man’ was on his side, despite the tremendously powerful opposition he encountered.
Enrolled as a nun at an early age, Katharina spent her youth in a monastery. She developed an interest in Reformation teaching, and - along with several other nuns - begged Luther to assist her. The nuns escaped by hiding in a wagon full of barrels of fish. Luther organized employment and marriages for the former nuns - all except Katharina, who eventually married Luther himself, on 13 June 1525. Luther thought his marriage would ‘please his father, rile the pope, cause the angels to laugh, and the devils to weep’.
Katharina became a homemaker and administrator for Luther’s business affairs, as well as a mother to six children.
Speaking from personal experience, MARTIN LUTHER stated, ‘There is no more lovely, friendly, and charming relationship, communion, or company than a good marriage’.