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The Biography Index
Martin Luther (1483-1546)
Martin Luther often referred to his humble origins saying that he was from German peasant stock. This was only partly true; his father had started out as a peasant but he moved to a mining town, called Mansfield, and later graduated from miner to an employer when he rented a smelting works. His father's rise in prosperity was probably the reason for Luther receiving a good education. His parents wanted him to become a lawyer and encouraged his studies. Luther started school at the age of seven and spent ten years in primary and secondary schools. Religion was always very important to him and he joined in church activities, such as singing in the choir.
In 1501 he entered Erfurt University. He studied Latin, philosophy and logic. He graduated from Erfurt with a master's degree in 1505. He was twenty one years old when he decided, quite suddenly, to enter the Augustinian monastery and become a friar. The Augustinian order was very strict and the friars begged for their sustenance. In 1507 Luther was ordained as a priest and, two years later at the age of twenty six, he was transferred to the Wittenberg monastery in Saxony.
Luther always felt that he was unworthy and that, after his death, God would punish him for all his sins. He joined such a strict monastic order so that he could dedicate his life to God. Luther kept all of the rules, even though they were strict, and spent hours confessing every possible sin he could think of. In 1510 he was sent to Rome on monastery business. He was shocked by the behaviour of many of the clergy he met during his visit, most of whom were not keeping to their vows.
Back in Wittenberg, Luther graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy in 1512 and was appointed Professor of Biblical Theology at the university. He also preached at the parish church. This was the church where Luther posted the "Ninety Five Theses" onto the door.
When Luther was summoned to the Diet of Worms in 1521 his friends, realising the probable outcome of the hearing, were worried for his safety. They made a plan to make it look as if Luther had been captured, or even killed, on his way back from Worms to Wittenberg. They took him to Warburg Castle where he stayed for two years. It was here that he translated the Bible into German. Luther changed his appearance so that he could travel around the area without being recognised. He was called Junker George by the people in the area, most of whom knew his real identity.
Luther went back to Wittenberg in 1522 because he was concerned about the news that some people were vandalising Catholic churches and monasteries. He started his reforms in earnest at this time. The priests were replaced by ministers who spoke German during the services. The congregations joined in with the singing and Luther himself wrote many of the new hymns. During the communion the wine, as well as the bread, was shared by everyone. Luther also initiated social reforms. Now that the Bible was so readily available in German it was obvious that the people needed to be educated so that it could be widely read. Both boys' and girls' schools were established to improve literacy.
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