February 18: Martin Luther, Theologian, 1546

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Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach, 1532

About this Commemoration

Martin Luther was born November 10, 1483. His intellectual abilities were evident early, and his father planned a career for him in law. Luther’s real interest lay elsewhere, however, and in 1505 he entered the local Augustinian monastery. He was ordained a priest April 3, 1507.

In October 1512 Luther received his doctorate in theology, and shortly afterward he was installed as a professor of biblical studies at the University of Wittenberg. His lectures on the Bible were popular, and within a few years he made the university a center for biblical humanism. As a result of his theological and biblical studies he called into question the practice of selling indulgences. On the eve of All Saints’ Day, October 31, 1517, he posted on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg the notice of an academic debate on indulgences, listing 95 theses for discussion. As the effects of the theses became evident, the Pope called upon the Augustinian order to discipline their member. After a series of meetings, political maneuvers, and attempts at reconciliation, Luther, at a meeting with the papal legate in 1518, refused to recant.

Luther was excommunicated on January 3, 1521. The Emperor Charles V summoned him to the meeting of the Imperial Diet at Worms. There Luther resisted all efforts to make him recant, insisting that he had to be proved in error on the basis of Scripture. The Diet passed an edict calling for the arrest of Luther. Luther’s own prince, the Elector Frederick of Saxony, however, had him spirited away and placed for safekeeping in his castle, the Wartburg.

Here Luther translated the New Testament into German and began the translation of the Old Testament. He then turned his attention to the organization of worship and education. He introduced congregational singing of hymns, composing many himself, and issued model orders of services. He published his large and small catechisms for instruction in the faith. During the years from 1522 to his death, Luther wrote a prodigious quantity of books, letters, sermons and tracts. Luther died on February 18, 1546.


I    O God, our refuge and our strength: Thou didst raise up thy servant Martin Luther to reform and renew thy Church in the light of thy word. Defend and purify the Church in our own day and grant that, through faith, we may boldly proclaim the riches of thy grace which thou hast made known in Jesus Christ our Savior, who with thee and the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

II    O God, our refuge and our strength: You raised up your servant Martin Luther to reform and renew your Church in the light of your word. Defend and purify the Church in our own day and grant that, through faith, we may boldly proclaim the riches of your grace which you have made known in Jesus Christ our Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Isaiah 55:6–11

Romans 3:21–28

John 15:1–11

Psalm 46

Preface of Trinity Sunday

Text from Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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12 thoughts on “February 18: Martin Luther, Theologian, 1546

  1. Excellent choice of the Romans text—this was, as I recall, the text which brought Luther great insight as to what the gospel is all about.
    Just one thing: do we really need a “traditional” language? It just seems odd to me coming from the ELCA and the Lutheran emphasis on holding worship in the language of the people.

  2. Collect: Generally I cringe when phrases from the holy one’s life and writings are included in the collect’s language, but I think that ‘our refuge and strength’ (translated, of course) works here. Though I would have been amused if ‘one little word shall fell him’ could have been included. 🙂

    Bio. Not that I actually need this (though some might say I do!), but Luther could use a ‘who he is’ and ‘why he is important’ statement.

  3. TITLE: Calling Luther merely theologian is like calling Einstein a math student. The collect refers to him as Reformer. Reformer and Bible Translator are obvious additions for the title.

  4. Two rather glaring mistakes in an otherwise adequate summary. 1) To say that his father wished him to study law but Luther’s “real interests lay elsewhere” is wrong. Luther attributes his entry into the monastery to a a vow he made in the midst of a thunderstorm. 2) The reference to 1522 suggests that Luther only began publishing his writings then. In fact, he began in 1517, shortly after the 95 theses. The works from this early period were among his most important, both theologically and in arousing public support for reform.

  5. Seems odd to have a bio of Luther that says nothing about the centrality to his thought of justification by faith alone. And it wasn’t just selling indulgences he wanted to debate, it was the whole system of thought that gave rise to the idea that the church had that sort of control over anyone’s spiritual destiny.

    The Lutheran Church might also be worth mentioning, and our communion with it.

    In the collect, I’d replace ‘in the light of’ with ‘according to’ or ‘in accordance with’ as being closer to his own attitude to Scripture, and I’d word the collect so that it was clear that when we pray that we might purify the church in our own day, we still mean ‘inaccordance with Your word’.

  6. I found this an excellent commemoration, and I thank those who prepared it. In the bio, we’re told he posted the 95 theses for academic debate on eve of All Saints, 1517, and at an unspecified date the very next year the repercussions happened because of the “effects” of the theses – which seems too soon to have “effects.” I wondered if that were the right word or if another would be better; implications, weight, seriousness, ramifications, etc.
    The readings and collect, as well as the bio, are very good. We utilize John 15 frequently but if that’s the best selection I see no reason to forego its repeated use. The Romans reading is not only appropriate, it’s important to use, and Psalm 46 is virtually de rigeur.
    I wish the Isaiah reading were extended by two verses. After the selected ones (6-11) affirm the effectiveness of God’s Word, these two (12-13) make for a beautiful and meaningful conclusion:
    12 For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
    13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
    To me, they are not only poetic, but affirm God’s promise of cosmic and eschatological dimensions of grace.

  7. Michael Ramsey wrote in The Gospel and the Catholic Church in 1936, “Catholicism always stand before the Church door at Wittenberg to read the truth by which she is created and by which she is judged. “The true treasre of the Church is the Holy Gospel of the glory and grace of God.” Not only are we in communion with Luther’s heirs in the ELCA, but we learn from Luther about both the Gopel and the Church.
    He is, as Ramsey realized, a valuabe addition to our sanctorale.

  8. Line 1, first paragraph: add “at Eisleben, in Germany” after “born”.

    Line 7, fourth paragraph> add “at Eisleben” after “died”.

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