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Theologian Martin Luther forever changed Christianity when he began the Protestant Reformation in 16th-century Europe.
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The German monk's questioning of Catholic dogma leads to the Protestant Reformation.
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Born in Germany in 1483, Martin Luther became one of the most influential figures in Christian history when he began the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. He called into question some of the basic tenets of Roman Catholicism, and his followers soon split from the Roman Catholic Church to begin the Protestant tradition.
Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483, in Eisleben, Saxony, in modern southeast Germany. His parents, Hans and Margarette Luther, were of peasant linage, but Hans had some success as a miner and ore smelter. In 1484, the family moved to nearby Mansfeld, where Hans held ore deposits.
Hans Luther knew that mining was a tough business and wanted his promising son to have better and become a lawyer. At age seven, Martin Luther entered school in Mansfeld. At 14, he went to north to Magdeburg, where he continued his studies. In 1498, he returned to Eisleben and enrolled in a school, studying grammar, rhetoric and logic. He later compared this experience to purgatory and hell.
In 1501, Martin Luther entered the University of Erfurt, where he received a Master of Arts degree (in grammar, logic, rhetoric and metaphysics). At this time, it seemed he was on his way to becoming a lawyer. However, in July 1505, Luther had a life-changing experience that set him on a new course. Caught in a horrific thunderstorm where he feared for his life, Luther cried out to St. Anne, the patron saint of miners, “Save me, St. Anne, and I’ll become a monk!” The storm subsided and he was saved. Most historians believe this was not a spontaneous act, but an idea already formulated in Luther’s mind. The decision to become a monk was difficult and greatly disappointed his father, but he felt he must keep a promise. Luther was also driven by fears of hell and God’s wrath, and felt that life in a monastery would help him find salvation.
The first few years of monastery life were difficult for Martin Luther, as he did not find the religious enlightenment he was seeking. A mentor told him to focus his life exclusively on Christ and this would later provide him with the guidance he sought. At age 27, he was given the opportunity to be a delegate to a church conference in Rome. He came away more disillusioned, and very discouraged by the immortality and corruption he witnessed there among the Catholic priests. Upon his return to Germany, he enrolled in the University of Wittenberg in an attempt to suppress his spiritual turmoil. He excelled in his studies and received a doctorate, becoming a professor of theology at the university.
Through his studies of scripture, Martin Luther finally gained religious enlightenment. Beginning in 1513, while preparing lectures, Luther read Psalm 22, which recounts Christ’s cry for mercy on the cross, a cry similar to his own disillusionment with God and religion. Two years later, while preparing a lecture on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, he read, “The just will live by faith.” He dwelled on this statement for some time.
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