What follows is a synopsis of Luther-a musical presentation of the life of Martin Luther by Kari Tikka and Jussi Tapola. While the opera uses the basic outlines of Luther's life, it is most interested in the theological questions Luther struggled with during his career. Luther understood that in order to be a theologian one had to live life. “A theologian is born by living, nay dying; being damned, not by thinking, reading, or speculating.? Questions about faith and works, law and gospel, call and vocation, the two kingdoms, death and life are treated as they appeared in Luther's life. Luther's great question was “How does one find a gracious God?? The opera dramatizes that struggle in particular, framed by the late medieval obsession with death. Modern questions may revolve around whether there is a God of any significance at all; however, to understand Luther one has to understand his time and how he was haunted by the spiritual questions in life.
The following synopsis and questions will help the audience to better understand Luther's struggles. Use these notes for adult forums, confirmation students and your own studies as you plan to attend this musical presentation of Luther's life.
Martin Luther is considered by many to be one of the most influential men of the past millennium. He is ranked second after Einstein in some lists of influential people of the past 1000 years. Biographers have pictured him in many different ways: a devout monk, a madman possessed by demons, a revolutionary demagogue, a manic-depressive psychopath, a representative of the underclass, a noisy German peasant who waylaid the Renaissance, a young man plagued by sadness caught in the midst of an identity crisis fraught with an Oedipus complex, a hero of the modern world, a religious saint, crackpot, sexist, anti-Semite, or genius. No matter which image one chooses, none will deny that Luther's life and theology shook the West to its core.
Luther's father had hoped he would be a lawyer, but the young Martin, after an experience of terror, swore he would become a monk to please God. After he completed his education, he was called to a position as professor of Old Testament at the new university in little Wittenberg in Saxony. From his theological discoveries came a wave of events which, for good or ill, changed the West. Fundamental to his theology was the notion that we are saved by faith alone by the grace of God alone through Christ alone. For Luther, Christian faith was a gift from a gracious God who loved us enough to send his Son to save us. However, this salvation did not mean that life in this world would be a bed of roses. Like everyone else, Luther personally suffered what many people would identify as the slings of Satan. In his case, they included not only the deaths of his parents and a much beloved daughter, each of whom he grieved greatly, but also repeated reports of people who had been persecuted and even executed because they counted themselves among his followers. At the same time, his own bouts with a weak digestive tract and repeated attacks of depression-so severe that his colleagues had to develop special ways of dealing with them-were as outsized as his reputation was then and is now.
But these were all trivial matters, because for Luther, Satan's real target was the individual's faith that in Christ all had been resolved in favor of the ordinary human, who was saint and sinner to the end. And Satan was at his most deadly, as the opera shows, when he attacked on just this front. After a particularly fearful bout with depression, or the English Sweats, as it was then called , he wrote Melanchthon, “Pray for me. I spent more than a week in death and in hell. My entire body was in pain, and I still tremble. Completely abandoned by Christ, I labored under the vacillations and storms of desperation and blasphemy against God. But through the prayers of the saints God began to have mercy on me and pulled my soul from the inferno below.”
Fittingly enough, after Christ, his chief defense against Satan was humor and the company of like-minded people. “Sometimes,” he wrote, “it is necessary to drink a little more, play, joke, or even commit some sin in defiance and contempt of the devil in order not to give him an opportunity to make us scrupulous about small things.? When his colleague, Melanchthon, fell ill and seemed at the edge of death, Luther visited him and declared, “Philip, I need you too much. You may not die. If you do, I will excommunicate you!? The battle with Satan was real and no holds were barred against him, just as Satan fought with no holds barred.
Sin, death, and the power of devil were active forces in this world, and only faith in the ultimate victory of Christ over these great enemies gave one the strength, and the freedom, to face life's difficulties by living richly in Christ's promises. Luther also believed that God worked with his left hand to work his will in the world and right hand to bring us salvation. Luther saw that even God in his holiness could appear to be hateful to him. His discovery was that Christ Jesus was the only way human beings could come to know anything about God. According to Luther, Christ is “God deep in the flesh.”
