Martin Luther’s Birth and Boyhood:
On November 10, 1483 in Eisleben, Germany, Hans and Margaret Luther gave birth to a son. When the baby was only a day old Hans took him to the Church of St. Peter. He wanted his son to be baptized and to become God’s child.
Since November 11th was the day in the church year set aside to honor St. Martin of Tours, Hans and Margaret named their son Martin. Six months after Martin was born the family moved to Mansfeld, about 10 miles away. Hans took a job as a copper miner. He worked hard and was frugal. Within seven years he had started his own mining business. He was elected to be a member of Mansfeld’s city council. His wife Margaret Luther helped save money by gathering firewood in the forest, as did many women did back then. Hans and Margaret had eight children. By the time Martin was 25 his father and his partners owned at least six mine shafts and two copper smelters. The Luthers were very religious. They had devotions at home and went to church regularly. Unfortunately, like other children of his time, Martin didn’t learn to know Jesus as a forgiving, loving Savior. Later in life he said: “From youth I was trained to turn pale at the very mention of Christ’s name. I was told to think of him as a severe and angry judge. We were all taught that we had to pay for our own sins. Because we could not do this, we were directed to the saints in heaven. If we prayed to dear mother Mary, maybe she could turn away Christ’s anger and obtain mercy for us.”
As a child Martin wasn’t really certain that he received mercy and forgiveness from God. The Luthers believed many of the superstitions passed down from their ancestors. These stories told of devils, witches, and elves who played tricks and sent storms and sickness. Martin heard his mother complain that a witch caused pains in her arms and that an elf had made the milk sour. He believed these tales and was afraid of the powers of darkness and evil. Like most parents in those days, Hans and Margaret Luther were very strict. For taking a nut without asking, his mother whipped him until he bled. Another time his father beat him so hard that Martin stayed away from him until Hans won back his love and made amends. Fortunately, there was more laughter than tears, more singing than crying in the Luther home. Hans and Margaret loved their children and did what they thought best for them. “The best thing I received of all my father’s possessions was that he educated me,” Luther said years later. Martin loved his parents and respected them as God’s representatives. Martin was not yet five years old when he stared school in Mansfeld. An older boy often carried him because Martin was several years younger than other beginners. The schools at that time were quite different from ours today. In Luther’s time only boys went to school. The boys were taught to speak and read the Latin language. They knew they had to learn Latin in order to go on to the university. Churches, the law, and government all used Latin. The priests or university students who taught them were very strict.
If a boy misbehaved or didn’t know his lesson, his name was written on a slate called the “wolf list.” Every week the teacher erased the list after giving a blow of the rod for each timed a name appeared. Martin once had a bad week- his name was on the wolf list 15 times! Sometimes a boy would forget and speak German. If caught, he had to wear a donkey mask until he caught someone else speaking German. Of course, this meant another blow of the rod at the end of the week. The boys respected their teachers, so they took their spankings as part of school life.
In his early school years Martin learned the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Confession of Sins, and the Hail Mary. Six times each day the beginners recited these things in school. At home their parents helped them learn Latin words. By about the sixth grade Martin knew his Latin very well. He also had studies math, history, speech, writing, literature, and religious music. He was trained to bed loyal church member and was ready to go on to higher schools.