Who was Martin Luther?

 The name Martin Luther conjures up all kinds of images, some more dramatic than others. Most people have heard of Martin Luther yet very few people know much about him. Who was Martin Luther? Where was he born? How did he die? What kind of life did he live? What impact did he have on society as a whole? And maybe the biggest question of all: What did he do 500 years ago that was so special? 

Luther was a man of many talents and many faces. Compassionate and acerbic by turns he single-handedly set in motion what we know today as the Reformation. No other person has had as a greater impact on the spiritual progress of the church like Martin Luther.

Luther’s Early Life and Education

 Martin Luther was born on the 10th of November 1483 in Eisleben, Saxony, and was the son of a well-to-do German peasant. His father Hans was a miner and former village mayor but like most peasants, the family was quite poor. At one stage Martin was obliged to sing from door to door for a meal on his way to school. Despite this Luther’s parents were industrious and worked hard to provide the best for their children. and he was sent to the university, becoming a rare exception among the peasants of his day.

He entered the University of Erfurt in 1501 and graduated with a Bachelor of arts in 1503 and as Doctor of Divinity in 1512. While he was at Erfurt he discovered a complete copy of the Bible in the library and this had a profound impact on his spiritual life.

Luther Becomes a Monk

In 1505, on his way back to Erfurt after a visit to his parents, Luther was caught in a thunderstorm and nearly struck by lightning. In absolute terror, he promised to become a monk if God would spare his life and get him home in one piece. After making it safely back to Erfurt he made good on his promise and joined the  Augustinian Order. This placed a strain on his relationship with his father, who, intuitively distrusted the entire monastic system. It would be two years before he would be reconciled to his father.

Luther longed for the assurance of salvation and devoted long hours to various acts of penance to find what he so desperately wanted. While he was a novice monk he spent long hours tucked in a corner of the convent thumbing through the only Bible the had access to. During this time of mental turmoil over his spiritual condition, God brought him a much-needed friend to correct his course.

Luther once said, “if ever a monk got to heaven by his monkery, it was I”. So zealous and ardent was he in his quest for salvation by works that he performed more fasts and vigils than any other monk.

Luther and Staupitz

Johann Von Staupitz was a doctor of Theology and Vicar General of the Augustinian Monks in Germany. He met Martin at Erfurt in 1506 and Luther spent six hours confessing his sins to Staupitz. Staupitz was instrumental in helping Luther to understand the basics of the gospel. He pointed Luther to a God who was gracious and merciful and compassionate. A far cry from the cruel and exacting judge that presided over the troubled thoughts in Luther’s mind. Luther himself said “if it were not for Dr. Staupitz, I would have sunk in Hell

Facts About Martin Luther

I. Martin Luther was born in 1483 in Eisleben, Germany into a Well to do Peasant family
II. He studied at the University of Erfurt and while there he decided to become a monk, a decision that would break down his relationship with his father for a period of two years
III. Luther had a very bleak picture of God. To him, God was an angry, almost tyrannical judge who exacted obedience from his subjects on pain of eternal torment.
IV. This distorted and false view of God made him go to great lengths to try and please God, including subjecting himself to various kinds of penances that would often leave him physically and mentally exhausted. 

Luther Goes to Wittenberg

Soon his study of the Bible trumped every other activity so much so that sleep became a luxury and mealtimes a chore. From the monastery at Erfurt, he went to the University of Wittenberg as a professor.  Here he had the opportunity to study the Bible in the original languages. He soaked up every particle of truth he came across, basking in its comfort and hope, soon becoming extremely proficient in the Word of God.

Staupitz began to encourage the reluctant Luther to preach and after considerable pushing, he agreed. He was a  gifted speaker and a brilliant Bible scholar, a combination that attracted the masses like a magnet. Luther was fast becoming a formidable spiritual force that the established church of the day would soon have to reckon with. 

