Martin Luther, the leader of the German reformation, born in Eisleben, now a town of Prussian Saxony, on St. Martin's eve, Nov. 10, 1483, died in the same place, Feb. 18, 1546. His father was originally a poor peasant, but became a miner, and ultimately acquired a house and two furnaces at Mansfeld, whither he removed six months after Luther's birth, and left at his death about 1,000 florins in money. The reformer was brought up under pious but severe and rough discipline. At school he was once flogged 15 times in a single forenoon. He calls the German schools of those days purgatories, and the teachers tyrants and taskmasters. While at school in Mansfeld he had to beg his bread with his companions by singing from house to house in the neighboring villages. "It is God's way," he says, " of beggars to make men of power, just as he made the world of nothing." His condition was not materially improved at the Franciscan school in Magdeburg, where he spent one year. From there he was sent to the Latin school at Eisenach, his favorite town. At first he had still to beg his bread by singing hymns in the street, and felt at times so discouraged that he nearly gave up study altogether.
But a liberal lady, Ursula Cotta, took the poor boy, who had engaged her sympathy by his musical talent and earnest devotion in church, to her house, dispelling the gloom from his mind, and supporting him till he was prepared to enter the university of Erfurt in 1501 at the age of 18. Here he studied with great zeal and success the Latin classics and the scholastic (Aristotelian) philosophy, and graduated in 1505 as M. A. His moral conduct during all that time was unblemished. His father, who in the mean time was able to assist him, intended him for the legal profession. But the sudden death of an intimate friend in a duel, and his own narrow escape from death, first by a severe illness, and then by lightning, which struck with terrific force on the ground near his feet on the road between Erfurt and Stotterheim, so strongly excited his religious feelings and filled him with so vivid a sense of the vanity of the world, that he resolved to forsake it, and entered the Augustinian convent at Erfurt, July 17, 1505. Here he subjected himself to the severest monastic discipline and the humble services of sweeper, porter, and beggar. His deep mental conflicts, penances, and mortifications of the flesh seriously undermined his health and brought him to the brink of despair.
The ascetic exercises led him more and more to a knowledge-of his own moral helplessness, and to the cross of Christ as the only source of justification and peace. In this process he was greatly assisted by the study of the Bible, complete copies of which he first found in the university library, and in the convent at Erfurt, by the writings of St. Augustine, his favorite among the fathers, the sermons of the German mystic Tauler, the commentaries of Nicholas de Lyra (hence the saying, Si Lyra non lyrasset, Lutherus non saltasset), and the advice of his fatherly friend Johann Staupitz, a practical mystic, and superior of the Augustinian order in Germany. The cloister of Erfurt may therefore be called the birthplace of Lutheran Protestantism and of the evangelical doctrine of justification by faith without the works of the law. "God ordered," says Luther, "that I should become a monk, that, being taught by experience, I might take up my pen against the pope." After having spent three years in the convent and taken orders (1507), Luther was called in 1508, at the instance of Staupitz, as professor of scholastic philosophy to the university of Wittenberg, which had been founded a few years before by Frederick the Wise, elector of Saxony. In 1512 he took the degree of D. D. He lectured on theology, especially the Psalms and the Epistles of Paul, his favorite apostle, freely expressed his dislike for the dry and stiff formalism of the prevailing scholasticism, and led the students from ecclesiastical tradition to the fresh fountains of the Scriptures, and to the evangelical system of his favorite St. Augustine. But he had no idea of being in conflict with the genuine spirit of Catholicity. On the contrary, when in 1510 he made a journey to Rome in the interest of his order, he devoutly ascended on his knees the scala sant-a opposite the church of St. John Lateran, although an inward voice, as he declares, repeated the passage, " The just shall live by faith." It required, however, only the proper external occasion to call out the reformation as it was fully prepared, not only in the mind of Luther, but for centuries past in the Latin church at large, both negatively and positively, by the anti-Catholic sects, and the movements of Wycliffe in England, Huss in Bohemia, Savonarola in Italy, Wessel and many others in Holland and Germany. This occasion was the abuses attend-ing the promulgation of an indulgence under the authority of Pope Leo X. to all who, besides fulfilling other conditions, should contribute money for the rebuilding of St. Peter's at Rome. The person intrusted with the dispensation of these indulgences in Saxony was a Dominican monk named Tetzel, who seems to have discharged his functions in a manner which many devout Catholics regarded as profane.
