Luther's Early Years
On November 10, 1483, in the city of Eisleben, Martin Luther was born into an atmosphere of religious rule and hypocrisy. At age 13, Luther was sent to a boarding school in Magdeburg. The following year he attended the parish school of St. George in Eisenach where he received a strict religious education. Despite the rigidity, Luther later said these three years were some of the happiest of his life.
Luther was a gifted student and excelled in his studies. At age 17, he began studying philosophy at the University of Erfurt. By 1505, Luther had graduated with his bachelor’s and master’s degree in the shortest time allowed. He then entered the university’s law school where he was dubbed “the Philosopher” as a result of his debating skills.
During Luther’s first year in law school, he began to have doubts about the status of his soul. He questioned whether a career in law was his best pursuit. He decided to take a leave from the university and return home to seek advice from his family, a decision that would change the course of his life.
On his way back to Erfurt, Luther found himself caught in a severe thunderstorm. Lightning struck near him, knocking him to the ground. Fearing for his life, and his soul, Luther called out to the patron saint of miners, “Help me, St. Anne, and I will become a monk.” Surviving the storm, Luther then spent the next several weeks discussing with friends the implications of his vow.
On July 17, 1505, Luther abandoned all his possessions and entered the Black Monastery of the Observant Augustinians in Erfurt where he endured over a year of self-examination and scrutiny before becoming a friar. He engaged in monastic life vigorously, dedicating himself to prayer, fasting, confession, and other ascetic practices such as going without sleep, enduring bone-chilling cold without cover, and self-flagellation. He later wrote, “If anyone could have earned heaven by the life of a monk, it was I.” Yet, none resulted in peace as Luther was continually tormented by his awareness of his sin and fear of God’s wrath.
Hoping to help Luther out of this despair, he was ordered to pursue an academic career by his superior, Johann von Saupitz. As a result, Luther was ordained as a priest in 1507 and a year later was transferred to an Augustinian Monastery in the town of Wittenberg. He began teaching in the University of Wittenberg where he earned a Doctor of Theology degree and accepted a full-time position on the faculty. In addition to his university duties, Luther also became a priest at the Church of St. Mary’s in 1514.
From 1510-1520, Luther lectured on the Psalms, Hebrews, Romans, and Galatians. His studies began to redefine his understanding of the concepts of faith, righteousness, and justification. Luther’s moment of awakening came when he read Romans 1:17.
“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’.”
Contradicting the teachings of the church, Luther was convinced justification could not be earned, but was by God’s grace through faith.