Luther was considered the first religious reformer in the XVIth century. The Lutheran Church with 70 millions members throughout the world quotes him as authority, and so does Protestantism in general.
|An exemplary monk|
Martin Luther was born in Germany (at Eisleben) and had planned to become a jurist. However, one day when thunder struck close to him, he vowed to become a monk.
In 1505 he joined the Augustinian convent at Erfurt, and became an exemplary monk. His intellectual potential was noticed. He studied theology and graduated as a « doctor in theology ». He was a bright professor at the university in Wittenberg where he explained and commented on the Bible -especially Psalms and Paul's Epistles.
As he was studying Paul's first epistle to the Romans it dawned on him that all men were saved by God's love freely given. Thus selling indulgences was contrary to the teachings of the Bible. So he posted 95 theses against indulgences on the door of the church in Wittenberg in 1517. The arguments were to inflame Germany and then Europe.
|The breach with Rome|
The pope tried every possible means to subdue Luther. After a trial that lasted for three years, the pope finally excommunicated Luther. But Luther solemnly set fire to the pope's bull.
Emperor Charles V summoned Luther to the Diet of Worms in 1521, but Luther refused to retract saying « I neither can nor wish to retract in any way because it is neither safe nor sound to act against one's conscience. » Thus was protestantism founded on freedom of conscience and no longer on Church membership.
|Luther, translator of the Bible and theologian|
Luther began translating the Bible into German after taking refuge with the prince elector of Saxony at Wartburg castle (1521-1522). This outstandingly beautiful translation finally published in its entirety in 1534 contributed to establishing the German language.
Being protected by prince Frederick of Saxony, he came back to Wittenberg, got married and fathered six children.
He kept teaching at the university and wrote a number of theological books to explain his points of view. On one hand he fought against the catholics, and on the other hand against those who wanted more political freedom (peasants' revolts) and more radical Reformation (anabaptists, fanatics ...).
His work was disseminated all over Europe.
The Lutheran Reformation, especially in Germany and some Northern states, led the way to Reformation in France, notably with Jean Calvin.
"Justification through grace alone", or through "faith alone"- man is definitely a sinner, but he is made wise, forgiven, therefore saved, because of Christ on the cross, through his faith in Christ (cf. Paul's epistle to the Romans). Faith-trust is also freely awarded by God. Christians are thus freed from the logical reward through (good) deeds and gratifying actions.
The Scriptures are the only authority for a christian - God's word, i.e. Jesus Christ's gospel expressed in biblical Scriptures, is above any Church recommendation, be it enunciated by a pope or a council. The Word of the Scriptures is available to all believers and cannot be confiscated nor restrained by clerics.
The « universal priesthood » of all who have been baptised and « are all priests ». Therefore there is no difference in dignity, no sacred hierarchy between clerics and lay people, as they all have equal access to God. Christians only serve different functions, perform different trades « princes or shoemakers or reverend, they all serve one another, as do the various parts of the body ruled by Christ alone. »
The sacraments. They are the manifestation of God's grace instituted by Christ. This definition borrowed from Saint Augustine led Luther to keep only baptism and the Eucharist as sacraments (but excluded penance, confirmation, marriage, ordination and extreme unction) and to consider the sacrament as a promised grace awarded by faith (but no longer as a salvation process in itself).
This understanding of sacraments unsettled the doctrine and traditional practice of the Eucharist :