MARTIN LUTHER, Episode 2: The Reluctant Revolutionary
From PBS Empires
"Here I stand, I can do no other, God help me, Amen..." (Martin Luther)
When an obscure monk named Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses - 95 stinging rebukes - attacking the mighty Catholic Church, and its head, Pope Leo X to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral he unleashed a tornado.
It was a hurricane of violence and revolution that raged across Europe, and changed the face of a continent forever.
The Catholic Church brought all its considerable power to bear to try and muzzle Luther, including accusations of heresy and excommunication. But protected by his local ruler, Frederick the Wise, Luther continued to write ever more radical critiques of the Church, and to develop a whole new system of faith, one that puts the freedom of the individual believer above the rituals of the Church.
His ideas spread like wildfire, aided by the newly invented printing press. Finally he's called before the German imperial parliament, in the city of Worms, and told he must recant. Risking torture and execution, Luther nevertheless refused and proclaimed his inalienable right to believe what he wished.
Convinced he would not survive the trip to Worms but with absolute faith he declared, "I am not afraid, for God's Will will (sic) be done, and I rejoice to suffer in so noble a cause."
His stand became a legend that then inspired a continent-wide revolution, overturning the thousand-year old domination of the Church. But as the reformation expanded into a movement for social freedom, Luther found himself overwhelmed by the pace of change. His theological reformation had become a social revolution.
The epicenter of reform now moved swiftly away from Germany to Switzerland and Holland where Calvin and Knox founded societies based on Luther's principles. To England, where it would take a bloody civil war before Cromwell could establish his Protestant democratic state and finally, to the newly discovered lands of America, where the Pilgrim Fathers would found their new nation on Luther's foundations of religious freedom.
But Luther never left his province in Germany again. Instead he married, an ex-nun named Katharine von Bora, whom he had helped to escape from her nunnery and they had a large family together, Luther was able to devote himself to the simpler pleasures of life, gardening, music and of course, writing.
Luther finally died in the year 1543, seized by a crippling heart attack but he held onto his righteousness and rage until the very end.
"When I die, I want to be a ghost...So I can continue to pester the bishops, priests and godless monks until that they have more trouble with a dead Luther than they could have had before with a thousand living ones."