Martin Luther

Template:Infobox Biography Martin Luther (originally Martin Luder or Martinus Luther) (November 10, 1483February 18, 1546) was a German theologian and an Augustinian monk whose teachings inspired the Protestant Reformation and deeply influenced the doctrines of Lutheran, Protestant and other Christian traditions (a broad movement composed of many congregations and church bodies). His call to the Church to return to the teachings of the Bible resulted in the formation of new traditions within Christianity and his teachings undoubtedly impacted upon the Counter-Reformation in the Roman Catholic Church.

Luther's translations of the Bible helped to develop a standard version of the German language and added several principles to the art of translation. Luther's hymns sparked anew the development of congregational singing in Christianity. His marriage on June 13, 1525 to Katharina von Bora began the tradition of clerical marriage within several Christian traditions.


Luther's early life

The "Luther house" where Luther boarded from ages 14 to 17 while attending private school at .
The "Luther house" where Luther boarded from ages 14 to 17 while attending private school at Eisenach.

Martin Luther was born to Hans and Margaretha Luder, n饧' Lindemann, on November 10, 1483 in Eisleben, Germany and was baptized on the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, after whom he was named. His father owned a copper mine in nearby Mansfeld. Having risen from the peasantry, his father was determined to see his son ascend to civil service and bring further honor to the family. To that end, Hans sent young Martin to schools in Mansfeld, Magdeburg and Eisenach.

At the age of seventeen in 1501 he entered the University of Erfurt. The young student received a Bachelor's degree in 1502 and a Master's degree in 1505. According to his father's wishes, Martin enrolled in the law school of that university.

All that changed during a thunderstorm in the summer of 1505. A lightning bolt struck near to him as he was returning to school. Terrified, he cried out, "Help,Saint Anne! I'll become a monk!" [Brecht, vol. 1, p. 48]. His life spared, Luther left his law school and entered the monastery there.

Luther's struggle to find peace with God

Young Brother Martin fully dedicated himself to monastic life, the effort to do good works to please God and to serve others through prayer for their souls. Yet peace with God escaped him. He devoted himself to fasts, flagellations, long hours in prayer and pilgrimage, and constant confession. The more he tried to do for God, it seemed, the more aware he became of his sinfulness.

Johann von Staupitz[1] (, Luther's superior, concluded the young man needed more work to distract him from excessive rumination. He ordered the monk to pursue an academic career. In 1507 Luther was ordained to the priesthood. In 1508 he began teaching theology at the University of Wittenberg. Luther earned his Bachelor's degree in Biblical Studies on March 9, 1508 and a Bachelor's degree in the Sentences by Peter Lombard (the main textbook of theology in the Middle Ages), in 1509 [Brecht, Vol. 1, p. 93]. On October 19, 1512, the University of Wittenberg conferred upon Martin Luther the degree of Doctor of Theology [Brecht, Vol. 1, pp. 126-27].

Luther's discovery of grace

The demands of study for academic degrees and preparation for delivering lectures drove Martin Luther to study the Scriptures in depth. Heeding the call of humanism ad fontes—"To the source"—he immersed himself in the teachings of the Scripture and the early church. Luther recounted that his great breakthrough came in 1513, as he was lecturing on the Psalms at Wittenberg. He realized that the phrase "righteousness of God" in Rom. 1:17 did not mean active righteousness, that by which humans are adjudged righteous by God on the basis of their own works, but passive righteousness, by which humans receive righteousness from God through the perfect works, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is only this righteousness that makes a sinner just before God. Terms like penance and righteousness took on new meaning. Soon, Luther's study of the Bible convinced him that the Church had lost sight of several central truths. To Luther, the most important of these was the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

With joy Luther now believed and taught that salvation is a gift of God's grace, received by faith and trust in God's promise to forgive sins for the sake of Christ's death on the cross.

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The indulgence controversy

Luther's first public challenge of papal power came in 1517, over the selling of indulgences. The question at hand was whether the Pope (or any man besides Christ) had the power or authority to apply the merits of Jesus Christ and the saints to those in purgatory (as purgatory itself was not the doctrine in question), thereby freeing them from the pains of purgatory.

Luther hated the practice, since he believed that indulgences did nothing to save souls and only lined the pockets of the clergy. Because he believed that they also exonerated deeds not yet committed, they also encouraged sin. He had taken a trip to Rome in 1510, and was disgusted at the Papacy's greed and corruption.

