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Luther, Martin (1483-1546)

Although many religious reforms in Europe preceded those of Martin Luther, he is considered to be the initiator of the Protestant Reformation. In the year 1517, outraged by the sale of indulgences by the Catholic Church (see Reformation), Luther, posted on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany, his now-famous 95 theses. In the theses, Luther railed against the Catholic Church and what he saw as its excesses and hypocrisies, clearly exemplified in its selling of indulgences to the common masses.

Prior to his Reformation activities, Luther, a German, was a student of philosophy at the University of Erfurt, where he received his Bachelor's degree (1503), and then two years later, his Master's degree. Though his father wished him to study law, Luther's unsettled soul and the sudden death of a close friend caused him to enter an Augustinian cloister in 1505. As a monk, Luther began a more thorough study of the Bible and theology, particularly Augustine and the Christian mystics. In 1507, he was ordained a priest.

In 1508, Luther was appointed professor of philosophy at the newly-established University of Wittenburg. After becoming disillusioned with the philosophy of the time, Luther made preparations to attain higher degrees in theology. In 1509, he received his Bachelor's degree, and in 1512 the Doctor of Theology degree. Following this, Luther began to lecture on the Bible and preach against what he saw as the corruptions of the papacy. When Luther encountered Johann Tetzel, a Dominican commissioned in 1502 by the pope to preach and sell indulgences in Germany and the Scandinavian kingdoms, he resolved to counter not only the sale of indulgences, but also the entire theological and economic systems of the Catholic Church.

Like all other Protestant refomers, Luther placed heavy emphasis on the Scripture, particularly the New Testament. In opposition to the priestly hierarchy of the Catholic Church and its supposed infallibility, Luther came to see each individual as having access to the Truth preached by the Christ. As such, Luther coined the phrase "justification by grace, through faith," making evident his belief in each individual human's spiritual authority and access to soul healing, or salvation.

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