Martin Luther Was a Craft Brewer

And 8 other things you didn’t know about the father of the reformation

For a lot of us, the main things we learned about Martin Luther come not from church, but from high school World History class, which typically offered little else than a brief and scathing critique of the medieval Catholic Church and a casual mention of the German man who nailed some new rules to a door.

Like any other historical figure, it’s easy for Luther to become just a name, just the bald guy in our history books who did a good thing a very long time ago. To some he’s a great and ideal leader, to others he’s the man who tore apart the Catholic Church.

But with even just a little bit of research about Martin Luther the man, and not merely the name, we learn he was a man of great complexity. He was both zealous and uncertain. He was faithful and yet self-loathing; contemplative but combative. Luther’s life was one of stark contrast, full of both engrossing darkness and brilliant light. And for that reason, Luther remains a bit of a mystery.

Luther died almost 470 years ago, on Feb. 18, 1546, so, as you might imagine, some of the details of his life are murky. What we do know about him paints a much more interesting portrait than those in our history textbooks.

Here are 9 things you might not have known about Martin Luther:

His last name was originally Luder.

Luther’s father, Hans Luder, was a miner and smelter, and some have speculated that Luther altered his last name later in life because the Latin spelling of the name with a “th” instead of a “d” was more academically respectable. Others say the change was prompted by Luther’s shifting theology, as Luther is derivative of elutherius, the Greek word for freedom.

He enjoyed bathroom humor.

Luther sometimes sounded more like a 12-year-old boy than a church reformer. Due to his stomach issues, Luther did a good deal of his thinking on the toilet. Apparently, he was in the bathroom when he got inspired to argue for salvation by faith alone.

Perhaps this contributed to his tendency to refer to some the pope's teaching as farts, and to him saying “I resist the devil, and often it is with a fart that I chase him away. When he tempts me with silly sins I say, ‘Devil, yesterday I broke wind too. Have you written it down on your list?’”

He was training to be a lawyer, but hated school.

When Luther was 14, he was sent away to begin his schooling as a lawyer. He begrudgingly endured the tedium of a traditional European education, earning a Master’s degree by the age of 22.

On the surface, things were going swimmingly. He entered Law school in 1505, but the dissatisfaction that marked his early years as a student only intensified. Later, he would remark that school was for him a literal hell on earth.

Luther’s career path took a dramatic turn one stormy night in July. While he was returning on horseback to (where else) the university, a lightning bolt struck mere feet away from him. Fearing for his life, Luther cried out, “Help! Saint Anna (the patron Saint of carpenters), I will become a monk!” Within two weeks of that fateful event, Luther dropped out of law school, sold his books and entered an Augustinian Monastery.

He was a songwriter.

Though Luther disliked the majority of his schooling, he enjoyed music more than any other subject. He played the lute and later composed hymns, such as “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” While music in the Catholic Church at that time was performed by clergy and choirs in Latin, Luther wrote his hymns in German so the congregation could sing along. Some have said he spurred the development of congregational singing in churches.

He wanted reform to the Church, not a split.

It’s easy to picture Luther standing in the pulpit, preaching Grace to his faithful, pre-Protestant flock, when a crotchety Church official starts selling get-out-of-purgatory-free cards to the confused sheep in the back pews, and Luther drives them out like Jesus drove out the money-changers. We picture Luther creeping through the night to the chapel, his infamous 95 theses in hand and a Glorious Revolution on his mind. And then he nails the theses to the door, his hammer thundering through the night. Trumpets and drums resound.

But in reality, Luther approached his efforts with tremendous fear and trembling. The door he nailed the Theses to was more like a bulletin board, where academics and Church leaders posted papers and announcements, so to nail a theologically-based thesis to the door was hardly an act of menacing defiance. Luther’s training as a biblical scholar led him to dispute what, to him, were interpretive flaws of traditional Church doctrine.

Nevertheless, what Luther intended to spark conversation and debate enflamed a tremendous controversy, thanks in large part to the recent advent of the printing press.

Until the day he died, Luther wrestled with the thought that he was in the wrong. The violence that his words inspired, which eventually reached a Crusade-like crescendo across Europe, were to him, a tragedy he could not forgive himself for.

He spent almost half his life as an outlaw.

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As his 95 theses spread throughout the Empire, Luther’s fame began to grow, but so did his infamy. Pope Leo X employed a team of papal theologians to debunk his arguments. Later, appearing before a religious assembly called The Diet of Worms, they urged him to recant his writings, upon threat of excommunication. Luther would not, and is believed to have said, “Here I stand. I can do no other.” He was excommunicated and deemed a notorious heretic, which gave any person permission to kill him without punishment.

