The Pope has called for an unbiased reassessment of Luther's career in a special feature, the Herald fills in the background.
THIS MONTH Catholics all over the world will join in observances marking the 500th birthday of Martin Luther, a man they were once taught to revile as a heretic who led millions from the faith.
Behind this shift is a new understanding of the man who started out to reform Catholicism but ended up forming his on church. Behind it also is a new understanding of the doctrines he taught and of the faults in the church that he was seeking to correct.
Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483, to Hans and Margaret Luther In Eisleben in what is now East Germany. Baptised the next day, the feast of Si. Martin of Tours, he receised the name Martin.
At the University of Erfurt he received his bachelor's and master's degrees before beginning law studies in 1504.
Like St. Paul, Luther could mark a dramatic event as a turning point In his life. In July 1505, while returning to Erfurt from home, he was thrown to the ground by a Bghtning bolt. Praying to St. Anne, Luther promised to become a monk if his life was spared.
That same month, he entered the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt and began studies for the priesthood. He was ordained a priest on April 4. 1507.
Luther taught moral philosophy. at Wittenburg University while he completed his theological studies, receiving his bachelor's degree in 1509.
His only journey to Rome took place in 1510 when he was sent there with his order's vicar general. At the time Si. Peter's Basilica was under construction, funded heavily by the selling of Indulgences.
While the church later sae the selling of Indulgences as an abuse, it believes that Christ and the communion saints have accumulated a treasure of merits.
The indulgences were sold believing that the faithful can draw upon those merits and credit them to sinners, thus lessening the time they would spend in purgatory.
Luther returned to Germany in 1511 and received his doctorate In theology from Wittenburg in 1512. For the next five years he was professor of scripture there and district vicar of the Augustinian order.
In what is traditionally called Luther's Tower Experience, his insight into how people are justified In the eyes of God and so obtain eternal life was clarified.
One of Luther's chief concerns was the "terrified consciences" of people who not only had faith and tried to live moral lives, but also scrupulously followed many church rules and penances, and paid for Massses and indulgences to ensure their sat ation.
l• ()easing on the words of St. Paul's Lpistle to the Romans, Luther taught that humanity's entire hope of justification rests on God's merciful judgement, made known in Christ and the Gospel. Justification by faith alone became the major doctrinal basis of the Protestant Reformation.
In the medieval spirit of a scholastic debate, Martin Luther formulated his famous 95 theses, a list of topics on which, he believed, the church needed to reform.
He hung the theses "out of love and zeal for the elucidation of truth" on the castle church at Wittenburg on October 31, 1517. It marked the beginning of debates and inquisitions which led to his excommunication and the start of the Reformation less than four years later.
In seeking to reform the practices of the church, Luther threatened the power, Income and intertwined interests of princes, church leaders and priests.
One of the chief targets of his attacks, for example. WaS the Doniinicnn Johann Terzel, who was selling indulgences near the northern border of his territory. It was Tetzel who preached, "As the coin in the coffer rings, so the soul from purgatory springs."
Luther was not aware that Tetzel was selling indulgences at the request of Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz and Magdeburg. Half the money collected by Tetzel went for the construction of St. Peter's and the other half went to the archbishop who was in debt after buying multiple bishoprics against church law.
Archbishop Albrecht called Rome's attention to Luther's theses, expanding what could have been an isolated, local church conflict.
The theologian Johann Eck was appointed to face Luther at a 1519 debate at the university in Leipzig. Since several of Luther's theses called for reform of practices endorsed by the Pope, it took little effort for Eck to prompt Luther into admitting his belief that the Pope's authority in church teaching was not ultimate.
Eck then went to Rome where he helped Pope Leo X write the papal bull issued in 1520 ordering Luther to recant in 60 days or be excommunicated. When the 60 days had passed, Luther and his students burned the document. Leo issued the final decree of excommunication on Ian. 3, 1521.
In April of 1521 Luther was summoned to the imperial Diet at Worms — a legislative assembly of the seven most powerful civil and religious magistrates in the empire.
When asked if he would revoke the "heresies" contained in his writings, Luther replied that he could not. Saying that "my conscience is captive to the word of God," Luther would not deny his belief that neither the Pope nor church councils were infallible; Scripture was the ultimate authority.
The Edict of Worms condemned Luther as an outlaw in the empire, but he was given safe conduct to Wartburg Castle and protective custody by one of the imperial electors, Frederick the Wise.
In 1530, the Diet of Augsburg met, but Luther was not granted safe conduct. In his stead, Philip Melanchthon went in a final attempt to reconcile the views of Luther and Rome.
Melanchthon drafted the Augsburg Confession, a summary of Lutheran beliefs. However, the church of Luther and the church of Rome would not come to an agreement on the confession for another 450 years.