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Submitted by Rev Hector Morrison

In Lecture 2 (view here) Trueman provides us with a biography of Luther up till the eve of the Indulgences Controversy which provided the spark that set the fires of Reformation burning;

Luther’s Biography

General Context

Unlike the other main Reformers (Calvin, Zwingli, Melanchthon, etc) who all belonged (culturally) to the early modern era, Luther was a medieval figure. He and Zwingli were born just weeks apart, yet there was a vast cultural gap between them.

Zwingli was trained as a ‘Humanist’ [not as that term is used nowadays, but rather …], a man of letters, a public intellectual; while Luther was trained as a monk in a very medieval context.

1483 – Luther was born in Eisleben.

1484 – his family moved to Mansfeld. His father became a miner and worked his way up to be manager of the mine, so moving from peasant class to middle class, so likely to be ambitious for his family.

1501 – Luther matriculated at the University of Erfurt where the curriculum was resistant to Renaissance influence. There, e.g., the medieval emphases on logic and grammar were pursued rather than rhetoric. He enrolled in the Faculty of Law.

1505 – while walking back from his parents’ home to university, Luther was narrowly missed by a bolt of lightning and fell to his knees crying, ‘St Anne, save me and I’ll become a monk!’ St Anne was both the patron saint of miners (his father’s occupation) and also patron saint for those caught in a thunderstorm. Luther read this as a sign and warning from God and within 10 days presented himself in the Augustinian cloisters in Erfurt to become a monk. His father was furious both at his giving up of a prestigious and lucrative career in the Law, and also that he had not chosen one of the more prestigious religious orders, like the Dominicans or the Franciscans.

1507 – Luther was ordained. This was important as it meant that his theology would be worked out not simply in the academy, but also as a parish priest taking confession and helping his parishioners (where the Indulgence Controversy came from).
He also had to celebrate mass and, with his father present, he had a kind of breakdown due to his understanding at that time of transubstantiation, in which he believed the bread and wine to be changed into the body and blood of Christ. For Luther this was traumatic – he felt unworthy to take and to handle God! [It’s worth listening closely to Trueman here as he tries to get us to understand how traumatic this was for Luther!] Luther’s agonies of soul were very sacramental. His initial crisis was precipitated by the Lord’s Supper.

1508 – Luther transferred to the University of Wittenberg, which was a new foundation [established around 1501/2 – yet, by 1825 it was one of the most popular universities on the European continent due to Luther’s presence].

1510 – Luther was part of a small Augustinian delegation to Rome, where he was overwhelmed on the piety front with the multiplicity of relics available, but also stunned by the corruption of the Papal court.

1510-17 – this was an intellectually interesting period during which Luther did his regular pastoral work but also did biblical exegesis, albeit based not on the original languages but on the Latin Vulgate. Since the late 19th century when copies of his lectures turned up in the Vatican and in the University of Berlin, we have known that in 1515/16 Luther was lecturing on Romans. During these years his theology was going through a period of transformation. During this period he also struggled with anfechtungen, a feeling of dread, anxiety, angst precipitated by fear that something bad was going to happen. This angst was intimately connected with the question as to whether God would pardon him or be gracious to him.

Some Quotes from Carl

‘For Luther transubstantiation became an error, not a heresy; Zwingliism is heresy!’

‘Protestants have no ‘high horse’ on which to look at the Renaissance Papacy and complain of corruption.’