In this production, Kari Tikka and Jussi Tapola have dramatically presented Luther's story as a conflict between Satan and Christ. Good or evil emerges from conflict, in paradox, for Luther. Thus the libretto shows Luther in conflict with Satan, the old deceiver, who appears in many guises, as Luther's opponents, in the guise of Christ, even of Luther himself. Every Christian is totally sinner and saint in Luther's theology. Luther believed that God, in Christ, has won the final battle so we are invited to live life to its fullest even in our suffering and pain. Life is good, a precious gift from God. We are to live confidently amidst the most terrible conflicts because God in Christ has won the war, even though the battle continues.
The late medieval tradition of the dance of death (dans macabre in Latin or Totentanz in German) is the dramatic frame for the beginning and ending of the story. The idea developed in the early middle ages, but achieved its highest development during the Black Death in Europe when the population of Europe was decimated by bubonic plague. It began, it is thought, with a short Latin poem Vado mori, “I am preparing for my death.? The tradition appeared in plays, wall tapestries, carvings and in music.
Scene 1-The Dance of Death (Early 1510s in Erfurt, Germany)
In the guise of Death, Satan summons young and old, rich and poor to the dance; each and every human being is on a journey toward Death, which for late medieval Christians waited like a giant throat waiting to devour them. “Death devours everyone, highest and lowest, humblest and holiest.? Everyone, Satan chortles, belongs to him, and to hell.
Martin Luther is a young Augustinian monk tormented by his conscience which tells him he can never be good enough to find peace with God. The story shows Martin Luther, his ruler, Prince Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony, and Brother Sebastian, a colleague of Luther's, as they make their confessions to Satan who is disguised as a confessor. He demands a scrupulosity that torments them all. With his prurient interest in their sex lives, he tries to coax ever more lurid confessions from them. He asks whether Frederick has used unusual sexual practices, whether Brother Sebastian has thought lustfully about women.
Here we meet Katharina von Bora, later to become Luther's wife, and Ave von Schönfeld, a friend of Katharina. They are pupils at a convent school and wish they could be ordinary girls again, not imprisoned in the convent where their fathers have sent them. They are unwilling to reveal much to Satan's lurid questioning, feeling he wants to know more than he should about their sins. Luther struggles frantically to find a merciful God in his confession; but God does not reveal His face to him. “I hate you, God,” he cries out. “Why have you forsaken me?” Luther demands, finally, that the being that is tormenting him reveal his face. “Who are you, are you God? Or are you Satan? Reveal your face,” he screams.
With Luther, the audience sings one of Luther's first hymns, “Out of the Depths,” LBW Hymn 295. A paraphrase of Psalm 130, it became one of the most popular funeral hymns of the Reformation and was sung at Luther's own funeral in 1546.
Questions for reflection
1. Look at Psalm 130 and compare it with the text of the hymn by Luther, LBW 295. Both the Psalmist and Luther understood the depths and heights of life with God, from high to low. Discuss why Luther was plunged into despair by his religious situation. Do people today suffer such despair over their sins? Is God a fearful or loving presence for us today? How can we understand Luther's despair today?
2. Luther discovered that he hated God and did not know whether his torment came from God or Satan. The Christian life, Luther taught, is like that. Describe a time in your life when things seemed only evil, and then, after some time, you began to see how God had been in the midst of things, working to bring forth good. Read Romans 8:28.
Scene 2-I am alive, I am free! (Wittenberg, around 1517)
Luther, a professor of Old Testament at the new University of Wittenberg, in Saxony, Germany, has been teaching the Scriptures for several years. Continuing his struggle to find peace with God, Luther realizes that Christ has taken his sins upon himself; that Christ, by his death and resurrection, has conquered death and the power of the devil, has given him a loving Father, freedom, life and Heaven. Christ has crushed Satan, broken the lance of the Law, put Death and Hell in chains. “How do you make us dance now? It was my Christ, my Jesus who danced you to death,” Luther sings. In an odd turn, Luther realizes that Christ is death to death, Satan to Satan. “It is my Christ, Jesus who is your hell, your hell, your hell, your hell!? This is a reason to rejoice. The audience sings Luther's great Easter hymn, “Christ Lay in Death's Strong Bands.” LBW 134.
