History of Martin Luther: Part 1 – 500 Years Ago

Martin Luther

This October marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, ignited by Martin Luther on October 31, 1517. What is the story behind the man who not only changed the course of Christianity but also impacted Western civilization, raised the status of women, influenced the rise of individualism and nationalism, gave us a picture of the Christian family, and translated the Bible from the original languages into the common tongue? This month, your friendly neighborhood historian will share a series of articles based on many travels throughout Germany.



“Help me, Saint Anne, I will become a monk!”

This promise to St. Anne, Jesus’ grandmother who was the patron saint of copper miners, he took seriously. He had previously given thought to the ministry.

The storm safely passed over him, and arriving at the university, he related the story and his commitment to his fellow students. They were unsuccessful in dissuading him from his course. After a final dinner with friends two weeks after the storm, he sold his Corpus Iuris, expensive law books his father had bought him, and entered the Black Friars Augustinian monastery in Erfurt.

Cloister Gate

Birth of Martin Luther

Luther's birthplace

Luther's birthplace placque

God’s Word is Luther’s lore;
which abides for evermore.

The day after his birth was St. Martin of Tours‘ Day and, as was not uncommon in those times, the child took the name of the saint. If you walk out the back door of his house, less than 2 blocks, about 300 feet away is the church of Saint’s Peter & Paul.

Saints Peter & Paul

There, the child was baptized Martin Luder (or Ludher). He would Latinize his name to Luther when he went away to school.

Luther's Baptismal Font

Luther's Baptismal Font

Childhood of Martin Luther

The next year his family moved to Mansfeld. Though Hans was originally of peasant lineage, his mother was a Lindemann of trading-class stock, burghers in the Eisenach region, though of middling means at the time. Nevertheless, Hans worked in the local copper mines and eventually rose to become owner/leaseholder of several mines and smelters. He was proud when he became a citizen representative in the City Council. Martin began Latin school in 1491 and lived here between 1484 and 1496.


Martin was sent to Magdeburg in 1497 for further schooling where at the age of 13 he was exposed to the teachings of the pious Brethren of the Common Life, popularized by the “Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis. From there Martin was educated in Eisenach at the parish Latin school of St. George’s between 1498 and 1501 where he would travel the streets with a band of choirboys and sing for his supper “Bread in God’s Name” he’d sing, a common practice at the time. Martin had a pretty good voice and he loved playing the lute.


Martin Luther at University


“My dear father, maintained me there with loyal affection, and by his labour and the sweat of his brow enabled me to go there.”

He studied Scholastic philosophy, namely: logic, rhetoric, physics, and metaphysics. Indeed, it was the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Muslim forces that initiated what came to be the definitive response to formal Scholasticism. Countless Byzantine Greek scholars hastily departed the region to settle in Europe, bringing with them their classic Greek and Latin classic, once thought lost forever by the West. As a result, Greek and Latin studies enjoyed a great revival, leading to what we now call Renaissance Humanism, whose motto was ad fontes! Back to the sources!


Humanistic studies were reviving all over Europe with the migration of the Renaissance north, from the cities and universities of Italy into northern Europe, and Luther studied ancient classics, especially Cicero, Virgil, Plautus, and Livy.

He acquired sufficient mastery of Latin to write it with clearness and vigor, though not with elegance and refinement; but in original thought and in the mastery of his own mother tongue he was unrivaled.

At his father’s encouragement and with the gift of law books, following his Master’s degree, he began to study law, as his cousin had before him. And he would have become a fine, though unknown lawyer… if not for a fateful thunderstorm.

To be continued in Part 2.


Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

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About billpetro

Bill Petro has been a technology sales enablement executive with extensive experience in Cloud Computing, Automation, Data Center, Information Storage, Big Data/Analytics, Mobile, and Social technologies.

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