His story has all the markings of a summer blockbuster: thunder, lightning, daring escapes, an imprisonment (of sorts) in a German castle. But Martin Luther, born in 1483, was supposed to have been a lawyer and lived a much quieter, less adventurous life.
As a young teen, Luther was sent to school to study the law. His life changed dramatically in 1505 as he was traveling through a thunderstorm and a bolt of lightning struck too close for comfort. In desperation, Luther promised to become a monk.
He was ordained as a priest in 1507, but after 10 years of monastic life and increasing disillusionment with church practices, he sent a letter to leaders protesting the sale of indulgences, or pardons for sin. He included in the letter 95 Theses on faith, grace, sin, redemption, and religious authority. Those concepts, which sparked the Protestant Reformation, will celebrate their 500th anniversary this October 31, the date of Luther’s letter to church leaders.
Of the Scripture passages believed to have inspired Luther’s transformation, it is Romans 1:17 that theologian R.C. Sproul said “turned the lights on for Luther” because it details a righteousness given by God to those who would receive it by faith, rather than to those who could earn it.
In 1523, his life took another unexpected turn when a group of nuns asked for his help to escape their convent. He did so, sneaking them out in fish barrels. One of the sisters, Katherine Von Bora, eventually became Luther’s wife and the mother of his six children. (Von Bora must have been an unlikely partner for Luther; he once said that upon hearing of his choice, his close friends said, “For heaven’s sake, not this one.”)
Luther’s battles with established religion continued throughout his life, leading to his excommunication from the Catholic church after he refused to recant the Reformation’s ideals. Labeled a heretic and an outlaw, he was put in protective custody at Wartburg Castle. There, he translated the New Testament into German.
In the end, Luther left a legacy even larger than the life he led.
– Meredith Flynn, with info from Christianity Today, Ligonier Ministries, and Britannica.com