In 1517, Albert von Hohenzollern, Archbishop of Magdeburg and Halberstadt wanted also the title of Archbishop of Mainz (which brought with it much wealth and the power of being a Prince-Elector), but holding more than one episcopal see was a violation of canon law. Pope Leo X, needing money for the rebuilding of St. Peter's Basilica, agreed that Albert could pay a fine for the violation and keep both sees. Albert would borrow the money to pay the pope, and would be allowed to repay the loan using money from the sale of a special, plenary indulgence. The Dominican friar Johann Tetzel was enlisted to travel throughout Albert's sees and sell the indulgences, and he was very successful at it. Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony and Luther's prince, owned a large collection of holy relics which always attracted crowds to Wittenberg on All Saints' Day (November 1), and Tetzel planned to be there too.

To forestall him, on October 31 Luther preached a sermon against indulgences and, according to traditional accounts, nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the castle's Church of All Saints (the University's customary notice board) as an open invitation to debate them. The Theses condemned the Church's greed and worldliness (especially the selling of indulgences) as an abuse and asked for a theological disputation. Soon they were widely copied and printed; within two weeks they spread throughout Germany, and within two months throughout Europe.

Response of the Papacy

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Turning this woodcut over can show how Martin Luther's enemies thought of him.

After disregarding Luther as "a drunken German who wrote the Theses; when sober he will change his mind," Pope Leo X ordered the Dominican professor of theology, Silvester Mazzolini, called from his birthplace Prierio or Prierias (also Prieras)[2] (, in 1518, to inquire into the matter. Prierias recognised Luther's dangerous potential, declared him a heretic and wrote a scholastic refutation of the Theses. It asserted papal authority over the Catholic church, and denounced every departure from it as a heresy. Luther replied in kind and a controversy developed.

Meanwhile Luther took part in an Augustinian convention at Heidelberg, where he presented theses on the slavery of man to sin and on divine grace. In the course of the controversy on indulgences the question arose of the absolute power of the pope, since the doctrine of the "treasure of the Church" was based on a bull of Clement VI. Luther saw himself branded as a heretic, and the pope, who had determined to suppress his views, summoned him to Rome.

Yielding, however, to the Elector Frederick, who was a candidate for the office of Holy Roman Emperor, who was unwilling to part with his theologian, the pope did not press the matter, and the cardinal legate Cajetan was deputed to receive Luther's submission at Augsburg (Oct., 1518).

Luther, while professing his implicit obedience to the Church, now boldly denied the absolute power of the pope, and appealed first "from the pope not well informed to the pope who should be better informed" and then (Nov. 28) to a general council. Luther now declared that the papacy formed no part of the original and immutable essence of the Church, and he even began to think that Antichrist ruled the Curia. He had already asserted at least the potential fallibility of a council representing the Church, and, denying the church doctrine of excommunication, he was led by his concept of the way of salvation to the new tenet that the Church is the congregation of the faithful.

Still wishing to remain on friendly terms with the elector, the pope made a last effort to reach a peaceable conclusion with Luther. A conference with the papal chamberlain K. von Miltitz at Altenburg in Jan., 1519, led Luther to agree to remain silent so long as his opponents should, to write a humble letter to the pope, and to prepare a work to testify his honor of the Roman Church. The letter was written but not sent, since it contained no retraction; while in a German treatise later prepared, Luther, while recognizing purgatory, indulgences, and the invocation of the saints, denied all effect of indulgences on purgatory.

When Johann Eck challenged Luther's colleague Carlstadt to a disputation at Leipzig, Luther joined in the debate (27 June-18 July 1519). Here he denied the divine right of the papacy, and holding that the "power of the keys" had been given to the Church (i.e., to the congregation of the faithful), affirming besides that belief in the preeminence of the Roman Church was not essential to salvation and maintaining the validity of the Greek Church. After the debate, Johann Eck would claim that he had forced Luther to admit the similarity between Luther's doctrine and that of John Huss, who had been burned at the stake.

