by Lorraine Boissoneault, Smithsonian Magazine, 10/31/17.
…To learn more about Luther’s contribution to Christianity and the development of the modern world, peruse these 10 fascinating facts about his life and legacy.
Luther’s fate mirrored the life of the saint he was named for
When baby Luther was baptized on November 11, he was given the name of the saint whose feast day fell on that date—Martin. The resemblance between their two life paths was uncanny. Saint Martin, a 4th-century soldier in the Roman army, declared that killing people contradicted his Christian beliefs and was arrested. Ultimately the battle didn’t happen, and Martin was released and chose to become a monk. As Metaxas writes, “Eleven centuries from when this first Martin took his Christian stand against the Roman empire, the second Martin would take his Christian stand against the Holy Roman Empire—in exactly the same place [the city of Worms].”
A summer thunderstorm sealed Luther’s religious fate
Before he set out on the path of religion, Luther was training to be a lawyer. Yet his life at that time was also fraught with near-death accidents. In 1503, while traveling home for Easter, the sword he was carrying cut his leg and severed a main artery. He nearly bled to death before a doctor could be found to sew up the wound. Then, in 1505 and on the verge of becoming a lawyer, he was caught outside in a terrible thunderstorm. Luther called out to Saint Anne to save him and promised to become a monk if she did. He survived the storm and entered the Augustinian cloister of Erfurt several weeks later, despite his friends’ efforts to convince him not to.
He disguised himself as a knight to avoid persecution by the Catholic Church
After Luther posted his 95 Theses in 1517, he continued writing scandalous tracts against the Catholic Church, and later declared a heretic. In 1521, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, contacted Luther and promised safe passage to attend the 1521 Diet of Worms—a council of religious and political leaders—and stand on trial. Once there, religious leaders asked if he stood by the opinions he had previously espoused. Luther said that he did, knowing it might mean he would be tortured or burned at the stake. To help Luther escape these fates, Frederick III of Saxony staged Luther’s kidnapping and placed him at Wartburg Castle. Luther disguised himself as a knight named Junker Jörg and spent his time translating the New Testament from Greek into German so common people could read it.
The scandal of the century: an ex-monk marrying an ex-nun
Katharina von Bora spent more than a decade of her early life cloistered in convent schools and then as a nun herself. But in early 1523, she and other nuns were smuggled out of their convent by a merchant delivering herring. After making her way to Wittenberg, von Bora married Luther in 1525, scandalizing Catholics and opening up the possibility for married clergy in Reformation churches. But von Bora’s contribution to Luther’s work hardly ended there. She also had six children, managed the household and their finances, and participated in scholarly gatherings Luther held at their home—something unheard of for the time. Luther even named his wife his sole inheritor, something so unusual that judges ruled it illegal after Luther’s death…