Questions for reflection
1. Luther's discovery that Christ has defeated death and the power of the devil is cause for rejoicing. Luther has done nothing to defeat Satan; he has realized that Christ has defeated Satan. Discuss what it means that Christ is death to death, Satan to Satan, hell to hell.
2. This scene portrays Luther's deepest struggle to find a gracious God. At first he responds to his own imperfection and sin with despair and even hatred toward God. At the end, he comes to the joyous realization that Christ has freed him from his sin and death, reconciled him with God, and given him life. Discuss how Luther's experience of despair brings him to his joyful discovery of grace.
3. Read the hymn text “Christ Lay in Death's Strong Bands,” LBW 134. Note the phrase in stanza 2, “That death is swallowed up by death, Its sting is lost forever.? What does it mean that God in Christ experienced death? According to the hymn why can Satan no longer harm us? This is fundamental to understanding Luther's life and his struggle with the powers of darkness. Why does the resurrection of Jesus Christ bring Luther to such joy?
Scene 3-Doubly Damned (Summer 1519, Leipzig)
Luther's theological position against the medieval system of indulgences has gotten the notice of Rome, threatening it with a serious loss of income from the German church. Rome, in the middle of a huge building program for St. Peter's at the Vatican, seeks to silence this upstart German monk with a disputation between Luther and Johann Eck, who appears as Satan to Luther. Duke Frederick is delighted to see his young theologian making such an impression on the church. Eck, one of the scholars of the day, debates Luther in Leipzig, Germany. Eck asserts, “The Pope, as the successor of St. Peter, has the power given by our Lord Jesus Christ himself.”
Eck argues that the Pope's authority was given by Christ to Peter when he named him the rock upon which he would build the church (Mark 8). Eck argues that the Bible is to be interpreted only according to the will of the Pope and the Church Councils. Luther argues, that although he respects the Pope, he is not above Christ. God's Word is all we need to fight Satan. By raising the Pope to a position above the Word, Luther asserts, the Pope has become the Anti-Christ. Pope Leo excommunicates Luther in his famous bull, Exsurge domine. The chorus bursts out in a song against Luther, in the words of the papal bull, “A wild boar has plunged into your vineyard, O Lord. Your interpretation of the Bible is being tampered with, O Church? Rise up, O Peter!”
At the Diet of Worms in the spring of 1521, the conflict sharpens. The Emperor, Charles the V, along with many rulers in the Holy Roman Empire, gather to question Luther further and prevent a schism in the medieval church. Satan-in the guise of Doctor Eck-asks Luther whether he is prepared to retract anything that he has written. “You always say you appeal to God's Word, as do all heretics. Do you think you know more than the whole Church before you? You are supposed to be alone right?? Luther replies that he will throw his books onto a fire if it is shown, on the basis of God's word, that he is wrong. After a night of prayer and fearing for his life, Luther's says, “Here I stand. I can do no other.”
Charles V declares Luther an outlaw. Frederick the Wise, Prince Elector of Saxony, who is proud of Luther, an outstanding professor in his own university, plans to keep him safe from the ban issued against Luther by Charles V. The chorus-sensing the conflict that is coming-sings a ringing prayer to Christ, “Christ, O hear the German people, deliver us from slavery to Rome.? Luther praises God that he made it through the hearing. Duke Frederick resolves to protect his theologian. The audience sings one of Luther's first hymns, which tells the story of salvation as a medieval balladeer would bring the news from the larger world into town with a song, “Dear Christians One and All Rejoice,” LBW 299, verses 1-4.
These are the most dramatic moments in Luther's life. Here we see him stand against the greatest powers of the day: the pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V.
Questions for reflection
The Leipzig Debate is one of the most crucial debates of Luther's life. As he and Johann Eck argue about what is the highest authority of the Christian life, we see the Protestant movement take shape: can Scripture stand over against the church or is church tradition an historical development of Scripture? This is the key question: who interprets Scripture authoritatively: the church through the Pope, or the word itself? The argument continues to this day, and not just between Catholics and Protestants. Protestant scholarship today has been accused of making the Scriptures something only professionals can interpret. Has the contemporary church made the Bible a difficult book to understand? Is there need for a new Reformation to bring the Scriptures back to the laity?
