Who was he: Martin Luther was a Catholic monk and professor of theology who, along with a handful of other men, was responsible for the Protestant Reformation, one of the most profound religious, spiritual and sociopolitical occurrences in human history and is the father of Lutheranism.
The Reformation was an event of unparalleled importance, shattering the hold of the Roman Catholic Church on millions of believers throughout Europe and freeing those same believers from what was increasingly a corrupt and authoritarian religious regime.
The rulers that derived credibility from the Church were suddenly bereft of divine sustenance and had to justify their behavior based on earthly principles. The wealth that the Church confiscated from members was notably reduced, with more remaining in local regions instead of finding its way to Rome.
Most importantly, the Reformation, like the Renaissance before it, shattered a chrysalis of insularity. It allowed for the formation of new ideas and for the dissemination of different ways of thinking. Ultimately, this would coalesce around what has come to be known as the scientific method, leading to undreamt of technological advances.
The Reformation was supported by the appearance on the scene of the Gutenberg Press which allowed the printing of Bibles, showing how the Roman Catholic Church was distorting the Bible's sacred texts. Martin Luther made the most of this new technology. With his translation of the Bible into the local vernacular, he spurred on the number of printed books, boosting the figure in about six years from a mere 100 or so in print to around 1000.
Additionally, the Bible was printed either in Latin or in "vulgate," no longer merely in Greek. This allowed the average person access to the texts, and the ability to see for himself or herself where the Church had purposefully misinterpreted the Bible for its own purposes and advantages.
Martin Luther of course remains controversial like any strong presence. He was most prejudiced against Jews and wrote horribly about them. Additionally, conspiratorial historians believe that like John Calvin, Martin Luther was at least some degree an instrument of the power elite of his day.
The argument is that Luther, in creating the Reformation was doing the work of various banking and royal factions that wished to see the Roman Catholic Church split asunder. Luther's adoption of the point of view that "good works" are far less important than one's heartfelt acceptance of Jesus Christ in one's life has also contributed to controversy.
Whatever the truth of the matter, it is not possible to gainsay the impact of Luther's thoughts and actions. He is one of a few who "changed the world."
Background: Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483 in Eisleben, Saxony, Holy Roman Empire (Germany). Luther was sent by his father to Latin school in Mansfeld and again in Magdeburg in 1497.
In 1501, when Luther was 19, he attended the University of Erfurt. There, Luther had to wake at 4:00 every morning and engage in what he termed "a day of rote learning and often wearying spiritual exercises." He graduated with a Master's degree in 1505. Luther then obediently followed his father's wishes and enrolled at Erfurt to study law in that same year. Finding that law seemed to represent uncertainty, Martin Luther dropped out of his courses.
As a man who craved having assurances about life, Luther was then drawn to theology and philosophy. He was interested in the works of Aristotle, Gabriel Biel, and William of Ockham and influenced deeply by two of his tutors: Bartholomaeus Arnoldi von Usingen and Jodocus Trutfetter. From these two men, Luther learned to question even the greatest thinkers' answers and to gain answers to problems by experiencing them himself.
Luther later learned that he had no affinity for philosophy; this discipline offered him assurances about reasoning, but none about loving his God, which was, to him, the most important thing. He believed that reason could question everything in the lives of man except God. To Martin, God could only be learned through divine revelation; therefore, Scripture became more and more important to Luther.
On the 17th of July 1505, Luther entered an Augustinian monastery. In the beginning, he dedicated himself to fasting, prayer, pilgrimages and constant confession. In this period of life, Luther described his life as one of "spiritual despair" and felt he had "lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailor and hangman of my poor soul." The Vicar-General of Luther's order, Johann von Staupitz, came to his rescue and told him that he should pursue a life of academia, so that Luther would be distracted from excessive introspection.
In 1507, Martin Luther was ordained as a priest and in 1508 began teaching theology at the University of Wittenberg. In that same year, Luther earned a Bachelor's degree in Biblical studies and in 1509, he received another Bachelor's in the Sentences by Peter Lombard. In October of 1512, Luther was granted Doctor of Theology, as well as being inducted into the theological faculty senate of the University of Wittenberg, where he was given the position of Doctor in Bible.
In 1517, Martin Luther wrote to his bishop in protest of the sale of indulgences, insisting that only God can grant forgiveness to His people. He enclosed a copy of a dissertation he had written, famously known as The Ninety-Five Theses. In Martin's mind, the church and its teachings were the property of all people, not just the Catholic Church. In conjunction with his Theses, Luther translated the Bible from Latin into common German, giving Bible access to anyone who wished it. The rest is history.