You might have heard of Martin Luther as a 16th-century Protestant reformer who raised his voice against the corruption of the mighty Catholic Church. You may also know him for the hymns he wrote, which includes “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” But unless you are really into theology or German history, you probably weren’t aware of the following eight interesting facts about Martin Luther.
Martin Luther Facts
1. Martin Luther had a different birth name
You may already be familiar with the fact that the American Baptist preacher Martin Luther King Jr. was actually born Michael King Jr. His father Michael King Sr. changed his own name, as well as that of his son, after a trip to Europe had turned him into an admirer of the German Protestant leader Martin Luther. Interestingly, the original Luther too was born with a different name.
In his case, however, the given name was the same, but the surname was Luder. Apparently, the name change took place in the same year he published his controversial Ninety-five Theses. The name Luther, according to some, was an allusion to the Greek word “eleuthérios,” meaning “free” or “the liberator.”
2. He decided to become a monk after encountering a near-death experience
Luther’s father wanted him to study law, which he gave a try for a short while, but dropped out as he believed it represented uncertainty. Then, he turned to philosophy, which eventually proved to be unsatisfying. One day, a lightning bolt struck in close proximity to him on his way back home from the University of Erfurt. It was on that day that he informed his father that he would become a monk, an interesting Martin Luther fact. Within the next few weeks, he had already left the university, sold off his books, and got into St. Augustine’s Monastery in Erfurt.
3. Luther deserves credit for pushing forward the celebration of Christmas
Prior to the Reformation, Germany and most European countries didn’t think of Jesus’ birth as a day that should be celebrated. Instead, their main day of celebration was Epiphany on January 6, with kids receiving presents on Saint Nicholas Day, which is on December 6. The fact that St. Nicholas was getting so much reverence didn’t sit well with Luther.
Hence, in the Protestant faith, the importance of St. Nicholas Day as a celebratory event diminished significantly, with Christmas taking its place. It is also believed that he, on one Christmas Eve, cut down a small fir tree, brought it home, and placed lighted candles upon it – thus, giving birth to the custom of Christmas tree decoration.
4. For a man of God, he was shockingly foul-mouthed
If there’s something people admire about men of God in general, it’s the elegance of their choice of language. Luther, however, was very different in this regard. He hardly ever hesitated to express himself with profanity. He used the word “whorehouse” to refer not only to his alma mater, the University of Erfut, but also to the Vatican. Many other remarks and statements that he made over the course of his life were far more crude and vulgar than that.
5. To avoid the Catholic Church’s persecution, he got himself kidnapped and took the disguise of a knight
Following the publication of the Ninety-five Theses and some of his other scandalous writings against the Catholic Church, Luther found himself being called up by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to explain himself at the Diet of Worms. Standing before the deliberative assembly as asked, he refused to retract his criticisms of the church.
He was well aware of the fact that he could face severe repercussions, which is why he deliberately got himself kidnapped on his way back from Worms by the knights of his ally, Frederick the Wise of Saxony. These masked knights, who were impersonating highway robbers, then took him to the Wartburg Castle at Eisenach. There, he stayed disguising himself as a knight named Junker Jörg.
6. Martin Luther, himself an ex-Catholic monk, married an ex-Catholic nun
Among the many Catholic norms that Luther had a problem with, one was the mandatory celibacy for monks. Hence, he found it in himself to not just help a group of nuns who fled from a Cistercian Catholic convent, but also to get hitched with one of them. The ex-nun whom he, at the age of 41, married was a 26-year-old Katharina von Bora. An interesting fact about Martin Luther is that it was actually von Bora who proposed. In the letters he wrote to her in subsequent years, he dubbed her as “the most holy Frau Doctor.”
7. Luther was a big fan of beer
An interesting fact about Martin Luther that probably isn’t taught at many theological colleges is that he was an avid beer drinker. He once argued that drinking beer helps people to have a sound sleep, which in turn helps them to keep away from sin. And those who can keep themselves away from sin are sure to enter heaven. Also, one of his letters to his wife reads, “I keep thinking what good wine and beer I have at home, as well as a beautiful wife.”
8. In his later life, Luther was violently anti-Semitic
If there’s one thing from Luther that Adolf Hitler and the Nazis took to heart, it’s his hatred for the Jewish people. Just three years before his death, he published a 65,000-word treatise titled “On Jews and Their Lies,” where he advocated in favor of setting Jewish synagogues and schools on fire, and committing other atrocious crimes against the Jews. Even his last sermon, which he delivered at Eisleben three days before his death, was all about how it had become a matter of great urgency to expel the Jews from the German territory.
In his earlier life, however, Luther had an entirely different attitude toward the Jews, an interesting fact about Martin Luther. He showed concerns about their plight in Europe, and had even attacked the Catholic Church for “treating them like dogs.” So, what made him so bitter against them? Well, apparently, it was his own failure to convert the Jews to Christianity that set him on the warpath. His anti-Semitic views are something that the Protestant Church has been distancing itself from, especially since the World War II.
I hope that this article on Martin Luther facts was helpful. If you are interested, visit the Historical People Facts Page!