Luther: A Life

by John M. Todd

John M. Todd is the author of a number of books, including Reformation, and John Wesley and the Catholic Church.

Luther: A Life was published in 1982 by The Crossroad Publishing Company. This book was prepared for Religion Online by Harry W. and Grace C. Adams.


(ENTIRE BOOK) The author intends to present the portrait of a man of extraordinary accomplishment in the fields of religion, politics, linguistics and ecclesiology, but also as an ordinary man whose letters and reported conversations reveal his struggle with the ordinary issues of a person of his time.


  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Young Luther

    As the oldest child in a stable middle class family, Luther endured a childhood of strict discipline at home, school and church that left him with a sense of inferiority, and emerged into university life at a time of great intellectual ferment that challenged the entire educational system as well as the corruptions of a politically powerful church. In the process he proved himself a gifted scholar.

  • Chapter 2: The New Brother

    Following his baccalaureate graduation, Luther experienced depression which lifted after he aborted entering the study of law to enter the Augustinian novitiate at Erfurt. His father relented in his opposition to this radical vocational change, and Luther prospered in the structural rhythm of monastic and academic life as he received his master’s degree and moved toward ordination as a priest.

  • Chapter 3: The New Priest

    After a comfortable accommodation to monastic life, Luther entered preparation for ordination as a priest, but was plagued by depression about his relationship with God, feeling he could never make himself worthy of God’s love. Meanwhile, he was promoted both within the order and in his academic pursuits toward a doctorate in theology.

  • Chapter 4: Wittenberg

    After being appointed lecturer in philosophy at the new University of Wittenberg, Luther received a baccalaureate in biblical studies and qualified to lecture in Bible. He was reassigned to Erfurt, and following a trip to Rome on monastery business, was elected a sub-prior in the Augustinian order and awarded the doctorate in theology at the early age of twenty-eight.

  • Chapter 5: The Reverend Don, 1512-16

    A general sense of unease — social, political and especially spiritual — was found everywhere in Germany, and found expression in Luther’s periodic depressions in spite of his career advancements and popularity as a preacher. Luther only found relief in his struggle with what he saw as a demanding, angry God when he encountered God as the loving and gracious Father of the scriptures, thereby setting the stage for an angry confrontation with the church that had caused him and others so much pain.

  • Chapter 6: First Encounters, 1516

    At Wittenberg Luther emerged in multiple roles — as religious superior, university lecturer, translator, preacher, friend and author. However, it was the need for reformation of academic and church life that evoked his deepest and most profound responses, coming as they did from his own personal struggle for freedom before God.

  • Chapter 7: Crisis

    In publishing his theses for debating the selling of indulgences, Luther gave voice to popular discontent with the church and, though not a new issue, it evoked a strong note of alarm from the church hierarchies and concern by Luther’s friends for his safety.

  • Chapter 8: Demands from Rome

    While the publication of Luther’s 95 theses was intended only for scholarly debate, his challenge to papal authority not only evoked a strong ecclesiastical charge of heresy, but found sympathetic support from the laity, anti-clericals, German nationalists, humanists and the poor and ordinary people who heard him preach, and culminated in his defense by his sovereign, Frederick the Elector of Saxony.

  • Chapter 9: What Is the Church?

    After the 95 Theses Luther published a vast array of sermons and lectures including The Explanation of his theses in an atmosphere of public and private controversy that escalated into papal charges and a debate at Leipzig with Eck. Eventually Luther ended up challenging the pope, the authority of the church, and in fact the entire structure of European society, in his appeal To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation.

  • Chapter 10: Towards the Summit

    Amid general social unrest the demand for church renewal and reform expanded in a flurry of writings by Luther that evoked an equally strong response from Rome issuing in Luther’s excommunication and a papal bull commanding his appearance for trial at the Diet at Worms.

  • Chapter 11: Worms and Wartburg

    The Diet at Worms was essentially a call for Luther to recant, and his defiant refusal based on scriptural authority evoked a papal excommunication followed by a staged kidnapping by his friends to place him in protective custody at Wartburg Castle. A flood of his writings poured from there into the rising social unrest covering issues like the mass, clerical vows and freedom as well as a translation of the New Testament from Greek into German, and catapulted him into the leadership of the impending Reformation.

  • Chapter 12: In Command

    The Wittenberg Luther found on leaving his refuge disturbed him deeply and led him to voice caution to the forces of change in both church and secular life, and to produce a flow of pastoral writings on all manner of subjects intended to restore order to Germanic society. Meanwhile, he published his translation of the New Testament into German from the Greek text and struggled to preserve a middle ground against voices from both left and right.

  • Chapter 13: The New World

    The major life changes brought about by his leadership in the reforming of the church and his leaving the Augustinian order issued in Luther’s rather sudden decision to marry, which was difficult for some to accept. He adjusted happily to marriage and the birth of a son, at the same time being drawn into the Peasant’s War on the ruler’s side with writings so filled with anger that his influence was compromised.

  • Chapter 14: Into Battle Again

    Following his happy adjustment to marriage, Luther addressed Erasmus’ critiques in an acrimonious exchange that diminished their common concern for freedom. Meanwhile, the ongoing disruptions in state and church caused by the Reformation pulled Luther more and more into public involvements, often at great danger and inconvenience.

  • Chapter 15: The German Prophet

    Although kept at a distance from the Imperial Diet at Augsburg, Luther exhausted himself sending letters, theological arguments and pastoral counsels to Melancthon and others involved at the Diet. The Emperor’s siding with the Pope’s representatives unleashed Luther’s rage and led to his sanctioning military self-defense by the German princes if attacked by the Emperor in attempting to enforce his anti-reform position.

  • Chapter 16: The Shining of the Sun

    Following the conclusion of the Peace of Nuremberg which established the political future of Germany and the organizational future of Christianity, Luther settled into his new life as patriarch and family man, and devoted himself to Bible translation and clarification of the German Mass and liturgy, relying on an incarnational theology and practical spirituality to guide him. Meanwhile, major societal adjustments to the Reformation were taking place throughout northern Europe, and especially in England under Henry VIII and in Switzerland with Calvin. With increasing health problems and depression Luther gradually entered into old age.

  • Chapter 17: The Old Man

    Luther’s final ten years were marred by infirmities and ill health which exacerbated his anger and led to outbursts of rage in tongue and pen, both in his continuing struggle with the papacy and in his depression over the excesses in public morality. Nevertheless, his wife and friends continued to support him faithfully, and the peaceful death longed for finally claimed him in his sixty-third year.

  • Epilogue

    A review of the lasting contributions of Luther’s remarkable life and achievements.

  • Appendix

    A brief account of the theory and practice of indulgences.

  • On Sources and Further Reading

    A bibliography for background and research.