Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)/Luther, Martin

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MARTIN LUTHER

LUTHER, MARTIN, the leader of the German Reformation; born in Eisleben, Lower Saxony, Nov. 10, 1483. His father, Hans Luther, was a poor miner, and soon after his son Martin's birth settled with his pious and industrious wife, Margaret, at Mansfeld. At the age of 14 he was sent to the school of Magdeburg, from which he removed to Eisenach, and thence to the University of Erfurt, where, in 1503, he received his first degree, and, two years later, having obtained the degree of doctor of philosophy, he delivered lectures on the physics and ethics of Aristotle. He entered the monastery of the Augustines in 1505. During his residence in the monastery he studied with great enthusiasm the writings of St. Augustine, and passed through severe mental conflicts, seeking vainly guidance or consolation. In 1507 he was ordained priest, and in 1508 he was made Professor of Philosophy in the new University of Wittenberg. In this sphere of action his powerful mind soon showed itself; he threw off the fetters of the scholastic philosophy, asserted the rights of reason, and attracted a large number of disciples. He was called by the Senate to preach, and it was with very great reluctance and timidity that he made his first attempts in the pulpit. In 1510 he visited the court of Pope Julius II. at Rome. After his return, in 1512, he was made doctor in theology. His profound learning, his intimate acquaintance with the Bible, together with the fame of his eloquence, soon made Luther known to the principal scholars, and esteemed as a powerful agent for the reformation of the Church. Great, therefore, was the attention excited by his 95 Propositions, affixed to the Castle Church, Wittenberg, Oct. 31, 1517, and intended to put an end to the sale of indulgences by the Dominican Tetzel. They were condemned as heretical and burnt; but neither menaces nor persuasions could induce him to recant, and he maintained the invalidity of indulgences and denied the papal supremacy. In 1518 Luther had a controversy with Doctor Eck, and the same year met the Cardinal-legate Cajetan at Augsburg. In 1520 the Pope issued a bull of excommunication, which Luther publicly burnt before an immense assembly at Wittenberg. Luther's separation from Rome was now complete. Leo X. urged the new emperor, Charles V., to apprehend and punish the turbulent and daring heretic, but by the influence of the Elector of Saxony the reformer's cause was tried at Worms. On April 16 he reached that city, attired in his friar's cowl; multitudes met him, and he entered it attended by 2,000 persons. Before his 204 august judges, the emperor and his nobility, his courage did not fail, and he steadily appealed to the authority of Scripture. The result was that Charles issued a rescript “against the evil fiend in human form,” “the fool,” and “the blasphemer,” and put him under the ban of the empire. On his return from Worms, he was seized, at the instigation of his friend the Elector of Saxony, and safely lodged in the old castle of the Wartburg. For a whole year he remained in this shelter, while his friends and relatives mourned over his absence or death. But his powerful patrons had in this way provided for his safety. During this time he translated the New Testament into German, which was published in 1522.

Leaving his Patmos, and returning to Wittenberg, his undaunted energy carried all before it, the Reformation was ushered in, and in 1524 Luther abandoned the monastic dress — the last symbol of his connection with Rome. He crushed his fanatical opponents in the party of the Reformists, gallantly entered the lists with Henry VIII. of England, and fought stoutly with Erasmus on the Freedom of the Will. In 1525 Luther married Catharine von Bora, a nun who had escaped from a convent; on which his enemies accused him of immorality and impiety; but Luther defended his act on Scriptural ground. In 1529 the emperor convened a diet at Speyer, to procure aid from the German princes against the Turks, and to devise means for allaying religious disputes. In this assembly it was ordered that the mass should be universally observed throughout the empire. Against this decree the electors of Saxony and Brandenburg, and other princes, entered their protest; on which account the reformed party acquired the name “Protestants.” These princes then entered into a league for their mutual defense against the emperor. In 1530 was drawn up by Melanchthon the Confession of Augsburg, which was received as the standard of the Protestant faith in Germany. In 1535 Luther's translation of the Bible into German was published. In 1537 Luther was attacked with a dangerous illness, but recovered, and went on writing books and laboring to promote the great work of reformation. He was a multifarious and voluminous writer; a complete edition of his works, in 26 volumes, was published at Erlangen, in 1833. A translation of Luther's “Table-Talk” was published in London, in 1849. He died in Eisleben, Feb. 18, 1546.