2. The Diet of Worms was the most dangerous time for Luther. Standing before the Emperor and many other powerful dukes and rulers of the Holy Roman Empire, Luther, in fear for his life, makes his great statement: “Here I stand, I can do no other.? Is Luther only appealing to his own way of thinking? Is he being an individualist?
3. Luther's hymns are usually objective statements of faith for the edification of the singer. Read the hymn that concludes this scene, “Dear Christians One and All Rejoice,” LBW 299. Think as you read it how Luther is dramatizing the nature of salvation through the narrative of the conversation between God the Father and the Son. Read the first four stanzas as a description of Luther's, and the Christian's, joyful retelling of God's action to save them. In it we can read especially of Luther's joy and despair. Have your had similar experiences of despair and then joy? The last six stanzas reveal God's purposes in sending the Son to save us. What is the Son's commission on earth (stanza five)? What does the Savior say to us about his work? What does He commission us to do (stanza 10)? Is this a hymn only for preachers? How does the priesthood of all believers shine forth in the last stanza of the hymn?
Scene 4-The Reformation in Danger (1521-25)
The elector has kidnapped Luther and hidden him from the Emperor at the Wartburg castle, where he appears under the name of “Knight George” and continues his work translating the Bible into German. As the scene opens Luther is battling with Satan in his typically earthy language about the nature of his own flesh. In the guise of the castle governor, Satan goads Luther, who throws an inkbottle at him and continues his work.
Katharina and Ave, having heard the words of Luther, are fleeing from the convent, rejoicing in their freedom. (Many young women such as Katharina and Ave had been sent to the convent, not out of religious fervor, but because their fathers could not find them appropriate husbands, despite their daughters' inclinations.? Their conversation about finding husbands at the market and their wish to be ordinary girls again is in counterpoint with Luther's work as a translator. Luther is looking for German words that are appropriate for his translation of Matthew. “Look at the birds of the air? German nightingales are singing just as wonderfully as Roman finches.?
In his absence, Luther's colleagues go too far with his ideas and conflict begins among the reformers. In Wittenberg, Andreas Karlstadt and Thomas Müntzer, in the guise of Satan, are urging their followers to demand the banning of music and images from churches. They teach adult baptism, or “believer's” baptism rather than infant baptism. Frederick the Wise attempts to calm down the situation. Luther returns from the Wartburg and severely condemns these doctrines and preaches the message that faith can live only in freedom.
Müntzer and Karlstadt incite the people to rebellion. In the guise of Hieronymus Baumgartner, Satan tries to lure Katharina into becoming his wife. Satan jumbles the ideas of the Reformation, setting off the bloody Peasants' War. Luther returns in horror, saying, “Let the images be. Rejoice and be thankful for the lovely music. Let us praise our baptism. Through it God by his Word made us his children and freed us from the power of Satan.? Satan taunts Luther, who himself has encouraged the Duke to savagely repress the rebellion, amidst the thousands of corpses. Karlstadt and the chorus sing a frenzied song: “Sword. Sword. Sword. Our sword scorches up highest and lowest, humblest and holiest. Sword. Sword. Sword. This is a holy war!? “Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword,” says Frederick. Satan and Frederick sing, “Lord have mercy on the German people.”
Questions for reflection
The scene begins in a quiet mood, Luther peacefully translating the Bible into German, listening to the birds of the air, Katherine and Ave escaping from the convent. This peace does not endure. At home in Wittenberg, Luther's deputies are taking his ideas to what they believe to be their logical conclusions. Luther returns to restrain their rebellion which is brutally suppressed by the government, with Luther's approval. Here Luther sees the other side of the questions: his first appeal to freedom looks different. Now, as one with more power, he has to deal with the consequences of his ideas gone amok and creating havoc in the body politic. Discuss the issues at hand: believer's baptism, and the role of images and music to the faith.
2. This is one of the lowest points in the life of Luther, and no one praises him for his brutal recommendations to suppress the peasants. Yet, Luther's own theology accounts for such sinfulness. Discuss the nature of sin and Luther's doctrine that we are totally sinner, and totally saint at the very same time. How can that be?
