Ethics & Religion
January 19, 2017
The Legacy of Martin Luther
By Mike McManus
This week we celebrated the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. But did
you know that originally, his name was Michael King, Jr.?
King's father, a minister, visited Germany in 1934 where he was so
impressed with the leadership and impact of the Great Reformer, Martin
Luther - that he changed his name to Rev. Martin Luther King.
Of course, his son became Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago in 1517
at age 34. An ordained Catholic priest, he earned a Doctorate of
Divinity and became a college professor as well as a parish priest in
He was outraged that Pope Sixtus IV was selling "indulgences" that
supposedly reduced the time one had to spend in Purgatory before going
to Heaven. Priests told the public the funds were being used to rebuild
St. Peter's in Rome. However, half of the funds raised in Germany were
given to Albert, an archbishop with a lot of debt.
Luther drafted 95 Theses "for the purpose of eliciting truth" and nailed
them to the door of his All Saints Church in Wittenberg. He was not
questioning the doctrine of Purgatory, but argued that repentance
"involved the whole life of the Christian man" and attacked the "false
peace," and the "security" of those "who thought of divine grace as
something cheaply bought," as the Encylopaedia Britannica summarized it.
In other words, one's salvation had to be genuine and could not be
He sent his 95 Theses to his archbishop. Due to the recent invention of
the printing press, his ideas quickly spread across Germany. His
archbishop asked that Luther "be inhibited" which he ignored while
writing a detailed defense.
Dominican priests pressed for Luther's impeachment for heresy. Two
Catholic universities condemned his teaching. A Papal bull attacked 41
articles of Luther's writing and his books were burned in Rome.
In 1521 he appeared before the young emperor Charles V. Luther said he
would recant if convinced of his error by Scripture or by evident
reason. It was at this "Diet of Worms" he reportedly said, "Here I
stand. I can do no other." It was a line that captured the imagination
of Europe. However, the result was an edict of Worms that declared
Luther to be an outlaw whose writings were proscribed.
It was at this point that he translated the New Testament from Greek
into German, published in 1522. Then he translated the Old Testament
from Hebrew into German in 1534.
Eric Metaxas, in his book Bonhoeffer, writes that Luther "invented
Protestantism. Looming over the German culture and nation like both a
father and mother, Luther was to Germany what Moses was to
Israel...Luther's influence cannot be overestimated. His translation of
the Bible into German was cataclysmic. Like a medieval Paul Bunyan,
Luther in a single blow shattered the edifice of European Catholicism
and in the bargain created the modern German language, which in turn
created the German people."
Before his Bible, there was no unified German language, but a hodgepodge
of dialects. He created a single German tongue so that millers from
Muchen could communicate with bakers from Berlin. Metaxas also wrote
that Luther "brought Germans to a fuller engagement with their faith
through singing too. He wrote many hymns - the most well-known being "A
Mighty Fortress Is Our God" - and introduced the idea of congregational
singing. Before Luther, no one outside the choir sang in church."
Luther's teachings about Christian liberty and a "priesthood of all
believers" helped spark a peasant's revolt in 1524. A watershed year was
1525 when Luther married Katherine von Bora, a former nun. It was a
happy, productive union that shattered another element of Catholicism,
For the first time in 1525, protests across Germany and evangelical
princes standing up to Catholic pressure won them the title
"Protestant." The Mass, which was in Latin, was translated into German.
Catholics took 437 years to learn that lesson in Vatican II in 1962 that
the Mass should be in the language of the people. Catholics still have
not learned that celibacy should be optional.
One tragic teaching of Luther was about the Jews. Initially, he
described them as "God's chosen people," but when they would not convert
to Christianity, he called them a "base and whoring people." He
encouraged setting fire to their synagogues and schools, taking their
money and putting them into forced labor. The Nazis quoted Luther to
justify their persecution.
Luther was Germany's Moses, mostly for good - but not entirely.
Copyright (c) 2017 Michael J. McManus,
President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist. For previous
columns go to
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