However, in Luther’s mind, he was still a loyal and faithful son of the church. Never in his wildest dreams would he have thought to separate from it or to challenge its authority as he so forcefully did. Luther wasn’t the only reformer who faced these circumstances. Huss, Zwingli, Calvin, Latimer, Cranmer, Ridley, all these great reformers were devoted Catholics, who would never have dreamed of leaving Rome. Ultimately though, their desire to pursue the truth at any cost led them to sever ties with the church they once deeply loved. So many transformative movements in history were shaped by groups of sincere people such as this. Men and women who began their journeys with a genuine desire to do what was right never dreaming of the consequences that lay ahead. 

“If it were not for Dr. Staupitz, I would have sunk in Hell”  – Martin Luther 

Luther is Sent to Rome

The catalyst that set Luther on his journey away from Roman Church was quite mundane. A quarrel broke out between the seven monasteries of the Augustinian order and their Vicar-General, Staupitz. The matter needed to be resolved by the Pope and Martin was the man chosen for the job. He was happy to oblige and set off for Rome on foot, never dreaming of the disenchantment that awaited him at his journey’s end.

The Journey To Rome

On his way through Italy, he was appalled by the vice and excesses indulged in by the priests and monks. Reaching Bologna, he fell ill and was at the point death when a terrible fear gripped his soul. He was frightened by the prospect of what might await him beyond the grave. It was at this moment that he heard a voice saying to him “the just shall live by faith”.

This was the second time this verse had been vividly impressed upon his mind. The first instance had been when he had come across the verse at Wittenberg. This time though the words made a deep impression on his mind. They left him clinging to the thought that “holiness is restricted to no soil, to no system, to no rite; it springs up in the heart where faith dwells”. It comforted his heart and gave him hope.

Luther made a full recovery and continued his journey to Rome. He was convinced that the purity of Rome would compensate for the decadence he had witnessed elsewhere.

“Holy Rome, I Salute Thee”

Finally, he approached the city and, overcome with emotion, fell to his knees with the words “Holy Rome, I salute thee.” What he saw as he entered the gates of left him bitterly disappointed. He had believed that Rome was the very epitome of purity but the reality was that Rome was a cesspool. A swamp that teemed with every kind of vice imaginable, the likes of which he had never seen. He struggled to make sense of what he encountered, writing “No one can imagine what sins and infamous actions are committed in Rome; they must be seen and heard to be believed. Thus they are in the habit of saying, ‘If there is a hell, Rome is built over it: it is an abyss whence issues every kind of sin.’

Preoccupied with these thoughts Luther made use of an indulgence that the Pope had issued to anyone who ascended “Pilate’s Staircase” on their knees. While he was ascending the staircase he heard a voice saying to him for the third time “The just shall live by faith”. He jumped to his feet and left the scene feeling ashamed and afraid with the verse seared on his soul. It was a turning point for Luther, one that would alter the course of his entire life. Soon he would go head to head with the infamous Johann Tetzel, common criminal and indulgence peddler extraordinaire. This encounter that would set in motion the Protestant Reformation in Germany. But it was his experience on that lone staircase in Rome that had set the stage for what was to come. 

Luther’s Return to Wittenberg

After a short stay in Rome, Luther returned to teaching in Wittenberg and a few months later became a doctor of divinity. The convocation made a deep impact on his mind. During the ceremony, he was required to take an oath on the bible to “study, propagate and defend the faith contained in the Holy Scriptures”. From that point forward he saw himself as a defender of truth in Germany. A role that would spur him on to battle against the very institution he had pledged loyalty to.

Leo X: Sparking the Reformation

A  year after his return from Rome, in 1513, Pope Julius II passed away and Leo X took his place. Leo was a son of the affluent and wealthy Medici family of Florence. He brought with him to Rome all the taste and flair for display that was synonymous with the Medici name. His Papal court became a hub of art, music, poetry, and entertainment even though it was religious court and not a political one. In addition to his expensive and lavish tastes, Leo had no religious inclinations whatsoever, an interesting irony, given the fact that he was meant to be Christ’s vicar on earth. He is recorded as once commenting “what a profitable affair this fable of Christ has been to us”

As soon as he became Pope, Leo went about beautifying Rome and his biggest pet project was an overhaul of St. Peter’s church in Rome. But how to fund such a grand venture? He would need millions he didn’t have. His gaze fell on Albert, Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg. Albert, much like Leo, had expensive tastes and had racked up a sizable debt which he owed to the church. 