The breach widens

Luther's thought develops

There was no longer hope of peace. Luther's writings were now circulated most widely, reaching France, England, and Italy as early as 1519, and students thronged to Wittenberg to hear Luther, who had been joined by Melanchthon in 1518, and now published his shorter commentary on Galatians and his Operationes in Psalmos, while at the same time he received deputations from Italy and from the Utraquists of Bohemia. These controversies necessarily led Luther to develop his doctrines further, and in his Sermon von dem hochw?n Sakrament des Leichnams Christi (1519) he set forth the significance of the Eucharist, interpreting the transubstantiation of the bread as the transformation of the faithful into the spiritual body of Christ, i.e., into fellowship with Christ and the Saints. The basal concept of the Eucharist, moreover, according to him, is the forgiveness of sins; and his entire theory is closely connected with his view of the all-embracing participation in salvation shared by the believer with Christ and his Church. At the same time, he advocated that a council be called to restore communion in both kinds, and denied the doctrine of seven sacraments (letter of Dec. 18, 1519). He likewise stripped the priesthood of all meaning other than the general priesthood taught in the Bible, and cast doubt on the entire doctrine of purgatory. The Lutheran concept of the Church, wholly based on immediate relation to the Christ who gives himself in preaching and the sacraments, was already developed in his Von dem Papsttum zu Rom, a reply to the attack of the Franciscan Alveld at Leipzig (June, 1520); while in his Sermon von guten Werken, delivered in the spring of 1520, he controverted the Roman Catholic doctrine of good works and works of supererogation, holding that the works of the believer are truly good in any secular calling ordered of God.

The treatises of 1520

To the German Nobility

From the time of his disputation at Leipzig, Luther came into relations with the humanists, particularly with Melanchthon, Reuchlin, Erasmus, and Crotur. The last was intimately associated with Ulrich von Hutten who in his turn influenced Franz von Sickingen, so that, when it became doubtful whether it would be safe for Luther to remain in Saxony if the ban which threatened should be pronounced against him, both Franz von Sickingen and Silvester of Schauenburg invited him to their fortresses and their protection. Under these circumstances, complicated by the crisis then confronting the German nobles, Luther issued his To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (Aug., 1520), committing to the laity, as spiritual priests, the reformation required by God but declined by the pope and the clergy. The subjects proposed for amelioration were not points of doctrine, but ecclesiastical abuses: diminution of the number of cardinals and the demands of the papal court; the abolition of annats (see Taxation, Ecclesiastical); recognition of secular government; renunciation of claims to temporal power on the part of the pope; abolition of the interdict, abuses connected with the ban, harmful pilgrimages, the misdemeanors of the mendicant orders, many holidays which led only to disorder; the suppression of nunneries, beggary, and luxury; the reform of the universities; abrogation of the celibacy of the clergy; and reunion with the Bohemians; besides demanding a general reform of public morality and denying transubstantiation in favor of the doctrine of the true presence of the natural body of Christ in the natural bread.

The Babylonian Captivity

The climax of Luther's doctrinal polemics was reached in his Prelude on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, especially in regard to the sacraments. As concerned the Eucharist, he denied transubstantiation, the sacrificial character of the mass, and the withholding of the cup. In regard to baptism, he taught that it brought justification only when conjoined with belief, but that it contained the foundation of salvation even for those who might later fall. As for penance, its essence consists in the words of promise given to belief. Only these three can be regarded as sacraments, in virtue of the promises attached to them; and strictly speaking baptism and the Eucharist alone are sacraments, as being a “sign divinely instituted.” The sacrament of unction was discarded by Luther with his doubts of the authenticity of the Epistle of James.

Freedom of a Christian

In like manner, the acme of Luther's doctrine of salvation and the Christian life was attained in his About the Freedom of a Christian. Here he required complete union with Christ by means of the Word through faith, entire freedom of the Christian as a priest and king set above all outward things, and perfect love of one's neighbor. The three works may be considered among the chief writings of Luther on the Reformation.

The excommunication of Luther

On June 15, 1520, the Pope warned Martin Luther with the papal bull Exsurge Domine that he risked excommunication unless he recanted 41 points of doctrine culled from his writings within 60 days. In Oct., 1520, at the instance of Miltitz, Luther sent his On the Freedom of a Christian to the pope, adding the significant phrase: "I submit to no laws of interpreting the word of God." Meanwhile it had been rumored in August that Eck had arrived at Meissen with a papal ban, which was actually pronounced there on September 21. This last effort of Luther's for peace was followed on December 12 by his burning of the bull, which was to take effect on the expiration of 120 days, and the papal decretals at Wittenberg, a proceeding defended in his Warum des Papstes und seiner J?B?verbrannt sind and his Assertio omnium articulorum. The execution of the ban, however, was prevented by the pope's relations with the elector and by the new emperor, who, in view of the papal attitude toward him and the feeling of the Diet, found it inadvisable to lend his aid to measures against the Reformer. Subsequently, the Pope excommunicated Luther on January 3,1521 in the bull Docet Romanum Pontificem.

