Biography of Martin Luther by Michael Reeves
Just before Martin Luther sparked the Reformation, the Holy Bible was only available in Latin. If you have access to one, reading it by yourself is punishable. When Martin Luther understood the gospel, he was compelled to translate it into his native German.
Doing so made him realize the errors of the Vulgate and truth about the Gospel, hidden by Rome to support indulgence. He challenged the church to a healthy debate but was excommunicated.
The young Martin Luther
Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483. His education began at age 5 where he learned reading, writing, and Latin. At 13, he went to the Brethren of the Common Life in Magdeburg, whose teachings focused on personal piety. The reason Luther had an early interest in monastic life.
A bright lawyer turned monastic
His father, Hans, wanted him to become a lawyer and enrolled at Erfurt in 1501. He got a Master’s degree after four years.
There were three higher faculties of learning at that time, medicine, law, or theology. Martin Luther was groomed for either medicine but mostly for law because of his brilliant reasoning mind.
Luther’s first encounter with the Vulgate Bible
Martin Luther enrolled at the University of Erfurt in 1501, aged 17, and studied law and philosophy. He stumbled upon a huge antiquated book in the library. It was the Vulgate Latin translation of the Holy Bible.
He had heard readings from the Bible before but never realized they all came from the same book. In those days, the Holy Scripture could only be read and interpreted by men of the cloth.
At that time, the printing press was still in its infancy. Therefore copies of religious books, especially the Bible, were rare and expensive. To have a copy meant to write each word by hand.
Luther’s intense fear of death
It was common for women to die at childbirth. Children can easily die of flu or infection because antibiotics were unheard of. The black plague in 1347 remained a constant reminder of how fragile life can be, and Luther saw friends dying.
The point is, the thought of dying young was real, and when Luther accidentally stabbed his legs, it reinforced his fear of death, common to everyone, regardless of social status.
The thunderbolts of lighting
He’s only been in law school for about six weeks and decided to visit his parents. Returning, Martin was trapped in a storm.
In the midst of thunderbolts and lightning, he cried out to Saint Anne to protect him. In return, he vowed to be a monk.
On July 17, 1505, at the age of 21, Luther entered an Augustinian monastery. He sold his possession, including the expensive law book that his father Hus gave him at his graduation. Luther embraced the monastic life.
It was the toughest monastery, and although he took a vow in the Augustinian order, he later said he agreed under duress. Nonetheless, it was a vow he had to finish.
In 1512, Luther received his doctorate and became a professor of biblical studies. Luther’s theological studies lead him to spiritual insights whose implication will reach its climax five years later.
Martin Luther triggered by confession, penance, indulgence, and the pope’s infallibility
A better chance to enter heaven
With a low mortality rate, people often wondered about the afterlife. The church encouraged people to seek a life that served God. Thus, becoming a model that would give anyone a better shot at heaven’s gates.
Disillusioned with Rome
Martin Luther was fully devoted to the Catholic church. He went to religious pilgrims that included going to Rome. However, he got less and less enchanted with the city and said later on that if there’s a hell, Rome is built on it.
If there’s a hell, Rome is built on it.
Martin’s regimented church life
Just two years as a friar, Martin’s life became very regimented. There was the rigidity of the mass, readings, and sermons. Luther ramps it up by subjecting himself to the strictest monastic discipline, which included self-flagellation.
His day began at 1:45 a.m. for prayer service. Then another service at 4 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. Work, reading, and more prayers until 1:45 p.m. Thankfully, they had afternoon naps.
Despite the rigid devotion, Martin never felt the assurance of salvation. He thought he would find peace as a monk. Instead, his problems grew worse because the more he tried to do the right things, the more he realized it was never enough.
The sacrament of confession didn’t do much
He’d often go to the confession box and go back right at it again, never being satisfied that all his sins, and future sins, were forgiven.
This frustrated his confessors that one of them told Martin to “go away and do something really serious” and then come back to confess it.
Luther did everything to earn God’s favor including self-flagellation
Unworthy before God
Even after being ordained for priesthood in 1507, the fear of a Holy God disabled him to hold the consecrated and transformed bread and the wine.
As an ordinary man, he was terrified to hold the literal “body and blood of Christ” in his hands, and he almost dropped it.
Luther did everything to earn God’s favor, including self-flagellation. He walked over stone floors on his knees, laid out in the snow without covering himself to please God. Much of his fear of God’s wrath was the constant threat of hell by the church.
By 1511, Luther became more disillusioned about his salvation. When he received his Doctorate of Sacred Theology in Wittenberg on October 19, 1512, he pledged submission to church authority that included reject false Doctrine.
