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Religion Library: Lutheran


Written by: Ted Vial

Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo X in 1521.He returned the favor by burning the papal bull of excommunication in front of a cheering crowd of his students.That same year the Emperor summoned him to a meeting in the city of Worms to determine if Luther should also be condemned as a criminal.Luther's Prince, Frederick the Wise of Saxony, obtained from the Emperor a guarantee of safe passage for Luther to and from Worms.At this meeting Luther was not offered a chance to defend his theology.Instead, he was presented with a stack of his books, asked if they were his, and told to recant.After thinking it over for a night he returned the next day, famously stating (according to some accounts): "My conscience is captive to the Word of God.I cannot and will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.May God help me!Amen!"On his way out of Worms, Luther was "kidnapped."His own Prince, Frederick, not trusting the Emperor's promise of safe passage, staged the kidnapping and hid Luther in one of his castles, on the Wartburg mountain.Frederick, thus, must also be considered a founder of Lutheranism for his ongoing protection of Luther.

Luther hid at Wartburg for ten months, grew a beard, and translated the New Testament from the Greek into German so that everyone could read it for himself or herself.On Christmas 1521 a fellow priest and professor, Carlstadt, celebrated Christmas mass in a very non-traditional way.Luther's ideas were being carried out too quickly and, in some cases, being exaggerated or misapplied, causing too much anxiety for the town and parishioners alike.He left the safety of Wartburg and returned to Wittenberg to take charge of the movement.

Because works could not save, and each stands before God alone without the mediation of a priest, Luther and other early Protestants closed down monasteries and convents wherever they were in control. (One reason many princes supported the Reformation was because it gave them the authority to "secularize" church property, that is, seize it and use the proceeds for their own coffers.)Thus the third Reformation motto is the priesthood of all believers.These three mottos and the theological reasons for them can be found in Luther's three passionate essays from 1520, "Freedom of a Christian," "To The Princes of the German Nation," and "The Babylonian Captivity of the Church."

In 1525 Luther married Katherine von Bora, who had been a nun at a Cistercian convent.He had found husbands for all of the nuns, but not for Katherine who was considered old at 26.They had six children, four of whom survived into adulthood.Katherine must also be considered a founder of Lutheranism.Luther had many visitors, and no priestly income.Katherine's skill as a business woman, taking in boarders, brewing beer, and breeding pigs, provided for the family and Luther's activities.

Finally, Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560) is an important founder.He was, moreso than Luther, the scholar-theologian of the Lutheran Reformation.His early commitment to humanism can be seen in his changing of his name from Philipp Schwartzerd (German for black earth) to its Greek equivalent Melanchthon.He served as Luther's spokesperson, since as a condemned criminal Luther often could not appear at conferences and debates.He was a close associate, and after Luther's death assumed leadership of the Lutheran movement.He wrote two of the key texts in the Book of Concord (1580): the Augsburg Confession (1530) and its Apology (1531).


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