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^ Life of

Martin Lather



5> < . .







BR 325 .W5 1911
Winter, Lovick Pierce I
A life of Martin Luther, the
great reformer of the i



x0^ Or FJif)^
A I Ti?i7 i-vT? V ^'0^ 2 1911

A LIFE OF W ^^._ .







Nashville, Tenn.; Dallas, Tex.

Publishing House of the M. E. Church, South

Smith & Lamar, Agents

191 1

Copyright, iqii


Smith & Lamar


Sin tijr Mtmttxy of Mq Fat^n
John Christopher Winter
Who was a native of Germany, and was christened and confirmed
in the Lutheran Church; who was always loyal to the Fatlicrland
and to the communion of his fathers; who was equally loyal to the
land and Church of his later adoption; and whose sturdy integrity
and fidelity have been an inspiration to me through all the forty
years since he died, this Life of Martin Luther is reverently dedi-

July ?oth, iQio.



Luther's Parentage and Boyhood 9

Luther's Education — at Home and School 21

Luther at the University 32

Luther Becomes a Monk 43

Luther as Monk, Priest, and Teacher 53

Luther at Wittenburg 64

Luther and His Age 7S

Luther the Preacher 91

Luther's Theses 103

Luther Defends His Theses — The Reformation Begins ijo

Luther in the Gathering Storm 141


Luther, before the Diet of Worms i57


8 A Life of Martin Luther.

Luther at the Diet of Worms 165

' Luther at the Wartburg, and After 182

Luther and the Peasants' War 198

Luther's Marriage 214

Luther Up to the Diet of Augsburg 226

Luther at Coburg, the Diet of Augsburg, and Other
Events 248

Luther and the Further Progress of the Reformation 264

Luther at Home and among His Friends 280

Luther's "Table Talk." 294

Luther's Last Days 308


Luther's Parentage and Boyhood.

Saxony is one of the most important of the Ger-
man States. Lying between Prussia and Austria, for
many centuries the rivals for German supremacy, its
location has made it the battle ground in many wars
and the burial ground of many brave soklicrs. It is
a land of hills and forests, of cities and mines, of agri-
culture and education, of famous universities :uid
noted manufactures. In the centuries-long history of
Germany, its people have played an important pari in
the romantic annals of an always interesting race.

"Marry your neighbor's daughter," says an old
German proverb; and so at Mohra, a little village in
the very heart of Saxony, in the last quarter of the
fifteenth century, Hans Luder, a peasant, married a
neighboring girl, Margaret Ziegler. These were the
parents of Martin Luther, the great reformer.

Mohra was a small, insignificant village, without
even a church, the people worshiping in a sort of
chapel-of-ease affiliated with a neighboring parish.
The neighbors of the newly married couple were poor,
but strong and hardy, ready at any time for a fisticuff
or a foot race. The soil, too, was poor, much of it
being moorland, and farming was not remunerative.
Besides farming, mining was one of the occujiations


10 A Life of Martin Luther.

of the people of Mohra, and these two strenuous pur-
suits bred a race full of manly, muscular strength, the
people to whom in every land the Church and the
State must look for preachers and statesmen and sol-

Hans Luder, or John Luther (Hans and John being
different derivatives of the German Johann, the spell-
ing in that language of the name John) belonged, as
his distinguished son was prou-d to say, to a peasant
family. But some time in the past the family must
have had a better standing, for there was an ancestral
coat of arms. This was a crossbow, with a rose on
each side, a device which seems altogether appropriate
for Martin Luther. The name Luther was not origi-
nally a surname but a given name, and, according to
Kostlin, is identical with Lothar — "one distinguished
in war." One poetically disposed might easily find an
appropriateness in the name when borne by Martin

The name does not appear in the present spelling
until Martin began to distinguish himself and the
family name by his work as a reformer. Possibly it
was an effort to give the name something of the Latin
spelling, a bit of amusing pedantry quite common in
those -days. Sometimes, as Greek was now coming
into vogue, men of learning turned their surnames into
that language instead of into Latin. For instance, the
original name of Melanchthon, Luther's fellow-laborer
in the Reformation, was Swarzerd (''black earth"),
and the bearer of the name, perhaps because he did
not like its sound or suggestions, changed it into a

Luther's Parc}ilaqc and Boyhood.