Diet of Worms

Emperor Charles V opened the imperial Diet of Worms on 22 January, 1521. Luther was summoned to renounce or reaffirm his views and was given an imperial guarantee of safe-conduct to ensure his safe passage. When he appeared before the assembly on 16 April, Johann Eck, an assistant of Archbishop of Trier, acted as spokesman for the Emperor. [Bainton, p. 141]. He presented Luther with a table filled with copies of his writings. Eck asked Luther if the books were his and if he still believed what these works taught. Luther requested time to think about his answer. It was granted.

Luther prayed, consulted with friends and mediators and presented himself before the Diet the next day. When the counselor put the same questions to Luther, he said: "They are all mine, but as for the second question, they are not all of one sort." Luther went on to say that some of the works were well received by even his enemies. These he would not reject.

A second class of the books attacked the abuses, lies and desolation of the Christian world. These, Luther believed, could not safely be rejected without encouraging abuses to continue.

The third group contained attacks on individuals. He apologized for the harsh tone of these writings, but did not reject the substance of what he taught in them. If he could be shown from the Scriptures that he was in error, Luther continued, he would reject them. Otherwise, he could not do so safely without encouraging abuse.

Counsellor Eck, after countering that Luther had no right to teach contrary to the Church through the ages, asked Luther to plainly answer the question: Would Luther reject his books and the errors they contain?

Luther replied: "Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason — I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other — my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe."

According to tradition, Luther is then said to have spoken these words: "Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen." [Bainton, pp. 142-144].

Private conferences were held to determine Luther's fate. Before a decision was reached, Luther left Worms. During his return to Wittenberg, he disappeared.

The Emperor issued the Edict of Worms on May 25, 1521, declaring Martin Luther an outlaw and a heretic and banning his literature.

Exile at the Wartburg Castle

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Wartburg Castle in Eisenach

Luther's disappearance during his return trip was planned. Frederick the Wise arranged for Luther to be seized on his way from the Diet by a company of masked horsemen, who carried him to Wartburg Castle at Eisenach, where he stayed for about a year. He grew a wide flaring beard, took on the garb of a knight, and assumed the pseudonym Junker J?(Knight George). During this period of forced sojourn in the world, Luther was still hard at work upon his celebrated translation of the New Testament, though he couldn't rely on the isolation of a monastery.

With Luther's residence in the Wartburg began a constructive period of his career as a reformer; while at the same time the struggle was inaugurated against those who, claiming to proceed from the same Evangelical basis, were deemed by him to swing to the opposite extreme and to hinder, if not prevent, all constructive measures. In his "desert" or "Patmos" (as he called it in his letters) of the Wartburg, moreover, he began his translation of the Bible, of which the New Testament was printed in Sept., 1522. Here, too, besides other pamphlets, he prepared the first portion of his German postilla and his Von der Beichte, in which he denied compulsory confession, although he admitted the wholesomeness of voluntary private confessions. He also wrote a polemic against Archbishop Albrecht, which forced him to desist from reopening the sale of indulgences; while in his attack on Jacobus Latomus he set forth his views on the relation of grace and the law, as well as on the nature of the grace communicated by Christ. Here he distinguished the objective grace of God to the sinner, who, believing, is justified by God because of the justice of Christ, from the saving grace dwelling within sinful man; while at the same time he emphasized the insufficiency of this "beginning of justification," as well as the persistence of sin after baptism and the sin still inherent in every good work.

