Martin Luther (2002)

The Reluctant Revolutionary, by PBS

A memorial of Martin Luther in front of the rebuilt Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) in Dresden
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Date Added: 12 years ago.

Documentary Description

Martin Luther is the epic tale of the great Protestant revolutionary whose belief in his faith would overthrow the all-powerful Catholic Church and reshape Medieval Europe. Join Luther as he recalls his life, from his initial crisis of faith in a storm-wracked forest that led him to become a monk, to his heady confrontation with the great powers of Europe


King Charles V

Charles V decided that extinguishing Luther would leave the Pope without a rival. At the age of just 19, Charles V was the richest and most powerful person of his time, but all the power in the world did not stop Martin Luther from ripping the heart out of his Catholic empire.

Born in 1500, Charles inherited a vast empire from his parents. When his father Philip I died in 1516 Charles inherited control over The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Artois and Franche-Comté (or Free County of Burgundy).

In 1516 his maternal grandfather Ferdinand II died and he inherited AragÓn, Navarre, Granada, Naples, Sicily, Sardinia, Spanish America, and joint kingship with his mother (who was insane) over Castile.

Then in 1519 when his grandfather Maximilian I died, Charles inherited the Hapsburg lands in Austria and was elected Holy Roman emperor.

Charles V settled in Germany and sought to become the leader of a universal empire. Through his reign he would face ongoing battles with France, resist the advance of the Ottoman Turks and for the sake of political expediency and inattention failed to check the Reformation.

Like many others, Charles underestimated the dissatisfaction of his Catholic subjects and the influence a humble German monk would wield through his defiant pen. Despite being a devout Catholic Charles V was acutely conscious of Papal power and it was in his interest for the Vatican to be destabilised.

At the Diet of Worms Charles absolutely opposed Luther but did not rescind an undertaking that he could leave safely thus saving Luther from execution as a heretic.

Charles was soon preoccupied by battles with France and the Ottoman Turks and did not check the spread of Protestantism sweeping his Empire. He spent the rest of his life waging war in France, Germany and Spain, indeed it was only after his death in 1558 that a peace treaty was signed with France.

Charles V, the most powerful man of his time, failed to achieve his dream of a universal empire, thwarted by the political realities of Western Europe. He also failed to stop the Reformation and although he bitterly opposed the views of Martin Luther he never acted against him.

But for all his failings, Charles V is still remembered for his integrity, strength of will, and sense of duty.

Frederick the Wise

"Time, perhaps, will show if I have been a good diviner" (Frederick the Wise, 1517)

Frederick the Wise is remembered as the man who saved Martin Luther from the fury of the Catholic Church.

Frederick was born in Hartenfels Castle, Torgau in 1463, the first son of the Elector Ernst of the House of Wettin. In 1486 he succeeded his father, together with his younger brother John, as sovereign of Ernestine Saxony. He was a man of peaceful conciliation and kept his territory out of all warfare during his reign.

In 1502 he founded the University of Wittenberg where Martin Luther taught. During Luther's lifetime Wittenberg was the home and intellectual centre of the reformation movement of which the sovereign was a reliable protector, although only active in the background.

At a crucial period for the early Reformation, Frederick protected Luther from the Pope and the emperor, and took him into custody at the Wartburg castle after the Diet of Worms (1521), which put Luther under the imperial ban. His repertoire of diplomatic stalling tactics stood their test; the opponents never finding a weak point. He saw Luther as unjustly persecuted because Luther could not be found guilty of any real crime. Frederick, however, had little personal contact with Luther and remained a Catholic, although he gradually inclined toward the doctrines of the Reformation.

Frederick, as was his habit, formed his own opinion after exact consideration of the state of affairs by his advisers and listening to the opinion of a recognized expert, in Luther's case Erasmus von Rotterdam.

Frederick died at his hunting lodge in Lochau in 1525.

Pope Leo X - patron of the Arts

"The Church needs a reformation. And this cannot be the work either of a single man, as the pope - but it must be that of the whole world" (Martin Luther)

Pope Leo X was born Giovanni de Medici in 1475 and raised in Italy's most culturally sophisticated city, Florence, as part of the prestigious de' Medici family, renowned patrons of the arts, benefactors of scholarship, and masters of political intrigue. He became one of the most extravagant of all Popes, more a patron of the arts as his parents were than a significant ecclesiastical figure. He was a skilful administrator, and became Pope at the age of 37 in 1513.

