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500 Years since the Reformation

Imagine life in Germany 500 years ago. The population was at about 14 million and multiple cities in the country were seeing a rise in their economy, including Augsburg and Nürnberg. A little less than 500 km North east of Augsburg was the city of Wittenberg; today it is knows as the Lutherstadt, Luthercity in English, but 500 years ago it was the birthplace of Lutheranism.

Lutheranism is a branch of the Christian religion which traces it’s beginnings to October 31st, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses to the University of Wittenberg’s chapel door as a critique towards Pope Leo X newest round of indulgences.

Martin Luther was born November 10, 1483 in Eisleben, a small city in Saxony-Anhalt. At age eighteen he entered university in Erfurt where he would get a master of the art in Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric and Metaphysics. Thus, putting him on his way to becoming a lawyer. But, in 1501 Martin Luther had a life changing experience which put him on a new path to becoming a monk and later the dean of theology at the University of Wittenberg.

July 2nd, 1505 while on his way back to Erfurt after having visited his parents, the young law student was caught in a terrible thunderstorm. Lightning struck near him, creating so much air pressure that Martin Luther was thrown to the ground. The twenty-two year old feared for his life and called out to Saint Anne, “St. Anne Help me! I will become a monk.” July 17th, after one last party with his friends from University, Martin Luther entered the Black Monastery in Erfurt to start his life as a Monk.

After attending a Catholic Church Conference in Rome, Martin Luther was even more discouraged by all the corruption he saw amongst the Catholic Priests while in Rome. This led him to enroll at the University of Wittenberg where he gained religious enlightenment through becoming a professor. It was there that he realized “the key to spiritual salvation was not to fear God or be enslaved by religious dogma but to believe that faith alone would bring salvation”.

This was the start of the reformation. Luther continued lecturing and writing in Wittenberg and in 1519 publically declared that the bible does not state the Pope as the only person allowed to interpret the words of the bible. In June of 1520 the Pope threatened Luther with excommunication since this was a direct attack towards the authority of the Papacy. In December of 1520, Luther burned the letter which resulted in him being excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church that following January.

Even after being summoned to the Diet of Worms, a formal assembly of the whole Empire, Luther still refused to revoke his statement. This resulted in the council banning Luther’s writing and declaring him a “convicted heretic”. His friends helped him get to Wartburg Castle where he could hide out. While in hiding, Luther used his free time to translate the New Testament in German, thus making the Bible more accessible for ordinary people.

Interestingly enough, the first translation of the Bible was the first time a “high German”, essentially one standardized writing of the German language, was written down on paper. Before then the different parts of Germany each had their own dialect used in speech and writing.

Martin Luther gained many followers because of his beliefs. Today the Lutheran World Federation estimates that approximately 72.3 million people are members of Lutheran churches spread throughout the world.

By: Elena Osiander