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Martin Luther was a theologian and German monk who started the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, changing Christianity forever. He questioned some of the oldest beliefs of the Catholic church and founded Lutheranism.

Martin Luther

Martin Luther was born November 10, 1483 in Germany. Luther was educated at religious schools, both Latin and monastic, and they formed the basis of his faith. With his degree in the arts, he could study law, theology, or medicine. While he chose law to keep his father happy, he abandoned it only weeks later and joined a monastery.

Martin followed strict rules in his monastery but he found it unsatisfactory and went on to complete his bachelor’s degree in theology. He earned another degree which enabled him to teach the Four Books of Sentences - the standard sacred text of the time. Martin was sent to Rome to represent German Augustinian monasteries and left feeling a lack of spirituality in Western Christendom. After returning to Germany, he completed his doctorate and became a professor of biblical studies.

In 1517, Martin Luther became a household name for his publications, including the Ninety-Five Theses that he nailed to the church doors. This event led Martin to reach a new understanding of the Christian concept of salvation - reconciliation with God. Martin was subjected to an examination of his non-conformist teachings and maintained that the church did not have the power to absolve the faithful of sins. He removed himself from the debate, though others took his place, addressing other theological issues and calling for reform in the church and society.

After much debate and examination, Martin Luther's teachings and writings were ruled to be "heretical, scandalous, [and] offensive to pious ears." Martin refused to recant his writings and was charged with trying to challenge 1500 years of Christian theological consensus. An edict was signed that stated that Martin Luther and his followers were political outlaws, and that his writings were to be burned. Some rulers did not agree to this decree and took Martin to Wartburg Castle to hide. Martin translated the New Testament into German, influencing the development of written German.

By 1522, Martin Luther had amassed a following working toward reform. The reform also became more of a legal and political process. By 1523, others had started their own claims for more radical reformation of the church and society. Afterward, Martin Luther was involved in the reformation only as a theologian, adviser, and facilitator. He established the cause of the new Protestant churches and founded Lutheranism, which gained many followers and even the support of German princes.

Martin Luther went on to suffer from many ailments, though he continued to teach as the Dean of Theology at the University of Wittenburg. He published more works, some of which were offensive to certain groups and races including the Jews and Muslims. He died on February 18, 1546 at age 62 on a trip to his hometown.

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Martin Luther Significant Accomplishments

  • Opened a discussion about some of the oldest beliefs of the Catholic church
  • Received his bachelor’s and master’s degree in the arts and his doctorate in theology
  • Was selected to be a delegate to a Catholic church in Rome
  • Became a professor, and later dean of theology, at the University of Wittenburg
  • Founded his own church/religion - Lutheranism
  • Published many works throughout his life

Martin Luther Quotes

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”

“I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.”

“God writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”

Learn more about people who have influenced history in our Picture Encyclopedia!
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