He went far beyond the received doe-trine of the Roman canonists of the age, and made the granting of ecclesiastical remissions little if any better than an open sale. Against this profanation of holy things Luther raised a bold protest in the famous 95 Latin theses which he posted up on the doors of the Schloss-kirche at Wittenberg, Oct. 31, 1517. He enclosed a copy of them to the archbishop of Magdeburg, beseeching that prelate to put a stop to Tetzel's scandalous practices. These theses, although submitting the entire controversy to the decision of the pope, contained nevertheless the germ of the Protestant doctrines. They spread with the velocity of lightning through the press, now for the first time turned to account in a popular agitation, and kindled a tire throughout the Catholic world of Europe. A sharp controversy followed; the attempts of ecclesiastical diplomacy to compromise the difficulty through Cajetan and Miltitz failed; the Leipsic disputation (June-July, 1519), between Dr. Eck on the one hand and Carlstadt and Luther on the other, soon rekindled the fire and widened the breach.
Luther hurled several violent and most effective pamphlets against Rome, especially his address to the German nobility (1520), and henceforth he hated and abhorred the whole system of Roman Catholicism as an anti-Christian despotism that held the church of God in captivity and obstructed the access of the believer to Christ. Thus he was led step by step, against his original intention, to a complete emancipation from the system in which he was educated. In all this crusade he was encouraged and supported by his university, his prince, and a large amount of growing popular sympathy, especially in the north of Germany. Leo X. was disposed at first to treat the whole controversy lightly, as a mere monkish quarrel between the Augus-tinians and Dominicans; but he felt himself compelled at last to issue, June 15, 1520, a bull of excommunication (if he should not recant within 100 days) against the dangerous German heretic, who by his pen had shaken the church and the empire to the very base. Luther, surrounded by his students and colleagues, committed the papal bull, together with the canon law and several books of Eck and Emser, to the flames (Dec. 10, 1520) before the Elster gate of Wittenberg, exclaiming: " As thou (the pope) hast troubled the Holy One of the Lord, may the eternal fire trouble and consume thee." This bold act was the fiery signal of an irrevocable separation from the Roman hierarchy.
A few months afterward he was summoned by the young German emperor Charles V. before the diet of Worms; and in spite of the remonstrances of timid friends, he resolved to go, though " there were as many devils there as there are tiles on the roofs of the houses." On entering the city (where a magnificent monument to his memory was completed in 1868), more than 2,000 persons accompanied him to his quarters. When confronted with the brilliant assembly of the emperor, the princes and nobles of the empire, the dignitaries of the church, and an immense concourse of spectators, and called upon to recant, he boldly defended his doctrines, and made the memorable declaration (April 18, 1521): " Unless I shall be refuted and convinced by testimonies of the Holy Scriptures, or by public, clear, and evident arguments and reasons, I cannot and will not retract anything, since I believe neither the pope nor the councils alone, both of them having evidently often erred and contradicted themselves, and since it is neither safe nor advisable to do anything against the conscience. Here I stand, I cannot otherwise; God help me ! Amen." Thus the Bible, his conscience, and private judgment were the three powers to which he appealed against tradition, the pope, and the councils.
When the solitary monk entered the hall of the diet, Freundsberg, an able military commander, tapped him on the shoulder and justly said: " Monk, monk, thou art on a passage more perilous than any which I and many other commanders ever knew in the bloodiest battle fields. If thou art right, fear not; God will sustain thee." The diet subsequently pronounced the ban of the empire against Luther, and he was now an outlaw before church and state. - With Luther's appearance at Worms culminates his opposition to Rome, or the first and negative act of the reformation. The third period of Luther's life, which reaches from the diet of Worms to the diet of Augsburg (1530), embraces his positive labors in constructing and organizing the new church on the Scriptural basis, in opposition not only to papal authority, but also to ultra Protestant radicalism and fanaticism. On his return to Wittenberg he was protected by the agents of Frederick the Wise, and lodged in the castle of the Wartburg, near Eisenach in Thurin-gia. In this romantic solitude, which he called his Patmos, he spent ten months under the assumed name of "Master George," hunting, praying, issuing tracts, and translating the New Testament, until the outbreak of serious disturbances among his own followers induced him to return to Wittenberg (March, 1522), in spite of the remonstrance of his prince.