Leo capitalized on this opportunity and asked Albert to raise the money to pay back his debt by selling indulgences. The funds collected would then be funneled into Leo’s  new project for St. Peter’s. Albert was agreeable and he proceeded to enlist the help of Johann Tetzel.

A Thorn in Luther’s Side

Tetzel was a great match for the work he was asked to do. He was Grand Inquisitor of Heresy in Poland, which made him very good at terrorizing people. He had also had some prior experience in the business of peddling indulgences, making him an old hand.

Tetzel took Germany by storm, going from village to village with his entourage. When they entered a village they would set up their little dog and pony show in the town square. Then he would stand on his soapbox and promise people unconditional forgiveness for sins past, present, and future, for the living and the dead. All this for a small fee, an investment really, for a certificate of Papal Indulgence. His campaign slogan was “the very moment the money clinks against the bottom of the chest, the soul escapes from purgatory and flies to heaven”. Some flocked to him while others heckled, asking if the Pope were able to spring people from purgatory so easily, why he didn’t do it for free? Despite the heckling Tetzel soon began to rake in the money.

Luther and 1517

While Tetzel was traipsing through Germany, Martin Luther was the confessor at the Castle church in Wittenberg. When his parishioners came to him wielding Tetzel’s certificate of pardon Luther was horrified. He refused to accept a single one, much to the chagrin of the people who had spent good money on them. He denounced Tetzel and his indulgences as a fraud and then he began to act. He preached a pointed sermon on “Indulgences and the Grace of God” and sent written protests to the Archbishop and local bishops. What appalled Luther most was the notion that the grace and forgiveness of God could be bought and sold for petty cash. His grandest gesture of all took place on All Saints Day, the 31st of October 1517. It was a time when people from far and near were flocking to the Cathedral at Wittenberg to view the relics housed there. Pushing through the crowd Luther made his way to the door of the church.  

Once there he hammered a statement of 95 Theses onto the door of the church for all to read. The document was picked up, mass produced on Gutenburg’s new press and spread through Germany like wildfire. The Reformation had officially begun.

The Reformation Begins

Luther’s work began to gain traction and spread rapidly across Europe. This created a situation that called for the Roman church to act swiftly and decisively.However, on the contrary, the church’s initial response was slow and bungling. The Pope was actually quite skeptical that a monk from Germany who was flapping his wings could actually make any kind of headway. But where Leo failed, Emperor Maximilian sat up and took notice. He immediately wrote letters to the Pope and to Diet of the Holy Roman Empire at Augsburg calling them to take immediate action.

His efforts paid off and both Leo and the diet moved to stifle the new movement in its infancy. They called for Luther to appear in Rome to answer to the charge of heresy. Martin knew that to go to Rome was the equivalent of attending his own funeral but to refuse to go was no better. Leo, not only had the power to excommunicate him but to crush him as previous popes had crushed out the likes of  Huss and Jerome. At this point Frederick, the Elector of Saxony stood up to advocate on behalf of Luther and asked for his trial to be held in Germany.

Luther and Cajetan

Frederick had a great deal of influence in the empire and was an important political ally to Leo.  Considering this Leo didn’t want to jeopardize the friendship and agreed to the request. He then dispatched his legate, Cardinal Cajetan to hear the case in Augsburg. Cajetan was suave, calculating, an ardent defender of the Catholic faith and one of the most valuable assets of the College of Cardinals. He was not really interested in debating doctrinal truth with some wayward German monk.  What he was interested in was squeezing a single word out of Luther’s lips; revocco, I recant. In Augsburg, Luther found himself facing an institution that demanded absolute submission and they were determined to have it at any cost.

