Five hundred years ago this week, Oct. 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his ‘95 Theses’ on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church in Germany. Luther, a young monk with a doctorate in the Bible, was a brilliant New Testament professor at Wittenberg University. He hoped that his theses document would spark an academic debate but instead it ignited a conflagration that would forever destroy the world he knew.
Luther was extraordinarily successful as a monk. He plunged into prayer, fasting, and ascetic practices – going without sleep, enduring bone chilling cold without a blanket, and flagellating himself. As he later commented, “If anyone could earn heaven by the life of a monk, it was I.”
While he was studying the book of Romans (Romans 1:17) he began to understand “that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a ‘gift of God’; namely by faith. “Here I felt as if I was entirely born again, and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung wide open.”
“It wasn’t long before the revolution in Luther’s heart and mind played itself out in all of Europe.” Luther’s publication of his 95 Theses created a firestorm in the church, as they targeted the selling of Indulgences which Luther believed were unscriptural.
In 1521 Martin Luther was summoned to a meeting in Worms, Germany with Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. He believed that he was going there to debate his position, but soon realized he was on trial. Luther was ordered to recant and deny his views and writings.
In a courageous answer, encapsulated for the ages, Luther replied, “Unless I can be instructed and convinced with evidence from the Holy Scriptures or with open, clear and distinct grounds of reasoning …then I cannot and will not recant; because it is neither safe or wise to act against conscience.” Then he added, “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.
By the time an Imperial edict calling for his arrest as “a convicted heretic” was issued, Luther had escaped to Wartburg Castle, where he was hidden by Frederick the Wise for ten months; during which time he translated the Greek New Testament into German, which dialect eventually became the official language throughout Germany.
Martin Luther. A man for the ages.
Robert C. Wilson