Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483 in Eisleben, Germany. His parents were Hans and Margarethe Luther and they moved to the city of Mansfeld in 1484 so Hans could manage several copper mines. Martin's father saw the importance of education and sent him to study at the local school before being transferred to a school in Magdeburg in 1497. In 1498, he transferred again to a school in Eisenach.
In 1501, Martin enrolled at the University of Erfurt. There he developed skill playing the lute and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1502. He decided to continue studying there and earned his Master of Arts degree in 1505 with a class rank of second out of seventeen. After earning his Master of Arts, he decided to pursue a law degree to become a lawyer, which was what his father wanted him to be.
Martin Luther's life changed dramatically in the summer of 1505. One day, while he was walking to school, a lightning bolt struck next to him, but did not hit him. He exclaimed, "Help! Saint Anna, I will become a monk!" and managed to get to school safely. Afterward, he fulfilled his promise to Saint Anna and left law school to enroll at the Augustinian Monastery in the city of Erfurt on July 17, 1505.
Martin was a very devout student of theology and tried to prove his dedication to God. He became aware of his own sinful nature and said, "I lost hold of Christ the Savior and Comforter and made of him a stock-master and hangman over my poor soul", referring to his tortured existence at this time. For the next several years, he spent much of his time fasting, confessing, and engaging in prayer.
In 1507, Martin was ordained as a priest and in 1508 he became a teacher in the University of Wittenberg's theology department. During his free time, he also studied under superior monks, earning a Bachelor's Degree in Biblical Studies on March 9, 1508. In 1509, he earned another degree, this time a Bachelor's Degree in Theology, with a focus on Peter Lombard's "The Four Books of Sentences". On October 19, 1512, he earned a Doctor of Theology degree, completing his academic career.
On October 21, 1512, Martin was appointed to the Senate of the University of Wittenberg's Theology Department. Over the next decade, he continued to teach theology courses, focusing on the books of Psalms, Hebrews, Romans, and Galatians. He began his philosophical departure from traditional Catholicism by telling his students that salvation could be achieved through faith in God alone.
At the time, the Catholic Church received much of its revenue through "indulgences". Essentially, indulgence was the act of declaring someone's sins cleansed in exchange for a monetary payment, effectively selling forgiveness from God. Martin, along with many commoners, found this practice unconscionable and decided to protest their widespread usage. On October 31, 1517, he wrote to Archbishop Albert of Mainz and Magdeburg, asking him to cease the sale of indulgences and inviting him to discuss the matter in person. He also included a copy of the 95 Theses, a document in which he challenged the authority of the papacy, the usage of indulgences, and the nature of salvation. The same day, he posted the document in the city of Wittenberg for all to see.
The publication of his 95 Theses quickly spread throughout the country of Germany using the printing press to quickly make copies. Within two months of the original publication, the paper was available throughout the European continent. Archbishop Albert was reportedly using indulgences as personal income and forwarded the letter from Luther to Rome, where Pope Leo X could examine it for heresy. Pope Leo X responded to this public criticism by deploying a number of theologians to publicly dispute Luther's convictions and also encouraged priests to do the same. In 1518, he referred to Luther as "a drunken German".
Despite the Pope's criticism of his ideas, Martin Luther became known as a visionary leader for the common man throughout Europe. He continued to release publications criticizing the Catholic Church and the Papacy. Ulrich von Hutten, the leader of the Imperial Knights of the Holy Roman Empire, was a fan of Luther's writings and offered to place Luther under his protection. In 1520, Luther published several important documents, including "To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation", "Prelude on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church", and "Freedom of a Christian".
By this time, the threat against the Catholic Church was rising and the Pope decided that further action was necessary. On June 15, 1520, Pope Leo X issued his papal bull "Exsurge Domine", which demanded that Luther retract 41 errors he had supposedly made in his writings and speeches. He was given a deadline of sixty days to retract the mistakes, but a defiant Martin Luther burned the papal bull in public on December 10, 1520 in the city of Wittenberg. In response, the Pope released another papal bull, "Decet Romanum Pontificem", on January 3, 1521, declaring that Luther was officially excommunicated from the Catholic Church.
Luther was ordered to appear before the Diet of Worms at the behest of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and did so on April 17, 1521. Luther was once again ordered to retract his mistakes and he requested some time to contemplate his response. After a day of prayer and contemplation, he stated to the diet, "Unless I shall be convinced by the testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear reason, I neither can nor will make any retraction, since it is neither safe nor honorable to act against conscience. God help me. Amen." Luther was allowed to leave the city of Worms on April 26, 1521 while the council debated his fate. The Emperor decided to issue the Edict of Worms on May 25, 1521, which named Luther as an outlaw of the Holy Roman Empire. It also banned his publications from distribution and ordered him "to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic".
After leaving Worms, Luther was escorted to Wartburg Castle in Eisenach to live under the protection of Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony. There, Luther grew out a beard and lived under the name Junker Jorg (Knight George), posing as a knight. While living at Wartburg, Luther translated the New Testament of the Holy Bible from Greek and Latin into German. This allowed the peasants of the Holy Roman Empire to read and understand the NEw Testament, without having to rely on priests of the Catholic Church. He also published an essay "Concerning Confession", which declared that forced private confessions were unnecessary and unethical.
On March 6, 1522, Luther moved to the city of Wittenberg to confront the radical reformists that had entered Wittenberg. After his arrival, the radicals departed and Luther proceeded to give eight sermons, later known as the "Invocavit Sermons" over Lent. In these sermons, he encouraged that reform take place carefully and in consideration of of those that were not willing to participate in reform. He also resumed his practice of teaching at the University of Wittenberg's theology department.
In 1523, Luther published another work entitled "Formula missae et communionis", which outlined a new way to perform Holy Communion. The significant changes included allowing everyone to accept both the consecrated bread and wine and abandonment of the canon of the mass. In 1524, he published "Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed", which declared that royalty had no business making laws for the soul. On June 13, 1525, Luther married a woman named Katharina von Bora. They went onto have six children over the rest of their marriage.
During his life, Luther also published a work called "Von den Juden and ihren Lugen", a treatise about Jewish people and their supposed evil nature. He advised that people "set fire to their synagogues or schools" and that "their houses be razed or destroyed". These anti-semitic preachings are believed to have contributed to the widespread anti-semitism in Europe in future years. Some modern churches have since denounced his anti-semitic beliefs and writings.
Eventually, Luther was appointed Dean of the University of Wittenberg's Theology Department. He spent much of his latter years working with doctoral students and examining their theses. On February 18, 1546, Martin Luther died from what appeared to be a heart attack. He was buried in the Castle Church of Wittenberg.