When Luther appeared before Cajetan in October of 1518 he soon realized that the Cardinal was not interested in truth or the authority of scripture. All he wanted was for Luther to submit to the authority of the church. He also made it clear that if Luther failed to do this there would be serious consequences. Cajetan said “revocco” to which Luther replied “no” making the hearing as short as it was intense.

Martin Luther and Philip Melancthon

During this period of trial God provided Luther with one of his best gifts; his friendship with Philip Melancthon. In August of 1518, when they met, Luther was 34 years old and Melancthon 21. Melancthon had been called to the chair of Greek at the University. He was a small made man but what he lacked in physical stature he more than made up for in intellectual genius. Speaking of their friendship the Historian Wylie writes ““He (Luther) needed a companion and God placed Melancthon by his side. These two were the complement the one of the other, united they formed a complete reformer”

 

The Papal Bull and Summons to Worms

Once the hearing was over Luther left Augsburg at night and returned to Wittenberg. Cajetan returned to Rome empty-handed and infuriated. What followed was a tour de force on the part of Rome to bring Luther to his knees. The final act in this masterpiece of aggression was a Bull of Excommunication which condemned Luther and his followers and called for all his writings to be burned. They were given 60 days to recant before the bull came into effect. When Luther received the Bull, he grabbed it and all his volumes of church law and set them on fire in front of a huge crowd in Wittenberg.

After Luther dramatically burned the Papal Bull of Excommunication, Rome turned all its guns on him. Leo X enlisted the help of the young emperor Charles V. Charles needed a strong political ally and was happy to assist the Pope in any way he needed. The only problem was that Charles was not empowered to act on his own. He needed to act in consultation with the Princes of the Empire.  Most of the Princes didn’t really care about Martin Luther and his movement but to crush out the new movement was to give the Pope more power than he already had and they were not prepared to do that.

Frustrated Charles enlisted the help of Aleander, the papal Legate delegated to handle the heresy of Wittenberg. Aleander had one job; to convince the Princes that Luther should be martyred without a hearing. He argued his case in a long winded debate and the Princes took three days to sift through it.  The bare bones of his argument confirmed what they already knew; the Pope wanted them to rubber stamp his abuse of power so it wouldn’t appear so offensive. They said no and Luther was summoned to appear before them for a trial with an imperial safe conduct. 

The Journey To Worms

On the 2nd of April 1521, Luther and three of his close friends set out for Worms. Melancthon was not among them, though he longed to be. As Wylie touchingly writes “if Luther should fall, who but Philip could fill his place and carry on his work?” The little procession that set out for Worms was an impressive one.  First went Gaspar Strum, the imperial herald, carrying the Imperial eagle, thereby showing whose protection the group traveled under. Next came his servant and last of all a little wagon carrying Luther and his crew.

The people flocked to catch a glimpse of the famous Dr. Luther as he passed through their towns. When they neared Worms rumors began to circulate that the emperor was not obliged to honor a safe conduct issued to a heretic. Many people warned Luther to go back to Wittenberg for his own safety,  His response to this was “should there be as many devils in Worms as tiles on the housetops, I will enter it”.  He arrived in Worms resolved to face the Diet regardless of the outcomes.

Luther At The Diet of Worms

As Luther made his way to enter the Diet many spoke words of encouragement.  His encounter with George Freundsberg was the most touching. Freundsberg was an old war veteran and when he saw Luther he put his hands on his shoulders and told him that he was about to face greater danger than any soldier had been called to face on the bloodiest battlefield. He then assured Luther that God would fight for him. 

Once inside the assembly hall, Luther was asked two things; firstly were the books on display before the assembly his writings?and secondly, would he retract his opinions?  At Luther’s request, the titles of the books were read aloud one by one and he acknowledged that the work was his. In response to the demand to retract he asked for time to craft a suitable response to this request. This reply convinced the assembly that he was not acting on impulse and he was given a day to prepare. When he appeared again before the diet his response was clear and succinct. 

