Martin Luther produced more than 100 volumes of sermons, lectures and books, 37 hymns and music, including A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, the battle hymn of the Reformation. At 33 he was professor of Scripture at the University of Wittenberg, and a vicar of cloisters. But he despaired.
How could he ever appease a righteous God through his own good works? Then—in one of his lightning-like revelations—Luther found solace in a text from Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Romans: “The just shall live by faith.” And this became the cornerstone for the Reformation to come.
His revelation had occurred in the monastery tower; specifically, the latrine. Like other medieval monks, the Augustinians believed that in the process of seeking relief, man was at his farthest remove from God and closest to evil. The rule? friars could spend no more than three minutes in the latrine lest Satan capture them by their hind parts. It was an impossible rule for Martin who, bothered by bowel movements all his life, needed prolonged and enduring relief. His tower experience, though, was proof to him that where the devil is most at work, there God is most powerfully present.
He gave the Germans a written language by translating the Bible into German vernacular. But it was his pungent personality that set him apart. “If I had been there,” he once remarked of Gideon’s death-defying battle against the Midianites, “I’d have sh—t my britches for fright!”
Well, shucks: You did well enough, Martin, in the tower!