Luther, Martin (14881546)

Luther, Martin, the great Protestant Reformer, born at Eisleben, in Prussian Saxony, the son of a miner, was born poor and brought up poor, familiar from his childhood with hardship; was sent to study law at Erfurt, but was one day at the age of 19 awakened to a sense of higher interests, and in spite of remonstrances became a monk; was for a time in deep spiritual misery, till one day he found a Bible in the convent, which taught him for the first time that “a man was not saved by singing masses, but by the infinite grace of God”; this was his awakening from death to life, and to a sense of his proper mission as a man; at this stage the Elector of Saxony was attracted to him, and he appointed him preacher and professor at Wittenberg; on a visit to Rome his heart sank within him, but he left it to its evil courses to pursue his own way apart; if Rome had let him alone he would have let it, but it would not; monk Tetzel arrived at Wittenberg selling indulgences, and his indignation was roused; remonstrance after remonstrance followed, but the Pope gave no heed, till the agitation being troublesome, he issued his famous “fire-decree,” condemning Luther's writings to the flames; this answer fired Luther to the quick, and he “took the indignant step of burning the decree in 1520 at the Elster Gate of Wittenberg, Wittenberg looking on with shoutings, the whole world looking on”; after this Luther was summoned to the Diet of Worms, and he appeared there before the magnates, lay and clerical, of the German empire on April 17, 1521; how he demeaned himself on that high occasion is known to all the world, and his answer as well: “Here stand I; I can do no other; so help me God”; “it was the grandest moment in the modern history of man”; of the awakening this produced Luther was the ruling spirit, as he had been the moving one, and he continued to be so to the end of his life; his writings show the man as well as his deeds, and amid all the turmoil that enveloped him he found leisure to write and leave behind him 25 quarto volumes; it is known the German Bible in use is his work, executed by him in the Castle of Wartburg; it was begun by him with his back to the wall, as it were, and under the protestation, as it seemed to him, of the prince of darkness himself, and finished in this obstructive element pretty much throughout, the New Testament in 1522, the Pentateuch in 1523, and the whole, the Apocrypha included, in 1534; he was fond of music, and uttered many an otherwise unutterable thing in the tones of his flute; “the devils fled from his flute,” he says; “death-defiance on the one hand, and such love of music on the other, I could call these,” says Carlyle, “the two opposite poles of a great soul, between these two all great things had room.... Luther,” he adds, “was a true great man, great in intellect, in courage, in affection, and integrity,... great as an Alpine mountain, but not setting up to be great at all—his, as all greatness is, an unconscious greatness” (14881546).

Definition taken from The Nuttall Encyclopædia, edited by the Reverend James Wood (1907)

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