Luther's student life and life as a monk

Financially it was possible for the Luther's to send their son Martin to the university in Erfurt in 1501. Hans Luther, Martin's father, hoped to help his son by sending him to law school so he could later be a lawyer and have a secure future.

The University of Erfurt, founded in 1392 was one of the best German universities at this time. This is most likely the reason Luther's father chose this university for his son. During Luther's time, before one could study a specific field (Law, Medicine, Theology), you had to learn the 7 Liberal Arts. Luther did this, received his Baccaleureat (the first level at the university) in 1502 and then received his Master's degree in 1505. His father hoped that the law studies would go as well, and that his son would soon have a good position in a law practice somewhere. Luther, as the legend goes, swore to become a monk on July 2, 1505 while he was caught in a terrible storm .He did this, to his friends surprise who knew him as full of the joys of life and his parents anger; he entered the Mendicant order of the Augustinian monks in Erfurt.

According to legend, it was during a terrible storm that Luther decided to become a monk. He did not change his mind when his friends and father tried to convince the successful student to continue his law studies. He entered the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt in 1505 and took his monk's vow in 1506.

The life of a monk during Luther's time was hard, and consisted of fasting, prayer and work. A monk's day began at 3 am with the first hourly prayers. This time molded Luther, above all he found a close relationship to the Bible which characterized his later life and work. In 1507, Luther was ordained as a priest in Erfurt and started studying Theology at the University of Erfurt. During his studies, he came into contact with the ideas of the Humanists and embraced their slogan 'Ad Fontes!' - Back to the Source! For Luther this meant the study of the Bible in its original Hebrew and Greek (Bible humanism). 

After recieving his doctorate in Theology in 1512, Luther took a position as Theology Professor at the Wittenberg University 'Leucorea'. He gave lectures over the Psalms (1514-15), Letter to the Romans (1515-16), Letter to the Galatians (1516-17), and Letter to the Hebrews (1517-18). This time is characterised by Luther's grappling with religious understanding. His decisive religious enlightenment is said to have come during his intensive study of the Letter to the Romans during which time he realized that people receive justice through the grace of God, not through good works: "For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "The one who is righteous will live by faith." (Romans 1:17)  Luther himself stated that he came to this decisive realization in the study room of the Wittenberg monastery. When this actually happened is disputed; it is also known as the Tower experience (Turmerlebenis). A circle of theologians began to form around Luther, among them Niklaus von Amsdorf and Karlstadt (Andreas Bodenstein). In 1514 Luther became priest for Wittenberg's City Church.


The 95 Theses and their effects

From 1514 Luther was not only theology professor at Wittenberg University but also the priest at the City Church in Wittenberg. So he was also responsible for the salvation of his parish. Luther observed that many people in Wittenberg were not coming to him for confession any more. They were going to towns in Brandenburg or Anhalt like Jüterbog or Zerbst to buy Indulgences (primarily the Peter's Indulgence). The practice of buying indulgences, which quasi replaced confession and allowed people to buy their salvation, was completely repulsive to Luther. He strongly believed that one lived a life of humility in order to receive God's grace. After 1507, trade in Indulgences took a steep climb because both the Papal Court and Bishop Albrecht von Brandenburg Germany's representative for the sale of indulgence were in great financial trouble. In addition, the Dominican monk, Johann Tetzel, sold indulgences in the region around Wittenberg in a very ostentatious manner. Many stories started poping up about him such as, that Tetzel could redeem the sins of the deceased.
Further sayings of Tetzel, such as, "When the money clangs in the box, the souls spring up to heaven", also brought protests from Luther. October 31, 1517, "Nailing the 95 Theses to the Door of the Castle Church" Prior to October 31, 1517, Luther had preached against the indulgence trade. After reading an instruction manual for indulgence traders, he wrote a letter to his church superiors hoping to get rid of this abuse. In this letter he included 95 Theses which were to be used as the basis for a discussion on the topic.

That Luther hammered his theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg belongs to the realm of legends (the legend of Nailing the 95 Theses to the Door of the Castle Church).   Reactions to the 95 Theses Luther sent his 95 Theses to a few bishops and some friends; therefore he did not expect or receive a prompt response. By the end of 1517, however, copies of the 95 Theses had been printed in Leipzig, Nuremberg and Basel. Some humanists and princes passionately approved of the theses, but parts of the Roman Church completely rejected them. The most vehement voice against the theses was the Indulgence Priest Tetzel, who supposedly categorized Luther as a follower of the heretic Jan Hus and threatened to have him burned at the stake.

At first the bishops reacted mildly, they informed the Pope of the 'rebel within the ranks' and instructed Luther's direct superior to take a moderate roll in calming him. A few bishops actually welcomed Luther's ideas for reform. Events up to 1519 Because of increasing pressure, Luther found it necessary to explain and clarify his theses in writing. In 1518, Luther himself said that he only wanted to take care of an abuse (indulgence) and was not striving to unhinge the papacy with his theses.

The avalanche, however, was now unstoppable. The Papal Court reacted drastically to the alleged heretic and in 1518 an inquisition was begun in Rome. This quieted down in 1519 during the search for a successor to the deceased Emperor Maximilian. Once Karl the V was elected as emperor, the fight against Luther and his followers continued.