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It is October 31, 1517, Wittenberg, Germany. All of the village is asleep, and all is silent as a man dressed in monk's robes walks up to the church's door with papers in his hand. Suddenly, the silence of the night is punctured by the loud hammering of the monk as he leaves the pages on the door of the church and calmly walks away, not realizing that these simple sheets of paper will spark a religious revolution that will change the course of history forever. Who is this man you may ask and how did he change the course of history? The man's name was Martin Luther and he was a monk, a teacher, an intellectual, and most importantly, a revolutionary.
Martin Luther came from very humble beginnings. He was born in Eiselben, Saxony, on November 11, 1483. Although Martin was born in Eiselben, he and his family moved shortly after he was born to Mansfeld, where his father worked in the copper mines. Hans Luther was an aggressive and fiercely ambitious man and wanted more then anything to move his family out of the peasant class and into the working class and he succeeded. Martin luther was greatly favored by his father and as the years passed, his father strongly desired for his son to attend good schools and make a name for himself and have a better life then he had ever had.
Luther went to school first in the town where he was raised and then in the nearby town of Erfurt, a leading University town in Northern Germany. He excelled at Erfurt and after he graduated with his Master's in 1505 he enrolled in law school according to his father's wishes in May of the same year. He went back home to visit his family for a few weeks. After his visit home he rode back to school on horseback. In a story that had been recounted by Luther himself told many times, he recalled that on his way back to school, a storm hit and a lightning bolt crashed very near to him, throwing him from his horse and in great fear cried out, "Help me St. Anne, I will become a monk." Little did he know that those words would change the course of his life forever.
Fourteen days after the fateful storm on July 17, 1505. Luther entered the Monastery of The Hermits of St. Augustine at Wittenberg, Germany and did exactly what he had promised St. Anne. He became a monk.
In the early Spring of 1507, Luther was about to be ordained as a priest. He invited his father to his first Mass. Hans luther came, bringing along with him twenty Mansfeld residents and an open mind and heart willing to forgive Luther for his disobedience. However, Luther did badly performing the mass. He stammered, shook, and very nearly lost control. To make matters worse, his father was reported to have said "God give that it wasn't a devil's spook." referring to the storm on the way to Erfurt. His father left angry and disappointed. Martin Luther decided to instead turn his attentions to the study of theology as he seemed to not be meant for the priesthood. He fared much better in this study and in 1508, received a degree in theology.
In 1510, Martin luther and a fellow monk went to Rome. Martin Luther was fairly disgusted and shocked by what he called, in letters later in life, "...The knavery, the horrible sinfulness and debauchery that are rampant in Rome... If there is a hell, Rome must be built on top of it; for every kind of sin flourishes there..." Luther and his fellow monk spent a month in Rome and then returned to Germany. This fateful visit to Rome would be a key factor for Luther's opinions later on.
When Luther returned his mentor, Johannes von Staupitz, the head of the monastery; wanted him to pursue a doctorate in theology as he had done so well in that study before he went to Rome. Interestingly Staupitz also provided one of the cornerstone's of Luther's faith by urging him to trust in the goodness and mercy of God and not to rely on any type of effort or work to earn salvation. Luther did as his mentor requested and received his doctorate in theology in the year 1512 and immediately started lecturing at the University of Wittenberg.
The year 1516 was a crucial turning point in Martin Luther's career. At that time, Martin Luther, despite his mentor's assurance that a benevolent and loving God existed he was in constant torment over the state of his soul. Suddenly, one day as he was reading the gospels, Luther came upon a series of phrases by St. Paul, one of which read: "The just (or righteous) shall live by faith." As Luther contemplated the passage, he interpreted it to mean that the just will live by faith alone. Luther was instantly persuaded and we can only guess how relieved he was. He felt the that people had to live by faith alone; no person's good works could earn him or her a place in heaven. Much less guarantee it.
At that time, the Roman Catholic church was selling what was called "indulgences." They were pieces of paper that deceived the common people into thinking that they could purchase grace for their dead relatives. Luther was horrified and angered that the church was doing this and came up with an idea to alert the common people of the deception of the church.