Although his stay at Wartburg kept Luther hidden from public view, Luther often received letters from his friends and allies, asking for his views and advice. For example, Philipp Melanchthon wrote to him and asked how to answer the charge that the reformers neglected pilgrimages, fasts and other traditional forms of piety. Luther replied: "If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign." (Letter 99.13, To Philipp Melanchthon, 1 August 1521 [3] (

Meanwhile some of the Saxon clergy, notably Bernhardi of Feldkirchen, had renounced the vow of celibacy, while others, including Melanchthon, had assailed the validity of monastic vows. Luther in his De votis monasticis, though more cautious, concurred, on the ground that the vows were generally taken "with the intention of salvation or seeking justification." With the approval of Luther in his De abroganda missa privata, but against the firm opposition of the prior, the Wittenberg Augustinians began changes in worship and did away with the mass. Their violence and intolerance, however, were displeasing to Luther, and early in December he spent a few days among them. Returning to the Wartburg, he wrote his Eine treue Vermahnung . . . vor Aufruhr und Emp?g; but in Wittenberg Carlstadt and the ex-Augustinian Zwilling demanded the abolition of the private mass, communion in both kinds, the removal of pictures from churches, and the abrogation of the magistracy .

About Christmas Anabaptists from Zwickau added to the anarchy. Thoroughly opposed to such radical views and fearful of their results, Luther entered Wittenberg Mar. 7, and the Zwickau prophets left the city. The canon of the mass, giving it its sacrificial character, was now omitted, but the cup was at first given only to those of the laity who desired it. Since confession had been abolished, communicants were now required to declare their intention, and to seek consolation, under acknowledgment of their faith and longing for grace, in Christian confession. This new form of service was set forth by Luther in his Formula miss栥t communionis (1523), and in 1524 the first Wittenberg hymnal appeared with four of his own hymns. Since, however, his writings were forbidden in that part of Saxon ruled by Duke George, Luther declared, in his Ueber die weltliche Gewalt, wie weit man ihr Gehorsam schuldig sei, that the civil authority could enact no laws for the soul, herein denying to a Roman Catholic government what he permitted an Evangelical.

The Peasants' War

The Peasants' War (1524-1525) was in many ways a response to the preaching of Luther and other reformers. Revolts by the peasantry had existed on a small scale since the 14th century, but many peasants mistakenly believed that Luther's attack on the Church and its hierarchy meant that the reformers would support an attack on the social hierarchy as well. Because of the close ties between the hereditary nobility and the princes of the Church that Luther condemned, this is not surprising. Revolts that broke out in Swabia, Franconia, and Thuringia in 1524 gained support among peasants and some disaffected nobles. Gaining momentum and a new leader in [[Thomas_Muentzer|Thomas M?], the revolts turned into an all-out war, the experience of which played an important role in the founding of the Anabaptist movement. Initially, Luther seemed to many to support the peasants, condemning the oppressive practices of the nobility that had incited many of the peasants. As the war continued, and especially as atrocities at the hands of the peasants increased, Luther came out forcefully against the revolt; since Luther relied on support and protection from the princes, he was afraid of alienating them. In Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants (1525), he encouraged the nobility to visit swift and bloody punishment upon the peasants. Many of the revolutionaries considered Luther's words a betrayal. Others withdrew once they realized that there was neither support from the Church nor from its main opponent. The war in Germany ended in 1525, when rebel forces were put down by the armies of the Swabian League.

Luther resented Germany's domination by a group of clergymen based in Rome, and these nationalist feelings may have motivated the Reformation to some extent. During the Peasants' War, Luther continued to stress obedience to secular authority; many may have interpreted this doctrine as endorsement of absolute rulers, leading to acceptance of monarchs and dictators in German history.

Luther's German Bible

Luther translated the New Testament into German to make it more accessible to the commoners and erode the influence of priests. He used the recent critical Greek edition of Erasmus, a text which was later called textus receptus. During his translation, he would make forays into the nearby towns and markets to hear people speak, so that he could write his translation in the language of the people. It was published in 1522.

Luther had a low view of the books of Esther, Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation, and took the liberty of criticizing them. He called the epistle of James 'an epistle of straw', and could not reconcile the epistle with his belief in justification by 'faith alone'. He also had harsh words for the book of Revelation, saying that he could 'in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it.' He had reason to question the apostolicity of these books since the early church categorized these books as antilegomena, meaning that they weren't accepted without reservation as canonical. However, they were finally made to be a part of the canon.

His first full Bible translation into German, including the Old Testament, was published in 1534. As mentioned earlier, Luther's translation work helped standardize German and are considered landmarks in German literature.