T r

combination of two Greek words which meant the
same as the original German name, but had a more
agreeable sound and one that was more classic and

Round about Mohra as late as the eighties of the
last century there were several families who bore tlic
name Luther, and one who was familiar with them
states that they bore a strong family resemblance to
their illustrious kinsman of the sixteenth century.

The name of Martin Luther's mother has been given
by all the authorities as Margaret Lindemann. But
Julius Kostlin, who has already been referred to, and
to whom all biographers of Luther must hereafter ac-
knowledge their indebtedness, says that this was the
name of Luther's grandmother, and not of his mother,
and that Luther's mother was Margaret Ziegler.

Some months after their marriage John Luther and
his young wife changed their home from Mohra to
Eisleben. The enemies of Luther, ready always to ac-
cept every slander put into circulation about himself
and his family and to supply all that they did not find
ready at their hand, have asserted that the reason for
moving to Eisleben was that John Luther had killed n
neighbor and fled to the latter place for safety. This
story is so absurd on its face that it is manifest nothing
but the malignant hatred of Luther's foes could have
given it any sort of currency, even in the times of the
Reformation. In fact, the story seems to have had
larger circulation and credence in recent times than it
had in the days of John Luther. If the elder Luther
had been a fugitive from justice, as this account a^-

12 A Life of Martin Luther.

serts, he would hardly have fled only a few miles and
then taken up his home within the jurisdiction of the
same ruler, who was the elector of Saxony.

John Luther was a miner by occupation. Copper
was beginning to be mined in the country round about
Eisleben, and he went thither, and later still to Mans-
feld, that he might find more work in his chosen call-
ing. He prospered in the course of time, and con-
trolled two furnaces.

While the two young people were resident at Eis-
leben, Frau Luther gave birth to her first-born child.
This babe was the infant who, in the course of time and
in the providence of God, led the forces in the great
Reformation which in a few years was to change the
history of all Europe and the world. The date of this
important advent and event was November lo, 1483.

If Sixtus IV., whose shameful and shameless reign
as pope came to its ignominious close the next year,
had but known the epochal event, that ecclesiastical
seeker of a worldly kingdom would have left off his
effort to crush the Medici and to set his nephew up
in a principality, and delayed his treacherous murder
of a man he had taken prisoner long enough to have
repeated Herod's slaughter of the innocents, in order
to rid the papacy of a man who was destined to wrest
much of its ill-gotten power from its rapacious hands.
But Sixtus had no wise men to tell of the star in the
east, nor did he know what manner of child this infant
son of a German peasant might be.

The good mother was always certain as to the hour
(which was between eleven and twelve o'clock at

Liit/icr's Parentage and Boyhood. 13

night) and the day and the month, but was not so sure
about the year.

The next day after the young child opened his eyes
upon the earth which he was to help to reconquer for
his Master, he was taken by his devout and grateful
father to the church and baptized. As the day was
St. Martin's eve, the boy was christened Martin.

The house where Martin Luther was born was part-
ly destroyed by fire many years ago, but some of the
old structure is still standing, and is shown with nnich
pride to travelers. And various localities here and
elsewhere, identified with the history of Luther, have
been marked by appropriate monuments. It was a
singular coincidence that Luther should die in the
very town where he was born.

