Birth and education
Martin Luther was born to Hans Luder (or Ludher, later Luther) and his wife Margarethe (née Lindemann) on 10 November 1483 in Eisleben, County of Mansfeld in the Holy Roman Empire. Luther was baptized the next morning on the feast day of St. Martin of Tours. His family moved to Mansfeld in 1484, where his father was a leaseholder of copper mines and smelters and served as one of four citizen representatives on the local council; in 1492 he was elected as a town councilor. The religious scholar Martin Marty describes Luther's mother as a hard-working woman of "trading-class stock and middling means" and notes that Luther's enemies later wrongly described her as a whore and bath attendant.
He had several brothers and sisters, and is known to have been close to one of them, Jacob.
Hans Luther was ambitious for himself and his family, and he was determined to see Martin, his eldest son, become a lawyer. He sent Martin to Latin schools in Mansfeld, then Magdeburg in 1497, where he attended a school operated by a lay group called the Brethren of the Common Life, and Eisenach in 1498. The three schools focused on the so-called "trivium": grammar, rhetoric, and logic. Luther later compared his education there to purgatory and hell.
In 1501, at the age of 17, he entered the University of Erfurt, which he later described as a beerhouse and whorehouse. He was made to wake at four every morning for what has been described as "a day of rote learning and often wearying spiritual exercises." He received his master's degree in 1505.
Luther as a friar, with tonsure
In accordance with his father's wishes, he enrolled in law but dropped out almost immediately, believing that law represented uncertainty. Luther sought assurances about life and was drawn to theology and philosophy, expressing particular interest in Aristotle, William of Ockham, and Gabriel Biel. He was deeply influenced by two tutors, Bartholomaeus Arnoldi von Usingen and Jodocus Trutfetter, who taught him to be suspicious of even the greatest thinkers and to test everything himself by experience.
Philosophy proved to be unsatisfying, offering assurance about the use of reason but none about loving God, which to Luther was more important. Reason could not lead men to God, he felt, and he thereafter developed a love-hate relationship with Aristotle over the latter's emphasis on reason. For Luther, reason could be used to question men and institutions, but not God. Human beings could learn about God only through divine revelation, he believed, and Scripture therefore became increasingly important to him.
On 2 July 1505, while returning to university on horseback after a trip home, a lightning bolt struck near Luther during a thunderstorm. Later telling his father he was terrified of death and divine judgment, he cried out, "Help! Saint Anna, I will become a monk!" He came to view his cry for help as a vow he could never break. He left university, sold his books, and entered St. Augustine's Monastery in Erfurt on 17 July 1505. One friend blamed the decision on Luther's sadness over the deaths of two friends. Luther himself seemed saddened by the move. Those who attended a farewell supper walked him to the door of the Black Cloister. "This day you see me, and then, not ever again," he said. His father was furious over what he saw as a waste of Luther's education.
Early and academic life
A posthumous portrait of Luther as an Augustinian
Luther dedicated himself to the Augustinian order, devoting himself to fasting, long hours in prayer, pilgrimage, and frequent confession. Luther described this period of his life as one of deep spiritual despair. He said, "I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailer and hangman of my poor soul." Johann von Staupitz, his superior, pointed Luther's mind away from continual reflection upon his sins toward the merits of Christ. He taught that true repentance does not involve self-inflicted penances and punishments but rather a change of heart.
On 3 April 1507, Jerome Schultz (lat. Hieronymus Scultetus), the Bishop of Brandenburg, ordained Luther in Erfurt Cathedral. In 1508, von Staupitz, first dean of the newly founded University of Wittenberg, sent for Luther, to teach theology. He received a bachelor's degree in Biblical studies on 9 March 1508, and another bachelor's degree in the Sentences by Peter Lombard in 1509.
On 19 October 1512, he was awarded his Doctor of Theology and, on 21 October 1512, was received into the senate of the theological faculty of the University of Wittenberg, having succeeded Staupitz as chair of theology. He spent the rest of his career in this position at the University of Wittenberg.
He was made provincial vicar of Saxony and Thuringia by his religious order in 1515. This meant he was to visit and oversee each of eleven monasteries in his province.