He preached a series of sermons in favor of order, authority, moderation, and charitable forbearance, and thus allayed the radical movement, headed by his older colleague, the earnest but fanatical Carlstadt, which threatened to defeat the cause of the reformation by turning it into a chaotic revolution. He took a similar conservative stand against the Anabaptists and the political ultra Protestantism in the peasants' war, which rose like a dark pillar of smoke from the flame of the reformation, and ended in the more complete subjugation of the German peasantry by their temporal and spiritual masters. The cruel advice attributed to Luther to kill the rebellious peasants "without mercy like mad dogs" was at any rate executed, and the premature movement in favor of political freedom was suppressed in 1525. Since that time Protestantism in Germany has been strongly conservative and monarchical in politics, while in Switzerland, France, Holland, and England it has favored and promoted political liberty. In the midst of these disturbances Luther suddenly married, in his 42d year (June, 1525), to the great surprise of his friends, an ex-nun, Catharina von Bora, in order "to please his father, to tease the pope, and to vex the devil." The marriage was upon the whole a happy one.
Luther speaks of his "Katy" as an obedient, pious, and good wife, whom he prized " above the kingdom of France or the state of Venice." The most important labors of the reformer between 1521 and 1530 were his translation of the Bible, his sermons, hymns, and chorals for divine service in the vernacular tongue, his larger and shorter catechisms, both of which acquired symbolical authority, and his efforts in behalf of common schools and popular education. He defended the establishment of such schools, partly by taxation, partly by the funds of the monasteries, with the strongest and clearest arguments derived from the duty of parents and of the state, the Bible, and the highest considerations of public virtue and religion. " It is a grave and serious thing," he says, " affecting the interests of the kingdom of Christ and of all the world, that we apply ourselves to the work of aiding and instructing the young. . . . Why else do we elder persons live, but to take care of the young, to teach and train them ? It is not possible that giddy childhood should provide for its own instruction. Therefore God has committed them to us who are old and have experience, and he will call us to a strict account. . . . This is not only the duty of parents, but also of the state and the church.
How can reason and charity allow the youth to grow up uneducated to become a poison and pestilence, corrupting a whole town ?" He regarded the office of a teacher, next to preaching, as the most important and useful vocation. "I am not quite sure which of the two is the better; for it is hard to reform old sinners, with whom the preacher has to do, while the young tree can be made to bend without breaking." It is necessary to add that he viewed domestic and public education always in close connection with religion and the church. In 1529 he attended the fruitless theological conference at Marburg to bring about a union between the Lutherans and Zwinglians, but declined the overtures of brotherhood made by the less rigid Swiss reformer, on account of the difference existing between them in their views on the Lord's supper. He claimed and exercised the full right of private judgment against bishops, popes, and general councils, but refused it to others who conscientiously differed from him, and had the same veneration for the Word of God as he. Born to rule and accustomed to lead opinion, he was impatient of contradiction and overbearing in disposition.
During the diet of Augsburg in 1530, where the " Augsburg Confession," the most important symbolical book of the Lutheran church, was composed by Melanchthon and presented to the emperor, Luther remained at the castle of Coburg, watching the progress of events, and encouraging his timid and often desponding friend Melanchthon. - The fourth and last part of Luther's life, from 1530 to 1546, is less important for the general course of the Protestant movement, which in the mean time had far outgrown its individual and sectional proportions, and presents less biographical unity and interest to the general reader. He continued, however, his labors as professor, preacher, and writer, without interruption, and took a leading part in the public events of his country. In 1534 he completed the translation of the whole Bible, the work of many years. In 1536 he assented to a temporary agreement with the Swiss Protestants, but soon afterward renewed the sacramental war with great vehemence, and refused fellowship with all who denied his doctrine of the Lord's supper. In 1537 he drew up in a strongly anti-papal spirit the " Articles of Smal-cald," intended for the often promised and long delayed general council.