Immediately Leo demonstrated his appreciation of art by initiating a massive building project to beautify the Vatican. The pomp and extravagance of his court was an indirect cause of the Reformation because to acquire the enormous sums of money for renovation, he encouraged the sale of "Indulgences," which was a promise of relief from eternal penalties.

In Germany this practice aroused the ire of Martin Luther, a humble monk, who issued ninety- five arguments for church reform.

Luther wrote in his 95 Theses, his criticism of the Church - "why doesn't the Pope build the basilica of St Peter's out of his own money?".

German nobles saw an opportunity to cut off currency flowing to Rome that was very much needed at home, so they backed Luther's cause. In 1520, Leo issued the papal bull Exsurge Domine demanding Luther retract 41 of his 95 theses, and after Luther's refusal, excommunicated him.

Some historians believe that Leo never really took Luther's movement or his followers seriously, even until the time of his death in 1521. They also contend that if he had been more interested in religion than artwork, the Reformation may never have happened.

Pope Leo X was also the Patron of the artist Raphael and granted King Henry VIII of England the title 'Defender of the Faith'. He was the last pope to look at the papacy as a temporal monarchy.

Luther's Parents

"When God wants to speak with us, he does not avail himself of an angel but of parents." (Martin Luther)

Martin Luther was named after St Martin by his parents Hans and Margarette Luther, a pair of hardworking and pious Germans who were determined their son would suceed in life.

Hans Luther's was a farmer's son but turned his back on the land and became a copper miner. In 1484 following the arrival of baby Martin the Luthers moved from Eisleben to Mansfeld to improve Hans' job prospects.

Hans became a successful copper smelter and by 1491 the Luthers were one of the most respected families in Mansfeld. Martin's mother, Margarette came from a small but very well-off family. Despite her soft upbringing, she did her share of the family's workload but with three children to look after she was a harsh disciplinarian.

Luther recalled once, "(that) for the sake of stealing a nut, my mother once beat me until the blood flowed". Hans also ruled his son with an iron fist, Martin later recalled, "my father once whipped me so hard I ran away - I hated him until he finally managed to win me back".

Hans had high hopes for his first son and had his heart set on Martin becoming a lawyer which would enable the Luthers to climb even higher up the social ladder.

Young Martin followed his father's wishes without protest. He was sent to the best schools in the area and then university at Erfurt. In 1505 Hans was devestated to learn that his son, without consulting him, had decided to embrace religion and had sought admission to the house of the Augustinian Hermits in Erfurt.

Both lived to see their son married in 1525 and the birth of several grandchildren before Hans died in 1530 and Margarette in 1531.

The Luthers, who were disappointed that their son had not become a middle-class lawyer, both witnessed his transformation into one of the most famous and infamous figures of the medieval world.

Katharine von Bora, Luther's Wife

"There is no more lovely, friendly, and charming relationship, communion, or company than a good marriage." (Martin Luther)

Martin Luther found peace when he married an ex-nun named Katharine von Bora, whom he had helped to escape from her nunnery in an empty fish barrel and had taken refuge in Wittenberg.

Katharine von Bora was born in 1499, the daughter of an impoverished nobleman. In 1504 she went to the convent school of the Benedictine order in Brehna (near Halle) and entered the convent of Nimbschen, near Grimma in 1508.

In 1515 she took her vows and became a nun at the soonest possible date. In 1523 she left the convent and ended up in Wittenberg. By June 1525, echoing a trend across Europe as former nuns and monks married, she became Mrs Martin Luther.

Katharine was 16 years younger than Martin and together they had six children. Luther doted on his large family but was able to devote himself to the simpler pleasures of life, gardening, writing music.

Katharine took over the household, particularly the household expenses; it is said that Dr Luther did not have a clue how to run a household. She also proved herself to be a good housewife and gardener.

Luther's household included not only his wife and six children, but also one of Katharine's relatives and after 1529 six of Luther's sister's children. Luther also housed students in his home to help the family's financial situation.

For recreation the Luthers enjoyed a bowling lane of sorts in their garden, board games such as chess, and music. They had a pet dog. They grew much of their own food in a small garden at the Black Cloister and then later as a farm outside Wittenberg.

Luther and Katherine were diligent parents, disciplining their children, but doing so in love. Their home was noted for its liveliness and its happiness.

Katherine outlived her husband by six years. She died on December 20, 1552 in Torgau where she had fled from the plague in Wittenberg.



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