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Martin Luther King Essay Research Paper Grace

Martin Luther King Essay, Research Paper

Grace Kim H2$-07

Bronx Science 5/26/00

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Martin Luther was a German theologian and a major leader of the

Protestant Reformation. He is often called the father of Protestantism, whose

widespread influence, aside from religion, politics, economics, education, and

language, has established him as one of the crucial figures in modern European

History. Even one of the primary branches of Protestantism – Lutheranism- is

named after him. (Manns, 1983)

Luther, was born in Eisleben on November 10, 1483. He was descended

from the peasantry, a fact that he often emphasized. In 1501, at age 18, he

enrolled into the University of Erfurt. Receiving a bachelor?s degree in 1502 and

having achieved his master?s degree in 1505, Luther intended to start studying

law. However, shortly after this, Luther suddenly discarded his studies, sold all

his books, and joined the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt (Erikson, 1962). In the

fall of 1506, Luther made his profession as a monk, and he was then selected for

priesthood by his superiors. Six years later, in 1512, he received his doctorate

and took over a study of biblical theology, which he held until his death. In 1510,

Luther visited Rome on business for his order and was shocked to find

corruption in high ecclesiastical places. (Erikson, 1962)

He had proficient knowledge of the scholastic theology of his day. Yet, he

made the study of the Bible, especially the epistles of Saint Paul, the center of his

work. Luther found that his teachings diverged increasingly from the traditional

beliefs of the Roman church. He soon came to believe that Christians were not

saved through their own efforts but by God?s grace of salvation. This realization


marked a crucial point in Luther?s life. It set him strongly and decisively against

some of the major tenets of the Catholic church, which had emphasized man?s

role in his own salvation. (Bainton, 1950) Likewise he was also against many

church practices that emphasized justification by good works. His approach to

theology led to a conflict between him and church officials, causing the dramatic

events of the Protestant Reformation.

The doctrine of Indulgences, (the pardon from the priest of temporary

punishments for sins committed) especially aroused Luther?s fury. Luther then

published and posted his Ninety-five Theses on October 31, 1517, on the door of

the castle church at Wittenberg. (Bainton, 1950)

Luther soon became a public and controversial figure. This publication

told of the Latin propositions opposing the manner in which indulgences were

being sold in order to raise money for the building of Saint Peter?s in Rome

(Marius, 1999). Regardless of the manner in which his propositions were made

public, they unleashed a storm of controversy. His composition was immediately

translated into German and expansively distributed throughout Germany,

stirring a storm of protest against the sale of indulgences. When the sale of

indulgences was seriously impaired, the papacy sought to silence Luther.

Luther was first confronted at a meeting of his order held in Heidelberg

on April 26, 1518, but he used the Heidelberg disputation to defend his theology

and to win new converts. On August of 1518, Luther was summoned to Rome to

answer charges of heresy, even though he had not taught against any clearly

defined medieval doctrines.

In July, 1519, at the Leipzig debate, Luther questioned the authority of the

papacy as well as the nonsense of church councils and insisted on the primary of

Scripture. After this debate Luther became considerably more outspoken and


expressed his beliefs with intensifying certainty. In 1520, he wrote three

pamphlets of great significance. (Marius, 1999)

The first was the ?Address to the Christian Nobility of the German

Nation? (Bainton, 1950), which called upon the Germans to reform the church

and society, since the papacy and church councils neglected to do so.

The second, ?The Babylonian Captivity of the Church?, clearly put Luther

in the status of a heterodox, because it attacked the entire sacramental system of

the medieval church (Bainton, 1950). Luther sustained there were only two

sacraments, baptism and the Lord?s Supper, or at most three, with repentance

possibly considered as a third, rather than seven sacraments. He also denied the

doctrines of transubstantiation and the sacrificial Mass.

The third pamphlet, ?The Freedom of the Christian Man? (Bainton, 1950),

was written for the Pope. It was not argumentative and distinctly taught the

doctrine of justification by faith alone.

Even before these publications were published, a plan for

excommunication was drawn up to go into effect in January 1521. In December

1520, Luther proclaimed his opposition of papal authority by publicly burning

the statement. Although, already condemned by the church, Luther still received

a hearing before an imperial diet at Worms in April, 1521. At the Diet of Worms,

he was asked to recant his teachings, but he stood firm and determined, even

defying, the emperor?s authority, who had placed him under imperial ban, and

ordered that all his books be burned (Oberman, 1982). Shortly after, he stayed at

the Wartburg castle in hiding for nearly a year. Here, he wrote a series of

pamphlets attacking Catholic practices and began his German translation of the

Bible. He returned to Wittenberg to deal with issues that had come about during

his absence, and remained there for the rest of his life. He married Catherine von


Bora, a former nun, in 1525, and had six children.

In 1525, when peasants of south Germany revolted and refused to heed

his call to negotiate their grievances peacefully, he attacked them spitefully in a

pamphlet entitled ?Against the Murdering Horde of Peasants?. An argument

with the Swiss reformer Ulrich Zwingli over the Lord?s Supper split the

Protestant movement when an effort to resolve the differences at a meeting in

Marburg, failed in 1529.

Throughout his lifetime, Luther maintained an overwhelming work load,

writing, teaching, organizing the new church, and even providing overall

leadership for the German Reformation. Among his more important theological

writings were the Samcald Articles published in 1538, which clearly defined the

differences between his theology and that of the Roman Catholic Church.

At Worms, Luther had stood alone. When the Evangelicals presented the

Augsburg Confession to Charles V and the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, many

theologians, princes, and city councils subscribed to that classic Protestant

statement of faith. By the time of Luther?s death, a large part of northern Europe

had left the Roman Catholic church for new Evangelical communities.

Luther never thought of himself as the founder of a new church body,

however. He devoted his life to reforming the church and restoring the Pauline

doctrine of justification to the central position in Christian theology. In 1522,

when his followers first began to use his name to identify themselves, he pleaded

with them not to do this. He wrote: ?Let us abolish all party names and call

ourselves Christians, after him whose teaching we hold… I hold, together with

the universal church, the one universal teaching of Christ, who is our only

master.? (Oberman, 1982)


Martin Luther died at Eisleben on February 18, 1546 during a trip. He was

buried at the castle church at Wittenberg. Nonetheless, Luther left behind a

movement that quickly spread throughout the Western world. His doctrines,

especially justification by faith and the final authority of the Bible, were adopted

by other reformers and are shared by many Protestant denominations today. As

the founder of the 16th century Reformation, he is one of the major figures of

Christianity and of Western civilization.