On November 10, 1483, Hans and Margarette Luther, of Eisleben, Saxony (in southeast modern Germany), welcomed their son Martin into the world. Hans was a peasant miner who was a miner and ore smelter. The family were also devout Roman Catholics.
In 1484, Hans success led him to move his family to Mansfeld.
In 1491 at age 7, Martin entered school. His father wanted him to get educated and become a lawyer rather than living the hard life of a miner as he had.
Around 1497 at the age of 14, Martin moved north to Magdeburg to continue his studies.
In 1498, Martin moved back to Mansfeld and enrolled in school where he studied grammar, logic and rhetoric.
In 1501, Martin enrolled at the University of Erfurt to continue his studies. He eventually earned a Master of Arts degree in grammar, logic, metaphysics and rhetoric.
In July 1505, it’s reported that Martin was caught in a very severe thunderstorm and cried out to St. Anne, the patron saint of miners. Supposedly, he prayed:
“Save me, St. Anne, and I’ll become a monk!”
The storm subsequently subsided and Martin kept his promise and decided to become a monk, much to the disappointment of his father. Martin struggled in his first several years as a monk as he failed to find the religious comfort and enlightenment he desperately sought.
At age 27, Martin was chosen as a delegate to a church conference in Rome. This conference had a huge impact on Martin as he saw rampant corruption and immorality among his fellow priests instead of finding the spiritual blessings he sought. Luther returned home feeling more disillusioned with God and religion than ever before, so he enrolled in the University of Wittenberg and received a doctorate in theology.
In 1513, Luther was preparing lectures in theology when he was struck by the opening of Psalm 22:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Martin Luther related to that line which referred to Christ’s call from the cross. He felt as if the more he sought after God, the more disillusioned he became.
In 1515, Luther was preparing a lecture on the Book of Romans when he was struck by the line:
“The just will live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)
Luther dwelled on this verse a great deal over the next couple of years. It led him to the realization that the spiritual salvation he so desperately sought after was accomplished by believing in faith alone and not by fearing God or being enslaved to the religious dogma of the Church.
In 1517, Pope Leo X desired to raise money to help build St. Peter’s Basilica so he sent out an announcement of new indulgences that priests could use to extract more money from the people.
On this day, October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his now famous 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. In the Theses, Luther challenged the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope, the Church policy of indulgences and some of the Church dogma. Perhaps the most egregious point Luther made was claiming that the pope didn’t have the exclusive authority to interpret Scripture and that indulgences only served to corrupt the faith of the people. In addition to nailing the 95 Theses to the University of Wittenberg chapel door, Luther sent a copy to Archbishop Albert of Mainz.
His intention was to open a line of discussion with church leaders about problems he saw between Church practices and what the Scriptures said. Instead of opening a line of discussion as Luther had hoped, the Church condemned him.
In October 1518, Cardinal Thomas Cajetan ordered Luther to recant his 95 Theses. Cajetan made it known that the order to recant came directly from the pope. Luther refused, saying that the only way he would recant is if Scripture proved him wrong which it didn’t. He told the Cardinal:
“I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.”
After a loud shouting argument between Luther and Cajetan, Luther left.
In 1521, Pope Leo X announced the excommunication of Martin Luther from the Roman Catholic Church. Luther was then brought before the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V but again Luther refused to recant his 95 Theses. Charles V subsequently issued the Edict of Worms declaring that Martin Luther was a heretic and an outlaw and that anyone had his permission to kill Luther without fear of any punishment.
This was the launch of what would become known as the Protestant Reformation. One of Luther’s teaching points from that time was that a person is saved by faith ALONE. The Catholic Church taught man was saved by faith, but also needed indulgences and others means in order to obtain salvation and reach heaven. Luther taught that it was purely by one’s faith did he or she obtain salvation and heaven and that there was nothing that a person could do to earn or buy their way to salvation, based upon Ephesians 2:8-9:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Volumes have been written on Luther, the 95 Theses and the Protestant Reformation, too much to cover here. However, every Protestant should remember this date, October 31, 1517 as the day millions of Christians were freed from the dogmatic slavery of the Roman Catholic Church.
October 31, 2017 will be the quincentennial (500th) anniversary of the day that Martin Luther had the courage and conviction of his faith to stand up to the Church and nail his 95 theses to the chapel door.
Sources for the above includes: Martin Luther Biography; About Martin Luther: Martin Luther Posts 95 Theses; Martin Luther and the 95 Theses; The Protestant Reformation; An introduction to the Protestant Reformation; Lecture 3: The Protestant Reformation; The 95 Theses