The Life and Times of Martin Luther

Episode I: To Begin

Martin Luther is the man, who in large measure, is recognized as setting in motion the era, now known as the Reformation.  A German who claimed to have come from peasant stock.  A monk and priest. A teacher and theologian.  Revered by some in his own lifetime, seen as the antichrist by others.  Depending on your position, a hero or a villain.  A complex man, who was brilliant and held noble principled values and ideals, which were to help set in motion a more modern era.  Also, though, a flawed man, who held ideas and superstitions which made him squarely a man of his time and place.  And sadly, also a man of certain prejudices, which are a black spot on his on his reputation.

Before we jump into the life and times of Martin Luther, though, a preface about this podcast.

In the last couple of years, I discovered the wide world of podcasts.  Sure I had heard of podcasts for a while, but it really seemed that it is was some sort of “techie” thing.  Not being a techie guy, I thought I would be out of my element.  Then I learned, quite by accident, that listening to podcasts really wasn’t complex at all.

I did learn how to get podcasts, and found out that it wasn’t hard to load shows onto my phone.  After that, it was a quick turn down an alley to learn how to find the content I really wanted.  Soon I discovered that there were these great history series by podcasters who really had a grasp of the subject matter.  Still, when I bring up podcasts to friends and acquaintances, it sure seems like there are lots of folks who don’t know about the new world of the podcast.  Or, who also find it a techie thing.

Yes, hard to believe, especially since you are listening because you get it, but it seems to me that there are a lot of ears who haven’t learned about this new world of the audio landscape.

When I happened onto history podcasts I was traveling for work, and I was looking for some entertainment that didn’t depend on a remote and TV, or the usual stations of music or talk radio on my satellite or terrestrial dial.  I was in a hotel room in WI, I think, and stumbled upon the History of England podcast.  After a few weeks of England, I discovered Mike Duncan’s History of Rome (which may well be considered the “gold standard” for history podcasts), then to WWII by Ray Harris.  Ray’s show led to listening to the incredibly informative, and incredibly bawdy and inappropriate, Life of Julius Caesar that Ray and veteran podcaster Cameron Riley speak into existence.

Then the question: who did this podcasting anyway?  I came to realize that in the main, podcasting (at least history podcasts) were done by folks who just had an interest, and wanted to learn more.  They found podcasting a terrific way to explore a subject for which they had real passion, and then to share it with the world.

Since then, and while traveling all over the country, I have listened to podcasts at 35,000 ft. up in the air, in the car driving hours and miles, and even in the shower, truly a guilty pleasure.  Early mornings, sunny days, rainy drives.  All across the fruited plain.

So why the Life and Times of Martin Luther, then?  Well, for various and sundry reasons, which I may discuss some other time, I have had an interest in Martin Luther.  When I searched for an in depth podcast on Herr Luther and/or the Reformation, though, I didn’t find one.  After that first search for Martin, I happened on one of these other podcasts I mentioned, and I just assumed someone out there would soon start one.  When I was done with a new show, or had caught up with all the back episodes of another, I would search again for Dr. Luther…and still no Marty; nothing about the man who in large measure, ignited the Reformation.

I also find the absence of content about Martin Luther interesting, since come October of 2017, we will be crossing the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation.  So at the very lest, this seems like the right time to begin a podcast about Luther.

I was faced with the dilemma faced by some of these other podcasters, and seems to be the genesis of many of their efforts.  Do I take on the task myself?  Is it my turn to do the work, investigate the subject, and deliver content?  Well…for better or worse, this show is the decision I came to.  I do feel like I am beginning a journey of sorts.  And I don’t know where it will take me and when I will arrive.  Frankly, it is all a bit scary!  And actually, very exciting.  Kind of like a road trip.

Honestly, I was a little concerned about a couple of things from the outset.  How do I even get into doing this podcasting thing anyway?  Was there really enough information to present a full series about the life of this one man?  Would people actually listen?

As to the first question, I soon learned that there are some terrific blogs, articles and YouTube video about getting started.  And so far, it has been fairly easy.  (Although, as I record this, I still have to make sure I understand how to post the content.)

Regarding the amount of content, I don’t think that will be a real problem either.  In these early stages of the project, I have learned there is a great deal of info about Martin Luther himself.  Beyond Martin, though, I have been reminded that there is an incredible amount of information about the era itself, because there were so many things going on at the same general time, and too, this was the dawn of the printed word.  With all that was going on at this time, comes the reason for the title of the show itself:  the Life AND TIMES of Martin Luther.

Relative to the last question, certainly the jury will be out as to whether anyone will listen.  I guess at least my wife might…

To frame the subject, both the man and the era, Luther was born November 10, 1483, and died February 18, 1546.  The pivot point of his history, and the history of the Reformation, and where his name becomes forever linked to the Protestant movement, was his alleged nailing of the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, October 31, 1517.  I say allegedly, because like many pivot points in history, there is some debate whether he physically did this or may have had some lackey do the deed.  We will, of course, delve into this question.  Regardless, there is no doubt that he wrote the 95 Theses, and no doubt that his defiance to the power of that day, had a profound impact on the course of Europe, the world as a whole, and certainly the practice of Christianity.

Beyond Luther’s main story arch, there is much going on contemporaneous to the fight between this German priest and the Pope.  There are many personalities necessary to this story, which we’ll need to unpack to understand the who and the what.  There is much intrigue inside and outside this story.  Like leaves swirling about in a windstorm, there are personalities, events, inventions, the whole of science and the understanding of the world and our place in the world moving about in seeming chaos.  And too, incumbent in all this is where faith in the unseen belongs, if at all, into this brave new world.