Scene 5-The Feast of Life (Wittenberg in the summer of 1525)
The scene begins with an invitation to the wedding feast, “a renegade monk weds a runaway nun!? Martin and Katie sing a lyrical duet celebrating their love, “We can live, we are free! Roses were blooming when we married!? The Prince of Elector has given them the Black Cloister, a former monastery, for a home. The wedding feast ends and Katie begins the daunting task of cleaning the Black Cloister where Luther has lived for many years. In doing so she establishes the Protestant tradition of the parsonage, cleaning it up, raising a family, and running the household with an iron hand. Luther adores her and calls her his Lord, or Mister Katie, much to the disapproval of Melanchthon, and Bugenhagen, Luther's right hand men, who are not convinced Katie is good for Luther. “That woman is just too much!”
As Luther begins to deal with the joys and complications of marriage and fatherhood, Katie hands him his daughter to tend while she gets the place ready for Christmas. As he attempts to calm his daughter, her asks her to help him teach about Christ. From that encounter comes the family celebration of Christmas Eve, with songs around the Christmas tree. Martin sings for little Elisabeth one of his favorite hymns, “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.? The audience joins with the family in singing LBW 51, verses 2, 3, 7, 14.
Questions for reflection
1. This scene portrays Luther as he begins his married life with Katherine von Bora. Discuss Luther's theology of marriage and family. (Read his 1522 treatise “On The Estate of Marriage”, Luther's Works, volume 45, pages 13-49? Luther surprised himself by marrying Katharina, but came to adore her. The opera shows us a tender, and quite accurate picture of his marriage.
2. Luther stood over against the traditional medieval notion that to be religious one had to shun the things of this world, leave family and shun parenting. Instead of “making a vocation”-becoming nuns, monks or priests-Luther taught that all Christians were called into a vocation to serve God and their neighbor in their daily lives. One's spouse, parents, siblings, children and relatives were neighbors. Jesus commanded us to love them as we do ourselves. Luther sees this as he cares for his new baby and asks her to help him teach about Christ. Luther said once that one cannot be a theologian if one has not been with children. Why would he say that?
3. Luther is credited with beginning the family Christmas tree celebration. Read his lovely Christmas hymn, “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come,” as a dialogue between heaven and earth, angels and human beings, one side of the group reading stanza 1, the other stanza 8, and so forth until the end. The key to the entire Christian life is in stanza 12. Luther once said that Christ comes to us in three events: his actual birth here among us, when He is born in our hearts through baptism, and when He comes again. What does the hymn teach us about the Incarnation?
Scene 6-Free Will
In the guise of Erasmus of Rotterdam, Satan writes to Luther stating that Man has the free will to decide upon his relationship with God. This results in Luther's great treatise on the “Bondage of the Will.”
“Why,” asks Erasmus, the great humanist of the day, “is the Bible filled with instructions on how we should please God, if we do not have free will in matters of faith?? In his reply, Luther confesses that salvation is a gift of God and human beings have no power to decide in this matter. “Either Christ or free will.? He bursts into a song of grace, from Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace we have been saved.? (Lutherans first learn this doctrine when they learn Luther's explanation to the third article of the Apostle's Creed: “I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, or come to him, but that the Holy Spirit calls gathers, enlightens and sanctifies us.”)
Appearing in the guise of Christ, Satan drives Luther towards Hell. Luther hears that his beloved daughter has died. Luther himself almost dies. Katie and the chorus pray he might live. Luther, Katie and the chorus sing Luther's greatest hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” (LBW 229). The audience joins in singing with Luther as he sinks down, although he does not die.
Questions for reflection
1. Luther's greatest debate is with Erasmus on the bondage of the will. Erasmus argued that we had free will in matters of faith. Luther thundered back that we were bound to sin, and not free, except in Christ, who frees us to live fully in him. Discuss what Luther was getting at in this treatise by reading the story of the workers in the vineyard from Matthew 19. Is God free to do what He wills? Are we free to do what we will?
