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Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483, the son of Hans and Margarete Luther in Eisleben. As the second of nine children and the son of a mine owner and councilman, Luther grew up in modest wealth. Between 1501 and 1505 he graduated from one of the most important universities in central Germany, the University of Erfurt, and completed his studies with “Magister Artium” (Master of Arts). He followed his father’s wish and started studying law. However, this was ended soon after a sudden event that would change Luther’s life forever.

On July 2, 1505, Luther went home after visiting his parents and ended up in a thunderstorm in Stotternheim close to Erfurt. Fearing for his life, he vowed to become a friar. Only two weeks later, he joined the Order of the Augustiner-Eremiten (Augustinian hermits) in Erfurt. As Brother Martin, he led a strict life as a friar. He started studying theology and was sanctified a priest in 1507. In 1512, he gained his PhD in Wittenberg where he worked as professor for theology until his death. 

95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences

Starting in 1515, the Dominican friar Johannes Tetzel worked under the command of Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg to finance the renovation of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. As a pastor and an academic teacher, Luther saw it as his duty to act and began to criticise Tetzel’s sermons and practices very early. On October 31, 1517, Luther published his 95 theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences. To this day, this symbolises the start of the Reformation. Although these articles were originally planned as an academic confrontation, because of the letterpress they quickly spread like wildfire throughout Germany.

In June 1518, the Roman Catholic church initialized a pre-investigation against Martin Luther – the charge: heresy. While being interrogated by the pontifical envoy cardinal Cajetan in Augsburg, Luther refused to revoke his texts. Only a few months later, Luther publicly doubted the papal infallibility and the impeccability of the councils during a debate at the University of Leipzig. His writings, which spread rapidly, thus gaining him numerous supporters, caused the papal threat of the excommunication bill on June 15, 1520. 

Under the cheering of his friends in Wittenberg, Martin Luther burned the bill publicly. Following that, he was excommunicated on January 3, 1521. After he also refused to deny his writings in front of the Emperor Karl V. at the Wormser Reichstag the same year, the imperial ban was imposed on Luther and his supporters (Wormser Edikt).

At the Wartburg Castle

The Saxon elector Friedrich the Wise, who feared for Luther’s life, had him kidnapped and taken to the Wartburg castle in Eisenach for his own protection, where Luther lived under the name “Junker Jörg” for ten months. During this time, Luther translated the New Testament into German. This Bible translation became the foundation of the Modern High German written language. By March 1522, Luther had already returned to Wittenberg to end the upheaval and iconoclasm in the city through a series of sermons, “Invokativpredigten”, which lasted several days.

On June 13, 1525, Martin Luther married former nun Katharina of Bora. The couple lived together with their six children, relatives, employees and students in the former Black Abbey in Wittenberg.

Bible Translation as Main Accomplishment

His last journey brought Martin Luther back to his hometown to end inheritance disputes in the counts of Mansfeld in 1546. The reformer died on February 18 in Eisleben and was laid to rest in the castle church of Wittenberg three days later.

Alongside reforms in church, school and society issues, the translation of the Bible is seen as the main work of the German reformer. The printed all-German Bible of 1534 in Wittenberg influenced the German language like no other book and functioned as a stimulus for the translation of the Bible into many other European languages.