It has been previously stated that John Luther pros-
pered in business, a fact which illustrates the industry
and enterprise of the father of the great reformer.
But it must not be supposed that this prosperity came
at once. At first there was deep poverty. And the
family increased after the patriarchal manner of the
old German stock. There were at least seven children
in all; and to maintain these and keep the oklest son
in school made the home of John and Margaret Lu-
ther anything but the abode of luxury and ease. Ger-
man women of the middle and lower classes have al-
ways been accustomed to some forms of labor that in
some other lands have been regarded as too arduous,
if not too menial, for females. Many a good German
housewife has helped her husband in the field, assist-
ing him in saving the flax or hay or grain and in tend-

14 A Life of Martin Luther.

ing the cattle, and felt no incongruity between her task
and her sex. This outdoor life in their early years no
doubt accounts in no small degree for the notable fresh-
ness and vitality of German women. The kitchen, the
cow stall, and the hay field may not afford as fine cul-
ture as the parlor, the seminary, and the social gath-
ering, but they fit women for wifehood, motherhood,
and womanhood in at least the physical strength
which they impart. Male Germans have often gone
very far afield in their learning and philosophy, but
the average German woman has been faithful to the
standard of Naomi and Ruth.

Martin Luther tells us that his mother performed
much hard work in the home; that she often brought
fire wood on her shoulders and did many such like
tasks. But we may be sure that the worthy John was
not idle all this while. Tending furnaces is very
exacting work, and John Luther ate no idle bread and
slept no needless slumber. Martin in after years
honored his father with the reverence of a true son,
and did not forget to record the fact that the means
necessary to keep him in school were earned by his
father "by the sweat of his brow."

John Luther was a man of decided character and
most independent convictions. Two or three authen-
tic incidents will illustrate this. Once, when very sick
and apparently near death, an attending priest sug-
gested that the sick man ought before he died to
make a donation to the Church. *'My family need my
property worse than the Church does, and I shall
leave it to them," said the strong-headed sick man.

'^ Luther's Parentage and Boyhood. 15

As the Roman Catholic Church was receiving reve-
nues from more than half the land in Germany at
this time, this announcement from the elder Luther
indicated no lack of liberality to the Church.

When Martin Luther decided to enter a monastery,
and v\^hen he endeavored to satisfy the father that he
had a call from God to this life, the father said :
"Pray God that it may not be a delusion of the devil
rather than a call from God."

And discussing this same matter with some of the
high dignitaries of the Church, he did not hesitate to
tell them that they ha-d encouraged his son to violate
the fifth commandment. The practical, hard-handed,
hard-headed old German had little patience with a
religion which taught that men must shut themselves
up from their fellow-men and from the ordinary and
needful employments of life in order to be the ac-
cepted servants of the Lord. Possibly John Lutlier
did not reason it all out at once, but there is gofxl
cause for believing that this honest-hearted, hard-
working man protested against the other-worldliness
which prayed and fasted and flagellated itself, or, de-
spairing of whipping religion into the soul through
the body or fasting the depravity out of the heart,
betook itself to the easy enjoyment of the fruits of
other men's toil or, mayhap, to the grosser forms of
carnal enjoyment.

But John Luther was a really religious man. He
prayed by the bedside of his children, gave them moral
instruction, and exercised a fatherly authority over
them. He believed as firmly in the rod as did King

1 6 'A Life of Martin Luther,

Solomon, and one might be disposed to think from the
results that he put that faith into practice more wisely
and seasonably than did the father of Rehoboam. Pos-
sibly in no Christian land is the authority of the father
so fully recognized as in Germany. To other peoples
the naiive land is the ''mother country," to the Ger-
man it is the "fatherland." And these old Teutons
have been great home makers and home lovers. In
their native land, and in the many lands into which
they have wandered, they have shown this racial and
national trait, which has made Germany what it is and
Germans the best of citizens in all the countries where
they have found a home.

So stern was John Luther in his family government
that his son Llartin spoke of it depreciatingly in his
after life. "Parents should control their children,"
he said, "but they should love them also."

It is easy to imagine that this hard-handed old
German might not always be soft-handed in control-
ling his household. Whatever Martin Luther may
have thought of the severity of the paternal discipline,
he never doubted his father's love; and he had no
reason to doubt it. The interest John Luther took in
the education of his children, especially his son Mar-
tin, considering the age in which he lived and the
poverty of the family, shows that the elder Luther
was a man of unusual aspirations. It would seem as
if a prophetic voice had whispered into the heart of
the father some intimation of what his son would be
and do, and thus urged him on to self-denying effort
in behalf of his boy's education. He toiled in the mine

Luther s Parentage and Boyhood. \y

or in the furnace by day and by night, that his first-
born son might be educated. This was the ruHng
passion of his hfe. By the time Martin was six years
old he had been taught to read. Of Martin's school
days we shall speak later.

