Before Martin Luther turned Christian civilization upside-down, Catholicism was the only game in play. Those who didn’t agree got burned at the stake … or worse. But this single man launched the Reformation in the 16th Century AD when he nailed 95 theses on the door of a German church. And believing has never been the same again (at least, not in the West).
Born in Saxony in November 1483, Martin’s parents hoped to educate him for a career as a lawyer. In 1501 he entered the University of Erfurt and received a Master of Arts degree, having studied grammar, logic, rhetoric, and metaphysics … all lawyer skills. However, in 1505 he was caught in a horrific thunderstorm and promised St. Anne that he would become a monk if he survived. He did, and he did. The first years of monastic life were challenging, and he failed to find religious enlightenment despite all his praying. He was particularly upset by the immorality, venality, and corruption he witnessed among the Catholic clergy.
Leaving the Augustinian order, despite being ordained in 1507, Luther enrolled in the University of Wittenberg and was awarded his Doctorate of Theology in 1512. He joined the theological faculty soon after, and spent the rest of his career there. Being a contentious sort, when Pope Leo X announced a new round of indulgences in 1517 to help build St. Peter’s Basilica, Luther was incensed and composed the famed Ninety-Five Theses. These laid out a devastating critique of the Church’s corrupt practices, and he nailed them up on the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg for all to see. Soon enough, with the aid of that new contraption the printing press, the theses spread across Europe.
Though Luther would have no hand in the bloodshed and misery his protest engendered, he was excommunicated by the Catholic Church in 1521 after repeatedly refusing to recant his heresy. He died under house arrest, although still dean of theology at the university, in 1546.