October 2017 is a special month. It marks the five-hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The end of this month, October 31, will be five hundred years to the day since Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church—the Schlosskirche—in Wittenberg, Germany. This was the act that started it all, that started the grand and vast movement of Protestantism, that started the Reformation. And the Reformation has had an impact not only on church history, but on Western history and on world history. So, to celebrate this anniversary, there will be a 5 Minutes in Church History episode every day of this month. This whole month will be dedicated to the life, the thought, and the legacy of Luther, and at the end of the month, we will pay special attention to the document that started it all, the Ninety-Five Theses.
It makes sense to start at the beginning, which in Martin Luther’s case was Eisleben. This was the town of his birth and also the town of his death. He was born November 10, 1483, and he died February 18, 1546. And in between, Luther lived quite a life. It can be difficult to get a handle on Luther’s life, since he was such a larger-than-life figure. So, to help us make sense of Luther’s life, we will look at five divisions of the life of Luther.
The first division includes his birth and his early years, so from 1483 to 1505. We’ll come back to those years next time.
The second division of his life includes his monastic years, which were 1505 to 1516. We would call this period his time in the monastery; Luther would call it a time of intense struggle. He would call it a time of conflict—conflict with God, and also within his soul. The German word that he used is Anfechtung. We should put it in the plural: Anfechtungen. This was a time of deep anxiety and soul struggle. We could even call it a time of disillusionment. So, that’s 1505 to 1516.
Then we have that momentous year, 1517, the year we are celebrating in 2017. And from 1517 to 1521, we have what we should call the cauldron of Reformation. This is still a time of conflict, as Luther was as contra mundum, meaning “against the world.” “The world” in this case was the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church. And it is over the course of this period that we have the beginning of the Reformation.
Then we have 1521 to 1530. We could call this the establishment of the Lutheran church, and the key time here is 1530 and the Augsburg Confession.
And then we have his later years, from 1530 until the time of his death in 1546.
So, there you have it, the five episodes in the life of Luther.