Not much is recorded of Martin Luther's mother.
And perhaps there was not much to record. The work
of a wife and mother affords little material for written
history. About all that her contemporaries said of
Margaret Luther was that she was a good woman.
In her humble home close to the Harz Mountains
this true-hearted German woman, unknown beyond the
narrow circle of her neighborhood, and little known
even yet, was making a history destined to be record-
ed in many languages and in many lands and in the
lives of many generations yet unborn. She was, no
doubt, just a plain woman, a good housekeeper, as is
the manner of German women, too busy with her
duties as mother and wife to spend much time in day-
dreams, and quite content so long as her husband and
children were fed and clothed and sheltered and
nursed. And she knew how to use the rod as unspar-
ingly as did John Luther. Martin says that she
whipped him once till the blood came because he took
a nut without her permission. It was possibly not the
size of the nut but the largeness of the lesson of hon-
esty which the son needed that nerved the arm of the
mother on this occasion.

What mental traits Martin inherited from his mother
we can only conjecture. Perhaps he learned from her,
while still a child around her knees, some of those Ics-


i8 A Life of Martin Luther.

sons of faith, tinged with superstition, which clung to
him all his life.

The Germans, like their neighbors in Northern Eu-
rope, have always been rich in folklore. The climate,
the scenery, the productions, the occupations — these,
with many other facts, always including the history of
a people, give origin and shape to the nursery tales,
the fiction and the poetry of a nation. Tolstoy, as much
of a hermit as he has sought to make of himself, has
nevertheless been true to the uncompromising seasons,
the snowstorms, the fearful winters, and the short sum -
mers of his native land in the strange, half savage, half
Christian literature he has sent forth from his home in
the wide domain of the Czar, and true, too, to the po-
litical conditions of a nation that Americans cannot un-
derstand. And the folklore of the Germans is true to
the land of its birth, a land of long winters and short
summers, of snow and ice and the bitter north wind,
of wooded hills and forest-covered mountains which
woo the imagination to thoughts of sprites and genii,
of plains and meadows and fields of grain, of cities and
homes and patriotic traditions, and a land whose very
history is an education to its inhabitants in all that is
heroic in war and lovable in peace.

We may be sure that Frau Luther did not neglect to
tell her children of the many traditions of her people,
and also those weird stories of strange beings, on the
earth but not of it, who kept guard over the mountain
heights not far away, of those giants of old, and of the
saints from St. Christopher to St. Ursula. And it was
an age when the wisest men believed in witchcraft.

Luther's Parentage and Boyhood. 19

The year after Martin Luther was born a famous papal
bull was issued, allowing the punishment of any per-
son found guilty of practicing this occult art of evil.
We smile now at all this superstition, or pity the men
and women whose lives were tormented by it ; but even
Lecky, the rationalist, admits that the evidence brought
forward in the trials of some that were accused of
witchcraft was quite enough to convict, if witchcraft
were only a fact. The stories that young Martin heard
from his mother's lips about all these things affected
his whole after life. The faith of childhood abides
through all the after years, sometimes when men would
throw it ofif; and faith that is wholly false, or half true,
seems more tenacious than true faith. Martin Luther's
realistic faith in the devil, who was to him a real per-
sonality, sometimes visible and tangible, and always
alert and diabolically active, came, we may be assured,
not from the Church alone, but from the stories he
heard from his mother in his childhood home in Mans-
feld. And when in after years he chose St. Anne, the
reputed mother of the Virgin Mary, as his patron saint,
his superstition was not merely the result of the train-
ing of the Church upon himself, but to the effect of
that training upon the mother. Mothers, and not
Churches or theological seminaries, make the faith of
a people. If Martin Luther's mother had not been a
believer in the Christianity of her times, Martin Lu-
ther had not been the reformer. Such a son could not
have been the child of an irreligious mother. Men get
their best or their worst natures from their mothers.
From the sturdy Hans Luther Martin inherited his

20 A Life of Martin Luther,

courage, his common sense, and his indomitable will ;
from Margaret Luther he inherited his religious bent
and that honesty and sensitiveness of conscience which
made of him first a monk and finally the reformer.