This is the era of Nicolaus Copernicus, when the very notion of the Earth’s place in the cosmos was being challenged.   In a more earthly and practical sense, this is the era of the invention of the printing press.   Johannes Gutenberg is credited with inventing the moveable type printing press in the 1430’s or 40’s.  (Again, there are disputes on the specifics date.)  It is the advent of the printing press which is often seen as one of the most important inventions in the progress of human kind.  The written word did and does mark the easy dissemination of ideas, of philosophy, faith, of practical and theoretical knowledge.  Learning in general, takes off at an unheard of pace.  Essentially, the printed word expanded thought beyond the confines of bondage, freeing humanity beyond the shallow and narrow, to heights never before imagined.  Education, rather than being a benefit of the few, was opened (in theory) to the whole of humanity.

The state of the political map is also a very real element to this story.  There are often seeming “accidents” in history, which often not accidents at all, but which have a causal relationship to other events.  In the era, for instance, at the same time Luther was igniting the fire of reformation, there was the very real threat of a renewed Islamic push from the Ottoman Empire coming out of present day Turkey.  This existential threat forced the attention of the Holy Roman Empire from the north in German states, to the south part of the empire.   An ironic and fortunate coincidence for Luther, was that one of the most powerful forces in Christendom, the devout Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, was forced to accept the march of Protestantism in his domain, at least long enough to stave off this danger from Islam.  Wait a minute: I just mentioned three items of curiosity, two of which are not on any current map: the Holy Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire.  The third curiosity is Germany itself.  There was no unified German state at this time, and in fact, there wouldn’t be a unified German state until the latter part of the 1800’s.   So we will certainly have to delve into the history of the political map of Europe at the time, and the ramifications leading from that era to now.

Then was also violence during this tumultuous time, due in large measure to the tensions between the reformers and the old power structure.  Strife which is often glossed over.  As an example is the relatively short lived, but bloody, series of conflicts collectively known as the German Peasants’ War.  Although short in relative duration, the death toll of these clashes was over 100,000 souls.

After Luther’s death would also arise the conflict later known as the Thirty Years War.  This is actually a series of conflicts in central Europe, from 1619 to 1648, which went from wars of religious fervor, to wars between rival states, and in the end drastically changed the power structure in Europe.  Oh, and again, there was the reduction of the population to the German states from casualties and disease estimated at between at 25-40% of the German populace.

And then, of course, there is the Papacy itself.  During Martin Luther’s life, there were nine different Pontiffs.  These inheritors of the Keys of St. Peter ranged from the devout to the supremely worldly.  This was the era of the second Borgia pope, Alexander VI, who openly had children, and was known as exceedingly immoral and and exceedingly decadent.  A couple of pontiffs later is Leo X, who was the pope at the heart of the specific indulgences Martin Luther railed against, and is the pope who excommunicated Luther.  Leo himself was also believed to be particularly worldly and extravagant and immoral.  As an example, he allegedly held raucous parties, events which are said to have included young boys jumping out of cakes.

In essence, this was a time of great import and tumult.  A time when humanity seemed at the precipice of great change, or great calamity.  Or both.  And in the end, the Reformation was at the cultural, political, philosophical, existential and spiritual center of it all.  And at the center, the one person who is credited with lighting the match, is our friend, Martin Luther.

Necessarily, associated with all the trends we’ll be discussing, there are simply hundreds of historical personalities.  The difficulty, and I have heard this from other historical podcaster, will be deciding the people on which to place a specific spotlight, and sadly, which ones are not necessary for the story.  In the end, though, I already know there are so many persons of interest.  Martin’s family, starting with the relationship between father and mother and son.  Then there is his eventual mate, Katharina Von Bora, whom he met as a nun, and whom he married after once being a celibate.  Beyond Martin and his family, there are the clerics and the thinkers. The philosophers and inventors.  The political leaders and soldiers.  Saints and heretics. Heroes and rogues, and as is the case in human events, these people often exist in the same human form.

While I do believe Luther to be an outstanding figure in history, or I wouldn’t be doing this, it is clear that he was human, and not perfect at all.  And in time, we will not only have to discuss his theology, which was fresh and liberating for the masses, but we will also have to discuss his inconsistencies of thought.  And most definitely, and certainly one of the lowest points from the perspective of any age, but particularly through the lens of the Holocaust, we will need to explore the anti-Semitism which is a stark part of Luther’s latter days.

So we will start with setting up Luther’s early life and the people and places important to that life.  From there given a lot of these other topics, no doubt, we’ll have lots of detours to take.   This pilot episode looks like it will run just over 15 minutes, give or take a minute here or there.  My goal going forward is to have a weekly episode, and for them to range from 30-45 minutes.

Finally, a little word about podcasting, and how people can find this program on iTunes, or other services like Sticher and Sound Cloud.   Have heard many podcasters ask for positive reviews, in iTunes specifically.  Well, I never appreciated before how critical that is.  To get a show “found” as it were, a show needs great reviews to help push it up the hit parade.  So please, if you can, take time, go over to the iTunes store, and give this podcast a positive review and five stars.

I have also started a website at, which is the web home for this show.  There is not much there at all right now, but as time goes on, we’ll have maps, pictures and as a friend had asked, hopefully a timeline of the events for this period.

Well, that’s all for this episode.  Please remember to give this show positive reviews so others can find it.  In the meantime, see you next time on the Life and Times of Martin Luther!

Thanks for listening!!