By Samuel Johnson
In 1501, Martin Luther entered the University of Erfurt, where he received a Master of Arts degree (in grammar, logic, rhetoric and metaphysics). At this time, it seemed he was on his way to becoming a lawyer. However, in July 1505, Luther had a life-changing experience that set him on a new course. Caught in a horrific thunderstorm where he feared for his life, Luther cried out to St. Anne, the patron saint of miners, “Save me, St. Anne, and I’ll become a monk!” The storm subsided and he was saved. Most historians believe this was not a spontaneous act, but an idea already formulated in Luther’s mind. The decision to become a monk was difficult and greatly disappointed his father, but he felt he must keep a promise. Luther was also driven by fears of hell and God’s wrath, and felt that life in a monastery would help him find salvation.
The first few years of monastery life were difficult for Martin Luther, as he did not find the religious enlightenment he was seeking. A mentor told him to focus his life exclusively on Christ and this would later provide him with the guidance he sought. He enrolled in the University of Wittenberg in an attempt to suppress his spiritual turmoil. He excelled in his studies and received a doctorate, becoming a professor of theology at the university.
Through his studies of scripture, Martin Luther finally gained religious enlightenment. Beginning in 1513, while preparing lectures, Luther read Psalm 22, which recounts Christ’s cry for mercy on the cross, a cry similar to his own disillusionment with God and religion. Two years later, while preparing a lecture on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, he read, “The just will live by faith.” He dwelled on this statement for some time. Finally, he realized the key to spiritual salvation was not to fear God or be enslaved by religious dogma but to believe that faith alone would bring salvation. This period marked a major change in his life and set in motion the Reformation.
In 1517, Pope Leo X announced a new round of indulgences to help build St. Peter’s Basilica. On October 31, 1517, an angry Martin Luther nailed a sheet of paper with 95 theses on the university’s chapel door. Though he intended these to be discussion points, the Ninety-Five Theses laid out a devastating critique of the indulgences as corrupting people’s faith. Luther also sent a copy to Archbishop Albert Albrecht of Mainz, calling on him to end the sale of indulgences. Aided by the printing press, copies of the Ninety-Five Theses spread throughout Germany within two weeks and throughout Europe within two months.
Martin Luther's Impact
A prominent theologian, Martin Luther's desire for people to feel closer to God led him to translate the Bible into the language of the people, radically changing the relationship between church leaders and their followers.