MARTIN LUTHER (1483-1546)
Biographical dataMartin Luther was born at Eisleben, 10 November, 1483; died at Eisleben, 18 February, 1546. His father Hans was a rough, ill-tempered miner. His mother Margaret Ziegler, in contrast, was a pious and God-fearing woman. Domestic violence filled young Martin’s early years.
Martin Luther himself wrote: "on account of an insignificant nut, beat me till the blood flowed, and it was this harshness and severity of the life I led with them that forced me subsequently to run away to a monastery to become a monk."
Born to a poor peasant family, Luther obtained an elementary education as a "charity" student. In his fourteenth year (1497) he entered a school at Magdeburg.. In his fifteenth year we moved to Eisenach. When he was eighteen years of age (1501) he entered the University of Erfurt to study law. In 1502 he received the degree of Bachelor of Philosophy, being the thirteenth among fifty-seven candidates. On January 6, 1505 he was advanced to the master's degree, being second among seventeen applicants.
Worried about his personal salvation, Luther became an Augustinian monk and practiced fasting, scourging, and other penitential works. Unhappy with the austere monastic life, he turned to an intensive study of the New Testament and German mystics, reaching the conclusion that salvation comes not through "works" —observing the formal directions of the church— but only through faith in Jesus Christ.
Having been ordained as a priest, he pursued further theological studies at the University of Wittenberg, where he received the degree of Doctor of the Holy Scriptures. Such credentials allowed him to become a professor of theology.
About this time he began his sermons and writings against certain ill practices of the church and in criticism of the prevailing scholastic theology.
What Was the Protest About?
On the eve of All Saints day in 1517, he posted on the door of the Castle Church —in Wittenberg— a "Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences." This was a scathing attack on the catholic church’s teaching on indulgences —which could be purchased at will— and their efficacy in absolving sins.
The "Ninety-five Theses," as the Disputation came to be known, was widely read and gained for Luther both enormous influence and aggravation. Dissatisfied with the open criticism the papal hierarchy tried to silence him. Conflict exploded. Martin Luther and his supporters vigorously challenged the tyrannical power of the papacy on matters of belief and worship.
As everyone expected, Martin Luther was excommunicated. In retaliation, in 1520 he launched an all-out attack on all kinds of practices of the church, including liturgy, rites, doctrines, and ceremonial activities.
The Reformation of the Catholic Church began in Germany, with the work of Martin Luther. It was a general movement against the various intellectual and practical tendencies that had been under way for over a century.
Indeed it was a reaction against the methods of scholasticism, bringing about a revival of interest in secular literature, a clamoring for national independence, and the efforts of state governments to free themselves from the ecclesiastical oppression.
The effects of the Reformation were to shatter once and for all the ecclesiastical unity of Europe, weakening its power as a form of argument, and thus expelling from political governance the notion of universal empire.
The movement split the power of the Church, leading to the formation of a number of mutually independent Christian churches.
Luther’s Writings: Political Philosophy
Machiavelli, the first modern political theorist proclaimed indifference to the truth of religion, appealing more to secular experience and human reason. While Machiavelli’s books Discourses and Prince concentrated on political power and governance, Lartin Luther’s voluminous writings were concerned mainly with theological and ethical questions.
In a pamphlet entitled Concerning Good Works (1519), he replied to the charge that his preference of faith over works meant a rejection altogether of works —meaning good charitable works— as an element of salvation.
His famous Open Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation was a demand for total reform of the whole table of organization and practice of Christianity, advocating an agency of a council of priests and laymen presided over by the Emperor. The times were changing, and with change came a new fervor for nationalistic sentiment.
In 1523, he published a treatise, Concerning Secular Authority: to What Extent It Should Be Obeyed, in which he argued that civil authority is ordained of God since the majority of the human race are not Christians. Civil authority must be in control —not the church— and it should be defended even the people had to be armed.
Importance of Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a courageous individual who was not afraid to die to expose the truth about the corruption in the Catholic Church, that eradicating abuse and falsehood was a worthy cause. Although many of his writings were not deliberately political, they contain many lessons for political philosophy.