The Latin Vulgate of Saint Jerome
The Vulgate, translated in 380 A.D. was the official Bible of the church for over a thousand years. It was only available in Latin, and having a German translation was inconceivable.
Desiderius Erasmus (1466 – 1536) was born in Holland and lived in Switzerland. He was a priest and theologian who organized the new testament using the older Greek documents.
Although Luther and Erasmus never met in person, he could get his hands on one of these new New Testaments. When Luther began translating the New Testament from (older version) Greek to native German, he discovered the word repentance (Greek: metanoia/μετανοεω) mistranslated by Saint Jerome.
The word repentance mistranslated by Saint Jerome.
The mistranslation of repentance by Saint Jerome
Repentance and penance
Scriptures talked a great deal about “metanoia,” which meant a change of mind. But the word “penance” Saint Jerome used changed its meaning. Also, his translation for “justification” was wrong.
The Latin translation meant “do penance,” which meant doing external deeds. For example, penance can be crawling up steps, saying 100 Hail Mary’s, or giving money to the poor and the church for forgiveness.
Many years later, Luther doubled down on the doctrine of penance in 1550 at the Council of Trent. The council declared that should anyone says that if “penance” is not a sacrament instituted by Jesus, let him be anathema (damned).
Catholic doctrine of purgatory
The idea that the prayers of the church could be useful in getting others who had died already out of purgatory came into play around 1274 in Leon. By Luther’s time, the doctrine of purgatory, which has no Biblical basis, was widely accepted.
The Catholic church taught there were two consequences of sin guilt and punishment. The guilt could be taken care of by confessing to a priest. But the second consequence is punishment.
The idea was that when you went to confession and confessed your sins, the priest absolved you but that absolution only covered the guilt for your sins. It did not cover the punishment for your sins.
Therefore, you still had to work off the punishment, and that punishment had to take place either here in this life.
Filling the coffers
Pope Leo the 10th needed cash for himself and the building of Saint Peter’s in Rome, among others. In addition, the pope was a secular landowner and was undertaking wars in Italy on top of the church hierarchy that needed support.
Thus, the selling “Indulgence” was the perfect medium to fill the coffers.
The adulterant was a plenary Indulgence. It was the best of all kinds of indulgences to acquire because it meant that whatever amount of time you had to spend in purgatory was altogether taken care of by this, it was fully done.
Although it was merely a piece of document, it gave a (false) assurance that it shortens the time in purgatory. It was a complete fabrication because purgatory is not even in scriptures.
Going back to the 11th and 12th centuries, the Roman Catholic church developed this idea of the treasury of Merit. The treasury contained merits of the Virgin Mary and the extra good works in merits that were done by the Saints.
It ensures salvation which was under the authority of the Pope. He alone possessed the keys to unlock it and save souls.
John Tetzel’s outlandish claims
The Dominican monk John Tetzel was the chief Indulgence salesman. He was creative in scaring people about hell and how they can save their loved ones by buying the plenary indulgence.
He had people who staged a small parade and, as he wailed, show people a big treasure chest (to fill the coffers) and do his “sales pitch.” He would say, think about your friends, your loved ones, your mother your father there in purgatory in the fire.
As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the soul springs from purgatory. It was an effective way to fool people that salvation would be possible this way.
Frederick the Wise’s relic
Tetzel wanted to sell indulgences in Wittenberg, but Frederick the wise would not let him because he had his own relic collection. About 17,000 religious pieces, whether they were true or not, meant God’s favor.
If you pray with these relics, you could earn forgiveness. It was even said that if you actually viewed or touched all the relics in Fredericks’s collection, you could earn almost 2 million years off of purgatory.
95-Thesis of Martin Luther: A proposal to debate
With all these, Luther became indignant. People came to him and said, “I don’t need to go to confession and absolution because I already have a Plenary Indulgence sold by the Archbishop of Mainz, the Primate of Germany.”
It also meant that no matter what a person did, the indulgence became a pass to exempt anyone from suffering and hell. In short, people were being taught to pay for God’s mercy, which was evidently detestable.
Luther not only preached against indulgences but wanted to debate them. He drew up a set of feces on the power and efficacy of indulgences 95 statements or propositions for debate written in Latin, which he posted on October 31, 1517.
Martin Luther hoped to have a decent and academic discussion on the matter. He also sent a copy to Albrecht of Mines, who in turn sent to copy to the pope.
The critical role of the Gutenberg printing press
However, others got a hold of the thesis and translated them from Latin into the German language. Soon, they were published using new technology. Gutenberg’s new printing press made Luther’s thesis widely available to everyone.
Luther’s ninety-five theses began with Matthew 4:17. “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said repent, He will the entire life of Believers to be one of repentance.”