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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

Had founded a new University at Wittenberg


long reign of Frederick III., as we have seen, was a period of political disorganization, which was partially corrected during the reign of Maximilian. Internal peace was the first great necessity of Germany, and, until it had been established, the people patiently endured the oppressions and abuses of the Church of Rome. When they were ready for a serious resistance to the latter, the man was also ready to instruct and guide them, and the Church itself furnished the occasion for a general revolt against its authority.

Martin Luther, the son of a poor miner, was born in the little Saxon town of Eisleben (not far from the Hartz), on the 10th of November, 1483. He attended a monkish school at Magdeburg, and then became what is called a "wandering-scholar"--that is, one who has no certain means of support, but chants in the church, and also in the streets for alms--at Eisenach, in Thuringia. As a boy he was so earnest, studious and obedient, and gave such intellectual promise, that his parents stinted themselves in order to save enough from their scanty earnings to secure him a good education. But their circumstances gradually improved, and in 1501 they were able to send him to the University of Erfurt. Four years afterwards he was graduated with honor, and delivered a course of lectures upon Aristotle.

Luther's father desired that he should study jurisprudence, but his thoughts were already turned towards religion.

A copy of the Bible in the library of the University excited in him such a spiritual struggle that he became seriously ill; and he had barely recovered, when, while taking a walk with a fellow-student, the latter was struck dead by lightning at his side. Then he determined to renounce the world, and in spite of the strong opposition of his father, became a monk of the Augustine Order, in Erfurt. He prayed, fasted, and followed the most rigid discipline of the order, in the hope of obtaining peace of mind, but in vain: he was tormented by doubt and even by despair, until he turned again to the Bible. A zealous study of the exact language of the Gospels gave him not only a firm faith, but a peace and cheerfulness which was never afterwards disturbed by trials or dangers.


The Elector, Frederick the Wise, of Saxony, had founded a new University at Wittenberg, and sought to obtain competent professors for it. The Vicar-General of the Augustine Order, to whom Luther's zeal and ability were known, recommended him for one of the places, and in 1508 he began to lecture in Wittenberg, first on Greek philosophy, and then upon theology. His success was so marked that in 1510 he was sent by the Order on a special mission to Rome, where the corruptions of the Church and the immorality of the Pope and Cardinals made a profound and lasting impression upon his mind. He returned to Germany, feeling as he never had felt before, the necessity of a reformation of the Church. In 1512 he was made Doctor of Theology, and from that time forward his teachings, which were based upon his own knowledge of the Bible, began to bear abundant fruit.

In the year 1517, the Pope, Leo X., famous both for his luxurious habits and his love of art, found that his income was not sufficient for his expenses, and determined to increase it by issuing a series of absolutions for all forms of crime, even perjury, bigamy and murder. The cost of pardon was graduated according to the nature of the sin. Albert, Archbishop of Mayence, bought the right of selling absolutions in Germany, and appointed as his agent a Dominican monk of the name of Tetzel. The latter began travelling through the country like a pedlar, publicly offering for sale the pardon of the Roman Church for all varieties of crime. In some places he did an excellent business, since many evil men also purchased pardons in advance for the crimes they intended to commit: in other districts Tetzel only stirred up the abhorrence of the people, and increased their burning desire to have such enormities suppressed.

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