|The Awakening of Europe|
|by M. B. Synge|
|Book III of the Story of the World series. Covers the reformation in Germany, the Netherlands, France, and England, as well as the settlement of colonies in America. The rise of England and the Netherlands as sea powers, and the corresponding fall of Spain, as well as the rise of Russia, Austria, and the German states are also presented. Ages 11-18 |
THE STORY OF MARTIN LUTHER
"The whole world and its history was waiting for this man."
 ERASMUS was sixteen years old when Martin Luther was born,—Martin Luther, the great German Reformer, whose name was
soon to be known throughout the whole continent of Europe. This is the story of his life. He was born in the
year 1483. His father was a humble miner, his mother was noted for her goodness and virtue. When quite a little
child, his parents wished to make a "scholar " of him—so he was early taught to read and write, and at six
years old he was sent to school. Both at home and at school his training was very severe; his father whipped
him for mere trifles, and one day poor little Martin was beaten fifteen times! He was bright and clever, but he
had a strong will of his own, and a love of fun and mischief. When he was fourteen his parents could not afford
to keep him any longer, so they sent him forth into the world with his bag on his back, to seek for learning
from the charity of strangers. With a boy friend he set forth to walk to Magdeburg, where there was a school
for poor boys kept by the Franciscan monks. In order to get food on the way, the boys had to beg or to sing.
They were thankful enough for a morsel of
 bread or a night's shelter. Indeed, life became such a hard struggle, that Martin told himself he would never
be a scholar, and it would be better to return home and win an honest livelihood with his spade. But at this
moment the tide turned. By his sweet voice he attracted the notice of a good lady, who took pity on him and
gave him a comfortable home. Here he worked hard, making great progress in Latin, till he was eighteen. By this
time his father had made enough money to send him to a university, where he took his degree in 1505.
And now a strange thing happened, that altered his whole life. One day he was walking with a friend, when a
tremendous thunderstorm came on. A sudden vivid flash of lightning struck the friend at his side, who fell down
dead at his feet. The suddenness of the young man's death made a great impression on Martin Luther. Struck to
the heart, he made up his mind that henceforth he would devote his life to God and God's service. In spite of
his father's protests he became a monk. For the first two years his life was a very hard one: his food was very
scanty, he had to perform the lowliest tasks, and to beg for alms and bread. Whatever spare time he had, he
worked hard at his books, studying the epistles and gospels diligently. In the library of the university he
found a complete Bible in Latin. It was the first time he had seen one. He
de-  voured it eagerly. A new light came into his life, and in his close study of the Bible he strengthened
himself for his future work. Before long he had risen to a position of importance in the monastery. He became a
priest and went to live at Wittenberg—a town which he made famous by his name. In 1509 he began to lecture on
the Scriptures. Bibles were not in the hands of all as they are to-day, and Martin Luther was able to tell his
countrymen a great deal that they did not know, by reason of his deep learning. His lectures made a great
"This monk," said the head of the university, "will bring in a new doctrine."
He also began now to preach in the churches. He was very earnest, and the people who listened to him were
deeply moved at his words.
In 1511 he was sent on a mission to Rome, where Leo X. was Pope. Now, from early times there has been a Pope
(Papa) or Father of Rome, who in the Middle Ages had come to be looked on as the Head of the Christian Church
by many, if not all, of the countries of Europe. At first the Pope was a Bishop of Rome, as other Bishops were
in other cities, but when Rome was no longer the sole imperial city, the power of the Bishops became greater
and greater until, in the twelfth century, under Innocent III., the papal authority reached its height.
Now during the Middle Ages many abuses had
 crept into the Church. One of these was known as the "sale of indulgences."
All feel it right that sinners should suffer for their sins, but there is no Biblical foundation for the
teaching that by money payments a sinner may be saved from the punishment of his sin. Yet, in those days,
persons who paid money received an "indulgence," and agents went about the country selling them.
One of these, named John Tetzel, came to Germany. He disgusted Martin Luther by his method of extorting money
from ignorant people, and being a man of great courage, Luther felt it his duty to remonstrate. He stood up
boldly in his pulpit and denounced the system openly.
It was a tremendous moment. It was indeed the visible beginning of the Reformation—that great movement which
was to spread wider and wider until it should affect the whole Christian world.
Into the deeper causes of the Reformation we cannot enter here. The revival of Greek learning had caused men to
study the Scriptures for themselves as Luther did, and this caused dissatisfaction with the mediaeval
corruption of the Roman Church.
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