Biography of Martin Luther: Part 3

By Luke Lancaster



At this point, Martin Luther had received the most shocking letter of his life. He had to decide whether to deny his teachings or be declared a heretic. Unsurprisingly, Luther did not appreciate the document. He responded with his own written work, "Against the Execrable Bull of Antichrist,” where he made the claim that the Pope was the Antichrist! Truly, the papacy deserved zero respect and authority in Martin’s mind. Luther then wrote three works in 1520: "An Appeal to the German Nobility," encouraging German nobles to revolt against Rome; “On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” criticizing all of the Catholic Sacraments except Baptism and the Eucharist; and finally, “On Christian Liberty,” where he claimed salvation was by faith alone. He burned Exurge Domine, canon law, and some Catholic theological works.


Luther’s tension with Rome only intensified. He did not repent of his views, and so the Pope declared Luther a heretic in January, 1521 with his work, “Decet Romanum Pontificum.” For the Church to declare this meant that Luther had committed a capital offense. The civil authorities then held a trial to execute him. Martin Luther went before Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire and his 300 princes at the Diet of Worms in 1521. Johann Eck was the prosecutor. Cardinal Cajetan was also there. In the trial, Eck requested Martin to recant the works he had written. Luther knew what would happen if he responded in the negative, so he requested to reflect for the day before responding.


That night was a night of doubt for Luther, as he went back and forth as to how he would respond. However, he ultimately was convinced that St. Paul was on his side (remember how he interpreted Romans 1:17 as a university professor). The next day, instead of saying he recanted the writings he had produced against Rome, he said he needed to be convinced otherwise that the Scriptures were against him. This response prompted Charles V to say that he needed time to think and study. Ultimately, a month later, Luther was declared a heretic and an outlaw. This implied execution as the consequence. Luther then fled the city. One of Charles V’s princes, Frederick the Wise, wanted to protect this German subject of his, and ordered his men to kidnap Luther into hiding. Frederick had protected him in the past, and he continued doing so.


Martin Luther was kidnapped by Frederick, and placed in the Wartburg castle to save him from execution. While there, Martin created another German translation of the Scriptures, called the September Bible, which was among many other German translations. Apparently, Martin did not like the dozen or so German translations available, so he wrote another translation of Greek to German. He finished translating the New Testament rather quickly in 1522, and once he finished the Old Testament, Luther’s Bible was officially published in the 1530s.


Luther’s Bible became a big hit; however, it also was a bit odd. In his first edition of his translated New Testament, he put four books (Hebrews, James, Jude, Revelation) into the appendix. Luther felt they were inferior. Many Catholics suggest that this was because he felt books like James (specifically Jas. 2:24) contradicted his doctrine of salvation by faith alone. James 2:24 says that man is justified by works, and not by faith alone. Nevertheless, later on in his life, Luther decided to include those books back into his Bible as equal to the other books.


From then on, Luther started writing again on his disagreements with various Catholic topics. This included his belief that Confession could be done by any Catholic, that priests were not needed, and that monastic vows were not essential to abide by. He reinforced the latter idea by leaving the monastery and marrying an ex-nun. These teachings by Luther were embraced by many, but some of his followers disagreed with him. With Luther’s emphasis on the freedom of each Christian from Rome, many people split from Luther’s split with Rome. Going against Luther’s ideas, some claimed that the Eucharist was not Christ’s real flesh, some said Baptism was purely symbolic, and others said that infant Baptism was wrong. Various sects arose in accordance with their views on these and other matters.


Other issues came from Luther’s followers. When they became fired up about Luther’s rejection of the authority of the Catholic Church, they then revolted against all authority. Soon, a peasants’ war erupted in 1525 against the German landowners. Instead of being subject to the lords who owned property, the peasants split from them. This looked bad for Luther, as it made him appear responsible. Luther did not want the people to go that far, and subsequently wrote out the book "Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants." Within this book, he encouraged violence against the peasants, and possibly, at least in part due to this book, an estimated 130,000 lives were lost.


Finally, Luther wrote another book called, “Against the Pontificate in Rome, Founded by the Devil.” In this book, he wished that all manner of diseases and violence would overcome the pope. Luther’s hatred of the papacy made him quite the controversial figure.


Martin died in 1546. He had been in his 30s when initially struggling with the Church authorities, and continued his life in separation from Rome until passing away at the age of 62.


Conclusion


Martin Luther had quite the life. At first, he was just a man like anyone else. However, he ended up with quite the squabble with the Catholic Church. This returns us to our original question on whether he was justified in his squabble. As we saw, he attempted to reform the abuses of indulgences. This, however, exploded out into an investigation for heresy for his teachings on salvation and authority. It led ultimately to his excommunication from the Church. Knowing the German monk’s history gives the reader a better understanding of why he did what he did. He had a rough childhood, a rough time as a monk, broke away from the Church, and married an ex-nun. Some highlights would be his strong writings against the papacy, various Catholic doctrines, and peasants.