Luther's life and context
Translated by Katharina Gustavs
From the outside, Luther's life passed by simply and steadily. 1 With few exceptions, his whole life took place within the territories of Thuringia and Saxony, mostly in Wittenberg, the electoral capital at the Elbe river, and its surroundings. Only a few journeys led Luther beyond this small sphere of life: on behalf of his order to Rome (1510/11), to Cologne (1512) and Heidelberg (1518); later on behalf of a Reformation consensus to Marburg (1529), and also on his own behalf to Augsburg (1518) and Worms (1521). Equally, with regard to his profession, Luther's was a remarkable and steady character. From enteringthe monastery through to his last moment, Luther always remained a man of the word: as a preacher, professor and writer.
During Luther's life the horizon of world history and humanities was in the process of becoming radically changed. The following names must stand for many others representingthis era: the two emperors Maximilian I and Charles V, the popes Leo X, Clemens VII and Paul III (Council of Trent), as well as the names of such artists and scientists as Raphael, Michelangelo, Dürer, Copernicus and Paracelsus. However, as far as Luther is concerned these changes could be deceptive because his childhood and youth had not been touched by the spirit of humanism or of the Renaissance. Limited to the provincial surroundings of his hometown, Luther grew up as a typical child of the late Middle Ages—just like thousands of other boys around him.
On November 10, 1483 Luther was born as the eldest of probably nine sisters and brothers at Eisleben in what was then the county of Mansfeld. The next morning he was baptized and named Martin after the saint of that day. Coming from a Thuringian family of farmers, his father Hans Luder, not being entitled to inherit, sought his luck in one of the most advanced business opportunities: the copper mines of Mansfeld. Duringthe course of his life he was able to gain a well-respected economic and social position through enormous hard work and thrift. We know only a very little about his wife Margarethe, Luther's mother. She came from a family named