They were signed by the Lutheran princes and Melanchthon (though with a qualifying clause by the latter), and became one of the symbolical books of the Lutheran church. He had no confidence in any compromise with Rome, and attended none of the conferences which vainly attempted to heal the great schism. In 1539 he committed the inexcusable mistake of giving his private though qualified consent to the disgraceful bigamy of Philip of Hesse. His latter years were frequently obscured by sickness, irritable temper, gloomy spirits, death of friends and relatives, dissatisfaction with public affairs, differences among his followers, and the Avarlike prospects of Germany. In December, 1544, he wrote to a friend: "I am worn out and discontented; that is, I am an old man and no more of any use. I have finished my course; there remains only that God gather me to my fathers and give my body to the worms." He complained bitterly of the rudeness, impiety, and immorality of his age. In 1545 he was so dissatisfied with the people of Wittenberg on account of their luxury and vain amusements, that he left the town to spend the remainder of his days elsewhere; but at the entreaties of the elector and the university he returned.
His last work was the completion of a commentary on Genesis, which he commenced in 1535, and concluded in November, 1545, with the words: "I am weak and can do no more. Pray God that he may grant me a peaceful and happy death." In January, 1546, he left Wittenberg with his three sons, John, Martin, and Paul, to settle a quarrel between the counts of Mansfeld and some of their subjects whom they wished to deprive of their furnaces. He reached Eisleben in poor health, preached four times, communed twice, ordained two priests, wrote serious and humorous letters to "the profoundly learned lady Cath. Luth., his gracious housewife," and enjoyed the recollections of the place of his birth." His conversation in these days is said to have been unusually earnest, rich, and impressive. The last related to death, .eternity, and the recognition of friends in heaven. On Feb. 17 he was seized with a painful pressure at the breast, and after fervent prayer and thrice repeating to his friends the words, "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit; thou hast redeemed me, thou.faithful God!" he quietly died with folded hands, between 2 and 3 o'clock of the following morning. His remains were removed in solemn procession to Wittenberg, and deposited in the castle church near the pulpit.
Bugenhagen and Me-lanchthon preached the funeral orations and gave utterance to the universal grief of Protestant Germany over the departure of the Elijah of the reformation. - Luther's greatness is not that of a polished work of art, but of a lofty and rugged alpine mountain. "Whatever he said and did, he said and did with all his might. His character is easily understood. Throughout his whole life he was an open-hearted, honest German. Dissimulation and cowardice were alike unknown to him. His virtues and faults lie on the surface, and we have nowhere to search for any secret or double motive in his conduct. He is the most faithful and original type of the German national character both in its strength and weakness. He was emphatically a man of the people, and to this day no other name carries such weight and authority with the masses in Protestant Germany, which reveres and loves him far more than Boniface, "the apostle of Germany." He gave to his countrymen in their native tongue, what no one did before or since, the first readable Bible and catechism, which have retained their place in church and school to this day. He had an extraordinary faculty of expressing the deepest thoughts in the plainest and most popular language, and many of his sayings have passed into proverbs.
As a scholar and scientific divine he was inferior to Melanchthon, and not to be compared with Calvin. He was no systematic thinker and logical reasoner, and his writings abound in paradoxes, inconsistencies, and contradictions. He always spoke out his first impressions and momentary convictions from the fulness of his mind and heart, regardless of consequences. Nor was he an organizing legislator and strict disciplinarian like Calvin. He contented himself with a reformation of the fundamental articles of faith, hoping that it would by its own force work out a reformation of conduct and public morals. He left the government of the church in the hands of the princes, who assumed and exercised the episcopal power. Some of his private habits, his love for wine and beer, his joviality and drollery, would have been regarded by the Geneva reformer as inconsistent with true Christian sanctity. Luther never acquired a control over his violent temper and fierce passions. His wrath discharged itself in thunder and lightning; and in his controversial works against the Roman Catholics, the Sac-ramentarians, Henry VIII. of England, and Erasmus, he indulges often in rude and vulgar invectives which no writer of the present day could use without losing the reputation of a gentleman.