Dividing his work into three broad categories Luther confessed that while he was blunter than he should have been he could not with a clear conscience retract any of his opinions. He was then asked to translate everything he had just said in German into Latin which he did. After this Aleander urged him “revocco (recant)” to which he calmly replied “ Unless I am convinced 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 I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen”.

 

The entire audience erupted into a cacophony of noise at his response but amidst the confusion one thing was clear; Luther had gained a massive victory for the reformation.  However, his response did not deter his opponents from persisting in trying to squeeze a recantation out of him. He steadfastly withstood the pressure, at one point volunteering to give up his Imperial safe conduct rather than give up a single one of his beliefs. In exasperation, Charles V commanded him to return home soon after the conclusion of his hearings. He did so, knowing that Imperial condemnations would follow him. Nonetheless, he set off for Wittenburg with a deep sense of peace, commenting “the devil himself guarded the pope’s citadel; but Christ has made a wide breach in it, and Satan was constrained to confess that the Lord is mightier than he.”

The Edict of Worms

 The Papacy was in a frenzy of rage and many loyal Catholic Princes tried to persuade Charles to ignore the safe conduct, reduce Luther to ashes and throw them in the Rhine. Charles, though an ardent defender of the Catholic faith, could not be prevailed upon to do this. He knew, as did many others, that to violate an imperial safe-conduct would lead to open rioting throughout Germany. He also knew that a living Luther was more useful to his own interests than a dead one because in the cat and mouse game between Emperor and Pope, keeping the reformer alive was a significant trump card that Charles could throw in front of Leo, who was afraid of the impact the Reformation was making.

So Charles reached a happy compromise. As soon as Luther departed Worms he issued an edict against him, stipulating that when his safe conduct expired Luther was to be apprehended and brought to the emperor. His edict ended with the condemnation that “this man (Luther) was not a man but Satan himself under the form of a man and dressed in a monk’s frock”

 

Wartburg Castle

Luther’s return home was filled with more fanfare and cheering than his journey to Worms had been and he preached to eager crowds all along the way. He traveling through the mountains of the Black Forest when his wagon was surrounded by a group of masked, fully armed horsemen. They stopped the Wagon, grabbed Luther, slung him over a saddle and rode off into the forest. He was taken to the Castle of Wartburg where he was told to take off his monk’s robes and put on the clothing of a knight and take on the pseudonym of Knight George. He was then told that he would be spending an unspecified length of time in the castle. Frederick of Saxony had orchestrated the entire thing to keep him safe and completely off the papal radar. The storm raged through Germany, but Luther was safely ensconced at Wartburg, where he translated the entire Bible from Latin into German.

Events During Luther’s Absence

In Luther’s absence, however, there was a surge of false revival. Men, like Thomas Munzer, spouting strange ideas and using the force of arms to propagate their opposition against Rome confused the people and divided the reformation. This caused the work to grind to a slow crawl.  The fanaticism threatened to derail the entire movement forcing Luther to come out of hiding and address the fanaticism head on. His return to Wittenberg caused a stir, bringing crowds of people to hear Dr. Luther speak once more. Luther affirmed the wrongs inherent in Papal rites such as the mass but denounced the use of force in abolishing them. He declared that it was not the job of the reformation to force the conscience of others. He was able to check the uprising for a period of time but it sprang up again with devastating results during the peasants’ revolt.