He set the precedence for clerical marriage.

Luther had spoken out against vows of celibacy for priests, but he still shocked many when he married Katharina von Bora, a nun he had helped escape from a convent. His marriage showed his approval for allowing pastors to marry.

He was increasingly short tempered.

Never one to sugar coat things, Luther’s writing got harsher as he aged and suffered from several medical issues. Especially in his later years, he said some horrid things about Jewish people in writings that some historians think later contributed to anti-Semitism in Germany.

He enjoyed good beer.

Luther wrote about beer in several of his letters, at one point writing to tell his wife how much he missed the beer they brewed at home. “I keep thinking what good wine and beer I have at home, as well as a beautiful wife ... you would do well to send me over my whole cellar of wine and a bottle of thy beer.”




Kenzie commented…

As a Catholic reader of Relevant, I've always felt that Catholics were included on this site - as it should be, because Catholics are Christians too, and the original ones at that! Unfortunately articles like this make me reconsidering coming to this site. Martin Luther is a very upsetting topic for Catholics as we really desire to see a united Church of Christ and wish there was more unity among Christians. Please consider your Catholic readers in the subject matter you post.

Caleb Smith


Caleb Smith replied to Kenzie's comment

Just because you happen to disagree with something is no reason for a publication to pretend it doesn't exist. Also, if "Catholics" such as yourself really desire to see a united Church (as if there ever was one) you're welcome to come over and join the Protestants church. Or the Eastern Church. Or the Coptic Church.

Kylie Garner


Kylie Garner replied to Caleb Smith's comment

The only church that I knew for most of my life was the Catholic church... as a born again Christian today, I understand that we should all want there to be unity in the body of Christ. So how should we deal with "upsetting topics"? We should deal with them in truth and love. That's what Christ would do.

Chelsey Doering


Chelsey Doering replied to Kylie Garner's comment

Enjoyable article, though I knew all of this already (comes with the territory of being Lutheran).
Kenzie, I'm sorry you were offended by this article, but you can't bury history. Or the fact that the Catholic Church was ratcheting up indulgence payments to fund St Peter's Basilica while lying to the followers who paid them, thinking they were getting their loved ones out of Purgatory more quickly. (For more info, read up on Johann Tetzel and other subjects featured on Luther's 95 Theses). Also, I think the Orthodox Church might have something to say about the Catholics being the "original" Christians.
And for those who doubt Luther's anti-semitism...check out "On The Jews And Their Lies." Deeply upsetting and deplorable. Luther was incredible in many ways, but he was the best example of his own saying: "Simul justus et peccator," or "simultaneously saint and sinner." Praise God for His faithfulness, even in the mess of our lives, including mine and Luther's.

felicia hasibuan


felicia hasibuan replied to Chelsey Doering's comment

HI Kenzie, im a Catholic person too and we actaully learnt about matrtin Luther at school and i dont think its an upsetting topic at all. As Catholics we know that we are the universal united church after all the Bible is Catholic. Martin Luther actually brings us closer to the Catholic faith because there are answers (that actually make sense) for all his arguments! so i'd suggest getting into apologetics to learn more about how beautiful it is to be catholic.

Markus Hagedorn


Markus Hagedorn replied to felicia hasibuan's comment

Kenzie, there are things that are very wrong with parts of the Lutheran church today. Discussing troublesome parts of church or denominations doesn't make them all bad. Likewise we shouldn't ignore what has happened.

Markus Hagedorn


Markus Hagedorn commented…

What a rockstar. I grew up in the German Lutheran church, so this was a particularly cool read because he can be made out to be some sort of saint sometimes.

Robert Elart Waters


Robert Elart Waters replied to Andrew Pierce's comment

Except that he didn't have any. Only anti-Judaic ones- and then only in the last three years or so of his life.

Larry Williams


Larry Williams commented…

He had theological differences with their religion, that's it.
But.... :-) History also records that the church at the time looked at the Jewish people as the messiah killer.
Question here. Does that not make the church antisemitic? How far down this road do we want to go?

Jim van Ommen


Jim van Ommen commented…

I too, Kenzie would like to see greater unity amongst the churches, but have to say I'm pleased that there is already greater cooperation and unity between the Catholics and Protestants. If both sides are prepared to learn from their mistakes I'm sure we will be blessed irrespective of what our origins are.
Mat. 3:9

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