Martin Luther: A Development Of His Theology
Martin Luther’s development of his theology, Lutheranism, took many years of Biblical studies, monastic living and inner soul searching.
Luther had been designated by his father to be a lawyer. He pursued this wish by attending the University of Erfurt, a university that was considered to be the best and a university in which religion played a dominant role. In 1505 he passed his Master’s exam and received his degree of Law. Also in 1505 Luther had an intense spiritual experience; a bolt of lightning struck him down. In his fear, he pleaded with St. Anne to spare his life and in return he will devote his life to the monastery. It is here that I will explain how he developed his theology.
In the fall of 1506 Luther entered the Augustinian Order as he had promised St. Anne, and was a monk for the next twenty or so years. While he was a monk, he became concerned with the impending question, “How can I be saved?” He was faithful in his obedience to his order, and performed the spiritual requirements with a reverence. As Luther stated, “If ever a monk came to heaven through monkery, it should have been I.” But Luther thought of himself as unworthy in God’s eyes. God was stern and to be feared, he was at the mercy of a relentless judge, and he had no possibility of appeal. How could this God be the just God that is spoken of in the scriptures, when He set forth-impossible requirements for a human to achieve to attain salvation? He was deeply troubled in the fact that he went against his father’s wishes for him to be a lawyer for he broke the fourth commandment: honor thy father and mother. It seemed to Martin that the harder he tried to attain salvation and get close to his God, the farther away he was.
In Luther’s search for inner-spirituality, another Augustinian Monk assisted him by telling him to look no further than the death of Jesus Christ on the cross for his salvation.
I believe this was a true turning point in Martin’s thinking and reading of the scriptures. He delved in the scriptures with an unyielding tenacity and relentlessness. He kept looking for the answer of the question, “How can I be saved?” In his torment to find this answer, he finds it in Romans 1:17, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’ God freely forgives sins, and merits aren’t taken into consideration. Salvation isn’t granted to a man because of his pilgrimages to relics, or paying for indulgences, or for his good works, salvation is granted by faith. Justification by faith only. Man is imperfect, and the just God forgives him these sins by giving him his only son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross so that he can be saved. Martin came into direct relation and union with Christ, as the one and only all-sufficient source of grace.
Upon this revelation, Luther also came to the realization that the selling of indulgences was worthless. Certain claims made by the Dominican Friar Johann Tetzel particularly incensed Luther. Tetzel stated that as soon as the coin was given, the soul departs from purgatory. If an individual gave enough money, it is said that more souls are departed from purgatory. The fact was the selling of indulgences made the sinner righteous and arrogant, not sorrowful and contrite. Luther felt this completely reversed the nature of repentance. The Roman Catholic Church had become more about traditions, and materialistic matters, and not about the spiritual well being of the people. The very purpose for it being there. So on October 31, 1517 he nailed his
Ninety-five Theses to the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. These theses were a rebuttal to the sale of indulgences.
Martin intended for the theses to be an academic debate within the Roman Church, but it turned out to far more than that. The invention of the printing press made the ninety-five Theses a public affair. Lay people as well as the clergy were able to view it, and it was causing quite a stir. The sale of indulgences was dropping and politics were hot. Luther entered a hornet’s nest. The jubilee indulgence was designed for the archbishop of Mainz, Albert of Hohenzollern, to procure a papal dispensation and as a fund to help in the reconstruction of St. Peters Church in Rome. It also bought Archbishop of Mainz, a politically influential stature. As archbishop of Mainz he was also a German elector. Archbishop Albert reported the matter of the ninety-five theses to Rome, asking for the commencement of the first step of heresy proceedings. Roman Catholic Church called Luther a heretic, and summoned him to a disputation to defend the claim.
Cardinal Cajetan, the papal legate in Germany, offered to give Luther a
“fatherly” hearing, requesting of Luther to retract his errors and to cease teaching them. Luther wanted to debate the sale indulgences intellectually and scholarly, Cajetan simply wanted Luther to recant his statements. The meeting turned sour and sometimes violent. In the end, Cajetan submitted to Rome the claim that Luther was rebellious. Rome responded by calling Luther a heretic and that he should be immediately brought to Rome on the charges of heresy. The Roman Church won’t accept his clear and simple explanation of salvation and the gospel.
As a result of this meeting, with Cajetan, Luther became more solid and firm in his beliefs. And I feel the beginning of Luther making the first break from the Roman Church. For as Luther stated in his Resolutions that he submitted to Pope Leo X after his meeting Cajetan, ‘Approve or disapprove: for me your voice will be that of Christ, and if I have deserved death I will not hesitate to die.’
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