Martin Luther is one of the most influential figures in Western history. His writings were responsible for fractionalizing the Catholic Church and sparking the Protestant Reformation. His central teachings, that the Bible is the central source of religious authority and that salvation is reached through faith and not deeds, shaped the core of Protestantism. Although Luther was critical of the Catholic Church, he distanced himself from the radical successors who took up his mantle. Luther is remembered as a controversial figure, not only because his writings led to significant religious reform and division, but also because in later life he took on radical positions on other questions, including his pronouncements against Jews, which some have said may have portended German anti-Semitism; others dismiss them as just one man’s vitriol that did not gain a following. Some of Luther’s most significant contributions to theological history, however, such as his insistence that as the sole source of religious authority the Bible be translated and made available to everyone, were truly revolutionary in his day.
We are just days away from the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in which Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the door of the Church...and there is no doubt that we need another reformation in our current day.
“These [demons] would haunt the imagination of Martin Lutherwho had visions, which he believed to be actual physical occurrences,of the devil hurling [excrement] at him and his hurling it back.
What now was Luther's attitude in these crucial hours? The peasants looked at him as their leader. They felt confident that he, the great lover of Christian freedom and brotherhood, could be relied upon. But Luther's reply to the twelve articles was somewhat ambiguous. He gave to this reply the title Exhortation to Peace regarding the Twelve Articles. Brother Martin here showed the greatest circumspection. His reply to the overlords as well as to the peasants, in its fundamentals at all events is neither fish nor fowl. The peasants were certainly wrong, but the overlords were not right (Funck-Brentano).
Then there came Martin Luther. He acted like a great and courageous man. He showed no signs of fright. He said what he thought. He brought the true idea of Christianity back to the oppressed masses. His preachings of Christian Freedom were eagerly read and learnt by those thousands of peasants who had merely been waiting for a man of Luther's greatness, honesty, fearlessness, true Christianity.
The Reformer was in a dilemma, for Philip wanted his permission in writing. But Dr. Martin easily found a way out. He said that there was nothing whatever against a bigamous marriage, since in this case it would help the Landgrave to get over his physical and psychological troubles. The only condition Luther imposed in his written document w s that the marriage ought to remain an absolute secret, for otherwise he himself and the Landgrave might get into trouble. This famous document was signed by Luther in December, 1539, and armed with the Reformer's written authority, the Landgrave married bigamously and officially in March of the following year. In gratitude for the helpful testimonial, Philip sent Luther a large barrel of wine.
It may be said that one cannot expect Luther to act correctly and truthfully in such a deadly fight as that in which he was involved with the Catholic Church. Very well then, let us look in detail merely at one example of his teaching and his acting which has nothing whatever to do with his quarrel with Rome. I am referring to the marriage of the Landgrave Philip of Hesse, surnamed the Magnanimous. He was a great supporter and important patron of Luther.
I give few comments. I let the Reformer speak for himself. I shall not give any details of the way he behaved after he was married. But surely Luther's attitude in his writings and his personal behaviour towards women and marriage are rarely found even in the most depraved men, never in any human being who pretended to lead anything like a Christian lifenot to speak of a reformer.
Those who do not fully understand the history of German thought have often wondered what a strange coincidence it is that in Frederick, miscalled the Great, Bismarck (the Ems Dispatch!), William II, Hitler, and many others there has always been that love of lying, that double-dealing, that lack of truth and honesty. They have rarely thought that it might be part of a German religion, preached by the lying monk of Wittenberg for the first time over four centuries ago, supplanting Christian ethics, and putting German religious ideas in its place. We consider everything allowable against the deception and depravity of the Papal antichrist. I have quoted earlier. Replace the phrase Papal antichrist with whomever Germany happens to consider at a given moment her mortal enemyand there is left nothing mysterious about German ethics. It all becomes clear, clear if we do not look at the isolated facts but at the underlying spiritual forces which are found first of all in Martin Luther.
Some time later Luther explains: I have shut the mouth of those who slandered me and Catherine von Bora. Though, at other times, the Devil is once more the main explanation of this unholy marriage. I too am married, and to a nun. I could have refrained had I not special reasons to decide me. But I did it to defy the Devil and his host, the objectors, the princes and bishops, since they were all foolish enough to forbid the clergy to marry. And I would with willing heart create an even greater scandal, if I knew of anything else better calculated to please God and to put them in a rage.
It is quite obvious that there was a good deal of scandal about Luther's relations with Catherine before they married. Your example is permanently quoted by those who visit brothers, is one of the typical comments. Even his best friend, Melanchthon, has to admit with a sigh that Luther was more than a reckless man.
Neither Holbein nor Durer ever painted Lutherwhich is odd since they were his contemporaries. On the other hand, we have many pictures of Luther by Lucas Cranach, who was an ardent admirer of Dr. Martin. These pictures, showing a gentle, smiling, benevolent, slender, and scholarly saint are familiar to most of us. Hundreds of thousands of reproductions exist all over the world. On German stamps and buildings we see the portrait. But the drawback is that Cranach suppressed what he considered to be defects in his sitter.