2. Luther's life was filled with suffering and grief. His periods of depression plunged him into darkness from which only music could raise him. In this scene we see Luther hearing of his little daughter's death. When she died, he was distraught and felt himself almost in hell. He also suffered his own illness, a severe and debilitating bout with a kidney stone. The stone caused uremic poisoning which nearly killed him. Although we are not precisely certain when Luther wrote his great hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” informed speculation says it may have been written after Luther emerged from a terrible depression some time in 1527-1529. Sing the hymn together and discuss why such a strong hymn could speak so powerfully to one in depression? Why does the notion of the external word comfort someone in depression? Describe a time in your lives when you needed this hymn, or another, in order to survive to the next day.
Scene 7-“In the midst of Death, we are surrounded by Life.” (Wittenberg, 1546)
Katie and Luther, now an old couple still very much in love, reminisce about their lives. “God has two hands; with the left He presses down; with the right He raises up. With both He loves.? Together they sing, “Christ is ours, we have life and freedom in him.? Luther dies, saying, “The war has been won, but the battle goes on.”
Theologians of the future continue the old theological conflicts of Luther's time. They argue, as Eck did, that only the Pope and church councils can determine what the Bible says; or, as Erasmus and Karlstadt did, that Christians have to work out their relationship with God out of their own free will. They argue that infant baptism is not enough, adults need to make a conscious decision to believe in Christ and that people can find the spirit on their own. These arguments continue today. One theologian argues that Luther has not said what people have said he said? another that God is only spiritual and not in the flesh. In the middle of their argument, Satan returns and summons all to the Dance of Death. “I invite you, I invite you all to the dance.? In this life there is no resolution, only faith in Christ counts.
Questions for reflection
2. Three Christian theological perspectives forged during the time of the Reformation-Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed-are still being debated today. Discuss the three positions being argued, for example, on baptism, works, and free will.
3. Some may find it disturbing that the story ends where it started: with Satan continuing to invite people to the dance of death. Is it true to life? Does faith in Christ take away all troubles?
4. The theological arguments continue; nothing is resolved. Is this true to life? Do we ever find resolution? Are there events today that seem to contradict or affirm the opera's contention that we are still arguing about what Luther meant?
A Note from the Bishop of Helsinki on the premiere of the opera in Finland
What happens when Martin Luther and Satan slug it out on the life and death before our eyes, and with music that sinks what we see and hear into our very soul?
Satan is brilliant at diversionary tactics and adept at adopting the guise of leading theologians and the devout, even of Christ Himself. His blows connect, and plunge Luther into deep despair: “I hate you, Christ!? Life in all its opulence is paraded before us. Martin, a renegade monk, marries Katharina, a nun on the run. They sing to one another: “…my desire is for you” and Satan invites them and us to a dance of death. This is a Jubilee Year event, a joint effort by the Finnish National Opera and the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland. Contemporary creative art, theological science and the community of the congregation meet. “The notes make the text come alive,” wrote Luther. May the Holy Trinity bless this opera and make it come alive for us, to make real the awesome power of the struggle. We need this power in our own life and death struggle.
A Note from the Composer, Kari Tikka
“The war is won, but the battle continues”
“For me, what is important in Luther is what is important for everyone: the quest for Christian freedom and thereby the meaning of life,” says composer Kari Tikka. That gave Tikka one good reason for writing an opera about Martin Luther. Another good reason is the wealth of material. So much happened in his life. There is a wealth of information from which to choose. Ultimately, the opera focused on the position of Man between God and Satan.
Why does Satan-evil incarnate-occupy such a central position in the opera? “This goes back to Luther himself,” says Tikka. He inherited his conception of Satan from the Church Fathers. According to this view, God gives Satan the power to do evil. We cannot always tell what is Satan's doing and what is God's. This is what leads Luther to despair, but thereby he discovers that even evil is controlled and used by God.”
The opera seems to end on a pessimistic note. The dance of death recurs, and death appears to triumph after all the struggle. “This, too, is pure Luther,” says Tikka. In the opera, Luther's final words are “the war is won, but the battle continues.? The forces of destruction continue to work among humanity and in the world. On the other hand, the Christ motif is present in the concluding music. One of Luther's hymns says it best: "In the midst of death, we are in life.”
