WITTENBERG — In the city made famous by an Augustinian monk whose conflicted soul impelled him to pore over the pages of Scripture and rediscover God's grace, one can visit Martin Luther's place of dwelling.
The Christian Post was in Germany last week to cover the festivities surrounding the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and was given a personal tour of the Lutherhaus, the house where Luther, the father of Protestantism, spent many of his days. Mirko Gutjahr, one of the curators, gave CP a personal guided tour of the house and the accompanying exhibits.
The Luther House is located on the main street in downtown Wittenberg. In 1504, it was an Augustinian monastery that would later become the Luthers' home. Today, it is the largest Reformation museum in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Here is a look inside the place where Luther spent a significant portion of his life. (Click arrow above image)
Theologically speaking, Luther is most famous for recovering the doctrine of justification, that man is saved by the grace of God through faith, and not by his works. This seems like an obvious truth to many evangelicals today but was considered radical at the time, particularly given the cultural and spiritual climate of the day.
Before being sent to Wittenberg, Luther was a monk in Erfurt and was a notoriously tormented soul, and battled a severe form of depression. He would spend hours with his confessor and mentor, Johann von Staupitz, racking his brain and searching his soul for sins and impure thoughts to confess, which often frustrated Staupitz.
He would ultimately apprehend the liberating power of the grace of God, having meditated many hours on Romans 1, a spiritual breakthrough he got while on the toilet. Author Eric Metaxas recounts this experience in Chapter 5, "The 'Cloaca' Experience," of his recent Luther biography Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World. "Cloaca" is the Latin word for "sewer" and in Luther's day it had come to mean "outhouse." The same part of the building, a tower, where Luther did his biblical exegesis, had an outhouse at the base of the edifice.
Here, Luther came to understand, as he wrote in 1532, that "the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, 'He who through faith is righteous shall live.' Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. Thus a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me."
Congregational singing had all but disappeared from the Church in Luther's day but he thought it was unbiblical for the masses not to sing and revived this practice. To this day, one of the most beloved hymns of the Christian church is "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," which Luther wrote. The text of the first line of that hymn in German, "Ein Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott" encircles the top of the tower of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, also known as Castle Church, where on Oct. 31, 1517, it is widely believed that he posted his famous 95 theses to the door, objecting to the practice of selling indulgences.
As The Gospel Coalition noted earlier this year, Luther recognized the power of singing in worship.
"Music is a fair and lovely gift of God ... Next after theology, I give to music the highest place and the greatest honor. I would not exchange what little I know of music for something great. Experience proves that, next to the Word of God, only music deserves to be extolled as the mistress and governess of the feelings of the human heart. We know that to the devils, music is distasteful and insufferable," he once said.
Pictured above is one of the first hymnbooks of Luther's era for use in services.
Another reform that occurred during Luther's era was that clergy could be married, and Luther married Katharina von Bora in June 1525. He held his wife in very high esteem. Luther revered her and would call her "my Lord Katie."
"She was a very, very clever woman," Gutjahr told CP during the tour. "No one else could have been Luther's wife but her."
Not only was she a loyal wife but a shrewd businesswoman, capable of managing household affairs, having lived previously as a nun with limited knowledge.
Above is famous depiction of Katie von Bora Luther by painter Lucas Cranach. Below is a picture of the Luthers' closet. The framing is original but the door is not.
The sale of papal indulgences was one of Luther's main objections in his 95 theses. These were being sold as a guarantee of salvation in towns near Wittenberg, by Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar. The photo of the indulgence seen here appears very formal with elaborate lettering and script, giving the impression that this was indeed a kind of regal document that carried weight.
Luther was deeply bothered when Wittenberg residents would show him what they had purchased. He preached against the sale of these things and was disturbed how it was deceiving people into thinking that God's mercy could be bought.
His 1518 "Sermon on Indulgences and Grace" was written months after he wrote his 95 theses. But unlike the theses, which were written in Latin, the sermon was penned in German and was widely circulated throughout all Germanic lands via pamphlet — the printing press had been invented just decades earlier — and was very popular. Luther resolutely refused to make any money off of his writings because he believed meditations on God's Word should not be employed to turn a profit. Luther's translation of the Bible into the German language of the common people was also very popular and Germans credit him for much of the language they speak today.
During the tour, Gutjahr explained that Luther was considerably media savvy, so much so that he would have been the most followed Facebook or Twitter user of his time.
Some consider this particular sermon as the real beginning point of the Reformation.