What makes the story of Martin Luther and the Reformation so compelling is that Luther stumbled on greatness completely unawares. His entire spiritual journey was kickstarted by a near miss with a bolt of lightening on a country road between Eisleben and Erfurt. He had no aspirations for spiritual greatness, he just wanted to avoid the horrors of eternal damnation and make sure he was right with God and yet the more he pursued this elusive target of being justified by works the more he realized that such a thing was, in fact, a myth. He discovered that the only way that he could be right with God was by faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ and that justification was the gift of grace and not of works. The more he delved into this, the more he realized that his perception of God had been completely wrong, that the perception of God that had been bequeathed to him by a fear mongering establishment had, in fact, been completely inaccurate. And so, he stumbled on greatness, because he chose to stand for the truth regardless of the cost and regardless of the size of the establishment he was facing off against. He wasn’t afraid because the truth that he had discovered was more precious to him than anything else the church or the world could offer him and so he became a circuit breaker, a world changer, a mover and a shaker. Not because he was trying to be one but because he had assimilated truths that made him one.

World changing isn’t for everyone, it is only for the privileged few who, having experienced a genuine connection with Jesus, are willing to lay everything they have and are on the line, to preserve it.

The Magisterial Reformation

Luther was deeply disappointed by the peasant revolts. He had thought that taking the message directly to the people was the most effective way to affect change but the revolts made him realize that he had been wrong. He then turned his attention to converting the German princes in the hopes that they would be able to gradually work towards converting the people within their provinces. This process became known as the Magisterial Reformation which was a significant turning point in the German Reformation changing it from a popular grassroots movement into a political movement. Luther’s move made the new Lutheran churches state-controlled churches under the authority of their respective rulers. Some of the Princes converted to Lutheranism because they believed what Luther was preaching while others saw the situation as an opportunity to seize control of the churches in their territories and broaden their power base. Up to that point the Roman Catholic church had had as much if not more of a power base than the secular rulers. The magisterial reformation tipped the scales in favor of the political rulers who embraced Protestantism. 

This process became known as the Magisterial Reformation which was a significant turning point in the German Reformation changing it from a popular grassroots movement into a political movement. Luther’s move made the new Lutheran churches state-controlled churches under the authority of their respective rulers. Some of the Princes converted to Lutheranism because they believed what Luther was preaching while others saw the situation as an opportunity to seize control of the churches in their territories and broaden their power base. Up to that point the Roman Catholic church had had as much if not more of a power base than the secular rulers. The magisterial reformation tipped the scales in favor of the political rulers who embraced Protestantism. 

The new system of Lutheran churches was vastly different to the Roman Catholic church. They were not a formally organized system controlled by a single man at their head. Instead, they were a collective of churches, independently organized and governed by the leader of their territories.

Though the intentions behind the magisterial reformation were good it gave rise to a more subtle evil, that of linking church and state authority. Perhaps it was the influence of the Roman Catholic church who invented the concept of a union between church and state. Luther was after all a former son of the church and was greatly influenced by it. Whatever the reasons behind the move it left a trail of war and bloodshed throughout 16th century Europe.

The Diet of Spires

The peasant revolts and the subsequent magisterial reformation divided the entire empire along a religious fault line. From that point forward there were the Protestant states, led by Protestant princes and the Catholic states led by Catholic ones.  The citizens in each state followed suit. The Diet of Spire ratified this situation in 1526 by issuing an edict granting each member state of the empire religious freedom. In addition to this, the Edict of Spires put a hold on the Edict of Worms issued in 1521, demanding the apprehension of Luther. This was a huge leap forward for the Reformation because up to that point the Holy Roman Empire had been decidedly Catholic and its Emperor had been seen as the defender of Catholicism in Europe. 

In 1529, Charles the V called for a second Diet to be convened at Spires with the singular purpose of repealing the Edict issued in 1526. Though the matter appeared to be simply the stakes were extremely high. The religious freedom of the entire Empire and the absolute sovereignty of Rome rested on the decision made by the assembly. Charles himself did not preside over the Diet but sent his brother, Ferdinand of Spain, to do the honors. The diet was formally opened and the business at hand, delineated by Charles in a curt message, read aloud. Then the tug of war between Catholicism and the Reformation began in earnest. The Papal delegates pushed the case for repeal while the Princes who backed the Reformation rejected the notion, arguing the Edict of Spires had been unanimously voted in by the delegates of the previous diet. To repeal it now would make no sense at all. 