Luther chose to omit parts of the Old Testament that were found in the Greek Septuagint but not in the Hebrew Masoretic texts then available. These were included in his earliest translation, but later removed, along with James, Jude, and Revelation, because they did not hold up his ideas on Justification by 'faith alone.' His New Testament exclusions were quickly readmitted. Those Old Testament exclusions were eventually omitted by nearly all Protestants, and are known in Protestant circles as the Apocrypha. See Biblical canon.

The Small and Large Catechisms


In 1528, Frederick asked Luther to tour the local churches to determine the quality of the peasants' Christian education. Luther wrote in the preface to the Small Catechism, "Mercy! Good God! what manifold misery I beheld! The common people, especially in the villages, have no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine, and, alas! many pastors are altogether incapable and incompetent to teach." In response, Luther prepared the Small and Large Catechisms. They are instructional and devotional material on what Luther considered the fundamentals of the Christian faith, namely the Ten Commandments; the Apostles Creed; the Lord's Prayer; Baptism; Confession and Absolution; and the Eucharist. The Small Catechism was supposed to be read by the people themselves, the Large Catechism by the pastors.

The two catechisms are still popular instructional materials among Lutherans.

Luther's writings

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Autograph of Martin Luther

The number of books attributed to Martin Luther is nothing short of impressive. However, some Luther scholars contend that many of the works were at least drafted by some of his good friends like Melanchthon. Luther's fame provided a much larger potential audience than his — at least as learned — friends could have obtained under their own name. His books explain the settings of the epistles and show the conformity of the books of the Bible to each other. Of special note would be his writings about the Epistle to the Galatians in which he compares himself to the Apostle Paul in his defense of the Gospel (for example the faith-building commentary in Luther and the Epistle to the Galatians). Luther also wrote about church administration and wrote much about the Christian home.

Luther's writing was very polemical, and when he was passionate about a subject he would often insult his opponents. In the preface to De Servo Arbitrio (The Bondage of the Will), a response to Erasmus's Diatribe seu collatio de libero arbitrio (Discussion, or Collation, concerning free will), Luther writes, "your book ... struck me as so worthless and poor that my heart went out to you for having defiled your lovely, brilliant flow of language with such vile stuff. I thought it outrageous to convey material of so low a quality in the trappings of such rare eloquence; it is like using gold or silver dishes to carry garden rubbish or dung." Luther was quite intolerant of others' beliefs, and this may have exacerbated the German Reformation.

Luther's work contains a number of statements that modern readers would consider rather crude. It should be remembered that Luther received many communications from throughout Europe from people who could write anonymously, that is, without the spectre of mass media making their communications known. No public figure today could write in the manner of the correspondences Luther received or in the way Luther responded to them. Opinions today can be immediately shared electronically with a wide audience. At least one such statement would not be heard from most modern pastors: He regularly told the Devil to kiss his arse.

Martin Luther and Judaism

Luther initially preached tolerance towards the Jewish people, convinced that the reason they had never converted to Christianity was that they were discriminated against, or had never heard the Gospel of Christ. However, after his overtures to Jews failed to convince Jewish people to adopt Christianity and the Jews instead tried to persuade Christians to denounce Jesus in favor of Judaism, he began preaching that the Jews were set in evil, anti-Christian ways, and needed to be expelled from the German body politic. In his On the Jews and Their Lies, he repeatedly quotes the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:34, where Jesus called the Jewish religious leaders (Pharisees) of his day "a brood of vipers and children of the devil". In the book, written three years before his death, he listed seven recommendations to deal with the Jews:

I shall give you my sincere advice: First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them....
Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. For they pursue in them the same aims as in their synagogues. Instead they might be lodged under a roof or in a barn, like the gypsies....
Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them.
Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb. ...
Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. ...
Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping. ...
Seventh, I recommend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow, as was imposed on the children of Adam (Gen. 3:19). ...

In spite of these seven recommendations, he added:

... But if we are afraid that they might harm us or our wives, children, — servants, cattle, etc., if they had to serve and work for us — for it is reasonable to assume that such noble lords of the world and venomous, bitter worms are not accustomed to working and would be very reluctant to humble themselves so deeply before the accursed Goyim — then let us emulate the common sense of other nations such as France, Spain, Bohemia, etc., compute with them how much their usury has extorted from us, divide this amicably, but then eject them forever from the country. For, as we have heard, God's anger with them is so intense that gentle mercy will only tend to make them worse and worse, while sharp mercy will reform them but little. Therefore, in any case, away with them!

