Who was Martin Luther?
Martin Luther is known as the man who ignited the Protestant Reformation. He was born in 1483 into a strict German Catholic family. His parents intended him for a law career, but he became a monk and a theology professor instead. A sensitive soul, he struggled mightily with a guilty conscience and an intense fear of God and hell until he realized the doctrine of "justification by faith" while studying the book of Romans.
This doctrine, with his conviction that the Bible should be the basis of religious life and available to all, became the theological foundation of Protestantism.
Luther was not the first or the only churchman to come to these conclusions, but arrived in a time of rising nationalism and, thanks to the recently-invented printing press, unprecedented written communication. With his 95 Theses against the abuses of indulgences, Martin Luther unwittingly sparked religious and political reform in Germany and founded the Lutheran branch of Protestantism.
With a strong and often abrasive personality, Martin Luther took up the weapons of pen and pulpit against the corruptions of Catholicism on one side and the extremes of the Radical Reformation on the other. He spoke out against clerical celibacy, papal abuses, the denying of the scriptures and the communion wine to non-clergy, the cult of the saints, salvation by works, and other Catholic doctrines. Yet Martin Luther retained many traditional and liturgical elements of the church that other reformers rejected.
Strongly influenced by the writings of Augustine, Martin Luther stressed humanity's sinfulness, God's grace, and the sufficiency of faith in Christ for salvation.
He translated the New Testament into German and formulated catechisms in the vernacular, making a major contribution to the development of written German.
History remembers Martin Luther as the "Father of the Reformation."
Luther is much less admired for his violent anti-Jewish sentiments, which were later used as anti-Semitic propaganda by the Nazis and have been formally denounced by number of Lutheran bodies.
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Get specifics on key dates and locations about Luther's life.
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Discover the writings of Luther.
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