But we must take into account his want of refined training, the character of his age, and the rough character of the work he had to perform. To use his own graphic language, he was " rough, boisterous, stormy, and altogether warlike, born to fight innumerable devils and monsters, to remove stumps and stones, to cut down thistles and thorns, and to clear the wild woods." And then it should always be remembered that beneath the strong armor of controversy Luther had a genial, kind, and generous heart. He never meant more than he said, and knew no revenge. A lion in public life, he was a lamb at home. He was eminently social in his disposition, a great lover of poetry and music, an affectionate husband and father. He liked to play with his children, and to gather with them in childlike joy around the Christmas tree. In his letters to his wife and friends he lays open his whole heart, and gives free vent to his native wit, harmless humor, and childlike playfulness and drollery. His " Table Talk," though by no means all genuine, is one of the most interesting and entertaining of books, a singular mixture of the wildest paradoxes, conceits, superstitions, and freaks of fancy, with good sense, sound views, and excellent advice.
Like most men of genuine humor, Luther was serious at bottom, and often subject to mental gloom and melancholy, especially during his monastic life and his latter years. " The basis of his life," says Carlyle, "was sadness, earnestness. In his latter days, after all triumphs and victories, he expresses himself heartily weary of living; he considers that God alone can and will regulate the course things are taking, and that perhaps the day of judgment is not far. As for him, he longs for one thing: that God would release him from his labor and let him depart and be at rest. They understand little of the man who cite this in discredit of him! I will call this Luther a true great man; great in intellect, in courage, affection, and integrity; one of our most lovable and precious men. ... A right spiritual hero and prophet; once more a true son of nature and fact, for whom these centuries, and many that are to come yet, will be thankful to heaven." The controlling element in Luther's character and the motive power of all his writings and actions was his piety, his strong faith in God and unbounded enthusiasm for the gospel. He was emphatically a man of prayer, and lived in the Scriptures as few men ever did.
In the doctrine of the church and the sacraments, and in matters of worship, outward organization, and usages, he adhered much more closely to the traditions of the Roman Catholic system than either Zwingli or Calvin; but in what constitutes the essence of Protestantism he was as decided as any of his fellow reformers. The absolute supremacy of God's word, and justification of free grace by faith alone, were the pillars of his theology and religion. - The works of Luther are partly in Latin, partly in German, and consist of sermons, commentaries on the Scriptures, especially on Genesis, the Psalms, and Galatians, polemical tracts against Roman Catholics, fanatics, Zwinglians, Erasmus, Henry VIII., etc, and a great many letters. He composed also a number of standard hymns and tunes, partly original, partly free versions and adaptations of Psalms and old Latin hymns; and he may be regarded as the founder of German church poetry and music, which is richer than that of any other nation. His most famous hymn is the Ein feste Burg ist wiser Gott, the war song of the reformation, written in 1529 on the basis of the 46th Psalm, and often rendered into English (by Carlyle, Mills, Miss Catharine Winkworth, Dr. Bunting, Mas-sie, Heyl, and others). But his most important and useful work is his translation of the Bible, commenced in 1521, continued with the assistance of Melanchthon, Bugenhagen (Pome-ranus), and Cruciger, and completed in 1534. It threw all the previous German versions into entire forgetfulness, assisted immensely in the spread of the reformation, and in spite of its many obscurities and inaccuracies remains to this day in general use among the Protestant churches of the German tongue.