Luther's harsh comments about the Jews are seen by many as a continuation of medieval Christian anti-Semitism, and as the above quote shows, reflects earlier anti-Semitic expulsions in the 14th century, when Jews from other countries like France and Spain were invited into Germany. When Luther writes that the Jews should be expelled from his homeland, he expresses widespread feelings of his times.

In 1983, the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod made an official statement [4] ( disassociating themselves from Luther's anti-Semitic statements.

In 1994, the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America publicly rejected [5] ( Luther's writings that advocated action against practitioners of Judaism.

Luther's death

Luther died in Eisleben, the same town where he was born, on 18 February 1546.

"Know that no one can have indulged in the Holy Writers sufficiently, unless he has governed churches for a hundred years with the prophets, such as Elijah and Elisha, John the Baptist, Christ, and the apostles ... We are beggars: this is true." (The Last Written Words of Luther [6] (

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His legacy

Martin Luther, more than the other religious dissenters that preceded him, shaped the Protestant Reformation. Thanks to the printing press, his pamphlets were well-read throughout Germany, and soon other thinkers developed other Protestant sects. Since Protestant countries were no longer bound to the powerful Roman Catholic Church, an expanded freedom of thought developed which probably contributed to Protestant Europe's rapid intellectual advancement in the 17th and 18th centuries.

On the darker side, the absolute power of princes over their subjects increased considerably in the Lutheran territories, and Roman Catholics and Protestants waged bitter and ferocious wars of religion against each other. A century after Luther's protests, a revolt in Bohemia ignited the Thirty Years' War, a Catholics-vs.-Protestants war which ravaged much of Germany and killed about a third of the population.

See also

  1. John Calvin
  2. John Huss
  3. Philipp Melanchthon
  4. Johann Tetzel
  5. Katharina von Bora
  6. Huldrych Zwingli
  1. Christianity
  2. Christianity and anti-Semitism
  3. Lutheranism
  4. Luther's Seal
  5. Protestant Reformation
  6. Erasmus' Correspondents



  1. Uwe Siemon-Netto, The Fabricated Luther: the Rise and Fall of the Shirer myth, Foreword by Peter L. Berger. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, c1995. ISBN 0570048001.
  2. Frederick Noll, "Luther: Biography of a Reformer," (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2003).
  3. Patrick F. O'Hare, Facts About Luther, Rockford, IL: Tan Books and Publishers, 1987. 356 p. ISBN 0895553228.
  4. Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: a Life of Martin Luther, New York: Penguin, 1995, c1950. 336 p. ISBN 0452011469.
  5. Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, James L. Schaaf, trans. Philadelphia : Fortress Press, c1985-1993. 3 v. ISBN 0800628136, ISBN 0800628144, ISBN 0800628152.
  6. Hans J. Hillerbrand, ed. The Reformation: A Narrative History Related by Contemporary Observers and Participants. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1979.
  7. Peter Manns, Martin Luther: An Illustrated Biography,
  8. John M. Todd, Luther: A Life, Crossroad Publishing Company, 1982. Also at [7] (
  9. Luther's Works, 55 volumes of lectures, commentaries and sermons, translated into English and published by Concordia Publishing House and Fortress Press, 1957; released on CD-ROM, 2001.
  10. "Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions" (St. Louis: Concordia, 2005)[]


  1. 1953: Martin Luther, theatrical film, with Niall MacGinnis as Luther; directed by Irving Pichel. Academy Award nominations for black & white cinematography and art/set direction. Rereleased in 2002 on DVD in 4 languages.
  2. 1973: Luther, theatrical film (MPAA rating: PG), with Stacy Keach as Luther.
  3. 1992: Where Luther Walked, documentary directed by Ray Christensen.
  4. 2001: Opening the Door to Luther, travelogue hosted by Rick Steves. Sponsored by the ELCA.
  5. 2002: Martin Luther, a historical film from the Lion TV/PBS Empires series, with Timothy West as Luther, narrated by Liam Neeson and directed by Cassian Harrison.
  6. 2003: Luther, theatrical release (MPAA rating: PG-13), with Joseph Fiennes as Luther and directed by Eric Till. Partially funded by American and German Lutheran groups.

External links

Template:Commons Template:Wikisourcepar Template:Wikiquote

Original texts

Writings of Luther and contemporaries, translated into English

Online resources

Online information on Luther and his work


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