Born: 10 November 1483
Died: 18 February 1546
Birthplace: Eisleben, Germany
Best known as: German monk who started Protestant Reformation
Without quite intending to, Martin Luther changed the course of Christianity and Western history. His 1517 complaint against specific abuses in the Roman Catholic church -- a document now known as the 95 Theses -- sparked the explosive Protestant Reformation that swept Europe for the rest of the century. Born to a Roman Catholic family (his father was a copper miner), Luther graduated from the University of Erfurt in 1505 but abandoned his legal studies to enter a monastery devoted to St. Augustine. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1507 and by 1512 was a doctor of theology and a Bible professor at the University of Wittenberg. Luther was a gifted preacher but his theology began to clash with that of the Catholic church: he wrote that salvation came not by any human work but by absolute faith in God's promise of forgiveness on account of Jesus Christ. Luther didn't anticipate the uproar touched off by the 95 Theses he sent to a bishop and archbishop to protest "indulgences" being sold by the Catholic hierarchy under Pope Leo X. His controversial beliefs earned him excommunication from the church, but he pressed on with many new followers. Luther produced the first reader-friendly German translation of the Bible and developed a new form of Christian worship that emphasized preaching and popular hymns, permitted the clergy to marry, and honored ordinary life in the world as a field for God's service.
Extra credit: In 1525, Luther married a former nun, Katharina (Katherine) von Bora, sixteen years younger than he. They had six children... Luther's hymn, "A Mighty Fortress is our God" (circa 1529), has been translated into more than 50 languages... It is likely that Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, but historians disagree on that story's accuracy... Yes, the Lutheran church is named for Luther.
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