It bears a similar relation to German literature to that which the common English version bears to English literature and church life. Though less accurate, it is a more gigantic work as to labor and perseverance, if we consider that it was made nearly a century earlier, before the appearance of many important grammars, dictionaries, and commentaries, and almost single-handed, while the English version is the product of the united labor not only of the 47 divines appointed by James I., but of three generations, as represented by Tyndale, Cover-dale, Cranmer's Bible, the Geneva Bible, and the Bishops' Bible. Luther sometimes sat with his colleagues one and two weeks over a' single obscure passage of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Latin Vulgate, and even employed butchers to dissect animals in his presence, that he might properly understand and accurately render the various sacrificial terms in the Levitical code. - We have six complete editions of Luther's works, of which the best are that of Walch (24 vols. 4to, Halle, 1740-'53) and the unfinished one of Plochmann and Irmischer (68 vols. 8vo, Erlangen, 1826-'57). The latter gives the works in their original Latin or German, and adds all the writings which had appeared since "Walch. The best and cheapest selection of his works, containing all his more important writings, with instructive introductions and notes, is the one edited by Dr. Otto von Ger-lach (last ed., 24 vols., Berlin, 1859). Dr. Barnas Sears has published, with valuable philological notes, "Select Treatises of Luther" (Andover, 1846). The letters of Luther, which furnish the most authentic materials for an almost complete biography, were separately edited by De Wette (5 vols., Berlin, 1825-'8, to which a supplementary volume was added by Seidemann in 1856). The "Table Talk" was first collected by Aurifaber (1566), and then by Selneccer (1577); the best edition is by Forstemann and Bindseil (4 vols., Berlin, 1844-'8). It was translated into English by Bell (fol, London, 1652), and selections from it were made by William Hazlitt (London, 1848; new ed., enlarged, 1857). Of the very numerous biographies of Luther we mention those by Melanchthon, Historia de Vita etActis Lutheri (1546); Mathesius, Historie von Dr. M. Luther's Anfang, Lehre, Leben und Sterlen (1565); Selneccer (1575); Keil (1746); Ukert(1817); Stange (1835); G. Pfizer (1836); Jurgens (1st division, 3 vols., 1846 et seq.); Meurer (1850-'52; 3d ed., 1870), to a great extent in Luther's own words; Konig and Gelzer (1851; English translation by Hare and Miss Winkworth, New York, 1857). The best work on the theology of Luther is by Julius Kostlin, Luthers The-ologie in Hirer geschichtlichen Entwickelung und ihrem inneren Zusammenhang dargestellt (2 vols., Stuttgart, 1863). An exceedingly favorable judgment on Luther may be found in Dollinger's "Lectures on the Reunion of Christendom," delivered at Munich in 1872, which is all the more remarkable since the famous Catholic historian at an earlier period of his life, in a learned work entitled Die Reformation (3 vols., Ratisbon, 1846-'8), brought out very prominently the defects in Luther's character and theology.
See also Heinrich Lang, Martin Luther, ein religioses Charakteribild (Berlin, 1870). The French work of Audin, in 2 vols, (also translated into English), is written from a Roman Catholic point of view, and is upon the whole a caricature. The Memoires by Michelet (Paris, 1857) are lively but superficial, and too much based upon the "Table Talk." The first volumes of Merle d'Aubi-gne's popular "History of the Reformation " are mostly occupied with Luther, and by their immense circulation have done more perhaps to spread a knowledge of his early life and labors in England and America than any other recent work. Of English and American writers, we must mention Thomas Carlyle, Coleridge, Archdeacon Hare (first in a very long note to his " Mission of the Comforter," afterward separately published, a most able vindication of Luther against the charges of Sir William Hamilton, Hallam, and others), and Barnas Sears (" life of Luther, with special reference to his Youth," Philadelphia, 1850), as those who have best appreciated the character of the German reformer.
Dr. Tulloch, also, in his " Leaders of the Reformation" (2d ed., Edinburgh, 1860), gives a highly eulogistic sketch of Luther. Prof. Fisher of Yale college devotes ample space to him in his "History of the Reformation " (New York, 1873). The hymns of Luther have been translated by R. Massie, and in part also by II. Mills, in Horae Germanicae and Catharine Winkworth in the two series of Lyra Germanica, republished in New York (1858). Of his commentaries, we have English translations of those on Genesis, the Epistle to the Galatians, and the first Epistle of St. Peter. But generally speaking the style of Luther, especially the German, is so thoroughly original, idiomatic, hearty, and characteristic, that it baffles the skill of the most experienced translators.