Luther, Martin (1483-1546)
Although many religious reforms in Europe preceded those of Martin Luther, he
is considered to be the initiator of the Protestant Reformation. In the year
1517, outraged by the sale of indulgences by the Catholic Church (see
Reformation), Luther, posted on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg,
Germany, his now-famous 95 theses. In the theses, Luther railed against the
Catholic Church and what he saw as its excesses and hypocrisies, clearly
exemplified in its selling of indulgences to the common masses.
Prior to his Reformation activities, Luther, a German, was a student of
philosophy at the University of Erfurt, where he received his Bachelor's degree
(1503), and then two years later, his Master's degree. Though his father wished
him to study law, Luther's unsettled soul and the sudden death of a close friend
caused him to enter an Augustinian cloister in 1505. As a monk, Luther began a
more thorough study of the Bible and theology, particularly Augustine and the
Christian mystics. In 1507, he was ordained a priest.
In 1508, Luther was appointed professor of philosophy at the
newly-established University of Wittenburg. After becoming disillusioned with
the philosophy of the time, Luther made preparations to attain higher degrees in
theology. In 1509, he received his Bachelor's degree, and in 1512 the Doctor of
Theology degree. Following this, Luther began to lecture on the Bible and preach
against what he saw as the corruptions of the papacy. When Luther encountered
Johann Tetzel, a Dominican commissioned in 1502 by the pope to preach and sell
indulgences in Germany and the Scandinavian kingdoms, he resolved to counter not
only the sale of indulgences, but also the entire theological and economic
systems of the Catholic Church.
Like all other Protestant refomers, Luther placed heavy emphasis on the
Scripture, particularly the New Testament. In opposition to the priestly
hierarchy of the Catholic Church and its supposed infallibility, Luther came to
see each individual as having access to the Truth preached by the Christ. As
such, Luther coined the phrase "justification by grace, through
faith," making evident his belief in each individual human's spiritual
authority and access to soul healing, or salvation.
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