It is the significance of Martin Luther in European and ecclesiastical history that leads to there being a series of pages devoted to him in this website. That Martin Luther was an Augustinian everyone seems to know. Any accusations that the Order was responsible for his break with the Catholic Church, or that his Augustinian brethren largely abetted him and accompanied him in his conflict are by and large unwarranted.
Martin Luther (1483-1546) joined the Augustinian community in the German town of Erfurt in 1505, and took his first vows there in 1506. His minimal and rather inadequate formal training in theology involved various, and undoubtedly misleading, impressions about the theology of Thomas Aquinas. The resulting discomfort of Luther with the scholastic theology of Aquinas, as well as his reliance on the Bible and Augustine (both very characteristic of the Augustinian school of theology) formed the intellectual foundation for the Protestant Reformation.
Despite his original intentions, the teaching of Luther at the University of Wittenberg led to difficulties with Rome. His actions, and the clumsy response of the Church to them, eventually split the Western Church. It is almost paradoxical that Augustine is the Father of the Church most cited in the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas, while other parts of the writings of Augustine are the foundation of the Reformation thought of Martin Luther and John Calvin. Then in 1522 Luther translated the entire New Testament of the Bible from the original Greek into German in a mere three months while imprisoned in Wartburg. In doing this, he is credited with reforming not only the church but the very German language too. "I endeavored," said Luther, "to make Moses so German that no one would suspect he was a Jew."
But there is a historical footnote. The translation of the Bible into English by ex-Augustinian Miles Coverdale a year after Luther's German edition was in some ways a more audacious step because Coverdale was the one who was breaking newer ground in his own native tongue. Contrary to popular belief, there were numerous German-language bibles before Luther's translation. Indeed, there is ample evidence for the general use of the entire vernacular German Bible in the fifteenth century. For example, in 1466, before Martin Luther was even born, the Mentel Bible, a High German vernacular Bible was printed at Strasburg. This edition was based on a no-longer-existing fourteenth-century manuscript translation of the Vulgate from the area of Nuremberg. Before 1518 and the Protestant Reformation, it had been reprinted at least thirteen times. But this is not to deny the popular version of the Bible by Luther had a stabilising effect on the further development of the German language.
Martin Luther was born at Eisleben in Saxony, Germany on 10th November 1483. He received his early schooling at the village school in Mansfeld, the school of the Pious Brethren of the Common Life at Magdeburg, and then at St George's School at Eisenach. In the summer of 1501 Luther matriculated at the University of Erfurt with the intention of studying law, at his father's insistence. Accordingly, he studied philosophy, embracing logic, dialectic and rhetoric (commencing also the physics and morals of Aristotle), applying himself with so much diligence that he received his bachelor's degree in 1502 and his master's degree on 7th January 1505.
The coarseness which characterized his later life is hardly discernible in the bright, studious, ambitious young lad, Martin Luther. Reared, however, in a home atmosphere of harsh discipline lacking in sympathetic understanding, the boy Luther grew up nervous and emotional, subject to protracted fits of moroseness and serious dejection. As a youth Martin learned the rudiments of Christian perfection, and seems to have Ied an ordinarily pious life. Gloomy and irritable as he was, he nevertheless possessed a boundless enthusiasm, a tremendous capacity for work, and the ability to fling himself with mighty zeal and fervour into anything in which he was interested.
On 2nd July 1505, while on a return journey from Eisleben to Erfurt after visiting his parents, he was caught in a violent thunderstorm. This was near Stotternheim, a good hour's walk north of Erfurt. After a bolt of lightning flashed near him, he had the terrible fear of a sudden death without time for repentance. In an immediate reaction, he made a prayer to Saint Anne, the patroness of mine workers (his father was a miner): "Help me, Saint Anne, and I will become a monk." He felt that the event at the time was a divine call, and thus felt honour bound to keep it.
Fifteen days later, on 17th July 1505, while still under the age of twenty-two years, he joined the Augustinians at Erfurt. At this time, he was also deeply depressed over the recent violent death of a close friend, and in his own words he retired into the monastery because he "despaired" of himself. He was “not so much drawn, as carried away," and in spite of the fact that some of his friends and especially his father objected strenuously to his entering Religion – indeed, he himself was none too sure about taking this step - Martin persisted in keeping the vow he had made in haste and terror; he accepted that he had made a vow to God and that now he was obliged in conscience to fulfil it.
Luther himself spoke of his intention to join a religious order as being a sudden decision – a “conversion moment” reminiscent of Paul on the road to Damascus, or Augustine of Hippo in the garden at Milan. Yet psychologists suggest that for Luther this step could not have been entirely unexpected; a bolt of lightning could have been to him an external sign and impetus to give him the courage of an idea that had already germinated within him.
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The Spiritual tradition of Luther: A Reappraisal of His Contribution. An article by Endel Kallas in the journal, Spirituality Today, Winter edition of 1982, Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 292-302. Luther's contribution to the spiritual tradition of the West was to highlight the potential for a rich spiritual life among laity busy with "worldly" tasks.
Timeline of the Life of Luther. From 1483 to 1546, in four separate sections. http://www.susanlynnpeterson.com/luther/reform.html
The ninety-five theses of Martin Luther. Listed one after another. Other pages of this web site have an illustrated history of the various facets of the life of Luther. http://www.luther.de/en/95thesen.html
The Bible in German. A simple timeline. http://german.about.com/library/weekly/aa030600a.htm AN4388