Luther's childhood, according to his own testimony,
was not as happy as we generally suppose childhood
to be. His father was a rigid disciplinarian, his mother
was too busy with her manifold duties to be as
thoughtful and considerate of the boy's feelings as
she might have been, perhaps, and his sensitive nature
(for he was evidently a sensitive child) distorted
every little grievance into a great wrong, as his con-
science magnified every act of evil into a mortal sin.
But what he says on this subject should not be con-
strued into bitter complaints against his parents. Much
of what he said in his later life about every matter
that he spoke of in his sermons and in his "table talk"
was intended to illustrate or to impress some truth or
duty. We cannot conceive of Martin Luther as a
weak, shrinking, pliable child, always obedient and
always docile. Such a child could not have grown into
such a man. John Luther may have been too austere
at times, but less firmness might have ruined his son.
His love for his son was not that spineless love which
yields complaisantly to the wishes of a child rather
than meet the Inevitable conflict between will and will
involved In parental control. Martin Luther was a
normal boy, full of life and fun and frolic, hard-headed
like his father, no doubt, and not unhappy long at a
time. And that his parents were wise and faithful,
his whole career Is witness.

Luther's Education — At Home and at Sciioql.
This began at an early age, and began, as all edu-
cation should begin, at home. The printing press had
brought books within the reach of people to whose
fathers they were unknown luxuries. And the elder
Luther loved good books, and read as many of them
as were accessible and as he could spare the time to
read, for he was always a busy man. As the years
passed, and the diligent and enterprising Hans Luther
began to gather means, he bought himself a home, and
made this home not only the center of comfort for his
household, but opened its hospitable doors to men of
learning especially, and around the table over their
simple meals host and guests discussed many ques-
tions of politics, and more frequently questions of re-
ligion and matters of wide range in general knowledge.
Froude remarks upon the marvelous extent of Luther's
information, and we may be sure that the foundations
for this broad and comprehensive learning were laid
in the parental home at IMansfeld. A child learns
more in the first ten years of his life than he learns in
any other decade, however long he may live and how-
ever studious he may be. He finds a teacher every-
where — in birds, in sunshine, in trees, in flowers, in
growing grain, in his companions, and, above all, in
his parents and in his home. And Martin Luther's
parents were faithful teachers and his childhood iiome
was a good school.


22 A Life of Martin Luther.

He was sent away from home to school at a tender
age. Frequently his father, busy as he was, would
carry the little fellow to the schoolhouse on his back,
especially when the weather was bad. A young man
named Nicholas Emler often performed a similar
kindly office for the young student. This young man
afterwards married a sister of Martin Luther, and
the latter used to refer good-humoredly to the days
when he went to school on the back of his older friend,
now become his brother-in-law.

George Emilius, who evidently had more scholar-
ship in his name than in his pedagogic equipment, was
young Martin's first school-teacher. This individual,
historic by reason of his connection with the young life
of the future reformer, seemed to have had only two
qualifications for his place as school-teacher — his cru-
elty and his incompetency. He was a prototype of
Master Squeers, of Dotheboys Hall. What he could
not impart with the end of his tongue he imparted
with the end of his rod ; and since the former was small,
the latter was necessarily large. Luther tells us that
this same George Emilius flogged him fifteen times in
one day, and all because Luther could not repeat what
the master had never taught him. Such an experience
was at least a lesson in numeration. The wonder is
that the boy had sense enough to keep count through
all these floggings. Such cruelty would have crushed
the spirit of a weaker child or driven him to despera-
tion. One marvels that the child did not get such a
distaste for learning as to hate the very name of schol-
arship and the very sight of books. And the patience

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Online LibraryLovick Pierce WinterA life of Martin Luther, the great reformer of the sixteenth century → online text (page 1 of 21)