Stylistically, the music draws upon the Middle Ages and Minimalism, on musicals and Luther's hymns. The hymns form a part of the drama and carry the action. By singing along with the hymns, the audience participates in the performance.
In reading the writings of Martin Luther it became obvious to Tikka that Luther's message is still relevant. This was part of his motivation to write the opera. “Today, Luther would oppose those spiritual movements that imagine that they have a monopoly on the truth. He could also preach mercy and relief to those of us who labor under stress and constant pressure to achieve our salvation.”
The Life of Martin Luther
Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483 in Eisleben. He graduated from the University of Erfurt in 1505, became a monk and took holy orders in 1507.
In 1511, he settled in Wittenberg, where he began teaching at the new university built by the Elector of Saxony. In lecturing on the Psalms and the Epistle to the Romans, Luther realized that God accepts humanity solely through mercy. Human effort will not earn them salvation.
On October 31, 1517, Luther nailed to the door of the church of Wittenburg Castle his 95 theses criticizing the sale of indulgences and refuting the power of the Papacy to forgive sins. He was brought to trial at Worms to force him to recant. He justified his cause by referring to the Bible. In summer 1519, Luther and Professor of Theology Johann Eck had a great debate on doctrine in Leipzig.
In 1520, The Pope issued a bull threatening Luther with excommunication. Books by Luther were burned, and he in turn burned the Pope's bull. Luther was summoned to the Diet at Worms and asked whether he wished to retract what he had written. Luther replied: “Here I stand. I can no other.?
The Diet pronounced Luther an outlaw. For his own safety, Luther's prince hid him in Wartburg Castle, where he undertook to translate the Bible into German. The confusion of old and new doctrine caused an ecclesiastical crisis, and Luther was summoned back to Wittenberg to restore order. When peasant revolts broke out in Germany in 1525, Luther condoned the use of violence to put down the revolt. Luther married Katharina von Bora, a former nun, in 1525. Katie managed their household in an ex-monastery donated to them by the Elector.
Luther wrote his Small and Large Catechisms in 1529, by which time most of northern Germany had become Lutheran. His literary productions over his lifetime were prodigious. His pamphlets and treatises explained the Christian faith to ordinary people as well as theologians. His translation of the Bible, his many hymns and his catechism were all produced with the intent of teaching the laity about the faith clearly and in their own language. After his illness, his mental state grew more precarious and he wrote even more ferociously than before. Among his writings was a treatise on the Jews, which discredits him and his movement. (The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has repudiated this work and its sentiments.? Martin Luther died in Eisleben on February 18, 1546.
To learn more about Luther
Bainton, Roland H. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther.
Bainton, Roland H. Women of the Reformation: In Germany and Italy. (Beacon Press: Boston, 1971).
Barzun, Jacques. From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present. 500 Years of Western Cultural Life. (Harper Collins: New York, 2000).
The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Fortress Press: Philadelphia, 2000).
Ebeling, Gerhard. Luther: An Introduction to his Thought (Fortress Press: Philadelphia, 1970).
Erickson, Erik H. Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History. (Norton: New York, 1958)
Forde, Gerhard*. Theology Is for Proclamation. (Fortress Press: Philadelphia, 1990).
Grane, Leif. The Augsburg Confession: A Commentary. (Fortress Press: Philadelphia, 1987).
Grane, Leif. Martinus Noster: Luther in the German Reform Movement, 1518-21.
Kittelson, James**. Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and His Career. (Fortress Press: Philadelphia, 1987).
Kittelson, James** and Gerhard Forde*. On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther's Heidelberg Disputation, 1518. (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids/Cambridge, 1997).
Meuser, Fred. Luther the Preacher. (Augsburg: Minneapolis, 1983)
Nestingen, James Arne**. Martin Luther: His life and Teachings.
Nestingen, James Arne**. The Faith We Hold: The Living Witness of Luther and the Augsburg Confession.
Oberman, Heiko. Luther: Man between God and the Devil.
Todd, John M. Luther: A Life. (Crossroad: New York, 1982).