The Papal delegates, seeing they were not gaining any ground, tabled a third option. They proposed that the Edict of Spires be neither enforced nor repealed till a General Council could meet to debate the matter further. They rushed to add that whatever law was currently enforced in each individual state was to continue to be binding until the matter was resolved. An additional caveat to this arrangement was a request to reestablish the Papal hierarchy in states enjoying religious freedom and to not allow anyone to convert to Lutheran teaching until the General Council had met and outlined the steps forward.

Since the empire was already divided into Protestant and Catholic strongholds adopting the third option would slow down the reformation in Catholic strongholds and would weaken the influence of the Reformation in Protestant strongholds.

This gave Rome the opportunity to retain at least some of its power and created a launching pad from which they could bring down the strongholds of the reformation from within.  The Catholic delegates rushed the proposition to the floor and pushed it through the Diet with a majority of votes. They then moved to close the proceedings of the Diet with the new Edict in place, commanding the Lutheran Princes to submit to the wishes of the majority.

The Princes of the Reformation banded together to deliberate their response and decided that they would not bow down to the wishes of the majority. John, the Elector of Saxony, spoke on their behalf before the diet, voicing their protest and clearly delineating the reasoning behind it. On the 25th of April, they gathered together to draft a protest against the decision of the Diet and collectively declared “in matters of conscience the majority has no power”. In the wake of that Protest, the whole of Christendom was divided into two distinct camps.

The religiopolitical climate in Germany leading up the Protest was not conducive to Protestantism. Prior to the Diet of Speyer in 1529, some of the Lutheran Princes were told that the Catholic Princes of the Empire had hatched a secret plot. The conspiracy was to gather together the Catholic forces and mount a full-fledged attack against the two most powerful Lutheran territories, Saxony and Hesse. In addition to this many of those who had faithfully embraced the Reformation in Germany were martyred in the period between the Diet of Worms in 1521 and the Diet of Speyer in 1529.

 When the Lutheran Princes marched out of the Diet in protest, they did so with a full knowledge of the consequences they would face. The Catholic Princes could easily form a confederacy with the armies of the Pope which would leave the Lutheran states vulnerable to war, bloodshed and persecution. 

The Death of Martin Luther

Shortly after the Protest of the Princes in 1529 the Protestant and Catholic territories began to form alliances in preparation for the outbreak of war. The Protestant states formed the Schmalkaldic League and the Catholic states formed the Catholic league. The outbreak of war seemed imminent with little to prevent it. At this point, Luther himself intervened. After the senseless bloodshed of the peasant revolts, he didn’t want any more blood on his hands as a result of the reformation that he had spearheaded. He was instrumental in preventing the outbreak of religious civil war and some historians claim that it was his personal influence alone that kept the peace between the two sides.

In January 1546Luther was summoned back to his home province to arbitrate in a local provincial matter. He reluctantly agreed and made the journey in the dead of winter.  He fell ill on the way there but made a full recovery and managed to make it back home safely. Once he got home he finished up his business promptly and chose to spend some time in his home parish. He was only 63 years old at the time but years of exhausting work, bouts of depression and repeated illness were beginning to take their toll. He was showing signs of physical weakness and he knew that he did not have long to live. On the 17th of February, he had dinner with a group of close family and friends including three of his sons and after the meal, he went back to his room to spend time in prayer as he usually did.

That night he fell ill and breathed his last, quietly slipping away with the words “into thy hands I commit my spirit, thou hast redeemed me O God of truth”. He could have met death in a variety of different ways but God chose to lay his tired and battle-wearied servant to rest in the quietness of a familiar home in his hometown.

Of all the men who ever lived that made their mark on the world perhaps none made such a significant contribution to the word of God as Martin Luther. He never set out to do be a circuit breaker or a world changer, all he really did was take the next step that God led him to take but that was the secret of his massive impact. He chose to faithfully submit himself to the will of God and that is what made all the difference.